(Jimmy Noronha, originally from Belloor, Bantwal, has extensively travelled abroad and is now settled at Lucknow, Uttar Pradesh. In this article he is trying to highlight his successful battle against his addiction to smoking)
Soon after I arrived in Bombay early 1968, I got a temporary employment at Fort Market. I used to get up early and head for office and, in the evening, after a tiresome day’s work, return to Churchgate station.
Till that period of my life, I had rarely ever smoked a cigarette and soon I got entangled in the rat-race of the hectic pace that is part of life in Bombay, now known as Mumbai.
Here I began to seek some solace through a Panama cigarette for 5 paise after I would break out of my office building. Just to unwind a bit, so to say, on my walk to Churchgate Railway station. The cigarette would give me some sort of thrill till I merged with the crowd at the station and then slip into a convenient train heading for Santa Cruz. This continued as my evening’s routine every day.
Gradually, this craving for a cigarette at the time of leaving the office got the better of me and I continued to smoke only one cigarette a day. Soon, months rolled on and then years, and in all five long years that I stayed in Bombay, I stuck to this Panama cigarette – one a day, as soon as I would leave my office. Of course I did smoke sometime when I attended a function.
Strange as it may seem, I never got this urge to smoke a Panama cigarette any other time than I was leaving the office. There were times when I did not even feel such an urge for as long as a week at a stretch!
One fine morning, as I was making an entry into my office I got a rather curious message from the office secretary! She told me that an uncle of mine had called me a little earlier that morning and had asked me to call him back immediately.
I was taken aback as I never had any “uncle” who would leave such a message as my three uncles in Bombay had never called me earlier and if they ever called then why in that fashion. So, naturally I was quite curious to call this “Uncle” and on calling it turned out this “uncle” to be a wrong call. He was a gentleman almost my age, shielding himself behind the facade of an “uncle” for my own job protection, calling me for an interview for a Job at Shell in Muscat.
Well, I met this “uncle” and after completing all the formalities – interviews, medical included – I was soon airborne on a 25-seater Dakota plane heading for Muscat.
The flight took off at 9 a.m. from the Santa Cruz airport, and after halting at Karachi at 1 p.m. I finally landed at the Seeb airport at 4 p.m. No sooner had I landed, than I was whisked off the airport and was driven straight to Shell premises at Mina al Fahal. Then I was asked to report for duty the very minute I entered the office with my suitcase still in a pick-up parked outside the office. My salary commenced from the day I was selected about a fortnight earlier in India and legally became an employee of Shell from that very day.
I was concerned about my suitcase outside lying in an open pick-up but the fear was allayed with a caution that now that I am in Muscat, would I leave such a safety hangover back in Bombay?
The time came for me to secretly celebrate my newfound status! As days trickled by I soon realized that I was still being haunted by this desire for my evening companion – the daily dose of that Panama cigarette. Within a matter of three days, my joy of being in the Gulf which had skyrocketed took a sudden nosedive. I started feeling homesick and I was driven to seek solace in my favourite Panama cigarette.
Gopi, a friendly colleague of mine accompanied me to the canteen where I could buy cigarettes.
Now, while I was looking for a cigarette in the canteen, I found things were entirely different in Muscat. No one would buy loose cigarettes. I asked for a packet of Rothmans, which is a huge “leap forward” from my single Panama for 5 paise!
In 1973, Muscat was going through a rapid transformation: things were looking favourably for the natives as well as expatriates. The ones who were riding camels suddenly found themselves on cabs, so I had to do as the Romans would do. What was the harm if I upgraded the brand as everything was on the upswing?
When I was buying this packet of Rothmans containing 20 filter cigarettes, my friend Gopi suggested I'd better go for a box of 10 packets which would "come handy”. Well, why not, thought I and bought the box of ten, as Gopi usually did, and each of them contained 20! My, my, what a luxury, and, what an achievement! I thought these cigarettes would last me for eternity, only soon to realize that it wasn’t to be so.
It did not take me long to realize that even my smoking pattern too took a sudden upswing. I was a changed man by now, as instead of one cigarette a day, in no time, I was puffing 20 cigarettes, being egged on by the tension generated by home-sickness.
Years rolled on and within a span of six years - with a break of two years when I returned to India for two years - my consumption of cigarettes per day shot up to 40! An alarming figure by any measure.
Then one day, in 1979 when I was holidaying in India at Lucknow, a strange incident took place which was to rip off my appetite for the Panama forever and ever. My family had been under the protection of my brother-in-law’s family. I, while at home as usual, went on smoking to glory.
All of a sudden, my eldest son, who was six then, and who was watching me attentively, appeared to be itching to say something rather nervously. But in no time he blurted out to me – “ Daddy, Daddy, why do you smoke so much!”.
I was shocked at these words, far beyond belief; I turned very sheepish; I fumbled for words to answer him. However I forced myself to ask him, “Why, son?” and he shot back at me, “It’s not good!”
Who was the wiser one now? Who seemed more sensible at that? Was it my son or was it me - the relentless cigarette smoker in front of my innocent child?
Who is the culprit and who am I to hurt his tender heart? Certainly it was I. Who am I to blame but my own self, and is it the right example I am setting for my child or any child for that matter with a Rothman’s in the hand, before a child in his formative years?
The words of my son came to me like a dart piercing straight into my heart! I was like such a bolt from the blue, that I did not know what to say in reply to him. I had been turned into a dwarf in front of a man of wisdom, and here was the child of six with the wisdom of a man of sixty!
Come what may, thought I, and took an instant decision. I changed for good and determined then and there that I would smoke no more.
Well, as the saying goes, it is always easier said than done. When I returned to Oman, determined to stop smoking, the words of my son kept ringing in my ears: “Daddy, daddy, why do you smoke? It is not good”.
I went back, cut my smoking down from 40 to 10 in a matter of ten days. On Day 15, I smoked only five cigarettes. My fingers had turned yellow, and my teeth too had gone yellow. Suddenly this de-addiction process started to take hold of me and my fingers started to quiver. Was I undergoing the much-bandied-about 'withdrawal symptoms'?
To add to it, I even began to perspire a bit whenever I resisted my inclination to smoke. But, in a matter of twenty days, to the credit of my resolve inspired by my son's words, I was down to one cigarette which I needed just before going to the washroom early morning.
In about a month's time after I returned to Muscat, I smoked the last cigarette of my life. I lit it up, smoked it to the last puff and dropped it into the commode. I cleared my bowels and flushed, but this time, harder than ever, before sending the last cigarette down the drain, as if with a sense of revenge.
And from that day till date - during all theset 30 years - never have I ever smoked a single cigarette. Thus read the obituary: Panama (1979–2009), Gone for ever. Never to Return nor even to be remembered.
All credit to the words of wisdom from my little son.
I felt a big burden had gone off my shoulders only to realize that I had only made to the top of a molehill as compared to other mountains that I had to surmount later on in my life. An American boss of mine once told me that life is tough, and I wondered how could it be for a man so rich and well-placed.
But well-placed or otherwise, I do not believe at all if someone says he does not have any problems to encounter. Life is a relentless struggle and there are innumerable hurdles to cross and if one takes them head-on and fight to the finish, he will really reach the safe shores.
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