I Quit Smoking


The Beginnings

I have been a smoker from my Sainik School Grade 11 days – from the age of 16. Then as a young teenager in the late 70s, it was all about imitating movie stars. In those far away times, it was cool to smoke both on and off screen. Time was when the great Tamil Superstar Rajanikanth emerged on screen with a cigarette in hand and his bag of tricks. He would flip a cigarette to his lips with uncanny flair and even light a tossed up cigarette with a single shot from his revolver. From Hollywood to Bollywood many including the likes of Gregory Peck to Amitabh Bachan were not far behind. So yes, I simply wanted to be cool. Or was it an adolescent’s act of defiance? Was I telling the world “I am no more my mamma’s boy” or perhaps “I am grown up now and I am tough!’’?

At the time, I had no idea that three out of four adolescent smokers continue to smoke for most of their adult lives, and one out of the three, would prematurely die of some smoking related issue. Years later when I joined the army, smoking continued to flourish aided by the encouraging environment where it was both macho and fashionable to smoke. In our courses of instruction, many a class would commence with the instructor announcing ‘gentlemen you may smoke if you wish’ and would progress with both the class and the instructor being engulfed in a cloud of smoke. It would sound implausible that an ash tray was provided at the desk of every trainee officer. Also, I still remember the formal dinner night banquets in our unit officers mess, at the end of which cigars and cigarettes were passed around as part of the banquet drill!

The Agony and the Ecstasy

Studies are revealing. Statistics show that three fourths of all smokers attempt to leave smoking a few times every year, often unsuccessfully with the average abstinence lasting only three weeks. Nicotine is found to be more addictive than cocaine although in its pharmacologic effects it is much milder. Nicotine is found to increase speed of reaction and improve performance in tasks requiring sustained attention. Per se nicotine is not all that dangerous, it is the tar and other chemicals in cigarette smoke that causes major health problems. Many smokers also feel that smoking is a big help in stress relief, a boredom remedy, and mood enhancer.

I simply relished the act and often reasoned with myself that I really liked it, it helped me in many ways and there is really no reason to give it up but often I went through the cycle of disgust, wanting to give up and restart in full flourish. While serving with our Regiment in Delhi, our revered senior Battery Commander, a chain smoker with whom I shared many a smoke, died of cardiac arrest while undergoing Battle Physical Efficiency Test (BPET), a routine activity in the army. The calamity shocked me a great deal but still it did not deter my smoking. Camaraderie in smoking is just as strong as drinking camaraderie and perhaps only a wee bit less intense than the camaraderie in battle! Smoking friends are simply great friends especially when they come to each others’ rescue as the cigarettes run out.

It was not that I did not want to change, to kick the awful habit of smoking, but just could not do it – for many reasons or rather self found excuses – justifying my continuation to smoke.

My wife Marina, from the day we got married in April 1989 could not make the ‘change’ in me to quit smoking.  She tried all the tricks in her bag and ultimately gave up.  Whenever she spoke against my smoking, I very tactfully looked the other way.

Back in my Devlali days, I had a close friend in uniform. He was a defiant smoker who used to boast that he will never quit smoking.  He, would often tell me quite in jest but with all mock seriousness to place a carton of cigarettes in his coffin, when the time comes. Coming from a practising Christian, the joke reflected his passion for the blue smoke.  Then one day his son was diagnosed with cancer and in six months the young one breathed his last.  After all the rituals of the child’s funeral, at night he took me to a dark corner of the backyard, hugged me, wept like a kid and said “Reji, I smoked so much that my son ended up paying for it.  I never smoked in front of my children, but see what fate has done to me.”  The tragedy resulted in his giving up smoking, but I bashed on regardless, so to say. The thought struck me that emotionally disturbing events in the lives of smokers which are perceived as direct consequences of the smoking habit often result in rapid cessation of smoking.

I wanted to frantically quit smoking when: –

  • I panted for breath in the high-altitudes of Kashmir and Sikkim.
  • Undergoing BPET and various other rigorous physical activities.
  • Our children embarrassed me with their innocent questions on my smoking.
  • I saw the pools of desperation in Marina’s eyes.
  • I did my mathematics to calculate the size of the hole I was burning in my pocket.

