Dealing With The Death Of My Brother (And Failing)

Just this month, my brother Atul Chitnis died – painfully.  When that happened, I thought I would never live it down. Today, a couple of weekends after his struggle ended in death , I have time to reflect on this, and I’m not sure whether to be proud of or be disgusted with myself.

atul

You know, it’s funny – we can get over the death of a family member. I’m not sure how this uncanny ability stacks up in terms of moral brownie points, or how our illusions of family solidarity manage it. But we can do it.

There was a time in my life when I was trained to observe my own thoughts and feelings mercilessly. Delusion and self-deceptions were no options at all – my job was to acknowledge my emotions, accept responsibility for them, and deal with them in some way.

Back then, there were good reasons having to undergo such emotional survival drills, and I am – even today –  thankful for what I learned.  However, this training has the depressing quality of surfacing at the most inconvenient times. Whenever I think I have successfully rationalized myself out of a psychological tight spot, I land up in the dock once more.

Atul and me - Bangalore 2004

Because I was unable to distract myself with work, tax problems and housekeeping today, I was forced to admit certain inconsistencies in my psyche – my brother, Atul Chitnis, was more to me than flesh and blood to me. I cannot escape the fact that I am trying desperately to forget he ever walked this Earth.

  • I tell myself that he had no option but to die, given the fact that he put in no efforts to preserve his own physical existence until it was too late.
  • I tell myself that he was too demanding, requiring of me qualities that I do not have but SHOULD have had because I come from a bloodline of high achievement.
  • I tell myself that there is no burden of continued grieving one me, because I wept frequently after  his death and to some extent at his memorial service.
  • I tell myself that I did what I could to keep him among us, but that he had made his own choices in life and that he had finally paid the price for them.
  • I tell myself that the living cannot and must not suffer on the account of those who died. Life must go on, I tell myself. The very basis of our lives appears to be the assumption that death is something that happens to those who deserve it… and because of our excellent personal qualities, we are somehow exempt from such a fate.
  • I tell myself that he is in a better place, with no evidence at all of such a place existing in the first place. “He is watching me from heaven, and he approves of how efficiently I got over his life and death and got on with my own .life ,” I tell myself.

Really?

Atul Chitnis was a man who dismissed everything but proven facts. I – not because I am his brother, but because I think this is a good premise – accept this as valid. On the basis of this premise, I have absolutely no assurance that Atul continues to exist on some ephemeral plane. There are very good chances that he is gone for good.

The questions I ask myself today are:

  • Did I respect him enough for being what he was – as my brother, and an acknowledged thought leader in his chosen field – while he drew physical breath?
  • Did I allow my ego to interfere with my family loyalty?
  • Did I think it was too expensive to visit him as much as he wanted me to?
  • Could I accept and love him as for what he was, or did he somehow fall short of some benchmark for acceptance that I had arrived at?

Today, when my mind has nothing else to distract itself with, the answers it produces for these questions do not flatter me at all. Today, I mourn for my brother because he was my brother, not because he did not meet my expectations. Today, I am torn apart because I  could have been a better brother for him….

My Brother Atul Chitnis (1962-2013)

atul1Atul’s death on June 3 sparked off a whole spate of eulogies. I knew that he was an authority on Open Source, of course – that fact was hard to escape if one spent any amount of time around him. But I must admit that I was unaware of just how much he had achieved till I read these articles.

I was always immensely proud of Atul while he was alive, and even more now that my awareness gaps have been filled. He was the rock star of our family, and by that I don’t mean his considerable musical skills. He was the guy who made a difference, touched more lives and – despite his tendency to lay waste to anyone who did not see eye to eye with him – had more friends than anyone else in the Chitnis clan.

It has been pointed out that Atul had certain overwhelming aspects to his personality. In the articles I read, this fact was highlighted in context with his strong opinions about technology and the people who make it happen. It is true – Atul was far from subtle. In fact, he was a rampaging bulldozer on the highway of his life, and not just professionally.

I agree with the person who wrote that he had no time for mediocrity. As many of us learned the hard way, that is not always a good thing – especially when it percolates down into personal relationships. However, the part of me that I had in common with him (which is a pretty big part) has always understood where he came from. Though we followed very different paths in our adult lives, that’s where I come from too. And, apart from some other things, that’s the side of Atul and his life that I want to write about.

I may be forgiven for not writing about his technological accomplishments. Though I’m his brother, I’m nobody’s technology expert. Also, I’m a die-hard Blackberry fan and still use Windows. When I bought an iPad a couple of years ago, he was ecstatic for a while. He was under the impression that it was only a matter of time till an iPhone replaced my BB and a Mac ousted my mid-range Lenovo.

That never happened, but that does not mean that Atul did not make a ‘techie’ difference in my life. It was he who taught me how to use a computer and the Internet – the first email and chat exchanges I ever did were with him. And he practically manhandled me into buying my first mobile phone. We got along somehow, as brothers often tend to do…

Some Background….

We – our mother, Atul and I – arrived from Germany in 1972. On Atul’s 10th birthday, in fact, and one month after my eighth. The only time we ever visited the country of our birth together again was in 2008 to spend Christmas with our mother.

Christmas

We have been asked innumerable times why, since we were both born there, we didn’t just stay in Germany. Even though our father was an Indian, our mother is German and we had every right to. Why would anyone give up such an advantage?

I have heard Atul respond to this question in different ways, depending on who was asking. This may be hard to believe for many who knew him, but he could be diplomatic when he wanted to be. I don’t live my life in the public eye and Atul is gone, so I don’t have anything to lose by telling the truth – we had no choice. Our father had masterminded our lives long before we were done with crapping our diapers, and staying in Germany after a designated period was not part of his plan for us.

This brings me to what I consider the crux of what I’m trying to convey here.

Like it or not, sons live their adult lives in a manner which is directly or indirectly dictated by their fathers. We may either spend our entire life complying with our father’s wishes or rebelling against them. We may either do exactly what the old man taught us to do, or do exactly the opposite. But either way, the fathers of sons hold the reins from beyond the grave.

There are ways to get around this problem, but it involves shrinks and counselors and takes quite a bit of time and dedication towards personal healing. Some men invest in these methods, others don’t. Atul didn’t.

Throughout the Indian part our childhood, our father was a person to be feared and steered clear of. He was a hard and peculiar man – brilliant in his own way, but driven by his own demons and completely oblivious of how his ways affected others. He was the son of a farmer who made good – worked his way out of a dead-end Maharashtrian village, studied engineering in England and specialized in oil hydraulics in Germany.

