Creative Sans Nicotine
Oh! My slim white beauty
covering your blushing face
with a red scarf,
You have dawned in my life
as a lovely cigarette.
This is the concluding stanza from my poem "The Escapade" (In Harness, 2004, ISBN 81-8157-183-5). In a way, it had surged out of me as a tribute to my old addiction of smoking, something that remained with me so faithfully for twenty-odd years. By the time I finally gave it up, people had already started looking upon me as a one-pack-a-day-and-a-half-at-night fellow smoking for no other need than bare sustenance. Poor me! But then again, I had learnt the etiquettes of smoking: generosity in offering a fag to a friend when lighting one for myself, courtesy of waiting for the host to light his cigarette before lighting mine, of seeking permission if I was to smoke at other's place, so on. I had, by then, grown so used to the object that I had long ceased to persuade myself every time I craved an additional fag. With uncanny memory I was able to locate a misplaced fag from unusual places like bookshelves and kitchen receptacles.
Funnily, my choice of friends was on the basis of brands of cigarettes they smoked. 'The non-smokers are smug fools deceiving themselves for no great reasons,' I used to think. That was not all. I had even picked up right euphemisms for smoking; say while I was smoking, I was only 'rewarding myself with a fag after a spell of work' or 'trying to connect to Lord Shiva through a smoke' and the like. In fact my concentration used to be spanned from a fag to fag and neural threads were conditioned to unwind with nicotine wafting from lip to nostril and then to brain.
I remember one occasion when I was tested by an OB professor who was hell bent on proving a point: we tend to see what we want to and skip what we dislike. I was paired with a non-smoker. Each of us was given a pack of Wills Navy Cut cigarette and then asked to see that for half-a-minute to recollect immediately thereafter what all we had seen. Lo, I said everything but not the statutory warning printed on the pack and my partner opened his list with the one I skipped. As usual, I had only scathing criticism for the professor for treating us as guinea pigs for his blessed experiment in the class. 'Wouldn't he need real-life experiments, had he to teach sex education?' I had pooh-poohed his experiment saying something like that. All this was because of cigarette-I had no patience to withstand that and anybody criticising cigarette was sure to enrage me.
During the twenty-odd years I continued smoking, I had always chosen not to do that in front of people I respected, say my parents and my teachers. In time I studied as much or even more than those people did, started living away from them and independently, acquired family and a social niche that was unlike those respectable souls used to operate from, but then I had ensured that I did not smoke before my parents. It was a taboo, and like those surrounding sex and love affairs, I was not supposed to smoke before them and lead them to a cultural shock. Now that my parents are no more there to supervise me and that I have left smoking for last twelve years and, more significantly, that I'm myself a parent, I feel I should not have been so secretive about it. My parents were paan-chewers and they were doing that with aplomb. With no fear to hide they were even sometimes putting forward an argument or two in favour of paan-chewing, say it is offered to Gods or it helps digestion. But smoking was a taboo as much as drinking was. Should I treat I was just a coward? Or did I try to be considerate enough not to subject those old-timers to cultural shock?
If I'm now asked to tell how I started smoking and then how I was able to leave it, I wouldn't be able to say it precisely. The earliest I can remember is that I used to actually hate cigarettes. Not only that the initial puffs had always come with bouts of incontrollable coughs, there were occasions when I had retched aloud after smoking; I had no knowledge then how a brand of cigarette tested differently from the others. Despite everything, I continued-for no other reason than the thrill of doing something different, the comfort of getting accepted. Stylish friends had smoked to look smart and it had appealed me. Getting smart could be so easy!
The length of a blog post would not allow me to recount my entire experience of smoking days, but before concluding this snippet, let me mention something important. I could be more creative and more focussed only after I left smoking. All my writing success (if, it has to be coined as such) is after I just left smoking. Now when I try to reason out how actually this could happen, I get the answer something like this: 'If I could leave smoking, I can even write a book'. After all, writing requires sustaining the resolve as much as it demands of a smoker to go out of the clutches of nicotine.
Doesn't it hint at the inscrutable dictum of creativity: 'The only rule is that there's no rule'.
A. N. Nanda