Tag Archives: inspiration

With a cigarette in my hand…

 

…is how I spent a large part of the last 2 decades. It is also a sentence that was part of a song that played on television in the 90s. It went… “With a cigarette in my hand, I felt like a man”, and was intended to help people quit smoking, hah! While smoking the roughly 73000 cigarettes I must have smoked in my life, I also had immense opportunity to reflect on the thought processes of most smokers. I made the following observations (and broad sweeping generalizations!):

  • Most smokers would tell you that they intend to quit.
  • Soon.
  • Any day now.
  • Most smokers would tell you it is easy to quit; they’ve done it so many times already.
  • Most smokers would tell you that they completely understand that it will kill them. But they would also remind you that life has a 100% mortality rate… everybody dies.
  • Most smokers will also be pedantic about the number of carcinogenic chemicals that constitute cigarette smoke and will probably enthusiastically discuss the ill-effects with their friendly neighbourhood cardiologist… over a smoke.
  • Most smokers would tell you that the gory pictorials on cigarette packaging has only increased their tolerance for disturbing imagery, and the dire but completely useless voice in the movies that drones “Smoking is injurious to health…” is the part where everybody checks their phones for messages before the movie resumes.
  • Most smokers would know exactly how much money they would save if they quit smoking, and exactly what they would buy with that money.
  • Most smokers will never quit.

Way back when, probably some 18 years ago, a well-spoken elderly gentleman accosted me regularly at a bus stop in Sion, where I would be smoking a little way away waiting for the bus, and we would have a conversation that went like…

Him – Hello, can I ask you a question, why do you smoke?

Me – Hmm… never really thought about it.

Him – I’m curious, I ask smokers this question.  You should think about it.

Me – OK, I smoke because I like it.

Him – Does it taste nice?

Me – Kind of…

Him – What does it taste like?

Me – Errr… like something burnt.

Him – How would something like that taste nice?

Me – I don’t know, it smells nice…

Him – No, it doesn’t. I can smell it from here.

Me – I feel better when I smoke.

Him – So how do you feel when you don’t smoke?

Me – I don’t know… not nice.

Him – So why don’t you find a way to feel better that will not kill you?

Me – Because I don’t have anything, or anybody to live long for… (Touché, I thought…) But here’s my bus… good chat, good bye!

Obviously I don’t remember exactly what was spoken, and I paraphrased here and there, but this is pretty much what we said to each other. The next time I saw him there; I ran and caught the wrong bus just to avoid him. But that conversation left me feeling strange… like if I’d carried on talking with him, I would have gotten some kind of closure, some kind of answer. I wouldn’t know then, that it would take me another 18 years to get there… but my curiosity made me seek him out the next time. However, he would always reset to the beginning of the conversation, and not remember that we had already spoken before… it was like a movie that stopped before the end, and always started from the beginning again, only to stop at exactly the same spot, in a weird kind of endless loop…  I never saw the old man again after that, but always remembered that little exchange.

Over time, I became a collector. A collector of reasons (excuses) – for why I could not/don’t need to quit smoking. Talk to a smoker and you’ll hear some or all of this.

  • It helps me think.
  • My job/social circle requires me to be around people who smoke.
  • I can’t go to the loo without smoking.
  • I smoke only when I drink.
  • I can quit any day.
  • I need willpower to quit, and right now my life is too stressful and is taking all of my willpower.
  • I exercise.
  • I don’t smoke too many.
  • I will put on a lot of weight if I quit.
  • My father/neighbour/friend smoked all his life and lived to be a hundred.
  • Who wants to live long?
  • I need a smoke…

Truth is, I had a hundred reasons not to quit, but apparently not even one good reason why I should. This is because I didn’t realize the true answer to the first question the old man asked me so long ago, until recently… the reason I smoked, was because I was addicted to it. My body craved the experience and the chemicals from time to time, and deluded my brain into thinking it was an enjoyable experience. Stark reality was that I was a slave to the habit. For a long time, my biggest fear was running out of smokes and not being able to get them or having to spend a night without being able to smoke. This made me hoard cigarettes, and consequently crave them even more.

Originally, I got hooked when I was dealing with a particularly vulnerable phase in my teens. During this phase, having to cope with anxiety was a challenge, and smoking (along with the social experience with co-smokers) helped me tackle it better. It is only now that I know how tightly it grips you. It is probably one of the strongest addictions in existence. Any smoker will vouch for that, and I kept telling myself and everybody else that I wasn’t strong enough to deal with the experience of de-addiction. There are medical/assistive options like patches, gums and lozenges, hypnosis and even medication that could help, but these assume that you are addicted only to the nicotine. But I assure you, willpower is highly overrated as a factor that helps you quit. At least for somebody like me, I don’t believe ordering myself not to smoke would have worked… My parents, teachers and former bosses will tell you that I am not very good at taking instructions, even from myself!