But the macho man in me could not and would and do it. Bash on regardless!

In January 2018, my friend-philosopher-guide from my Commanding Officer days, a Veteran Brigadier called me up to say that he quit smoking.  We too were smoking comrades both in and out of uniform.   It was all because his daughter was diagnosed with cancer.  She has fought through it and is hale and hearty now. But this too did not deter me from smoking.

In February 2019, we travelled to Peru to attend my dear friend Vijas’ daughter’s wedding.  It was followed by a week-long tour of Peru.  After two days I suffered prostate gland enlargement or Benign Prostatic Hyperplasia (BPH) and had to undergo an emergency procedure at a hospital in Peru followed by evacuation to Canada.   My wife blamed it partly to my smoking habit, but this too did not deter me from smoking.


On my last Birthday – 13 March 2019 – our son Nikhil gifted me a JUUL – an e-cigarette to help me quit smoking.  After that, to date I have not smoked.  JUUL was founded by former smokers, James and Adam, with the goal to provide a satisfying alternative for adult smokers.  JUUL’s policy is that they do not want to see a new generation of smokers.

I felt the need to quit for the past 30 years.  I wanted to quit smoking for the past 30 years.  So, it was neither ‘want’ nor ‘need’; but was all about a catalyst.  Our son gifting me a JUUL acted as a catalyst.

The Way Ahead?

Thanks to the initiative by many production houses and sensible movie stars, scenes depicting smoking is now mostly off screen barring a few senseless ones.  Mere statutory warning on the cigarette pack or on screen is simply not good enough.

National Survey on Drug Use and Health, analysis of cross-sectional data from 2006-2013 shows the rate of onset of cigarette smoking among young adults (6.3 percent) was more than three times higher than onset among adolescents (1.9 percent) during this time.  Hence all educational effort must target young adults to achieve any worthwhile results.

Banning cigarette advertisements and sponsorship at entertainment or sports events, and prohibiting free sampling of tobacco products and non-tobacco branded items are worthwhile measures to keep young adults off cigarettes.  Young adults are less monitored and more independent, thus prone to carry on smoking and using other tobacco products.

Meanwhile the tobacco lobby continues to grow from strength to strength with a profit only motive as their inspiration. Reasonably strong worldwide legislation would be required to shackle the tobacco industry.

We have many miles to go in educating young adults about the awful habit of smoking and use of other tobacco products.

Meeting Subedar Major Paramjit Sidhu


We were enjoying the Canada Day long weekend from June 29 to July 01.  Our daughter Nidhi and son-in-law Jay had left our grandson James with us and went golfing the weekend.  We the grandparents were enjoying a laid-back and relaxed long weekend with our grandson.

Canada Day is celebrated on July 01 to commemorate Canada becoming a self-governing dominion of Great Britain and a federation of four provinces: Nova Scotia, New Brunswick, Ontario and Quebec in 1867. The anniversary of this date was called Dominion Day until 1982.  Since 1983, July 1 has been officially known as Canada Day.  It is a public holiday, a day off for the general population with all schools and most businesses closed.


In many towns and cities, municipal governments organise many events, often outdoors being summer. These include pancake breakfasts, parades, concerts, carnivals, festivals, firework displays and so on. Canada’s national flag is widely displayed and a lot of people paint their faces red and white – Canada’s national colors.

On June 30 morning, as I was playing with our grandson and also watching the inglorious defeat of the Indian Cricket team at the hands of their English counterparts in the league stage of the World Cup, I received a call on my cell-phone. The caller spoke in a soft and confident voice introducing himself as Subedar Major (SM) Paramjit Sidhu.  He said that he was visiting his daughter in Toronto and had got my number from his Commanding Officer(CO), Colonel Viveka Murthy of 288 Medium Regiment.  He informed me that he was at the Square One Shopping Mall near my home and expressed his desire to meet me.   I could immediately place Colonel Murthy as I had interacted with him on the Sainik School Amaravati Nagar WhatsApp Group.  Colonel Murthy had joined the school in June 1979 shortly after I had left the school to join the National Defence Academy.

