(No) Smoking is injurious to health!
What I am going to tell you is a true story. So, every time you read something (in this post) that excites, enthralls, amazes, shocks or disgusts you keep in mind that has happened with real people. It is all real. I have withheld the original names (of places, people and products) for obvious reasons. And please do not ask me how I know all this. Vikrant was moderately successful neo urbanite. Being moderately successful was something that he dreaded, for him either there was complete success or total failure, nothing in between. He was avid fan of Black and white cinema, and worshiped Gurudutt. Somewhere, when in high school he had read Gurudutt had once said in an interview that “What is there in life, friend? There are only two things – success and failure. There is nothing in between.” This had profound impact on his teenage mind. He related to this immediately. It happened on a chilly December night. Vikrant with his Fiancé, Nikita was watching a movie at a theatre, which I refrain from naming. The movie was a story about a troubled musician who has tough time balancing his life and his passion. The protagonist was a charming personality. There was no scene when he didn’t have a cigarette between his lips. The cigarette stuck to his lips gently at the edge as he played the guitar. Every time he would close his eyes and inhale the dense smoke, to play the high notes. Seeing these images Vikrant started feeling an upsurge in the urge to smoke a cigarette. He waited till the cup was full, he wanted to smoke and smoke then. He got up. “Where are you going?” asked Nikita. “Washroom” He answered. “Don’t smoke” Instructed Nikita. She knew him well enough to guess what was in his mind. He gave an angry stare to her and quickly moved out of the hall. In the lobby there were signs everywhere saying ‘No Smoking’. He went inside the washroom to find smoke detectors everywhere on the ceiling. His restlessness grew, he had to smoke. He went out in the lobby again and moved to a secluded corner, there were no one and no smoke detectors. He fetched the packet of his favorite brand, McKnight. McKnight came in a White box with beautiful blue stripe running in the middle, with the trademark crest in the center. Just one remained in the pack of 15. Each carried the distinct aroma of slightly wet tobacco. Vikrant ignited the lighter, lit up the cigarette and inhaled the rich tobacco smoke. He felt a relief; he closed his eyes and felt the hot smoke go down his throat. “Sir” A coarse voice interrupted his trance. He turned back to find out a man dressed in the quintessential security guard uniform stood behind him. “Sir, this is strictly a non-smoking area. Please put off your cigarette.” He said. Vikrant liked no interruption while he was doing something for himself. But the obligations imposed by the civilized society forced him to put-off his cigarette. He smashed the burning end of the cigarette against the inner side of the packet, put the half spent cigarette in the packet and threw the packet in the steel dustbin kept at the corner. It was against his liking but the one puff had made him feel better. “You smoked?” Asked Nikita as he took his seat. “Yes, but only one puff” Vikrant clarified. “You know, doc has asked you to stop, your acidity will aggravate.” Nikita was agitated. Vikrant didn’t find her words worthy of a reply. He kept staring on the screen, again the cigarette in the actor’s lips attracted him, allured him. He barely sat through the climax. As soon as the show was over he rushed to his SUV in the parking. He always kept a backup packet in the glove compartment. He went so fast that Nikita could hardly follow, he didn’t care. Like a leopard leaping onto its prey he leapt on the glove compartment before he got into the car. There was no packet there. He felt enraged, disturbed. How could this happen? There has to be a packet here, where did it go? “Did you see my McKnight?” He asked Nikita, who was clueless about why Vikrant was so restless. She was bit annoyed by his indifference to her that he showed at the theatre. She reciprocated it, without answering him. “Answer me” Growled Vikrant. “Well I smoked it.” She screamed sarcastically. This irritated Vikrant. There had been moments in their relationship that had provoked Vikrant to almost hit Nikita but his self control always triumphed over the rage. This time too he closed his eyes and covered his face with his hand. His fingers still smelled of McKnight. He craved for it more. It was quarter past fifteen, Chandu would still be open. Chandu was his reliable cigarette vendor who kept ample supplies of McKnight for Vikrant. His car scorched the roads, which were empty, bit unusual for this city. General elections were 3 days away and due to some political unrest a stronger code of conduct was being enforced. This created apprehensions in his mind whether Chandu would be open or not. He pressed the throttle. “Would you mind slowing down? It is scary.” Asked Nikita with the anger evident in her voice. This time Vikrant mellowed to her plea and dropped a few Kilometers. He