Nearly 8 years ago, I made two promises to the woman I love… a woman who I first met when I was smoking two packs a day, and despite not approving of the habit, never made purely emotional demands of me to quit smoking. These promises were voluntary, and I suspect also intended to buy me some time. I promised her, when our little princess was born, that I would never smoke in her presence. And secondly and more importantly, if (and when) our daughter brought up the topic of me smoking, and even hinted that I should quit, I would quit… no questions asked.

So, an innocuous comment from our six year old in the middle of June last year, while we walked through a cloud of second-hand smoke blown by a couple of kids hiding out in our apartment parking lot changed my life. She was surprisingly scathing in her opinion of people who made other people suffer because of their smoking, in the typically innocent and endearing way in which a six year old complains about the world around her. And then she said… “But you don’t smoke any more, do you, Papa?”

And through this little conversation, my baby unintentionally called me out on my promise, and I kept it! Wasn’t easy, but it definitely wasn’t as difficult as I told myself it would be, all these years. Almost exactly one year ago, on the 24th of June, 2014, I quit smoking. I like to think I’m over it, but we will see how that goes. How exactly I managed it, and the various changes that I went through deserves its own blog post, especially if it might help others do the same. However long story short – I can smell again, my mouth doesn’t taste like an ashtray, and my lungs are clear for the first time in twenty years. I’m not sure if all of the damage I did to myself can be reversed, and as a matter of fact I know some of it is definitely permanent. The colour of my gums, and the yellowed fingernail on each of my index fingers (I was an ambidextrous smoker) are reminders to my chosen method of slow suicide. But for the moment, I owe my wife and kid a husband and father who is not trying to kill himself, and that, dear reader, is as simple a motivation as that.

I know it’s actually not as corny as this, but it makes for a far better story when I imagine that perhaps the message that old man was trying to get through my thick head at that bus stop 18 years ago was… anything’s possible when you have somebody to do it for!

An apology…

Woman, on behalf of the human race, sorry…

Sorry about the fact that, even today, hundreds of you are born into a world that thinks it doesn’t want you.

Sorry about the fact that despite the previous fact, you still go happily through immense pain to bring us into the same world, ungrudgingly.

Sorry about a world that asks, no… demands that you be a good daughter, sister, mother, grandmother, …nanny, maid, professional, punching bag, occasionally all at the same time, and doesn’t take the time to thank you.

Sorry about a country that reserves seats based on what tribe you belong to, but does not think twice before pushing aside women to take their place in a queue.

Sorry about the men who grope you just because you’re standing next to them in a crowded bus, and then go home and agree with other men who say women get raped because of what they wear.

Sorry about the companies that pass you over for your promotion because you will not be able to work long hours, and have a husband and kids to take care of.

Sorry about the colleagues that say that the only reason you did get a promotion, was because of reasons other than work.

Sorry about our country, that spends hundreds of millions several times a year on festivals worshipping goddesses, but cannot guarantee that you will reach home without being raped and/or killed.

Sorry about a society that stands on your shoulders and still calls you the “weaker sex”.

Sorry for not being man enough to stand up for you, enough times to make your life less of a struggle and more of the celebration it should be.

Woman, you’re the strongest thing that God ever made… and I’m proud that I have the privilege of having your company. I don’t know what I would do without the woman and a half that is my universe!

Happy women’s day!

200* – Sach an inspiration!

Oh no… not one more gushing Sachin-fan-turned-blogger!
20 years ago, a kid watched another kid playing cricket for his country on TV and thought, “I can probably bat better than that!”

That kid was me – and for those who are still confused, I refer to the kid doing the “watching”- and I discovered, very soon afterwards, that I was wrong… Fortunately for me, giving me elite company are several leading batsmen (and some bowlers too!) from the last two decades who have had the same silly thought cross their minds when they watched Sachin Ramesh Tendulkar bat. But right now, I’m just one among millions of ordinary cricket lovers, who have found themselves compelled to put pen to paper (or fingers to keyboards) by one spectacular ODI innings that could either inspire aspiring batsmen for decades or make them choose an alternative sport that has more achievable records. 200* has never been seen on an ODI scorecard before!

But I didn’t write this post to say “Cricket is religion, and Sachin is God”, since it has been said too many times before, including in this very sentence. I wrote this to express my observations on how Sachin has been an inspiration in ways unrelated to cricket or even sport. Some of you may not agree with what I infer, but this post is to share with you what has worked for me… and maybe, could work for you…

Sachin resigning as captain

The short period of time that Sachin spent as captain of the Indian ODI team, was not a glorious one, but he realised soon after, that he could continue to influence and inspire the rest of his team without being the designated number-one in the pecking order. What he did next, was to resign from captaincy, and put in a strong recommendation for Saurav Ganguly to be made captain. The rest is history!

