Tapri girl

Vasudha Bhandari

"Hey, aren't you the girl who smokes by the tapri near office ? You look so different in party gown. You look nice." A man had gathered the courage to disturb my peace at the office party. It would have been perfectly fine if he was interested in genuine conversation and did not ask for my number at the end of our conversation. Surely, I intrigued them and made them think that they are trying to grasp a progressive lady who will color their life red when I was a cloudy dark gray through and through, my mind struggling to find peace. We met again next day at the usual tapri. "Hi ! We met at the party yesterday" "Yeah. I remember", I replied with a distant attitude. "Why don't you talk to anyone ?" "I will when I feel the need to." This is what I had become soon after I joined office as a fresher. The young girl who smokes by the tapri. She does not talk to anyone, just plugs in her earphones and smokes, then resumes her work back at the office. She is definitely a piece. I picked up smoking in final year of college. I am not sure what transpired in my mind when I took the first drag. Was it an attempt to set myself apart and look edgy ? Was it because I saw my roommate smoke daily and it got psychologically normalized ? Was it to impress a crush of mine who was a smoker ? I am not sure which one was it, but now it has become a part of me. I could not do without at least ten in a day. I could not deal with people without it. Maybe I am a weakling. That is the general notion of a smoker. Someone who has resorted to escapism with the aid of a self- destructive tool. But a weak person does not take up a job they never wanted to do solely to build up on finances for finally gearing up for the dreams in line without depending on parents. A weak person does not continue working with a crowd that has zero relatablity and a huge age gap. A weak person does not constantly go out of comfort zones in the hope that the higher management will notice the quiet work I put in amidst the extroverts who are experts in presenting the best versions of themselves at all times. Yes, pretty unfair of my friend who married a US settled man and chose the easy life of a rich homemaker assisted by servants to point out my smoking. She had a great life since childhood. She was your typical daddy's princess. Her dad never put pressure on her to prove herself, like mine did. Her high class mother never sulked and always smiled like sunshine. Her parents had given her a rainbow childhood compared to my parents who had fought like animals often right in front of me when I was a child. It is definitely not okay for me to judge her, as she chose what she wanted. But so did I. No matter how harmful it is, it was my choice. After being a closet child till high school, my dad finally decided to send me away to hostel for college. He decided I needed to see the world and become independent, since I was a naive single child. So as soon as college started I shifted to hostel. It was a nice change to be living with girls of my age, even though there were less than a handful whom I could be friends with or who could be friends with me rather. It was the time when I started developing insecurities seeing how pretty some girls were with perfect hair and makeup, when my hair was a mess and I could not do makeup to save my life. College life hardened the ice between me and my parents and I could not help but feel irritated in the house that had caged me in my teenage years every time I came back from hostel during weekends. My grumpy attitude was too much for my mom, and I was finally forced to see a psychiatrist, an old man who had a good reputation and experience in the field. He told my mom what I already knew : I suffered from anxiety. The reason behind my anxiety was clear to me. I was not able to find my place. I kept to myself because my attempts to socialize never bought me life long friends. I was a piece that did not fit anywhere. The wild and pub loving people found me too boring and the studious people found me too carefree and edgy. The guy who made my world go round was busy with his boy gang checking out other girls. There were few girls I could relate to. I had a deep void. I had confusion and sadness stemming from a childhood that saw two adults fighting. I hoped for the psychiatrist to catch all these things by opening up as much as my mind allowed me to.But the aged male psychiatrist found the cause behind my anxiety to be related to having unreal aspirations, like any youth these days (in his words) . I have nothing against psychiatrists, but I do believe that educational qualification and experience in a field does not automatically make you capable of understanding the emotions of a generation who is living the times that are different than your childhood. They can at best sympathize, never empathize. I was given pills. Prescriptions are only as good as your ability to abide by them. And abiding to something you find hard to believe that it will cure your problems is not easy. Few months later I had my first drag of cigarette. For a second my brain was clear. Not thinking of anything, not bothered by anything. It was that moment I had the wild thought of making cigarettes my pills since they were so much more effective. Cigarette also started to seem like a symbol of rebellion for someone who felt they have been wronged. And so began the