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Absence of willpower vs a Nicotine Nazi

india Updated: Sep 26, 2010 00:09 IST
Soumya Bhattacharya
Soumya Bhattacharya
Hindustan Times
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Our nine-year-old was having dinner, and I was sitting at the table, chatting with her, having just recovered from a spectacular bout of coughing and hawking. I'm not particularly surprised that the cough doesn't really go away these days, but I have grown used to it in the manner of anyone who is resigned to live with an affliction that one will never quite be rid of.

Oishi is not surprised either. She knows all about the cough (the why, and the what next, as we keep saying in our newsroom) and — in a touching, noble, nine-year-old way — intends to do something about it. She has been intending to do something about it for some years.

Now it's getting rather nasty, this whole smoking thing of mine, between Oishi and me. She is turning into a Nicotine Nazi.

She looked up from her food. "Please stop smoking, Baba. Please." This was a new tack: more entreaty than remonstration.

"It's an awful habit," she said.

"Yes, I know. But how much do you know about it?"

"I know everything. They taught me in school."

"They teach you this sort of stuff in school, do they?" Standard diversionary tactic. I was trying to do what Oishi is so good at doing.

"Yes, in Science. If it's an awful habit, why do you it?" Oishi was trying to do what her parents are so good at: countering the dilatory nature of the conversation, and bringing it back to the point from which it veered off.

"Mmm, well, I do it because I can't help it."

"What do you mean you can't help it? Lots of people can."

Guilty as charged. So I looked at her with a guilty-as-charged expression.

"No, really, what happens when you don't smoke?"

"Uh, I get a craving for nicotine."

"Explain that." The entreaty had disappeared from her tone. Reproach and peremptoriness had replaced it.

"Well, I feel all messed up. I feel ill, disoriented, snappy. I can't concentrate. I only ever keep thinking about when I can have a cigarette. You know what I am like on long-haul flights."

"But if others can give up, why can't you?"

"I'm not strong enough. I have no willpower."

"That's nonsense. You don't really want to, Baba."

I do my guilty-as-charged expression again.

"But you have to. Smoking kills you. I don't want you to die, Baba."

"Well, we all die in the end," I say. It sounds not just feeble. It sounds pathetic, made worse by the smile I tried to crack.

"No, I don't want you dead sooner…"

The entreaty is back. She knows that she can be uncompromisingly authoritarian and get away with it because she is strengthened by moral righteousness.

Self-loathing defines addiction, and I hate myself for this. I am confronted with – and assaulted by – the shameful nature of what I am doing. The worse shame is at not being able to help it. Why can't I just give it up? Who said it was as easy as just giving it up?

No, don't you start now…