When I was a kid, I used to hate the smell of cigarette smoke. It’s not like it made me nauseous or physically sick immediately, I just… didn’t like it. At all. To the point that I’d be tempted to leave the room if someone lighted a cigarette. Which got me into trouble a few times- apparently it’s bad manners to leave the room wordlessly when adults smoke.
When I was in school, I had a really good mathematics tutor (outside of school hours) who had eliminated my fear of the subject and made me do great at it. Unfortunately, due to some very trivial issues he had with my parents, he was asked to stop teaching me. It didn’t help his (or my) cause that he was slightly hot-headed about the whole thing.
Long story short, about four months before my higher secondary exams, I found myself without a teacher.
My mother found a substitute soon enough, and a few mornings later I found myself in a tiny flat with two other students and a grey haired, venerable looking, bespectacled cigarette holder. He was an amiable fellow, until you asked him not to smoke. And he had the curious habit of holding his cigarette on top of his head- which gave him a permanently ash-covered appearance.
The two other students were completely fine with the smoke. I bore with it for six weeks. I suffered. I thought, “my dear throat and nostrils, which I use to sing, which I have kept in pristine condition up until now, never letting a single drop of intoxicants near them- are now being burnt slowly by the antics of this lean, mean, smoking machine.”
One fine winter evening, the smoke was too much. I suffered silently, as usual. I went out of the tuition that day, thinking, “To hell with it. If I have to endure my lungs and throat being tortured by another, I’ll do it myself!”
(Of course, this is madness. However, I have noticed that it’s not very uncommon. It’s quite difficult to be actually caring and compassionate towards ourselves, when the whole world seems cruel to us. Logically though, the more the world hurts us, the more we should love ourselves at least, no?)
So in my teenage, righteous, self loathing filled rage, I went out to a pan shop and nonchalantly asked for a cigarette. The pan-wallah asked, “Which cigarette.”
Caught off-guard, I gulped, and said “Oh, any one will do, really”.
So he looked at me like a curious crow and handed me a stick. I tried to emulate what most people do with it, you know, put one end in your mouth, and light the other. But it turns out, it’s just slightly more complicated than that.
After watching me struggle with four or fourteen matchsticks, the pan wallah said “You have to suck the air through the cigarette, otherwise it’s not gonna light up”. Well, I did that.
Most people go into coughing fits, apparently, once they inhale their first whiff of cigarette smoke. Apparently, I was a natural. Or my bronchi were so saturated with passive-smoke already, that they were numb to it. And there you go, for probably the first time in my life, I became my own victim.
Instead of standing up or asking people to change their habits (even if temporarily) or taking a stand against this and telling my parents “I quit this”, because I lacked courage, I victimised the only person who would be my victim in that situation.
I became my own bully.
I struggle with guilt.