journey of doing something that is frowned upon. I took a smoke when I was sad, when I had to stay awake for studying, when I felt helpless and even when I just felt the need to rebel after a fight with mom or scolding from college professor. It had an instant peaceful effect which no amount of therapeutic talks by a human could have. But I was well aware of what this peace was costing me. As a decent dancer, I auditioned for college dance team and did not get selected because of my breathlessness and low stamina. That was the first time it actually hit me that smoking will eventually prove futile. I decided to at least reduce my per-day intake, because quitting suddenly was impossible. For a while it felt that the dark cloud that I myself invited over my head was here to stay forever. I could never quit it. As I transitioned from a carefree college girl to a financially independent but a slave to the clock office-goer, I clung to my habit even more to cope up with the massive change. Loss of contact with college friends, loss of privilege to bunk and show up only for few days and the realization that I chose a field that did not excite me but rather frustrated me. Adulthood was surely laughing at me for thinking that life was going to be smooth after graduation, and for whining about how life sucked during college days. At least back then my introverted self could remain shut in my room for days without attending college and only turning up during the time of submissions and exams. Now I literally had to fight a battle everyday in office. This was the ultimate showdown of my anxiety. Anxiety is yet to receive the same platform as depression. It feels hopeless to expect a society to become aware of anxiety attacks, when this same society took a lot of lives before it could change its attitude towards depression. Anxiety and stress is something men have been having since ages due to their workplace battles. It was only natural for some (not all) women to pick up smoking like some (not all) men as they started becoming as much prominent in workplaces. But as a woman I am bound to be lectured by women on how smoking is more unacceptable for a lady as she is prone to health disasters and the kind of lady problems in which difficult pregnancy is surely included. Shruti, a married colleague of mine, had once expressed her concern over my smoking. "Men talk about you. You are known as the girl who smokes alone by the tapri. And more importantly, it is not good for health. More so for a woman. You will have complications in pregnancy in the future". Well, thanks a lot for your concern Shruti, but you are never available when I want to discuss how a man was being rude to me in the office for no reason while working. You are also more than happy to make me do maximum of the work while you worry about what to cook for your husband. My mom and Shruti will never address the normalized things that have impaired the health and performance of women since ages, like being expected to do house chores after and before work, being expected to be ladylike all the time, a family forced pregnancy and many other things which have binded women from achieving the heights men have. Smoking is a taboo. A woman smoking is a greater taboo. Nevertheless, smoking has always been seen as a slow and painful killer and rightfully so. Maybe there is a bigger reason behind why there was a cancer mouthed man on the cigarette box, but nowadays it is a woman. Even though it took time to come to the resolution that I need to find a better way to rebel and channel my feelings, I have finally started bringing the change in my life. If not for me, I have to do it for the ones I hold dear. Finding out that her daughter is a smoker has brought my mother much grief. She had seen her father die of lung cancer due to chain-smoking. She was well aware of the smell, something that I underestimated when I was staying with her and decided to take one in the bathroom(great move!) . People in the office had started twitching their noses whenever I came near them. It was definitely time to reduce it down to bare minimum and hopefully quit. These days I have started replacing smoking with my hobbies which I plan to turn into ambition one day, by burning enough passion. I have started taking up singing gigs at small-time restaurants. As a singer you are needed to stay away from smoking. I have started learning music production. I hope to finally quit my job and get into music full-time. I discovered a young lady counselor who is fun to talk to and has taught me somewhat effective ways in which I can communicate my dissatisfaction to people. I can't say if she will cure my anxiety, but she definitely has helped in keeping it at bay sometimes. My advice to any smoker will be to not stress on quitting it overnight, rather gradually replace the smoking time with things you love doing and people you love spending time with. Contrary to what people think, I have seen many smokers reduce their intake and gradually quit once they find more meaning in life. Like someone has said, life is nothing but is trying to fill one void after another. The fillings are for us to choose. But still sometimes, as just a little social experiment of mine, I smoke by the office tapri with the male eyes on me. I think I am not willing to lose the tag of "Tapri girl" anytime soon. 

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