Wednesday, September 24, 2014

Coughers quit, quitter’s cough

(Published in Business Standard on March 9, 2013)

Delhi is not a nice place to live, weather-wise. We spend our time either battling hypothermia or being broiled alive. But it does have perfect weather for ten days a year, five days in October and five days in March, and these are them. Warm sun, cool breeze, jeans-and-t-shirt-and-flip-flops weather. Dust-free, rain-free, pollen-free. It’s fabulous.

These blissful days, unfortunately, are often spent fighting whatever illness you acquired in the ice age/broiler days. I, for instance, have an epic cough. It began fifteen days ago as an innocuous little scratch in my throat. Then it gathered force and turned into a swirling system in my trachea, which eventually made landfall in my lungs. I coughed and coughed and coughed. I coughed up stuff that, if I’d coughed it up on a canvas, would have looked like a Jackson Pollock. It was green, yellow, and pepper grey. I coughed so much I couldn’t sleep at night. I coughed so much that I could only croak. I coughed so much, in fact, that I stopped smoking.

Say again?

I stopped smoking. Today is day twelve without smoking. No cigarettes. Not a single puff.
How hard has that been? Well, being miserably ill has the upside of making quitting not hard to do at all—ask me, I know, I’ve done it lots of times before.

It’s so easy that you start feeling positively smug about how easy it’s been. You start feeling sorry for all the people who still smoke. You make lists of all the illnesses they’ll probably get and that you, because you stopped smoking, have only two-thirds of a chance of getting. You think about the ad they screen before the movie in cinemas, the one in which they squeeze a beakerful of tar out of a sponge—the only ad that has, to date, made you wince, if not quit.

You enumerate the positives. You admire the strange, unfamiliar scent of shampoo in your hair. You think about your newly liberated cilia, doing a little hairy Mexican wave and singing Kumbaya inside your chest. You think of how your skin looks distinctly less horrible. Co-opting your vanity is a powerful motivator, at least as long as you look at yourself in your imagination rather than in an actual mirror. You think about all this, and it keeps you going.

Until you find yourself at a tango social. Then it’s a lot harder not to smoke. You think about how insignificant one little cigarette would be, just one, how totally nothing, a mere fart in the hurricane of this cough. How, in a column last June, you catalogued all the great types of smokes there are, and can’t understand how you forgot to include this outstanding at-a-dance fag.

You get through that moment because you’re still coughing, which diminishes your appeal as a dance partner even more than smoking does. But then you have a seriously dangerous moment of temptation, where you remember, as you’re driving home, that the last pack of cigarettes you bought is still lying in your room, half-full, and you actually could just quickly have one before bedtime, as you always did, and your foot presses down a little harder on the accelerator as you drive. But then you have a particularly nasty fit of coughing as you’re walking in the door, and you lose the desire.

This is how you get through the first twelve days. The problems begin when you realise that you’re probably still coughing, two long weeks later, because you quit smoking, and if you just started again, the cough would magically go away.

This, good people, is when you turn to alcohol.

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