knew that even if Chandu would have closed the shop he can call Chandu to get the cigarettes. To his evident dismay, Chandu had closed the shop, probably due to the strict code of conduct. Vikrant was frustrated, for few seconds he couldn’t think. Then he picked up the phone and called Chandu. “Chandu, McKnight.” He asked. “Sir, Manny sir took the last carton, I will order for more tomorrow.” Chandu replied. Manoj or Manny as his friends called him, was an aquintance of Vikrant. They first came to know each other because of McKnight only. Both were lovers of the brand. Vikrant’s irritation grew. He closed his eyes and talked to himself for few minutes; it was only the matter of this night. The next day was a Saturday and he would get up only after 11 in the morning, by that time Chandu would’ve got his McKnights. Bit calmer Vikrant drove back to his flat, which was two apartments away from Chandu’s shop. Nikita was to stay at his place that night, but now she was revaluating her stay. Vikrant switched on the lights and went straight into the bathroom for a shower. The smell of McKnight in his fingers was driving him crazy. He needed to get rid of it, if he couldn’t have the cigarette itself. He stood under the shower for few minutes letting the warm water drench his body that was experiencing palpitations at various places. It settled him; he took a few deep breaths. Before going out he brushed his teeth, it was his childhood habit to brush before sleeping. He wanted to get away from consciousness until he had his McKnight. He came out of the Bathroom to find Nikita sitting on his bed, wearing blue lingerie that he brought her on her birthday. She had taken a shower in the other bathroom. He was in no mood of any adventure, but she seemed undeterred by his cold looks. Nikita got up and placed her hand around Vikrant’s waist. He turned his face away from her; she placed her lips on his. He got drawn into the trap, and it was a good distraction from the craving of cigarette, which was exploding his mind. They made love for next few hours, and soon Nikita fell asleep. Vikrant was exhausted, but he still couldn’t sleep. He had to get the cigarette. To distract himself he switched on his computer and logged onto a social networking site. He was checking through the status messages of friends when he found something that destroyed him. One of his friends in UK has written: “McKnight files for bankruptcy; production stopped; will have to switch to other brand” Vikrant couldn’t believe what he was reading, he read and reread. It was not long before the dark clouds of disappointment and hopelessness engulfed him. How will he make though the day without his favorite brand. No other brand came closer to McKnight, the quality of filter, the fresh tobacco and the smooth taste. He couldn’t think of anything, for once he thought to try and get all the packs of McKnight in the market. That would be the first thing he will do in the morning, he thought. But then the unfortunate afterthought struck him “What if there is none in the market? Chandu was never out of stock, this was the first time he said McKnight was exhausted. Maybe they had stopped production weeks before filing for bankruptcy. Maybe Manoj knew this, and that is why he brought the carton from Chandu.” He again felt the sudden urge to smoke one McKnight, but stronger this time. “Manoj, he bought the carton from Chandu, atleast he can spare me one pack.” He thought. He picked his phone and called Manoj. There was no answer, Vikrant had no hesitation in calling him again. After 5 tries Manoj answered. “It is 1:30 Vicky, what is it?” Asked an irritated voice from the other side. “I want one pack of McKnight.” Stated Vikrant. “What!” Manoj was astonished. “You called me at 1:30 in night for a pack of cigarette. Are you out of your mind?” He was almost shouting. “Look, just one pack.” Vikrant pleaded. “First of all, I am travelling to Mumbai. So you can’t have it. And even if I were there, I would not have given that to you.” Told Manoj. He disconnected Vikrant was enraged. If Manoj would have been in front of him, he would have knocked Manoj out. Vikrant felt convulsions in his muscles and twitching in his brain. He knew he needed a cigarette, but not any cigarette, he needed McKnight. He made a mental note to take care of Manoj when he returns, as getting a cigarette was more important at that time. Vikrant got up from the chair. He longed for a McKnight, and it beckoned him like an old girlfriend. An old girlfriend who was always near to the heart but you could not reach for her. At this thought he recalled something that electrified him. Devyani, she was the one who always keeps McKnight in spare. He called her, but her phone was switched off. He picked up the car keys and rushed down the stairs. Driving as fast as he can, he was at Devyani’s place in minutes. Devyani was his first girlfriend, they were together in college. She was the one who first introduced him to McKnight. At that time he could not afford the expensive imported cigarette. She was rich and they were in love, with each other and with McKnight. He