Vet Plate
I briefed SM Sidhu that our home is only two minute away and he must come to Gate 8 of the Mall and my car would be parked outside the gate.  It would be very easy to recognise my black Honda CRV with its unique licence plate.

As I pulled alongside Gate 8, a tall smart Sikh gentleman emerged from the shadows.  From his bearing, gait and the meticulous folds of his turban, I couldn’t have missed him a mile away. He was a true representation of the smart and ramrod straight Indian Army Soldier.  On entering the car, he greeted me and introduced himself.  The way he spoke and his conduct was the reflection of the confidence this soldier had and obviously it came from his CO. I felt he was different from many of the Subedar Majors of the Indian Army that I had come across.  Why else should he ring me up in Canada and express his desire to meet a Veteran Gunner who retired 15 years ago?


We drove home to be greeted by Marina and James.  We spoke at length about his daughter, family and military life.  During our interaction I confirmed my earlier belief that he was ‘something different‘ when he casually mentioned about his achievements in powered hang gliding.

After the meeting, I drove him to his daughter’s home, a 30-minute drive.  He was very pleased and thankful to me for this gesture.  I said to him that I take it as a matter of pride and my solemn duty to take care of all soldiers of the Indian Army who visit me. Irrespective of rank and stature, I treat everyone alike.

On returning home, I decided to research on SM Sidhu’s power hang gliding.  SM Sidhu hails from Sangatpura village in Ludhiana district of Punjab.  He joined 76 Medium Regiment and was later posted with the Adventure Cell at the School of Artillery, Devlali.  He has an experience of over eight hundred hours of hang gliding during his 21 years stint there.

On 17 February 2012, he broke the 33 years old British world record in powered hang gliding by covering a distance of 380 km between Sriganganagar and Sanderav near Jodhpur. Gerry Breen, a British Pilot had on May 7, 1979 created the previous world record by gliding 325 km from Wales to Norwich.


Mr. Pranab Mukherjee, the President of India conferred Tenzing Norgay National Adventure Award to SM Sidhu, named after the first Everest summiteer Tenzing Norgay.  SM Sidhu also holds three national records in hang gliding as mentioned in the Limca Book of Records. What a great achievement for an Indian Army Soldier!!

I am very thankful to Colonel Viveka Murthy for providing me an opportunity to meet and interact with SM Sidhu. It was an opportunity to rekindle a sense of belonging, regale about the good old times and share a camaraderie and esprit de corps, albeit separated in space and time! I felt wonderful and perhaps a wee bit more thankful to him than he was to me.

A Note Pad


During my Indian Army service, I envied all those officers who carried a well organised note pad.  The envy was obvious because I could never maintain one whatever and however I tried.  My pad was almost like God and Time, with neither a beginning nor an end.    I did not know what I wrote where, hence retrieval was never possible.  Why? – I never even attempted it.

Some officers of the extreme meticulous variety had their pad separated into sections to note down instructions and orders from their Commanding Officer, Battery Commander, tasks allotted to Sergeant Majors and Sergeants, and so on.  Some even used different coloured ink to jot down points based on its priority or severity. Some officers even had note pad beside their toilet seat. Supposedly, all the earthshaking ideas dawned on them while they were on the throne, and it had to be noted down there and then for fear of losing them. I did make an attempt once after observing the pad of a senior officer.  I created various sections in the pad, but when I wrote something, it was back to the God status.  When I tried to retrieve some information from it, I realised that it would be easier for me to decipher the Harappan script than my own handwriting.

The Harappan script was used by the Indus Valley civilisation some 4,000 years ago.  From excavations in present-day Pakistan and North-West India, archaeologists have recovered several thousand short inscriptions, mostly consisting of four to five signs.   Till date no one has come out with a satisfactory resolution of these inscriptions.  It is ironic that although the Indus Valley Civilisation existed in the heart of present day Pakistan, the nation claims no cultural heritage from this indisputable fact. Due to the non Islamic roots of the civilisation, Pakistan finds it convenient to hand over all cultural heritage claims to the Indians.