He met our mother in London, married her, brought her back to Germany at some point and later took off to India, where he built a sizable industrial empire. We saw him only sporadically in the first few years of our lives. His empire eventually collapsed, but at the time he sent his summons for our mother and the two us to leave Germany and come to India, it was just being built. There was no question of refusing – when our father wanted something, it would happen (sounds familiar?)

1

And so, on February 20, 1972, we arrived at Mumbai airport. It is hard to describe how massive the contrast was, and the incredible culture shock. Two days earlier, we had left the orderly life, clean streets and neatly working systems of Berlin behind and were now confronted with the bewildering, chaotic sights, sounds and smells of what was and still arguably is India’s filthiest and most insane city. We had never seen so many people occupying so little space. Our mother had been in India a few times before, so she was better prepared.

The cacophony all around us seemed to indicate that some kind of monumental disaster had taken place. It had, but I understood only much later that the disaster was an ongoing one – a disaster called Mumbai. If there was one thing Atul and I shared throughout, it was our intense dislike of this strange city that has so successfully made a mockery of all that is worthwhile and dignified in life.

Belgaum – The Early Years

Thankfully, our stay in Mumbai was brief. Two days later, we left the banshee scream of this perpetually dying city behind to be greeted by the languid yawn of Belgaum – the city where we spent our childhood and teen years. Despite the evil memories of the events that happened there, I still love Belgaum – and in fact all small towns where life is still measured in months and years, not minutes and seconds.

2

The only thing there that was life-sized – or rather larger than life – was the all-engulfing, all-consuming figure of our father.

This was a man with an agenda. As I said, he had our lives all mapped out. Atul was to be groomed to take over the engineering side of his industries, and I for the commercial part. Anything that somehow appeared to deviate from this agenda was frowned on and eventually snuffed out. What counted were the highest possible marks in school and college. Even our friends were evaluated on the basis of their report cards.

Though we both had immense readjustment problems (we didn’t even speak English when we arrived) Atul’s school life in India appeared much smoother than mine. The real problems started when Atul joined college – that was the point where it became evident that he had no inclination for mechanical engineering at all.

There were only three things that really interested him by then – a charming girl called Shubha Deshpande, a guitar he had somehow wrenched out of our father, and a strange little device about the size of a grocer’s calculator.

To me, it was nothing more than that – a calculator. It turned out that this little piece made by Casio was a lot more than that. Atul would attach it to our mother’s tape recorder and fill one tape after the other with screeching sounds not unlike those we still hear from dot-matrix printers in Government offices. The device was somehow interfacing with the battered old Telefunken tape recorder. They were communicating with each other and producing those strange sounds – programs.

Between courting Shubha by day, playing the guitar in the evenings and this mysterious activity for hours on end at night, there wasn’t much time for college work. Atul’s deviation from his carefully course did not go down well with our father. There were loud, often violent rows – but Atul had inherited our father’s tendency to never back down.

His fights with our father are the most painful memories I have of our early years. He drifted further and further away. Finally, after his graduation, he left Belgaum and took up a job with a start-up software company in Mumbai and then gravitated towards Bangalore. I guess the rest is history – he married Shubha, continued to play the guitar and became an icon of the Open Source movement.

The one thing that he needed from the old man – his approval – was the one thing he did not get. When he finally did, it was too late. More than twelve years later, it fell on me to pass on to him a message from our father, who died a few months later: “Tell Atul that I am very proud of him.” I was at Atul’s house in Bangalore when I mentioned it to him, and I remember him blinking at me for a long, silent moment. Then he shrugged and went back to work on his Mac. The subject was never opened again.

Atul did come down to Belgaum to see our father as he lay dying in the ICU, but the old man’s mind had already been taken out by a massive stroke. I have no idea if the fact that his long-estranged eldest son was standing there at his bedside registered at all. I do hope that Atul experienced a small measure of healing in that brief time.

As for me, I was and still am immensely proud of what Atul did in his lifetime. I won’t pretend to understand the nitty-gritties of his work – I don’t. But sometimes, people mistook me for him at airports and in hotel lounges. Many people, on hearing my name, would ask me if I was related to Atul Chitnis. And I would tell them proudly that he was my brother…

I am almost done, and I guess whatever I have written here is a bit disjointed. I’m sorry about that, but my mind is still slightly unhinged by Atul’s death. Also, you may wonder what point I am trying to make here. Am I blaming our father for the unrelenting hardness that Atul was known for? To some extent, yes.

I tackled our father in a very different way – not very original, but effective. Atul met him head on – he gave him the middle finger and waited till he could take charge of his own life. He did that much sooner than I did. But he did not walk away a free man. The specter of not being good enough, for not meeting expectations, haunted both of us. When it came to our father, our childhood was defined by brutality and inhuman pressure to perform. You may feel that men should be able to outgrow that – and they do, but in their own ways. But there is ALWAYS a residual effect.

Everyone has their own heroes in life. I guess Atul’s was Steve Jobs – mine is John Rambo. And even though I know Rambo is a fictitious character, I relate to some things he said:

“Nothing is over! Nothing!! You just don’t turn it off!”.

No, you can’t turn it off. You deal with it – in whatever way is available to you, whatever way you know, or it will poison the rest of your life.

“Live for nothing – or die for something!”

Atul lived for Open Source. He may not have died for it, but he lived for it. Please remember him that way, even if you forget everything else about him.

rambo

As I mentioned, it takes informed guidance and personal dedication to healing from such wounds if one is to overcome them. Atul had no time or patience for such stuff. He had better things to do – and one of the reasons why so much has been written about him is that he was pretty damned good at what he did.

The End

Watching Atul suffer was horrible. He knew what was coming, but he refused to accept that all possible medical avenues had been explored – and that somehow contributed to his suffering. This was a man who loved life, but had not taken the necessary steps to safeguard it. Everything that was attempted after the diagnosis of stage 4 colonorectal cancer was basically futile damage control – locking the stable after the horse had run away.

There were only two times in my entire life when I had the balls to tell him that I love him. The first time was just after the diagnosis, and I said it in the fleeting, offhand way that men tend to use when they are expressing deep sentiments. The second and last time was when he was unconscious in his own ICU bed, breathing artificially through a respirator – a couple of hours before he died. I don’t know whether he heard me.

Somehow, I hope he didn’t, if you can dig it. But I want to say it once more – and I figure that if any part of Atul is still around, it just HAS to be online.