This happened nearly a decade ago, coinciding with a phase in my career where I strongly believed (wrongly so!), that I had outgrown my job. I remember telling myself that as long as I can find ways to be better at my job, I cannot possibly outgrow it. I also remember telling myself that growth, performance, seniority and designation are unrelated to each other; one need not be the designated leader to be the best. Looking back, I think I was right… after watching Sachin’s epic innings, I’m sure I was right!

There is as much honour in leading by example as in leading by designation…

An older Sachin, but hungrier than ever

20 years, 608 international matches, 31045 runs, 93 hundreds, 147 fifties and still no signs of slowing down! He has stated repeatedly (I wonder why they keep asking, though!) that he still feels as enthusiastic about the game as he did when he was a kid, and that’s what keeps him going. The one thing his modesty keeps him from saying, is that he still doesn’t have to worry about being selected, since he keeps performing consistently, and exceeds the back-breaking expectations of a billion fans most days that he plays!

Let me emphasize my point by leaving you with two facts to chew on…

The youngest member of the current Indian squad was 11 months old when Sachin faced his first ball in International Cricket!

India’s main strike bowler in the current series has 130 wickets in ODIs, Sachin has 154!

It doesn’t matter how long you’ve been playing the game, don’t quit as long as you continue to enjoy it… just make sure you stay among the best!

5’5” in height… taller than most in stature!

I think his longevity is a result of prodigious talent, a passion for excellence and childish enthusiasm, and a hunger to keep playing. Now, you might say prodigious talent is not a gift all of us have, but the other factors are not difficult to cultivate… and all this counts for nothing, if it weren’t for the secret ingredient – humility, a rare commodity among sporting stars! Watching him in the post-match presentation walk back and forth four times to carry back the various medals/trophies/cheques/silver bats he was awarded, was a little funny. But when he was given the mike, he had a great opportunity to publicly vindicate himself by mocking the detractors and retirement-predictors that have plagued him for a few years now. Among those were a certain pair of Chappell’s (pun intended!), who had earned enough infamy for their family three decades ago, decided to earn some more, one of them by questioning Sachin’s attitude to the game, and the other by calling on him to retire. But when his time came to speak, all he did was to thank his fans for standing behind him in tough times, and admitting that he made mistakes as a batsman. That little speech reminded a lot of us why it’s called the “Gentleman’s Game”!

It is possible to be great at your work and still have fun doing it; the trick is to keep your head on your shoulders and your feet on the ground!

Opting out of the T20 World Cup… Cowardice… or wisdom?

There are times when a decision may seem to be completely inexplicable, and may have extraordinarily brilliant results. Sachin’s decision (along with Saurav and Rahul) to opt out of the T20 World Cup in 2007 was initially slammed as a cowardly decision, but how can you find fault with something that eventually led to the first world cup after 1983, as well as one of the most successful captains in world cricket today? Couple this with Sachin’s decision to relinquish captaincy to Saurav Ganguly in 2000, and we got the most accomplished Test Captain India ever had!

There is a lesson there too… Yes, it is important to lead from the front when you can; it is even more important and heroic to step out of the way of a more capable leader, when the situation demands it. Everyone may not understand then, but they do get it eventually.

Know when you’re the right one for the job, but more importantly, when you’re not!

And so much more…

Sachin Tendulkar is as human as the rest of us, he has also been the subject of a lot of criticism; a lot is spoken about how money is as important to him as cricket. But the man’s got a duty to his family as much as to his fans, why grudge somebody his livelihood? A Senile political leader (this time, pun not intended!) recently questioned Sachin’s commitment to his home state… this time, unlike the Greg Chappell comments, he decided not to react, and the entire country did instead! I don’t think anybody in the world has had a billion people tell him to shut up all at once, but this “leader” did! And it was such a tidal wave of support for Sachin that uncharacteristically for the “leader”, he promptly let go of SRT, but through force of habit immediately found a certain SRK’s backside to clamp his dentures on! But I detract, this isn’t about him…

I guess one of the things that appeals to people of all kinds around the world about Sachin is that he probably inspires a lot more people subconsciously than one could imagine, not all of them batsmen, not even cricketers.

I could go on… but this is a blog and not a book, so I’ll leave only these many of my thoughts with you… that is, if you’re still awake!

Maybe you could add to this with your own thoughts and make it a series of blogs. You know, if 200 runs by one man in a one day international are possible, anything’s possible!

Now if only he would oblige us with a Test 300…  and a hundred hundreds!