cherished each cigarette shared with Devyani. He pressed the elevator’s button which was at 12th floor. The descent of the elevator was painfully slow. He took the stairs instead. His heart was thumping the hardest when he reached at the door of her flat. He turned up the doormat and took the keys. It was his second nature to do so. He had never knocked the door to enter Devyani’s flat. He opened the door and entered the living room clad with darkness. Before his eyes could adjust to the darkness, he was in the kitchen. Devyani kept her cigarettes in the kitchen racks, Vikrant knew it. He flipped the light switch and started searching. He was disappointed and frustrated that there were no cigarettes. “Has she started keeping them somewhere else? Should I look in the bedroom? There would be a pack certainly by her bed.” He thought to himself. He turned towards the bedroom to find Devyani standing there. She looked at him in amazement and was holding up a bed sheet to cover up her naked body. “Vikrant…what is this?” She asked widening her eyes. Vikrant didn’t expect her to be there, this shocked him and already he was feeling nauseated in his yearning for McKnight. He jerked to his side as a natural reaction and tumbled the set of crystal glasses kept on the platform. He stepped back and a piece of broken glass pierced his foot. He had forgotten to put his shoes on before leaving. He also realized that he was wearing just his boxer shorts and nothing else. “What has happened?” Asked Devyani, she was clueless. Her bed sheet now lied on the floor and she moved forward to pick up the glass pieces from the floor. “Don’t move or you will hurt yourself.” She instructed. Vikrant stood still but the chill started to get him. It was cold and really cold. But only after he realized that he was almost naked he felt the chill. Soon another silhouette walked from the bedroom to the kitchen. Vikrant recognized him, it was Tony, Devyani’s boyfriend. He had the same look on his face that Devyani had a few minutes ago. “Would you tell us what has happened?” Asked Devyani mopping the glass pieces from the floor. “I want a cigarette.” Answered Vikrant looking into infinity through the floor. He was blank and numb. Devyani held him and helped him limp out of kitchen. “Get that glass piece out of his foot and give him something to wear” She told Tony who was still trying to understand the happenings. “Look at you, you are naked, bloody hell, in front of him” Tony said to Devyani pointing to Vikrant. He didn’t like it. “For God’s sake, Tony. He was my boyfriend for 5 years. He has seen it all.” she almost shouted as Tony took Vikrant to the living room. Few minutes later all three of them were sitting in the living room. Devyani poured a glass of brandy to Vikrant who was wearing a Kurta-Payjama. Devyani was dressed in her bathroom robe, a bit more conservative then her earlier appearance. “You have brandy in the house? How many times have I told you to get rid of this stuff.” Asked infuriated Tony. “Come on. I don’t drink this anymore. It is for the guests.” She placed the glass infront of Vikrant. Tony was red with anger; his male ego was severely hurt at several places. He wanted Vikrant out as soon as possible. But then for ladies he was like the ideal chocolate boy who was a perfect gentleman. He was someone whom a girl would want to keep as a trophy on her mantle. He contained the fury. “You came all this way, for a pack of cigarette?” Asked Tony. “Yes…” Answered Vikrant and turned to Devyani “Devyani, please give me one, just one pack of McKnight.” He asked. “Sorry Vikrant, but I do not smoke anymore. I thought you knew that” She said placing herself on the sofa. This unsettled Vikrant. He had his hopes on her. “I know it would be here somewhere.” He said getting up from the sofa. “Please let me have…just one cigarette will do” he moved towards the bedroom. Puzzled Tony looked at Devyani in amazement. He wanted her to stop Vikrant, he would have done that himself, but then he had to be the matured man, who stays out until absolutely necessary. He had to give Devyani a chance to set things straight. “Vikrant, I told you, I had stopped smoking. There are no cigarettes in my house.” She screamed as she held Vikrant’s hand to stop him from going further. His temper was already on rise. This was second time that night, that he was about to hit a women. Tony thought it was enough and he must step in. “Vicky, she smokes no cigarette, so chuck it and get lost” Tony dictated. “But, why did you quit.” Vikrant was almost bursting with the mixture of emotions. “It is because of Tony, he wants me to get rid of all this stuff. And actually it is good, for a healthy lifestyle.” She released Vikrant’s hand. He was now looking down at the floor which had few drops of blood on it. His foot was still bleeding. “You quit because of Tony?” Vikrant could not believe what he just heard. His longing for a cigarette increased with every blow to his hope of getting one. And then, like lava bursting out of volcano, his emotion burst through him. He picked up the metal rhino on the table next him and hurled