3I love you, bro. I thank God that your suffering is over and curse Him for taking you in the first place. I miss you so very, very much…

 

 

On The Evolution Of Men

“Ashutosh, please change Smiti’s diaper. Ashutosh? Ashutosh? Oh, there you are. Get out from under that bed and be a man.”

“That’s precisely what I’m trying to be, dear. Men don’t change diapers. That is completely the woman’s domain.”

“Oh, really? And what do men do once they’ve had their fun and the result hollers for attention a few months later?”

couple

“Men are hunter-gatherers, dear. They go out and kill bison to bring meat on the table, fight off barbarian intruders into the territory who want to ravish their women and steal their offspring. They hit the steppes and prairie in times of famine and forage for water and food so that the family does not starve. They do NOT change diapers.”

Brief silence, rudely broken by another outburst of squalling from the cradle.

“That is a real eye-opener”

“It should be.”

“I’m trying to see my own husband in this light.”

“You should. It is the order that Nature has designed. You can’t fight it.”

“I’m trying to see my accountant husband as a hunter-gatherer.”

“Now you’re getting personal. It’s not my fault that my father insisted that I…”

“I’m trying to equate his being picked up by an air conditioned company car and going to his air conditioned office to pore over registers with hitting the hunting grounds and killing bison to feed his family.”

“You have a very poor sense of metaphor, dear. Rather than my exact words, you should focus on the SPIRIT of…. “

“I’m trying to equate his calling up the credit card and pleading for more time so that the debt collector who’s bothering his wife every morning after he leaves doesn’t repossess the fridge with fighting off barbarian intruders.”

“As I said…”

“I’m trying to equate his disgruntled face as he trudges off to replenish our exhausted milk supply at the corner store with the valorous demeanor of the primeval provider who leaves the cave determined to find water for his parched mate and brood in time of drought.”

“You are missing the point here, dear. Anyway, men do more than hunt, provide and protect. They also sit in councils that meet to confer on how to keep the community safe. THAT is definitely a man’s job – no man would expect his woman to assume such a weighty responsibility.”

“They do, do they?”

“Yes, they do. Can you imagine the burden of having to stand up and giving voice to words that can impact the wellbeing of the entire community? What if his judgment fails him? He would be at least responsible for plunging countless families into penury.”

“Well, you certainly haven’t shown up at any of the building society meetings ever since we took this flat. I go each time, but the all-male panel refuses to acknowledge anyone but the legal flat owner – you.”

“Dear, you know how it has been at the office. All those accounts we inherited from Mr. Mehta when he had a stroke two years ago have….”

“Had you shown up for at least the last two, you may have been able to prevent them from turning our legally allotted parking space into a gymnasium.”

“They did WHAT?!?”

“Turned it into a gymnasium.”

“How could they do that?”

“Oh, with about ten bags of cement, another ten of sand, twenty gallons of water and some workers – in two days flat. Some goondas from Grant Road supervised the process to make sure that the woman screaming her protests – me – doesn’t prove to be too much of a disruption.”

Silence. Renewed squalling from the cradle.

“But we were going to buy a car this year….”

No response.

“Okay, where are the diapers?”

“In the cupboard next to Smiti’s cradle.”

Extinction By Communication?

There is far too much communication going on. In fact, there is so much communication going on that SOMETHING has GOT to give sooner or later. It’s against all laws of nature for people to be THIS connected – across countries and continents, across timelines and most definitely across personal boundaries.

We moan about our stress levels, about how our time is not our own anymore, about lack of personal space. And it makes as much sense as moaning about pollution, which we do all the time – almost in the spirit of “Nature is not what it used to be”.

No, Nature is most certainly not what it used to be and air pollution is most certainly killing us. That’s because we have gone against all its laws and ensured that no matter how much Nature tries, it cannot clean up the noxious airborne cesspools above our cities. And as we all know, something has got to give on a larger front sooner or later, and I don’t mean just dying of emphysema. Sooner or later, the whole bloody system is going to break down.

What has this got to do with communication? Everything. There is communication pollution of pandemic proportions on the loose today, as well.

Picture, just for a moment, a scenario in which all invisible bands of ether and cable-borne communication in use today became visible for just a few minutes.  If someone were to take a photo of that from outer space, it would probably look as though the planet has been consumed by an incredibly virulent cancer. Human beings were never meant to be so much in contact with each other. No argument about how this kind of connectedness is good for business, but what about the basic psyche?

In a manner of speaking, borders and time variations came into being when the continents parted ways a few billion years ago and splintered further at the edges during the cooling process. Human beings weren’t around when all this happened, and that’s good. They only arrived and spread at their assigned geographies when the fences were firmly up.

Here is a critical point – we did not arrive on one seamless piece of Earth. The land masses were spread around the face of the globe, leading to differences in climate, colour, metabolism, languages and time lines. When one side of the globe slept, the other side was awake. I think we were supposed to evolve somewhere along those lines.

In our early primate state, we were certainly not equipped to monkey around with the natural order of things.  We gibbered good-naturedly at the monkeys in the adjoining caves when we felt good and pulped them with rocks when we didn’t.  There was no question of gibbering long-distance to whatever had crawled off the trees or slithered out of the ocean on the other side of the globe.

When we picked our noses or scratched our asses, we did not have to worry about our indulgence in such small pleasures being captured and disseminated to everybody else over the ether.  Our priorities were basic and manageable. We were individuals with dignity and a clearer concept of boundaries than we have today.

Fast forward to the 21st century. Everyone is connected, all the time – by regular and cellular phones, by television and by Internet. Satellites probe every nook and cranny of the globe for significant and insignificant events and flash news of them out to everyone in an instant. They transmit communications from one end of the planet to the other in a fraction of a second. Gone are the boundaries. Time differences are merely notional. Privacy is a laugh. And we love it that way, never once considering that this could be wrong – that it was never meant to be this way.

There has been a serious communication and information overload happening for quite a while now, but it has all happened in a relatively short period. The first telephone call was placed in 1876.  The first radio transmission took place in 1900, between two towers just a kilometre-and-a-half apart. The first television broadcast, if it could be called that, was in 1925. The first email was sent in 1971 and the first cellular phone call was placed in 1973.

All this has taken place in less than 150 years – a totally laughable period in terms of evolution. In fact, we have still not outgrown our body hair. We still have a tailbone. Men still grunt when they see a pretty woman, and women still shriek when they catch them doing it. The hairs at the backs of our necks still bristle when we sense danger. We still procreate in the same old messy way. And we still kill our contemporaries when we perceive them to be peeing on our side of the fence – which is all that war has ever been and ever will be, regardless of whether we wage it with sticks and stones or nuclear bombs.

