If once upon a time I was considered a discerning smoker, it was not without reason. While most of the smokers used to stick to one or the other brand, I would keep three or four brands of cigarettes — filter, without filter, kingsize and tobacco flakes to be filled in pipes. I used to reason out that different moods and different times of the day called for different tastes of smoke also.

It was similar to someone relishing idlis for breakfast, sambar and curd rice for lunch and chappatis for dinner. Though I did not pick it up as a habit, I tried smoking even at the age of 10. It was beedis first and then a few cigarettes, elephant brand and Passingshow. I remembered asking the shopkeeper where was the filter in Passingshow cigarette and his reply that for just 3 paise there would be no filter. Somehow till school final, I forgot smoking. But before the final exam I, along with a friend, tried smoking and the habit caught on.

Financial independence and staying away from parents during my first job made me an avid smoker. There was no restriction on smoking in public places at that period except in movie halls.

When I was engaged, my fiancé asked me to stop smoking in response to my question what gift she would appreciate on wedding eve. I promised her that.

On the morning of the wedding day when relatives were searching for me just before the muhurat, I was puffing what was supposed to be my last cigarette inside an open toilet. People located my hideout seeing the smoke coming out in the open sky and all guests came to know of the groom's smoking habit. When people around made comments, my fiancé responded, referring to my promise to give up smoking immediately after marriage.

I did give up but that spell was very brief. When she went to her parent's place a month later to complete certain rituals, I started smoking again. Probably, I should have been looking for an excuse.

Afterwards, it was struggle for her all the way. She kept nagging me; sometimes pressuring; occasionally blackmailing, and I also used to bend over backwards, cajole her and do everything to get back to my ways.

Still, I would stop smoking for a day or two on special occasions and then start slowly with half a stick, and so on and so forth. I really wanted to quit smoking. In the meantime, our son was born and smoking was banned at home. A year later, I got a posting in Assam and the cool climate offered me an excuse for smoking. Recurring health problems such as cold, cough and low resistance were not enough to make me give up smoking.

Still I would stop on certain occasions such as New Year day, our wedding anniversary, her birthday, my birthday and Kandha Shashti fasting day.

During the first four years in Assam, my wife suffered miscarriage thrice and later she did not conceive for three years. Then in 1990, as usual I stopped smoking on New Year day. This time my staying away from the white sticks continued for a full 30 days. On the 31st day, I started again when I had to sit for my final year LL.B. exam. But the 30 days of abstinence from smoking had its reward in the form of my wife conceiving our second child. She was nearly 36 years old and the first child was born more than eight years ago. So the delivery would be difficult, the gynaecologist cautioned us. We took all precautions and went home in Tamil Nadu for delivery. When the pain started, the doctor pulled me up asking why we risked pregnancy at that age and saying it was difficult for all — the doctor, the child and the mother while the man was just doing the walking exercise in the corridors.

As I was continuously hearing my wife's cries, I had a quick recall of our life during the past 10 years, from the day I knew her as a young girl. The only thing she ever expected from me was to give up smoking and I cheated her on that. During an interval in my thoughts, I saw the doctor coming out of the labour room and I headed to her straight to tell her that I wanted my wife back.

As I got emotionally wrought I took my brother-in-law along and walked to the Ganesh temple on the banks of a pond under a peepul tree where I and my wife had played during our childhood. I took a vow bowing before the deity that henceforth I would fulfil all her expectations. The foremost would be to quit smoking.

He probably believed me. When I returned, I was ushered into the ward to see my second son and the beaming mother. I quit smoking, forever. That was in 1991.

Now wherever I see people smoking, I take strong exception and have become a strong advocate of the anti-smoking campaign.

A sure way to quit smoking is to ask yourself whether you love your family and whether they want you to quit. If it is ‘yes,' you can do it. Do it now. Don't wait for divine intervention.

(The writer's email ID is renganathanmutharasu@yahoo.co.in)

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