The pad often ended up as an appendage in my uniform’s Left breast pocket.  In the Regiment of Artillery, we very proudly wore the Lanyard on the Right shoulder with its tail end in the Right breast pocket. So the left pocket was reserved for the appendage! At the slightest hint of an order/ instruction coming my way initiated by a senior officer, I took out the pad and dutifully completed the motions.  The pad accompanied me to all the conferences and briefings that I attended.  As every other officer, I too often scribbled into it, using my version of the Harappan script. However, when it came to execution I found it more comfortable to rely on my memory.

Captain Desh Raj (now Veteran Colonel) was the self appointed commander for all young officers of our Regiment.  He was a great sportsman and captained almost all regimental sports teams.  This resulted in him being our mentor and guide in those days.  One day, after the Commanding Officer’s Regimental Sainik Sammelan (Commanding Officer’s monthly address to all soldiers and officers), Captain Desh Raj summoned all of us, five young officers of the regiment, and directed us to show him our note pads where we had noted down the points briefed by our Commanding Officer.  All of us, except one, were reluctant to display our pads.  We were all trying to hide our note pads, but Captain Desh Raj successfully managed to snatch them from us and glanced through them.  Soon thereafter he declared “None of you can make a good caricature of our Commanding Officer.  Your artistic skills need to be toned up.  Look at my note pad and the next time I would like to see a better caricature of our Commanding Officer from you all than this masterpiece of mine

That was when I realised that all those serious note taking by all young officers were much the same and on similar lines to what Captain Desh Raj did!  When I became a Battery Commander and later a Commanding Officer, I ensured that all my Sainik Sammelans were of less than ten minutes’ duration. Possibly, I was mortally scared of my subordinates drawing my caricature! So I resolved not to give them time for the act.

In the Army it was all about check-lists and Standard Operating Procedures (SOP) and here was I, treading a different path, and relying totally on my memory.  I prioritised and analysed all tasks in my mind and executed them to the best of my ability.  I too had my failures, but my dedication to execute the task always outweighed my failures.  I had a self commitment in that the day I omitted or failed to execute any assigned task, I will accept the consequences and carry a note pad for ever. Well, fortunately, it never got to that.

At the end of our Long Gunnery Staff Course of 13 months, our juniors presented me a mock prize.  You guessed it right!  It was the smallest note pad available in the market with a mention “This will last for your entire military service.”

I was posted as Brigade Major and our Brigade Commander was often peeved with me for not carrying a pad when he summoned me.  He tried all tricks he knew to make me carry one, but failed.  One day his Personal Assistant came to me and said “Brigade Commander has summoned you.  Please carry this pad and pen when you go in.”  I went in to the Commander’s office carrying the pad.  He smiled at me and asked me to take a seat.  He briefed me on ten tasks to be executed and whatever he said I religiously noted them down on the pad.  At the end of it, assuming that he succeeded in making me carry a pad, called for a cup of tea.  The two of us sipped our tea while discussing some mundane matters.  After that I left his office and commenced with the execution of tasks.

After an hour, I got a call over the phone from the Commander. He wanted a progress report on the tasks and I briefed him about the seven tasks completed with three in progress.  At the end he summoned me to his office.  As I entered his office, he pointed at the pad on the table and said “What is this pad doing here?”   That was when I realised that after the discussion over tea, I had inadvertently left the pad on his table.

It is where it is supposed to be.  I do not need it” I said.  Our Commander being a thorough gentleman, even though was livid, asked me “Seriously, please tell me why don’t you carry a pad with you all times like other officers?”  My instant reply was “Only cricket players and women use them.  I am neither.”  (Sorry! My apologies if you deem it sexist).  That was it! Our Commander never asked me to carry a pad ever after.

On assuming command of our Regiment, my orders to all was that no one will take out a pad and start noting down the moment I give any directions or instructions.  They must listen to me with all attention.  In case I felt the instructions were complicated or is likely to lead to any confusion, I or my Staff Officer will issue the instructions in writing with all details.

A few months into command, our Regimental Havildar (Sergeant) Major said “When you start a conversation, my hand first goes into my Left breast pocket.  Then I realise that it is an anathema for you and so bring it down immediately.  Most of our soldiers too face a similar dilemma.

How true was the famous military axiom “It is easier to put in a new idea in a military mind, but it is impossible to take out an old one!