And even though we haven’t evolved one bit over the past two hundred years, we have literally killed off all concepts of privacy, peace, dignity and personal space by investing more and more relentless ways of communicating with each other. We have reached a stage where we have the means to make trans-continental calls, send instant messages, email each other and pry into others’ lives over the Internet in a single device that we carry in our pockets. We just can’t conceive life without the ability to do this, either:

A – The Vodafone network is down again

B- WHAT?!? AGAIN?? It can’t be! It was gone for a whole ten minutes last month!

A – Well, I guess we’ll survive…

B – SURVIVE?!? ARE YOU CRAZY?!? I can’t survive with my Blackberry on the blink!!

A – Why? What will happen? So you can’t read your mails, check your stocks, play online Scrabble or pry on your girlfriend for a few hours. What’s the big deal?

B – God, I had no idea that you’re so dense. Don’t you get it? IF I CAN’T DO THOSE THINGS, MY LIFE IS FINISHED!!  I MAY AS WELL DIE RIGHT NOW!!! Let’s go and get drunk till service resumes…”

Flash back a hundred a fifty years. A mail arrives at a serene little farm at the foothills of a Montana mountain range.

Farmer – Juliet, there is a letter from Emily. She’s finally reached Boston. She says she’ll write again in a couple of weeks to let us know how the new job is.

Wife – I’m so glad. By the way, have you fed the chickens yet?

Dignity. Perspective.  Respect for space. Things we have to live without today. Our air and water are polluted with toxins, and our sanity is polluted with communication. Our own smartness has hijacked us, and who is to say that there won’t be a price to pay for it soon?

We already have documented cases of Internet-induced insanity, but have they identified the first serious mental disease brought on by cellular phone use yet – or will that only happen next month? Relationships are already breaking down en masse because of the communication / information overload. But what will Nature’s final revenge be?

(PS – The author of this post has killed himself by swallowing his Blackberry 9810, which also figured several times in his suicide note. Mourners please avoid texting him – the Urgent Chime alerts are freaking out the mortician)

*PTSD As A Way Of Life

Do nothing and just Be…

Anyone who has spent any significant amount of time on the Internet will have come across this time-honoured Zen chestnut, or variants of it. At first glance, it looks pretty nifty. Stop everything, give your churning brain the spiritual equivalent of a Novocaine shot, merge with the ether and smell the roses.

I can’t do it, for several reasons. The first is that in order to Just Be, I first have to know what I am. There are as many clashing online takes on that as there are on the benefits and demerits of coffee consumption. Opinions be damned, I will drink coffee no matter what the final verdict is because I can’t function without it.  As for what I am, I have displayed a remarkably consistent ability to not give that too much thought.

If my suspicions are right, I am neither Spirit momentarily trapped in temporal environs, a sinner in urgent need of redemption, or God. If my suspicions are right, I – like everyone else – am nothing more than a trumped-up monkey with the ability to immeasurably complicate my life with rational thought. Do nothing and just be THAT? I don’t think so.

The second problem is that at my age, time is no longer on my side – if it ever was. There’s stuff to be done, and limited time to do it in. More specifically, there is a livelihood to be earned and an uncertain future to be secured. I sincerely hope to eventually get off the corporate hamster wheel, retire and do nothing. On second thought, scratch that. I mean get off the corporate hamster wheel and get on a hamster wheel of MY choosing. One that rotates at a more sedate speed, but nevertheless rotates. I’m going to make a lousy retiree.

At my age, this is something of a priority, so dropping everything, clearing my mind, straightening my spine and zoning out is not an option. I mean, it MAY be an option, but my mind doesn’t think so, and it’s the only one I have. My mind has never a very good candidate for change. In the first place, it fits well in my skull. Like into an old shoe. I’ve had it with me for the last 48 years, and I’ve grown to like it. I’m not abandoning it for some unknown substitute. That would be disloyal and would in any case not work for long.

So picture me descending to the floor in a lotus pose, my twitching body ignoring all the stuff I have to do every goddamned day just to break even and my churning mind shutting out all the random thoughts that need to be sifted, pieced together, spun into sentences and pounded out on the keyboard just so that I can hopefully put an end to the work day. You see what I’m saying? Not happening.

There was a time when I had the option of reaching for a cost-effective bottle of booze and zoning out that way. It worked to some extent. I would do nothing (except drink) and my mind would indeed stop (sort of). My body would certainly be rendered incapable of coordinated, productive movement. So in a manner of speaking, drinking would help me get as close to that ideal Zenesque state of doing nothing and just being as I would ever get.

My doctor, however, refused to see the spiritual side of it. He was of the opinion that it was better to be temporal and alive than to be spiritual and dead. It took me some time to accept this, but the logic was irrefutable and I finally had to nail shut my only window to the ethereal world of numb nothingness. I tried substituting with woo-woo altered consciousness stuff for a while – but as I said, I’m not really on the market for alternatives. Especially when I’ve known the real thing.

So I guess I’ll never know what it means to sit still and listen to the grass grow. Come to think of it, who would want to hear that anyway? What’s wrong with listening to some nice spa music? It’s very relaxing, and I always listen to it as I tear around my place after a stressful day’s work, trying to find things to fix and spots that need cleaning.

It helps me concentrate.

*(PTSD - Post Traumatic Stress Syndrome)

Harish Patel Discovers Real Estate Advertising

At first glance, it looked like the menu card of a five-star restaurant. Thick, rich and ornate card paper had been used to produce the brochure that Harish Patel held in his hand. The printing ink was obviously the best available. But what really registered was the appealing visual and caption on the cover. ‘OWN A HOME IN PARADISE’ invited the caption in scrolling, royal blue letters, and the photograph below it really did bring to mind visions of Heaven.

Never had HP seen a more attractive picture. The building that it showcased was absolutely breathtaking, with clean lines and sweeping arches. The compound before it was spotlessly neat, with fresh concrete and tar interspersed perfectly by picturesque trees. Sparkling cars were parked in an orderly fashion in the spacious parking lot. A swimming pool with crystal clear water was visible in the background.

Harish Patel, an intrepid never-say-die entrepreneur from Surat who had recently made Pune his home, felt his heart ache with longing. He currently lived in a shabby rental flat in a rather down-market part of the city, but HP had always sensed something very human within himself… he longed for his own home. A place to put down his roots and maybe even launch his own extension of the already immense Patel clan.

