Sunday, May 1, 2016

No more smoke...

Kannan walked into his room and paused for a moment. Took a deep breath and it was the smell of fresh air mixed with the fragrance of incense in the room. The morning wash left a few drops of water in his salt and pepper beard which he wiped away with his palm. Tied up his lightly dried long hair trickling with water and wore the dhoti for prayers. The prayers gave him the strength to move on, and so it was his daily routine... 30 minutes to his God ... up close and personal with him. The room felt more like a temple for him at that moment for sure. The bundle of white paper on the table and the file next to it which held the writings, which Kannan had finished last night lay there. The bed was kept properly with fresh sheets straight from the laundry. He sat on the black cushioned ottoman, his prayer seat, before the picture on the wall and started praying. 

A few days back things were different, when he had not changed his routine as it is now. The day began with smoke and ended up in smoke and filled with more smoke every hour. The same table which had the sheets of clean white paper and pen, the sketch book and the spectacles, had more to hold. The table would be smeared with ash on the keyboard, ash on the headphones, ash on the books and notes and whatever lay on the table.... and not to mention the ashtray which resembled the pandora's box, which was holding more cigarette buds than it could ever hold in them. Lighters could be found in every corner of the house. But all that changed so fast.

As his prayers finished, the room was filled with smoke but of the incense. The sunlight entered the room through the window and found its way to the clean carpet on the floor. The red carpet on the floor was new and the light gave it a new glow. Kannan walked towards the window the bright sunshine glow gave him a feel as if it was a hug from Appa. He saw the phone hooked on to the charger and stretched his arm and picked it up. Dialled his ever familiar number or rather one of the last few numbers he knew by heart.

"Amma... How are you....? Happy now?" Kannan asked

It was a promise Kannan had given, but never kept for years. Every time Amma told Kannan about the ills of smoking, he would smile and say

"I know ma...I will stop soon"

But the soon never came till date. There have been many days when he would stop smoking and start again. For those who tried to dissuade him from smoking would get intelligently woven stories of why he would not stop. There were times when his smoking would reduce in numbers but not take the final step of quitting. One or one pack, he would be still smoking. Those who knew Kannan would say... its impossible for a person to stop Kannan from smoking as he knows its bad and is okay with it. It was a few days back when Kannan just decided to quit smoking, which made Amma proud and happy. Her happiness was that her son is getting back to life. 

Amma still remembered the night... a few months after Priya had left Kannan for good. Kannan kept himself busy with work far and near and would return home late in the night. Kannan would rarely have food at home. The time Kannan walks in he would find Amma sitting in the front hall room where she would be holding on to a book but would have slept off reading it and the specs on her nose would have taken its position in the tummy by then, falling off the bridge in sleep. The sound of the door opening would wake her up and then would come the usual question

"Dinner" followed by the usual answer by Kannan "No... I had"

Amma would clear the dining table after hearing the daily emphatic no from Kannan. Kannan was getting into wrong company Amma thought, and so was he. The smell of smoke in his clothes and when he walked in was a testimony to him being in the wrong company. The same kid who fought with Venki Mama and Swami Mama to stop smoking and tell them the ills, ifs and buts of smoking, had started smoking. 

It was well past two when Star Movies was playing on the small television in Kannan's room. The Mask was his favorite film and Kannan was watching it for the umpteenth time then. He lit a cigarette and puffed it out with a cough as it was the second one lit back to back... in chain reaction. As he let out the smoke into the air, the room smelt of tar, and smoke from the cigarette. He took another puff and the smoke when it mixed in the air, an image appeared from within the smoke. Someone standing at the door of his room. It was Amma. Kannan's heart sank as he never wanted Amma to see him destroy himself in smoke. She was worried about Appa, who still is a teetotaler, and what would he go through when he comes to know about his son being a smoker.

"Yes Amma" asked Kannan mechanically putting the butt of the cigarette into the ash tray. 
"No... Just came to see whether you have slept or still awake" Amma replied.

Kannan could see Amma's eyes filled with tears. She said nothing more and walked away. The night went in guilt and tears for Kannan and as he woke up the next morning, he saw Amma pack her bags. 

