Stubbing the habit

I was a school boy of regular habits until grade eleven, when, at age 16, I turned a smoker. Three years of being a heavy smoker, averaging three packs a day, I quit the habit, September ‘79.

How did I quit? I believe I did four things that worked for me.

Get in touch with the voice in your head.

We all have a voice in our heads that guides us to right choices. Years of not following the guidance subdues that voice. I believe the power behind my decision to quit smoking came from my resolve to revive that voice.

Three months ago, dissatisfied with a life headed nowhere, I decided to drop out of my university exams. That decision irked my friends. They branded me an escapist. But I needed time to take charge of myself, put my studies back on track, I reasoned.

That decision changed my life. It was the first big decision I could call my own, after my mother’s sudden passing a year ago. It thrust the onus on me, to shape up—which I did.

Owning that decision showed me I could stand up for what I believed in. And each time I stood up for myself, I felt the voice in my head grow stronger.

Promise yourself you’ll break the habit.

Looking back, I believe quitting smoking was part of that wave of reform in my life. Again, another powerful element was at play—a promise to myself, a pledge to a close friend.

Those days, I had a persistent cough that would rattle my ribs. And when I produced spit, it would be dark grey. “Tar,” my friends would reassure me, knowingly, “It’s normal—relax.” That often made me wonder with concern what smoking was doing to my body.

I would often tell Matthew, my close friend, that I would soon kick the habit.

Don’t try to quit—just quit.

I had tried quitting smoking many times: successful, until I lit the next cigarette. I would cut cigarettes into two: to taper the habit until I stopped, eventually. I would stay away from the canteen, a smoking hotspot. I used to take smoking holidays...

It became clear that trying to stop did not work for me.

But that day in September, a few blocks from home, when I lit a cigarette, I didn’t know it was to be my last. It was a powerful moment, as I dragged in smoke, that made me stomp the cigarette and say, “I’m done with smoking”. And it’s been 35 years since that day.

Put yourself to test.

The morning after I quit, at 7.15, I walked to college, a street from my home. Stepping inside, I glanced at the cigarette store across the road, my first port of call every morning.

Only yesterday, I had stood in front of the store, bought my smoking supplies, and lit my first cigarette of the day. Would I succumb to temptation, if I were to stand in front of the store, facing its friendly owner?

To test my resolve, I crossed the street. Greeting Luckoo, the owner of the friendly neighborhood store, handing him Rs 10, I asked for a pack of Kiss-Me, a popular candy. Used to handing over my customary pack of cigarettes, his eyes popped.

“Maine cigarette chod diya,” I declared in triumph, handing over a candy, “Meetha khao.”

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