He had found this brochure stuck under his doorstep this morning, and supposed that a roaming marketing executive had put it there. He looked more closely at it, wondering why only nubile foreign women were to be seen relaxing at the poolside. Was this a real estate brochure or a foreign travel prospectus? But the caption clearly said that this was a deluxe residential complex at Wanowrie called Jadootona Heights, built by Bhrashtachar Bandhu Promoters & Developers. Still totally captivated by the beauty of the visual, he opened the brochure and checked out the specifications and amenities.

The list was very impressive, fully promising him the luxury of a Presidential Suite at the Taj Intercontinental for the price of a two bedroom flat. HP looked around the cramped confines of his rental flat. No, he decided, I need more than this. I deserve a REAL home, just like this brochure says. However, he thought better of visiting the office of the developers in question. Instead, he turned the brochure over and checked out the name of the advertising agency that had conceived and printed this masterpiece of visual appeal. The agency’s name was Bolbachan Boulevard, located at Nal Stop. He decided to pay them a visit.

Half an hour later, he walked into their fifth-floor office. ‘BOLBACHAN BOULEVARD’ said the sign on the door. Under it was the cryptic message – ‘EXPERT PROMISES SINCE 1976’. An attractive receptionist with streaked red hair and green fingernails smiled up at him from behind a glass-and-chrome reception desk. This did not mean anything to HP – ever since he had arrived in Pune, he had learned that attractive receptionists are standard equipment in most business offices.

“Yes, sir? Can I help you?” she asked. Her fake American accent reminded HP of a call center girl he had met a few months ago, but she seemed friendly and helpful.

“Maybe…I hope so,” replied HP, holding out the brochure of Jadootona Heights. “This brochure was prepared by your agency, right?” The girl threw a cursory glance at it and nodded. “This and hundreds of others like it,” she said.

HP had come here with the idea of asking some honest questions about the project, but something told him that this was a wrong place for honest answers – instead, his native cunning took over. He remembered something his father had told him in Surat long ago – “Son, in this world, don’t expect to get at the truth by honest means”. So he decided on a different approach.

“Well, I must say it is a very professional job. The company who contracted you for it must be quite happy with it.” The receptionist smiled through painted lips.

“Oh, yes, sir. Bhrashtachar Bandhu Developers are long-standing clients of ours. In fact, we have an extensive list of prominent clients from the real estate line – may I give you a copy?”

“Oh, that won’t be necessary,” replied HP. “I’ll take your word for it. The fact is, I’m planning to launch of small residential project of my own by next year, and would like to have it advertised in the best possible way. This brochure is very impressive, and I decided to approach your agency to make one for my project.”

The receptionist nodded confidently. “You have come to the right place, sir. Did you say it will be a small project? No problem… we are very good at making small things look big. Will it be an ultra-luxurious undertaking?”

HP shook his head sadly. “No, I’m afraid not. I’m on a very small budget. But I’m sure that you can do something about that?”

“No problem at all, sir,” she assured. “We have expert copywriters who can make a Dharavi slum tenement sound like Buckingham Palace. They are very good at their work, and have fancy-sounding names for the most common things. ‘Flat’ becomes ‘Apartment’. ‘Watchman’ becomes ‘Professional Security Personnel’. ‘Open Space’ becomes ‘Amphitheater’. ‘Mud Path’ becomes ‘Jogging Track’. ‘Clubhouse’ becomes ‘Entertainment and Recreation Complex’. ‘Shower stall’ becomes ‘Personal Hygiene Unit’. You will not be disappointed, sir.”

Despite his growing horror, HP was impressed. You could say what you wanted about the agency’s ethics, but Bolbachan Boulevard was certainly professional. He decided to clear one remaining doubt. “I was also hoping for some effective photographs. Frankly, my project is not at a very good location, and…”

“Sir…,” interrupted the receptionist with a confident smile, “…with us at your service, you don’t NEED a good location. If your project does not show up well on a photograph, we have graphic artists who can come up with drawings that will fix that.”

“But I can’t afford to pay for beautiful foreign models….”

“Models? Who needs models, sir?” she asked. “We can get all the bikini-wearing foreigners we need from the Internet. As I told you, sir, you can leave it to us.”

Harish Patel thanked the helpful girl, assured her that he would be in contact, and walked out into the sunshine. He thanked God for inspiring him to make this visit instead of impulsively putting his money down on a flat at Jadootona Heights. His rental flat had seemed like a cramped and unappealing place to call home.

Now, HP knew that ‘ambience’ is just another name from a copywriter’s pen.

The Case Of The Perfect Parent

(A fictional depiction of an alarming social condition)

Finally, I could see the sheer cliff-wall give way to thunderous skies above me.

There was no doubt that I was an intruder here – the elements had made no bones about it ever since I had begun this climb. The wind had now redoubled it howling, freezing reproach, lashing at me with frost-laden whips as I dug in my gloved fingers and spiked boots to tackle the last ten meters to the top of the mountain.

How far will a parent go to find the answers that plague us every step of father/motherhood? Is the yen to be the perfect parent not a quest that beggars that of the Knights of the Round Table for the Holy Grail?

Back in my hometown on the other side of the globe, the surface of my study table had long since succumbed to the avalanche of ‘be-a-better-parent’ books. Instructional CDs on how to become the perfect dad/mom had ousted Chopin, Mozart and John Lennon from their rightful places of honor on our music rack, relegating them to dusty lower shelves.

Linda, always a die-hard seeker for new self-improvement avenues, had blown the budget for our Mauritius vacation on parenting workshops (bringing home more even printed research material) and long, rambling telephonic discussions with the other confounded parents she met there.

My bachelor friends had marked off my home on their weekend-visit maps in red Gothic letters that read ‘Here There Be Dragons’. This was definitely no place to drop in on if you wanted to discuss anything but advanced diaper management, the fine art of bonding with your kid and parent-induced trauma syndromes.

Unsuspecting visitors to 10/4, Mapleville Drive were subjected to inquisitional inquiries into their parenting styles, berated for their lack of awareness of the latest techniques of wholesome child-rearing, and forced to look at every single photo in a three-foot stack of baby albums (with a running commentary on genesis and circumstantial background).

We had lost a lot of friends since little Brian had arrived four months ago.

However, there were some positive outcomes too. Watching Linda and me tackle our new roles as parents the way that Oxford toppers tackle their final exams, my parents had disengaged their stranglehold on our affairs, removed themselves from the landscape and begun serious work on their own marriage. They seemed to be having a lot of fun for the first time in thirty years…

x  x  x

“How’s little Brian?” asked my boss on that fateful day last week. Little had I suspected that this seemingly innocuous question would have me clinging to the sleet-covered side of a mountain three hundred and fifty feet above the Tibetan plains five days later.

