How You See the World After Quitting Cigarettes

Humour

How You See the World After Quitting Cigarettes

Illustration: Ahmed Sikander

W

ho knew getting healthy could make me feel so terrible? It is 4 am, and I only have the owl in the tree outside my balcony for company as I sit on my favourite chair, unable to sleep at all. I’ve read (in Winnie the Pooh books) that owls are supposed to be incredibly wise birds, so I ask him if he has any tips on dealing with cigarette withdrawals, the reason for my temporary insomnia. “Should I just start smoking again, Mr Owl?” I ask.

“Hoo,” he says.

“Me,” I reply. Part of me was expecting a genuine conversation. I’m definitely losing my mind.

“Giving up smoking is easy… I’ve done it hundreds of times,” goes a quote by Mark Twain, and truer words were never spoken. I can vouch for their veracity on the strength of my own experiences. I’ve flirted with the notion of quitting before, but never seriously. Any extended breaks from my daily quest to become Chimney No #1 were never voluntary. A bout of jaundice, where I could barely stomach green tea, let alone cigarettes, was the longest break I took. In three weeks, my immune system had chucked out the hepatitis bug and once again rolled out the red carpet for respiratory disease.

I’m proud to announce that in my most recent quest, I’ve passed the three-week benchmark. I went cold turkey a month ago, and this time I feel like I’m in it for the long run. What’s important is that this time, I’m abstaining from smoking of my own volition. I think my Eureka moment came in the last week of July, when a white-haired, hunchbacked old lady overtook me on the stairs at the first-floor landing, on the way to my second-floor flat. As I watched her round the corner to the third floor and tried to catch my breath, I decided enough is enough. It’s time to quit.

If you think this is the point where the story takes an inspirational turn, then you’d probably also believe me if I told you hookah is harmless compared to cigarettes. Quitting might yield health benefits in the distant future, but it’s turned the immediate present into a miserable hell. Not just the withdrawal symptoms, which provide a recurring headache that keeps me up like a night watchman and gives me the temper of a rabid Rottweiler, but also there’s a jarring disruption in my routine.

While the rest of the country was complaining about petrol and diesel prices, I wanted the rates of Benson and Marlboro slashed.

Earlier, I used to look forward to my smoke breaks at work. The Universal Law of Office decrees that a smoke break is the only time employees aren’t secretly harbouring murderous intentions toward one another. Sadly, now those same smoke breaks have become exercises in self-control, where I restrain myself from alternately preaching about the values of quitting or going into a full-blown relapse and snatching their cigarettes from their lips. A new joinee wondered if I’m suffering from spondylitis, because I let out a pained groan every time I get up out of my chair to accompany my colleagues to the smoking zone.

My co-workers aren’t the only ones who are inadvertently dealing with the effects of me quitting. For ten years, my local cigarette vendor and I saw each other daily, making small talk and catching up on each other’s lives. I knew how well his son was doing in school and he knew when I was too drunk to go home because I’d end up back at his shop, chain-smoking. When I quit overnight, we lost touch. It was a break-up neither party really desired. But my cigarette guy and I are like Jai and Veeru – yeh dosti hum nahi todenge. After less than a week apart, I returned to his shop – after yet another night of drinking, only to find out that he stocked more than just cigarettes, lighters, and smoking paraphernalia. Now anytime I want a nostalgic ’90s flavoured treat like Fatafat or Fusen Gum, I pay him a visit. And take in the air around his shop.

Second-hand smoke has made me a party crasher of sorts. At social gatherings, every time I feel like my willpower might crumble, I just walk over to the nearest circle of smokers and take a deep breath, often earning suspicious looks from complete strangers. And when I’m stuck on my bike in traffic, and feel tempted to grab the cigarette from a fellow biker, I just remind myself we’re in Mumbai and that one breath is probably as harmful as anything I could light up.

With me no longer buying cigarettes, the one good thing is savings. During my time as a smoker, I saw the cost of a single cigarette rise by 300 per cent. While the rest of the country was complaining about petrol and diesel prices, I wanted the rates of Benson and Marlboro slashed. But now I can finally join the chorus against petrol.

As the savings start to pile up, I’m starting to see the benefits of this quitting chicanery. Every week, I have more disposable income than I used to a month ago. The only problem is every time I look at that sum of cash, all I can think of is how many smokes it will buy. Guess I’m not completely out of the woods yet.

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