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Ringing in the New Year, blowing it up in smoke

With one hand in her pocket, and the other one not flicking a cigarette, Nidhi Gupta grumbles about coping without sweet nicotine on her second attempt at kicking the butt.

NIDHI GUPTA  28th Dec 2013

Illustration: Rashmir Gupta | Dev Kabir Malik design

t 3 a.m., I am standing in the balcony of my 8th floor home, looking down at the silent, deserted streets. It's the third day of my self-imposed exile. Strangely, I am both annoyed by and proud of the fact that I've been good so far. And till Santa gets wind of that, I feel like I must reward myself. How else will I find the incentive to continue, whispers the voice in my head.

Down below, stray dogs begin a barking contest, to which the night guard responds with a thwack of his walking stick and a half-hearted attempt at blowing his whistle. I can see him, huddled next to his little bonfire, the radio emitting squawks of some weather-beaten ghazal, looking tired but content. How can I know his expression from this distance? Simple: the glow of his fast-burning beedi lights up his face. Also, I know that feeling — because I've felt it and, at this very moment, am willing to go great lengths to feel it again.

I text my brother in the adjoining room, to ask if he has any cigarettes lying around. My hands are quivering as I type it out, partly with excitement, a little because I'm nervous — I've never smoked at home — but mostly because my body is anticipating the nicotine fix quite desperately. When he responds to say he has some but isn't going to give me any, I want to do violent things to him. Instead, I just stub my toe against the washing machine. What a long night!

                                                                                     *******

'Quit smoking' has to be among the most boring, done-to-death (no puns intended) New Year's resolutions around — right up there with "quit drinking" and "lose weight". I can't look at my track record for encouragement to see this one through. I have been politely escorted out of a gym because I made a fuss about their playlist (who plays Ranbir Kapoor's Greatest Romantic Hits day in and day out?!) giving me a headache, which was actually due to a terrible hangover from the previous night. This happened two years ago and I'd carefully resolved not to take such stupid resolutions anymore. Until now.

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How can you resist it when you see someone like Don Draper dangle one from his (exquisite) lips, snap open that antique lighter and set it ablaze?

I'd like to point out here that this isn't entirely voluntary. Much like Chandler Bing in the sitcom Friends, I was sort of forced into this by my 'well-wishers'. (Honestly, I think they are just jealous when they see a box of UltraMilds lying around nonchalantly on my desk, and want to believe that they are responsible colleagues divesting me of this hideous habit, but well.) Like Chandler, I know the value of kicking the butt, but it just doesn't seem worth the effort. Because, hey, where's life's spice without a little vice? (You'll have to excuse the bad rhyme because, well, no energy. Or the will to care, at this moment.)

et, here I am, on to the fifth day of this experiment that involves a lot of standing around on the office terrace, waiting for the others to light up so I can at least get a whiff of burning tobacco; trying to steal a couple from my boyfriend's bag (who, by the way, is in collusion with this entire jig, and lectures me on the repercussions of too much smoking while he is lighting yet another one himself); trying substitutes like Nicorette and spitting it out in utter, thorough disgust; and generally staring at people's lips when they take drags from their cigarettes. Yes, they have noticed this, and called me creepy to my face. Like I said, I couldn't care less right now.

                                                                                      ******

It's not like I'm a chain smoker — I'm not actually addicted, in the classical sense of the word, to the substance. I don't need it, for example, to go to the bathroom in the morning or feel confident (like King George VI) or to even pass the time. I can spend entire weekends at home without the thought of a cigarette crossing my mind. (Why don't I smoke at home? Because my folks would be shocked; and because 'society' disapproves of women who smoke so much more than they do of men.) There are other battles in the name of feminism that one would rather wage at the moment, and this is a personal choice that I'd like to keep personal still.

But there is something quite catchy about the whole idea of smoking — how can you resist it when you see someone like Don Draper dangle one from his (exquisite) lips, snap open that antique lighter and set it ablaze? For better effect, they magnify the delicious sound of tobacco catching fire in almost all representations these days. From Humphrey Bogart to Clint Eastwood, Rita Hayworth to Angelina Jolie, the number of actors that look cool because they smoke (and not the other way round) is long and drool-worthy.

I smoke, let's say, recreationally. It just translates into snippets of bliss, excerpted through the day. I also smoke socially, because it adds a whole other dimension to any conversation (or maybe that's only because you can't see the other person very clearly through all that haze). It may have started due to peer pressure — learning to keep the smoke in through clenched teeth one winter afternoon, on a bus-stop waiting for the University Special — but now it is as cherished for the kick as much as it is for its shock value.

They say the only way to really quit is to do it cold turkey — no question of reducing it a cigarette in a day and so on. I've done this before (withstood the temptation for two whole years thereafter), and with the right kind of will, I'll do it again. For now, eight days seems like a big enough achievement. Like Chandler says, I'll go back to looking sick, grey and happy at the same time, for now.

 
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