My boss was one of the few people who could ask me the above question without endangering the next two hours of his life with a new father’s agonized monologue on the pitfalls of effective parenting. After all, he had asked it while I was on company time – and company (which he heads) takes a jaundiced view of employees frittering away potentially productive hours on such stuff.

“Fine, sir,” I replied, stifling the usual avalanche of angsty moaning about how I’m certain my uninformed Daddying approach is turning the four-month old blighter into a mass murderer or, even worse, condemning him to a call centre career.

“And how are you and Linda managing?” he asked. I was getting worried about this unprecedented level of interest. Had word gone round in the office about how ineptly we were bringing up our kid?

“Uh… we’re on top of it, sir,” I answered with an egg-sucking grin. My faux confidence wouldn’t have fooled a retarded donkey with Alzheimer’s.

He nodded good-naturedly, indicating that he had either not heard me, or that he had but was not swallowing it.

“You know, I met up with my brother the other day – he’d just returned from Tibet. He told me of a wise man who sits on some godforsaken mountaintop over there.”

I wondered what this had to do with Dr. Zeuss, parenting-oriented rational emotive therapy or the ‘quality time’ school of thought.

“This wise man has apparently got the Ultimate handle on parenting,” he said. “My brother was a physical, emotional and mental wreck after his daughter was born… you know, he wanted to get everything right on the parenting front. He says that this wise dude had to say to him pulled him back from the brink of suicide.”

“I see you’ve lost about twenty pounds since Brian was born. Your efficiency levels have also dropped – I attribute this to loss of sleep and appetite.”

My heart sank – here came the pink slip.

“I’ve also heard that you and Linda are buying every parenting book and DVD in sight at the local bookstore. I want to you to go see this wise man in Tibet and see what he has to say. The company will pay for this. I hate to see a good employee kill himself this young.”

x  x  x

At last I reached the top of the mountain. The wind screamed its protest and tried to yank me over the edge again, but I was here to ask The Question and get The Answer and wasn’t about to let it do that.

I looked around, wondering how anyone could survive the numbing cold up here. At last I spotted him.

He was a shriveled, ancient and extremely weathered specimen, sitting cross-legged on a tacky prayer mat under a sturdy bamboo-thatch roof that did nothing to keep the elements out. The old party was bundled up in one of those fancy Nepali coats that they try to sell to you at every street-corner in Khatmandu. He was about eighty years old and maybe five feet in height, with a few stray wisps of hair still sticking to his otherwise wind-bleached scalp. He was reading something and paid no attention at all to me.

I stumbled across to where he sat and fell to my knees on the cold mountain rock before him.

“Master! I have come to seek The Answer,” I cried abjectly.

He looked up from what I was startled to see was a fairly dated copy of Playboy.

“Another one,” he said, sounding quite disgruntled. “What’s wrong with you people anyway?”

“Master, I am the father of a four-month-old boy,” I continued. “He’s…”

“… the sweetest, smartest, most promising child in the whole, wide world,” he finished for me. I was amazed. This man was truly gifted – he had read my mind!!

“Yes!!” I said, “Yes!! And I…”

“… want to be the perfect father to him, and your wife wants to be the perfect mother. You do not want to take a single wrong step, because you will get only one chance at bringing him up right and you don’t want to goof up. Goofing up will mean traumatizing him, and that would mean a warped child, and it would all be your fault,” he finished for me,  perusing the Playboy’s centerfold with a gleam of approval in his eyes. “So, we go on to The Question that haunts every new father and mother – How Can I Be The Perfect Parent?”

I fell silent. There was nothing more to be said. Playboy or not, this dried-up relic had just said it all.

He put the magazine aside and looked at me through the weary eyes of aged wisdom. It was a compassionate look, but there was also impatience in it.

“Here’s the answer, son,” he said. “Get a life and LEAVE YOUR KID ALONE.”

x  x  x

“WHAT?!?” I gasped. “Leave… leave him alone? But he depends on us for nurturing, for guidance, for the right values in life. We have to show him how much we love him by….”

“… giving him what he really needs, not what your guilt makes you BELIEVE he needs,” he finished for me. “What he needs from you is the basic requirements of life – food, shelter, education and undemanding affection. Damn it, every animal knows better than to follow their offspring around, catering to every imagined need and being a pain in the neck. Why can’t humans learn to do the same?”

“Because… because humans are DEEP!” I said. “We are intelligent. Our offspring has a broader spectrum of needs, and…”

“You, my dear misguided friend, are just another victim of so-called progressive thought,” he said disdainfully. “You can’t leave good enough alone. You HAVE to fix what isn’t broken. No – you have to BREAK what isn’t broken and then try to put it together in a way that your insane feelings of inadequacy tell you is the RIGHT way! Your son is doomed.”

I was beginning to have enough of his primitive outlook on life’s realities.

“Listen, Monk Man – children aren’t animals. They are extremely sensitive beings,” I said.

“You mean animals aren’t?” he spat at me. “Fellow, beasts don’t write book on parenting, have all-night discussion sessions on the subject or tear themselves up over a wrong move here or there – but they do a really fine job of bringing up their offspring. They are there for their little ones when they are needed – not when they need to be there. They feed them, protect them from predators, house them till they’re old enough to strike out on their own, and let them go. It works!! Have you ever heard of a yak, cockatoo or antelope traumatized by anything other than human mischief?”

I shut up.

“Have you ever heard of an Australian aborigine child who felt he didn’t get enough approval from Dad? Or of a maladjusted Sioux papoose turned juvenile delinquent because Mommy didn’t spend enough quality time with him?” he asked me, a bit more kindly now. “Have you ever heard of an Eskimo child who can’t take the peer pressure? Fellow – in Nature, everything finds its own perfect level. It is when you screw around with the natural order of things that you have problems.”

He got up and handed me the Playboy. I accepted it with cold-numbed hands, not really knowing what I was doing.

“Go home,” he said. “You and your wife must have fun in your lives, and you must let your son have it too. There are only so many years each of us has to experience the gift of life. How many of them do you want to waste on trying to find some mythical Right Equation? The Right Equation is whatever existed before humans decided they are smarter, more compassionate or more innovative than the very Nature according to whose rules they were born in the first place.”

Resentfully, I realized that I had nothing further to ask him. In less than ten minutes, this man had reduced the whole issue from exquisite complexity to grassroots simplicity. If what he said was true, then Linda and I had to excuse left for twisting ourselves into worried, frustrated wrecks. There would be no further expeditions to the Non Fiction section of the local bookstore to get our next fix of parenting acumen.