"Where are you going", asked Kannan surprised
"Just... Just like that going to Ernakulam, have some work there" said Amma and zipped her travel bag and walked away. Amma knew what Kannan was going through and did not have anything to say seeing him take a wrong path. That day remained in the minds of both Kannan and Amma. Years passed and from the light smoker Kannan started smoking more and more with the passing of each day. 

On the morning Amma received the call Amma could not believe her ears, but loved to believe them for what they heard. It was Kannan's call. Amma had just finished her prayers and came and sat on the chair by the side of the dining table. The fan was at it full power and she heard the mobile ring. It was Kannan alright...

"Amma.... I have a good news" said Kannan
"What happened" Amma asked out of curiosity
"Amma... I gave up smoking" said Kannan followed by a big pause from both ends. Kannan could feel Amma's eyes fill up with tears when she remained silent.  
In her hear she was thanking all the Gods she had been praying to. When, why, are you alright and so many other questions which were flooding Amma's mind  
but she asked none...

The phone beeped the disconnection.... and the disconnect in Amma's mind... so many years... what must have made him stop. Is he alright, Amma was worried, but thankful to God for the decision. Amma had to ask.... but remained silent. It should have been Gods way to bring her son back to life, she thought. Kannan cut the call, and at that instant Amma rushed to the temple to thank all the divine forced behind the change of mind. Kannan looked at the pack of cigarette and the lighter on the table.

It was one of the days the previous week when Kannan was to visit an Office for a client meeting. The green glass, the pots with ornamental plants, the wooden reception counter with a lady smiling and answering the calls and attending to the guests at the same time. From time to time she looked down. Kannan walked up to the reception to check the time of the meeting. She should be in her late twenties and was well groomed with one of the most beautiful smiles he had ever seen. Probably the secret to that smile was next to her. As he gave his card and waited, the lady looked down and there in a pram was a smiling young boy, with fair milky skin, soft silk like straight brown hair, dark eyes giving the bubbly kid the look of a doll or was it more divine than a doll. As his mother touched the boy and smiled, he started a spontaneous burst of smiles back to her. The reception was more a centre of joy as the whole place was filled with smells of baby cream, fresh flowers, fragrance of perfumes mild, yet catching the attention of the one standing there.  

"I have an appointment with Mr. Rex" said Kannan without taking his eyes off the kid on the pram on the other side of the reception counter. As she checked the appointment schedule Kannan interrupted "Your kid", while looking at the boy who was jumping with happiness and wanted to be picked up from the pram. He was so excited to cut himself loose from the bonding seat belts of the pram. 
And she smiled "You will have to wait for a short while as Mr. Rex is on his way" said the brown eyed lady at the reception.
"Can I take him for a walk around the garden as Mr. Rex arrives" Kannan asked without thinking whether it was appropriate or not.
"No .... he is allergic to smoke" she replied. 

And the gesture of her nose rubbing her fingers showed how strong the remnant odor of the smoke remained with him even after a while. All he wanted was to play with the bundle of joy, who wanted to be picked up and loved for a while, or that was what Kannan thought. But just a habit, which he had been stuck on to, denied him of a simple pleasure. Kannan choked as he saw the sights over and over again for a few nights and felt as if it was haunting him.

"A few days back an girl... no a woman... should be an Angel, or was it God's ways ... The Angelic child, denied to him over the smoke ..."
The noise in his head was silenced by a scream from within 

"I quit" and so he did.

Kannan had the pack of cigarettes in his hands still, looked at them for a while and threw it in the dust bin. Since then his room had the smell of smoke, but of the incense he lit in front of the Gods. Kannan still smiles at the thought of the divine child in the reception area who made him quit smoking... the magical revelation, so to say, which changed his life forever. The smiles on his face would never be covered in smoke or tar. Kannan took a breath in and exhaled long.... felt peace enter his heart. No more smoke blurred his vision.... Kannan looks forward to visit the office to just meet the little VIP in the pram by the reception desk.

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