25 December 2009

Not Today...

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I was on the phone with Irfan, and since we'd just finished our 10th Grade Board Exams, I had all the time in the world to talk. "Did you see the match the Arsenal - Liverpool match?" I asked.

"Hold on a sec," He said, and before I could ask him why, I heard the sound of muffled coughs.It wasnt the type of cough you hear when someone's clearing their throat. Nor was it the kind where someone's chocking on something. Instead, it was a continous, hoarse sounding cough. And I immediately understood.
"Dude, what the hell man," I said. "What happened?" He asked, sounding unperturbed. "You know what happened. Why the hell are you still smoking? I mean, you know its bad for yo-"

"Dude, not today. Please," He replied. There was a specific way in which he always said it. It would always make me stop what I was saying, no matter what. I wanted to lecturing him about the effects of smoking, but I didnt. It wouldnt be of any use, anyway.

"So, tell me, how's your girl?" He asked. I knew he was changing the topic. "She's fine." I replied curtly. A few minutes later, I was talking to him about her. We'd both forgotten about the coughing...

 * * * * * * * * * *
I'd just finished participating in the Ragam festival held at NIT Calicut. Just as I was walking out of the backstage dressing room, I heard my mobile ring. It was Irfan. A smile crossed my face. It'd been so long since we'd last spoken. Almost 8 months. Yet, within a few minutes, it was as though we'd never lost touch at all.

"Listen," I said finally, "there is a favour I need to ask you. Its about her."

I could hear him chuckle. "Sure, what is it?"

"Well, you know she's in Pune now, right? I was wondering if you could, you know, somehow help me get there?"

"You're planning on meeting her?"

"Yah, I've got a few days off from college. So I thought--"

"Wait," he said, and the next second, I heard those familar sounds again. The sound of muffled coughing. The sound of lungs desperately seeking fresh air. The sound of his heavy breathing. I heard him sip something, and clear his throat loudly. "Sorry, tell," He said, continuing as though nothing had happened.

"Dude, you're still smoking?" I asked.

"Yah. Forget that, now tell."

"Cmon man, I thought you'd quit."

"I had. I started again. Now can you continue?"

"Listen, why are you doing this to yourself. You know its not--"

"Dude, please. Not today. Not when your in such a good mood. Please dont spoil it. Just tell me what help you wanted."

I paused. I didnt say what ever I wanted to say. Why? Because, as any college guy would tell you, we never talk about stuff that bores people. It just isnt cool. Besides, lecturing a buddy is lame. Or so I felt.

"Fine, the thing is, I need a way to reach Pune by next Sunday." I said.

"No problem. Come with us. A few friends of mine and I are going on a road trip to Pune. We'll pick up from Calicut, and then reach by Saturday evening. You'll have a few days time to stay there. That's enough right?"

I couldnt beleive my ears. I could finally meet the girl I loved. "Thanks dude, really, owe you big time!" I said. And with that we ended the conversation.

 * * * * * * * * *

As I stood near the hospital bed, I nervously fidgeted with my shirt's cufflings. Today was supposed to be the happiest day of my life. I was dressed in a smart suit, ready to marry the girl I'd loved since High School. Except I was standing in a hospital ward. Watching the frail body of Irfan, connected to a Ventilator system through a mesh of tubes and masks.

He was fast asleep, the Doctor had said. The pain killers were at work. It'd be atleast a few hours before he'd come around. Till then, all I did was sit there, watching my best friend....

"So, how are you?" Irfan said. Except that it took almost eternity for him to say it. Each word was uttered slowly, followed by a deep breath. I could see his chest rise up and down slowly. His whole body was straining now. And as always, he was trying to put on a cheery attitude.

"I'm fine. It's you who should be worried." I replied.

There was no reply. Just the unbearable sound of strained breathing.

"Dude, what the hell man!" I suddenly burst out. "I mean, you were told not to smoke the last time they discharged you, right? And what did you do? Puffed up three packs within a week. Are you crazy or something? I mean, it's almost like you're hoping to die."

"Hah," Irfan said, smiling broadly. "We've all got to die someday, right?"

"Very funny. You just dont get it man. You're always gonna be screwed up. I mean, the Doctor's saying both your lungs are critically damaged. You might not even make it through this time. Why dont you understand-"

"Dude, please," he said, his sound wheezing now. "Not today. It's your wedding today. Let's talk about that. She must be damn excited right?"

I merely nodded my head, unable to say anything as tears welled up in my eyes.

"She's pretty nervous, though," I said finally, staring at the floor, hoping that would make me forget the bitter truth. He didnt reply. He couldnt, for at that moment, he began coughing terribly. It was as though he was figthing for breath. His whole body shook, his throat ached from the hoarsesness of the coughing. There were no gaps, no few seconds of relief. Instead the whole room resonated with his coughing. All I did was just sit there. Hearing it all echo in my mind.

And then it stopped.

I thought about those moments in my school days, when I'd tell him about the latest happenings in my pretty little life. I would sometimes hear the sound of a lighter being clicked. I'd stop talking as the plastic sound would continue. And then suddenly, I would hear the sound of him taking a deep breath, and letting out the smoke. I would hear it all....and never say anything.

My thoughts were broken when I felt a hand on my shoulder. It was the Doctor. He had that familiar expression on his face. I looked up at Irfan, now lying still. For the first time ever, I wished he'd cough. Suddenly, I was hoping to hear the violent, frightening sound of his lungs struggling for breath. Anything, anything would do.

I suddenly felt like surging forward, and slapping him relentlessly. I felt like swearing at him, for all the times he'd smoked. I wanted him to explain to me, how he could just get away with it. I wanted him to tell me why is it, that he could die and leave me behind alone to face the sadness. I wanted to punch him till he'd promise me to never smoke again. I hated him. I despised him for everything he'd done. I despised him for being in a hospital gown instead of a suit. I despised him for lying there, lifeless, instead of teasing me and my wife at my wedding.

As the Doctor pulled me away, I turned around. Suddenly it all came crashing back. I heard him say to me, "We've all got to die someday, right?"

I shook my head. "Please dude, not today. Not today..."

[This is perhaps the most personal post I've posted till date. It's fictional ofcourse, yet inspired from real life incidents, occurances that I've heard from India and elsewhere. 

Author's note - There are two kinds of people who smoke. First, the people who do it to look cool, to fit into a group, to flaunt their status among others. They are, in my opinion, losers who havent learnt what it means to live life.
Then there's the other kind. Those who smoke to ease the pain they go through every day. This post is for them. It's perhaps a feeble attempt to let them know that....It's not worth easing today's pain, and losing tomorrow's happiness.

Your views are appreciated.]

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  1. loved the repetition of "dude...not today"...really like the way u express these concrete messages..effects of smoking,friendship,and the simple yet powerful emotions of a guy who is worried abt his best fren...10/10!..

  2. I really liked some of the lines like "It's not worth easing today's pain, and losing tomorrow's happiness." Nice work.
    Woudn't have minded a slightly longer version though!
    And, "Besides, lecturing a buddy is lame. Or so I felt." So that makes it clear 'I' does not refer to you:P

  3. This post brought tears to my eyes. 5 stars. Good job!

  4. sheesh,,, i thought i already commented on this one...
    this was an awesome post man.. seriously i made my frnds read it.. 1 of them even decided to quit smoking.. so congrats bro..:D
    and keep it coming..:D