Then I realized I had one last ace in the hole to play! One last question that would surely flummox him and cause him to dissolve into a helpless pile of confused grey cells – just like it did everybody else on earth!!

x  x  x

“Before I go, please answer one last question,” I said with forced humility.

He grunted dustily, rummaged under his prayer mat and produced a fairly recent issue of Penthouse.

“Ask your question,” he said, going straight for the centerfold.

I drew in a trembling breath, stunned as always by the magnitude and sheer magnificence of The Final Parenting Question as I geared up to utter it.

“What is Quality Time?” I asked, my eyes filling up with tears of awed reverence. Never mind dumb animals – only intelligent humans were capable of asking such a profound question. In fact, our ability to ask it literally PROVED the existence of God…

He guffawed toothlessly. “Quality time, you dolt, is the time you spend with your child in which you:

  • DON’T tweak your own or your child’s sensibilities
  • DON’T try to find meaning in every nuance of body language
  • DON’T adjust to the moment while nevertheless praying that you’ll somehow get it right
  • DON’T anticipate favorable or unfavorable present or future reactions
  • DON’T either compensate for or further build on your own or your own parents’ inadequacies

Quality time is time you spend with your child without any kind of agenda, forgetting that you’re a parent. You throw away the rule book. You become human, not superhuman. You let your hair down, relax and let your child do the same. Quality time is whenever you don’t try to be the Perfect Parent.”

He pointed to the edge of the cliff and waved me to it.

“Now get out of here,” he said. “I have more interesting stuff than this to occupy myself with. Mind your step on the way down – there’s sleet on the slope at this time of the day….”

“Children begin by loving their parents; as they grow older they judge them; sometimes they forgive them.” – Oscar Wilde (1854-1900)

Negative Vibrations – Are Women Worthy Of Cellular Phone Ownership?

Women!! Yes, you with the chic perm and the faux diamond brooch! And you with the grunge queen look and the Janis Joplin snarl! And you in the corporate formals with a strategic bit of décolletage showing! Yes, you with the shopping list clutched in your hand and the harried look on your face! You too. All of you – hear me!!

Image

That little electronic device in your handbag? Square with beveled edges, about the size of a powder compact, lots of lettered buttons and a small screen on the front? THAT’S NOT A VIBRATOR!!! THIS is a vibrator http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Vibrator_(sex_toy) !! THAT THING IN YOUR PURSE IS CELLULAR PHONE – A COMMUNICATION DEVICE!!

The beeping/blooping/ringing/singsongy noise it made when the salesman gave you a demo before you bought it? The kind that goes away when you press the little button with a green ‘receive’ icon on it? That noise you obviously found so irritating, rude or inappropriate and decided to replace with the ‘vibrate’ feature? THAT’S NOT A MALFUNCTION!! IT’S SUPPOSED TO BE THAT WAY!! IT’S CALLED A RINGTONE – IT’S SUPPOSED TO RING!!

Ah, the wonders of technology. Just a few years ago, we’d marvel when Captain Kirk flipped open that snazzy handset and drawled “Beam me up, Scotty – this rock sucks.” We’d stare briefly at the clunky telephone next to the TV set and wonder when we mere mortals would ever have such a convenience.

Well, here we are. The cellular phone is now a reality – everyone has one. There’s one in every pocket, purse and belt-loop, and hanging from every neck. Even the roadside newspaper vendor warns you off by holding out an imperious hand while he gets an urgent update from the local hooch joint on his cheap cellular phone. Today, information travels like a lightning storm on crack through every nook and cranny of the planet. And that’s a good thing. Humans are a communicating race. We have come a long way since the only way of getting a message across was to jump up and down and bash someone over the head with a sun-bleached dinosaur bone

And that’s my whole point. This is the age of communication. You, my dear denizens of the fairer sex, are of course entitled to reap all the inherent benefits of this happy fact – but you have missed the point.

You seem to be under the impression that the cellular phone is nothing more than a device that you whip out and use only when you need to ask the local inquiry service where exactly that lingerie sale the Mirror advertised this morning is. Until such a contingency arises, it would seem that your cell phone serves no useful purpose and must reside unheard and unheeded below a micro-avalanche of tissues, lipsticks, credit cards and a laminated photo of Cousin Annie’s cute little tyke in his Tae Kwon Do uniform. It has not dawned on you that communication is a two-way street – not a all-take-and-no-give deal.

Women do not answer their cell phones. This is a universal law, with some stray exceptions that only prove the rule. They do not answer the phone because THEY CAN’T HEAR IT!! THE BLIGHTED THING IS PERMANENTLY SET TO ‘VIBRATE’, AND THAT VIBRATION ELICITS NO RESPONSE BECAUSE THE DAMNED CELL PHONE IS IN THEIR BLEEDING HANDBAG, BURIED UNDER COSMETICS, CHANGE AND SAFETY PINS!!

A woman acquaintance of mine finally explained to me that women face certain limitations that we men cannot relate to. On the surface, it makes sense. As a rule, today’s women’s apparel does not feature pockets or belt loops. The absence of belt loops is explained by the fact that their hips are already curved in a manner that negates the possibility of their pants sliding down without warning in a crowded subway. The absence of pockets derives from a Freudian truth that is unconsciously upheld by most fashion designers today – women’s butts must represent an unblemished, uninterrupted contour vista.

For this reason, women would no more brook pockets in their pants than they would stoop to wear anything but seamless panties. Nothing must comes between their butts and those admiring stares that men throw at them as they undulate gently under those designer jeans. After all, we must ensure that the planet stays populated. If women wore pants with pockets in them, we would face a serious population deficit in less than five years.

So – women have no pockets to put their cellular phones into. If they did, they would feel the vibration (and probably find themselves thinking of Brad Pitt without really knowing why). They have no belt loops in which to thread a belt, which in turn could support a cellular phone case.

“Fine,” I asked my acquaintance after this patient explanation of life’s hard truths. “Then tell me why, if women have no means of keeping the thing close to their skin, do they still choose to have their cellular phones perpetually on ‘vibrate’ mode, which is patently useless if the damned thing is buried in their handbags. Doesn’t it stand to reason that it should be set to the highest possible ring tone volume instead?”

“Unlike you men…” she said, with a distressingly deprecating emphasis on the word ‘men’, “…we take our jobs seriously. Loudly ringing cellular phones are simply not appreciated in a serious work environment.”

