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Hiding behind a smokescreen

It’s getting rather nasty now, this whole smoking thing of mine, between my seven-year-old and me. Earlier this week, I bought my first pack in India with a grim, pictorial health warning. I asked if they had, as they do abroad, a choice of pictorial warnings, writes Soumya Bhattacharya.

india Updated: Jul 26, 2009 00:26 IST

It’s getting rather nasty now, this whole smoking thing of mine, between my seven-year-old and me.

Earlier this week, I bought my first pack in India with a grim, pictorial health warning. I asked if they had, as they do abroad, a choice of pictorial warnings. (When abroad, I tend to go for the ones that say ‘Smoking when pregnant will harm your baby’. Splendid. That’s something that will never happen to me. Very reassuring.)

They didn’t. So I bought the pack with the unambiguous warning, and, once home, was particularly vigilant so that Oishi did not stumble upon it: the latest in a long line of shameful secretiveness, elisions and untruths that have come to define conversations between us in this rather fraught matter.

They have taught her in school, quite sensibly, just how terrible smoking is, the fact that it not merely wrecks the smoker, but also wreaks havoc on his family and friends, and how much it poisons this dear planet of ours.

Oishi is worried about all of us; she also cares very much about the future of the planet. (Given that she has many more years left on the planet than I do, she ought to.)

I abhor the infantilism attendant on the smoker. See, I do know it’s not the world’s healthiest habit, it’s just that I am self destructive enough to not be able to help myself. So I don’t need you to tell me that. If I had a rupee for every occasion an adult told me, “It’s bad for your health, you know,” I wouldn’t need the day job to make a living.

With a child, the rules of engagement change. The cultural relativism by which I live my life is subsumed by the kind of moral determinism by which we force her to lead hers. So the question of free will and choice and there being no absolute truth doesn’t hold. ‘If it’s bad for you, you can’t do it” is instead the unequivocal line. (Can’t blame her: We use it with her too. “Watching rubbish TV is bad for you, you can’t do it.)

So I am caught in a trap of my making. And I am – like a writer I admire – reduced to a pathetic creature who is faced with this proper little fascist who knows she can be uncompromisingly authoritarian and get away with it because she is strengthened by moral righteousness.

So I do the thing that I hate most when it comes to dealing with my daughter: I dissemble. I say – like the writer I admire – that I’ll give up once I finish my next book. Allowing for the fact that I would like to start another book after finishing the next one (so that there is always a next book to finish), it’s a lie that will see me through for a while. See me through, that is, till she sees through the despicable disingenuousness.

I hate myself for doing this. It’s part of the genuine self-loathing that defines addiction. The shame at what I am doing, and worse shame 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 start now…

Yes, I would. If I could, I surely would.