that to Tony. The rhino missed Tony, who had already started charging towards Vikrant. Tony took Vikrant head on and both crashed, first against the wall and then against the floor. “Tony!!!” Screamed Devyani. Tony grabbed Vikrant’s neck with his strong fist. Vikrant moved his knee to hit Tony on his genitals. This undid Tony and he rolled to the other side. Enraged Vikrant stood up, Devyani tried to contain him but he easily pushed her over the sofa and onto the floor. While Tony rolled on the floor in pain, Vikrant lifted the glass and metal table and smashed that on Tony’s head. Although Tony was fitter and stronger than Vikrant, but now he lied at Vikrant’s feet. Vikrant picked up large piece of broken glass from shattered table and slashed Tony’s throat. Devyani sulked sitting in the corner, she was also bleeding. She had got her phone and was trying to dial a number. But she was trembling too much to hit the correct key. Vikrant leaped in front of her and held her by her hair. Phone fell from her hand. He banged her head several times against the wall, before he realized she is dead. The flat was soundproof so nobody heard her shrill screams. Vikrant searched the house and turned every single article but did not find a cigarette. The clothes he was wearing were stained with the blood gushing out of Tony’s throat and Devyani’s head. And then the revelation struck him, he had killed them. He went blank once again. He cried and cried hard. Images of him with Devyani flashed in his mind. When they were in college they used to go for long drives in Devyani’s car, made love, drank and smoked. He was free at that time, away from his family. His family always doubted his ability, because he was the youngest. He remembered how he smoked his first cigarette. It was a challenge thrown to him; he smoked the whole cigarette in less than a minute. It liberated him, he felt like he could do anything. It lifted him to newer heights. He felt more respectable among the average college students. It got him his first girlfriend, who was also the hottest girl in the campus. Now she was dead and his tears flowed down his cheeks to blend with her blood on his body. He couldn’t come to terms with what has happened. Fear clouded his remorse. He understood the need to leave that place as soon as possible. But even if he left, he couldn’t escape the law. His prints on the two corpses were enough to convict him. He opened all the windows, switched off the AC, poured the brandy over the living room carpet. He went into the kitchen, opened the valve of cooking gas regulator. Removed the clothes he was wearing and drenched them in brandy also, and changed to Tony’s suit after a shower. Before leaving he lit up his brandy drenched kurta with his favorite Lamington lighter and threw it on the carpet, closed the door and wiped the door knob. He felt a relief when he turned the keys and the car started. Pushing the throttle paddle hard he drove away from the crime site. Soon the craving for a cigarette got back to him; it was still there while he was weeping at Devyani’s place. He felt his hands were trembling. The blood slowed down in his veins. His finger started getting numb. It became hard for him to turn the steering. The street lights blurred in his eyes. He was convinced he needed a cigarette or he will die. And moreover soon McKnight was out of market, he could not imagine himself smoking anything else. His heart ached with this thought. It was like his beloved was parting forever and he was denied her last sight. He wanted his last McKnight. Driving the car became harder with every tumbling thought, he passed the theatre where he was few hours ago. It was this cursed theatre where he was about to smoke his last McKnight, and the damn security guard spoilt the union. He had to put that off. And suddenly his car braked the hardest since it was built. He recalled that he hadn’t smoked the complete cigarette and it would still be in the dustbin. Running, no panting he reached the dustbin. It was a steel dustbin with a usual black plastic bag. His desperation grew as he found the dustbin was empty. They had cleaned it up after the last show. He broke down, and then the same sound fell on his ears which had asked him not to smoke. It was the same guard. Vikrant was squatting on the floor infront of dustbin. Guard was not habitual of visitors so late and in this situation. “Any problem sir?” Guard asked. “Where is the trash?” Asked Vikrant in reply “Housekeeping took it out.” Explained the guard. “Where do they take it?” Vikrant was growing desperate with each answer. “I am not sure, a truck comes every night to collect the trash, but what are you looking for?” He was really puzzled now. “You are saying, you do not know where they take it.” Confirmed Vikrant. His desperation started giving way to anger. With guard’s each word the memories of that dismal moment came to Vikrant’s mind. He picked up the steel dustbin and banged that on the Guard’s head. Blood started dripping from guard’s mouth. “You said no smoking here” Shouted Vikrant “I will show you what is smoking” He claimed. Vikrant dragged