There you have it – insecurity. Women know that they are fundamentally disadvantaged in a world where the male species are essentially top of the heap. They are scared that appearing anything but 100% immersed in their flowcharts might cause them to lose their jobs.

However, it goes beyond that. After all, women keep their cellular phones in ‘vibrate’ mode even AFTER office hours. This is because a blaring cellular phone can be SUCH a tedious distraction while Oprah is strutting her stuff on the boob tube, or while sister dearest is proudly displaying a new batch of photos of little Martin puking all over the sedan’s back seat.

Knowing all this will not stop me from making one last impassioned plea to the cellular phone-owning women of this world – TURN ON THE DAMNED VOLUME UP ON YOUR CELLULAR PHONE!! WE KNOW YOU EXPECT MEN TO BE MIND-READERS, BUT THIS IS GOING TOO FAR!! WE ARE TRYING TO GET THROUGH TO YOU!! HELLO… HELLO!!! TURN THE DAMNED VOLUME UP, FOR THE LOVE OF GOD! TURN IT UP! TURN IT UP! TURN IT….

To Quit Chewing Tobacco, Leave The Country

At 2.00 AM on yet another dismal day in Mumbai (all days are dismal in Mumbai) I took a cab to the international airport. At 5.30 AM, I was on a Turkish Airlines flight to Berlin via Istanbul. In my pocket was a plastic baggie containing five chewing tobacco pouches. It was September 26, 2011, and I was determined that these would be the last that would ever cross my lips.

But I get ahead of myself – first, some background…

Chewing tobacco – you don’t really chew that stuff. In its loose form, you assemble a wad of it in your mouth and park it between your lower gums and lip. With pouches, you do the same, except that you don’t go through the process of wadding it up first. The tobacco releases its nicotine and assorted carcinogens into your bloodstream via the mouth’s mucous membrane.

A new user needs to spit out the fetid fluid every now and then, because swallowing it causes nausea and hiccups. (This is not a problem in India, where democracy exists in such a pure form that folks let fly without notice at any currently unoccupied spot on the road. I have no idea how people manage in less progressive countries.) The more seasoned chewers (I was one of them) have no problems with swallowing the stinking brew and do so it in small amounts at judicious intervals.

Chewing tobacco is the less glamorous cousin of smoking, but it is a hell of a lot more damaging.  For one, it shoots its load of goodies into your body via a small, extremely focused surface area of the mouth. Mouth cancer is most certainly on the agenda sometime in the future.

Also, a load of chewing tobacco has a lot more time to do its work than a cigarette does. You don’t face any of the limitations that smokers do, especially in these dark days when lighting up anywhere but on the road or in your own home lays you open for severe social sanction at best and legal action at worst. This fact makes smoking a bit of a catch-as-you-can undertaking and curtails indulgence even among the jitteriest smokers. Moreover, a cigarette doesn’t last longer than three to four minutes.

A tobacco chewer, on the other hand, pops the stuff into his mouth and it’s business as usual. No elevator rides down to the street or long walks to the office’s designated smoking area.  In other words, anyplace and anytime is good enough. He can last a very long time without having to spit, and the nearest toilet (or, in the case of India, the nearest window) is just fine when he does.

No lighting up. No tapping ash every ten seconds. No outraged health freaks baying for your blood. Just keep your gob shut and do your thing. Veterans (again, yours truly among them) can even drink coffee and eat a meal with tobacco still in place. It takes some very dicey oral acrobatics, but it can be done.  And so, the tobacco chewer is often wired into the deadly load for an hour or two at a time – sometimes even the whole night through. This is seriously bad news, bro.

A note on ‘gutkha’. This is a very lethal variant of chewing tobacco invented in India and enthusiastically consumed all across the country. This shit is a truly deadly combination of betelnut pieces, paraffin, tobacco and lime (yes, the stuff you put on your walls). As far as I know, it is only made and sold in India. Gutkha kills folks maybe twenty times faster than chewing tobacco. For the record, I was hooked to this as well. I’m 47 now – all said and done, I was not counting on seeing age 65. One has to be realistic – you simply don’t do stuff like that to your body and expect to eventually bounce grandchildren on your knee.

How had I gotten on this lethal ride in the first place? Well, I had been a smoker for something like 20 years, and switching to chewing tobacco had been my misguided way of quitting. It didn’t take me long to realize that I’d gone from the frying pan into the fire, but it was too late by then. For ten years after that, I needed chewing tobacco and gutkha from within ten minutes of rising in the morning until I went to bed at night. I’d tried quitting like a thousand times, but it never worked.

Okay, so I land at Istanbul Airport with one of my last five tobacco pouches in my gob. I suck it dry, spit it out into a garbage bin and throw in the remaining four, as well. Now I’m in a foreign country where no chewing tobacco exists (at least not on the airport, and as a transit passenger I was not at liberty to waltz off and sample the local souks). I was waiting for a flight to an even more foreign country where the mere mention of chewing tobacco would probably get me fined.

In my haversack were twenty nicotine patches and ten strips of nicotine chewing gum. Cold turkey? Not for this hombre. I am a orderly sort of guy, and willing to believe that needless suffering has its place – but it has no place in my life.

Four hours later, my mother folded me into a hug at Berlin’s Tegel Airport. I was chewing Nicotex and trying to be brave about the ordeal that I thought awaited me over the next ten days. None materialized. I arrived back in Mumbai (yes, it was a dismal day) eleven days later, but did not make a beeline to the nearest tobacco vendor. Five days earlier, I had ditched the nicotine patches and was only on gum now.

So far, so good. It’s been a month now, and I’m switching to a lower dose of nicotine gum soon. No overpowering urge to say “the hell with it” and fall off the wagon has shanghaied me, and I know that I’m rid of the evil shit for good.

Here’s what didn’t work – patches, gum and good intentions while I was still in my comfort zone. By that, I mean a country where chewing tobacco is available even in areas without electricity and drinking water.

Here’s what worked – complete non-availability. Moral of the story? In situations where no other options but doing the right thing exist, even the most degenerate compromisers among us tend to do the right thing.

No, this won’t work for smokers. Contrary to common belief, folks in Germany and probably the rest of Europe are still puffing away for all they’re worth, and fags are available at every street corner. But if you have a chewing tobacco problem and tried every other method to quit and failed, consider leaving the country and heading for Europe for a couple of weeks. The period of forced abstinence will open for you the window of opportunity you need. After that, you’re obviously on your own. But if you’re like me and have felt the tightening noose of doom around your neck for long enough, suddenly being tobacco-free for two weeks may be all that you need.