Life of a smoker

Recently after a jolly good time, my friend made good on his promise to create matrimonial profiles for the both of us. I chuckled half amused and half nervous, knowing fully well I’ve a weird bunch of friends. Little did I know it was a serious proposition at around 2 am, my profile was well and truly up. As we were sharpening each others profiles, I didn’t know what to put in the ‘Smoking habits’ section. Should I lie? I am not a chain smoker but I do have a clear habit of it. A recently engaged friend told me smoking isn’t as freely accepted or excused while searching for grooms. Exactly like it should be I thought. It’s a bad habit and quite injurious to health. But then why don’t we leave it? Why is that so many urban Indian millennials are prolific smokers?

Most people start smoking during their teenage years and I was no different. I’ve been a smoker for a decade now, a tag I am not particularly proud of. Considering almost nobody in my family, even the extended one, smokes, I’m sort of a black sheep among my cousins. My grandfather was a smoker and never left his bidi habit till the very end. As a kid I always wondered why did he smoke? What was the reason behind the commitment to such a pathetic habit? I wonder till date as resolution after resolution lies in waste resulting in fantastic friendships across tapris in Mumbai and Navi Mumbai. At twenty six, I am at a crossroads. If I don’t quit smoking in the next couple of years, I will be a smoker for life. That’s the way it is. People rarely change after they are thirty. I don’t want smoking to be part of my identity as a grown man.

I started smoking as a troubled teenager finding new reasons everyday to try and be as much of an irritating rebel as possible. I believed smoking was good for my unnecessary yet constant stress because of its alleged calming nature. Needless to say, that’s a lie and anxiety is a demon I am battling through other more healthy methods. This post though, is not written to scare you or vilify smoking. There’s enough literature everywhere for the same. This article is for me to throw light on the unique lifestyle of a smoker and how cigarettes can make you change the way you live and interact with others. It’s a fascinating fact that such a small thing can change the time you sleep and what you do first when you wake up.

I’d say I am habituated to smoking rather than addicted to it because I can go days without it. But if I am left to my own devices, I will definitely find ways and reasons to smoke. I know a friend who has a lighter specifically in the bathroom and another one who channelizes his innovative aptitude to turn every object into a makeshift ashtray. There have been actual fights during parties when the designated person forgot to buy cigarettes and I remember once going out with a friend at 3 am to explore the city in search of any cyclewallah who was selling my brand of cancer sticks. Smoking along with a cup of tea is such a common phenomenon in India that there’s even a term for the act, chai-sutta! Not going to lie, I’ve had chai-sutta breaks more rewarding than guided meditation sessions!

It is my firm belief that the chewing gum industry exists only due to every smoker’s need to nullify the pungent smell. Every student’s best friend, it is also ironically the first sign of a secret smoker for every suspicious parent who doubt their son’s suddenly seriousness towards his dental health. Smoke breaks are subject to conversations around employee productivity as they eat into working hours and it is clearly unfair towards non smokers who spend the corresponding time gorging on snacks in the canteen. As times have progressed, many Indian companies have banned smoking in the campus. But as much as they try, the habit is a cornerstone of office life. This is because there are at least a couple of extremely senior and influential folk in every company that are regular smokers.

Like it or not, many a billion in the company turnover is powered by nicotine! Not to mention the magical impact of smoking on networking with relevant stakeholders. There’s a litany of relationships built on this horrible habit especially between seniors and juniors usually with a heavy dose of gyaan being transferred in the process. There’s something about a smoke break that makes a senior bring down his/ her guard and bond with the starry eyed junior. I have used this trick to forge friendships across seniority levels in my time in corporate so far! The CIA has nothing on smoke breaks when it comes to discussion of sensitive/ hilarious company secrets/ gossip. Having said that, it is a headache to ensure you don’t stink up a conference room post that break.

Smoking accentuates the effects of alcohol and coffee and it is for that precise reason the outdoor sections of bars and cafes are almost always full. Smoking has huge cultural impact as frankly speaking, it has made some of our most iconic characters like James Bond and Joker look even cooler. Of course there’s absolutely no truth in that because literally every girl I know prefers a non smoker. Speaking of which, smoking has been taken up as an instrument of empowerment by quite a few girls in urban India. In a notoriously patriarchal society, an increasing number of women view smoking as a sign of defiance and self determination. In the past five years, the number of female smokers has shot through the roof in our country. Being a huge fan of self determination, I’d say more power to anyone who wants to decide between lung and breast cancer.

My aim is to turn into a social smoker who reverts to this idiotic habit once in a while during parties and not be completely dependent. It cannot continue to be a cornerstone of my schedule as it is now. As 2019 end, 2020 seems like a good year for me to kick the butt and take control back from Marlboro as to when I smoke rather than the other way round. The reason I won’t commit to quit completely is because I have tried before and failed miserably. I don’t want to be the father who smokes in front of his kids. Never. Just not a good precedent. As I jokingly showed my matrimonial profile to a girl, she whisked the phone away from me to change the smoking section to say I was a non smoker. I was amused by the perceived overreaction but she strictly warned me that it was a huge dis qualifier on such sites as most profiles are operated by parents! I relented to her demand but was queasy with the prospect of lying.

I don’t know how seriously will I take that profile but I know for a fact that the reason it was created by my friend was to act as a smokescreen for his innate desire to get married but not suffer ignominy of going online to find a bride. I see through your actions friend. I know you and hopefully you find someone who makes you happy because like all of us, you are too busy being a corporate slave. Coming back to resolution 2020, I vow to quit smoking as a regular habit and not lie through my teeth as I inevitably meet prospective brides in a Starbucks. Wish me luck!

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