the guard to the parking and along the way kept hitting him with his leg. He inserted the chubby exhaust pipe in the guard’s bleeding mouth. The pipe was so big in diameter that it almost tore the guard’s cheeks. Vikrant turned the engine on. Pressed the throttle hard, guard’s body jerked in convulsions as the black diesel smoke filled his lunges. After pumping enough smoke into the guard’s lunges to suffocate a room, Vikrant drove away. He didn’t even care to wait to see whether the guard was dead or alive. He was on the roads again; he decided to break into the dealer’s shop in the central town. This was the dealer who supplied McKnight to all the vendors across the city. And then it happened, something which was bound to happen and he knew it would. He ran into a police check post. Considering the present circumstances, it was a miracle that till now he hasn’t came across one. He stepped onto the breaks and rolled down the windows, just enough to reveal his face. “Can I have your Driving license and vehicle registration?” Asked the officer who was much polite, maybe due to the machine Vikrant was driving. It underlined where Vikrant belonged in the social pyramid. Vikrant handed over the papers and waited patiently. But this patience was only superficial; inside he was becoming more and more desperate to get his McKnight, probably the last few. While the officer checked the papers a constable as part of the routine check circled the car to look for any suspicious signs. “Sir” called the constable from the rear of the vehicle; he had spotted the blood on car’s exhaust pipe. The officer went towards the rear to see what the matter was. Vikrant considered this the perfect opportunity to escape, but his papers were with the cop. He could’ve escaped but rather tried to maintain his calm and waited for the officer to come back. “Can you explain the blood on the exhaust?” asked the officer now with a harsher tone. Vikrant looked towards his foot for a second and then opened the door so quickly that when the officer realized that he has been hit by the gate, his stomach and ribs ached like a bullet has pierced him. His grip on the papers loosened, Vikrant grabbed those with his right hand, while his left hand turned the key to start the car. Before the cop or the constable could understand anything, Vikrant was at the far end of their visible horizon. He knew that he would be chased for sure; he turned the vehicle in the maze like alleys of the old town. With a lot of twists and turns he reached the dealer’s shop. He knew this was his last chance to get a McKnight; if it is not here then there is no way he could lay hands on one. His hands trembled with the urge and he felt blood withdrawing from his finger tips. His vision had started blurring much earlier. Every breath that he took, took him closer to suffocating. He believed for sure that he would choke if he doesn’t get any McKnight soon. Without waiting he rammed his 2 ton SUV into the shutter gates of the shop. The first blow sent back recoils and the air bag opened against Vikrant’s chest, the shutter gate still held good. Vikrant punctured the air bag with his Swiss army knife as it blocked his vision. He reversed the car and smashed the shutter with a harder blow. This time the steering wheel went deep inside Vikrant’s chest and he heard some kind of cracking. But what he saw drew a veil over all his pains. The shutter gate was ripped from the ceiling and there were cartons of McKnight inside the shop. Vikrant opened the car gate. He wanted to run to the cigarette but was not able to do so. He almost crept towards the cigarettes. His trembling hands opened one of the packets. He pulled out one McKnight out of the packet. It carried the same grace and beauty, which drove Vikrant crazy when he first held it years ago. It was also the same cigarette which Vikrant had thrown away a few hours ago without even smoking a complete puff, without any care. He pulled out his Lamington lighter, placed the cigarette between his lips which parted with much effort. His joy had no bounds, he wanted and he got his last one. He ignited the lighter and brought it to the tip of the cigarette. He tried to inhale the smoke, to get the joint going, but he couldn’t. He tried again, and again. His vision blurred even more, but he could see the cigarette burning like a piece of paper in his hand. He could not part his fingers to let go off the burning cigarette. Soon everything turned black; he heard few sounds which were like sirens. Police had chased him down. It was the last thing he heard. His ribs had cracked and punctured his lung. That night he killed 5 people, including 2 innocent kids who were sleeping in Devyani’s neighboring flat. They got killed by the LPG cylinder blast. The sixth person to be killed was he himself. He died because he was a smoker and the reason was also a cigarette, but he died because he could not get one to smoke, contrary to what happens usually. And yes, as I told you this is all real, it has happened to real people. P.S. – While all this happened Nikita slept and was informed only in the morning.