One.Two.Three. Three perfect rings of smoke went up in the air. Atin was smoking again. The wall clock showed tthe time as 2p.m in the afternoon & Atin was already smoking his 20th cigarette. Today had been very stressful for Atin. Atin looked up at the smoke rings in the air. Perfect circles. He smiled. The smoker Atin could create such perfect circles, which even the artist Atin couldn't!
Atin was painter by profession,specializing in portraits. Hailing from a well-to-do family, Atin had been sent to Paris for attendind a famous art school. After returning to India, Atin had made a name for himself. Although Atin was an extremely jovial & likeable person, there was one habit, which Atin just couldn't get rid of. Or perhaps,didn't want to. Chain smoking. Atin would finish off 50 cigarettes in a day & the habit was getting worse. Atin needed a cigarette in his mouth all the time & his craving was growing by the day.
Atin's family has been trying for the past few years to free him of the habit, but to no avail. Atin would always pursue the same line of argument. "Why don't you quit smoking? Don't you read the newspapers or watch on TV how harmful it is for you? Don't you know it can prove fatal for you?" "Baba, please, not again! How many times do I have to tell you, that I'm a creative person and people like us need such addictions to beat the stress. Besides, what's bothering you? i'm smoking with my own money! It's my money & i decide how to spend it. You can object the day I ask you for money! Now if you will please excuse me, I have work to do." Atin's father would leave the studio in a huff. the father-son arguments have become common in the house, but Atin's smoking habit remains unaltered.
Atin passed two more smoke rings in the air. It was the year 2001, Atin remembered. The year he went to Paris. His peers out there, smoked, did drugs & were heavy drinkers. Atin tried refraining from these habits, but peer pressure did him in. " Hey Atin, come smoke a joint with us!" "Hey buddy! wanna smoke?" From one to three & by the time Atin left Paris, he was smoking 30 cigarettes per day!!
Atin passed another smoke ring. Curiously today, Atin was finding it difficult to smoke. Today, Atin's closest friend Smarak had passed away. "Lung cancer", said the doctor. Smarak too had been a chain smoker like Atin. For the past one month, Smarak had suffered a lot. Painful chemotherapy sessions had robbed him of his hair, but hadn't been successful with the deadly cancer cells. Atin visited Smarak everyday at the hospital. Atin couldn't believe that the ghastly looking, shrivelled up man lying on the hospital bed, coughing up blood, was once a tall, well-built man, with whom Atin had spent hours talking & smoking away. The doctor said, it was Smarak's smoking habit which proved fatal for him.
Every puff Atin smoked, made him remember Smarak's ghastly face & his pitiable condition in the hospital. Desperate to wipe off those unpleasant memories, Atin lighted up his 21st cigarette. He was deeply moved by the loss of his dear friend & tried to calm himself by smoking. He tried remembering all the happy hours he had spent with Smarak. But try as he might, all he could think of was Smarak suffering in the hospital & coughing up blood.Atin tightly shut his eyes & tried remembering Smarak's smiling face. But the face that came up infront of him, was far from smiling. It was a shrivelled up face, with the skin clinging onto the bones & the eye sockets abnormally large. The mouth hung open as if letting out a soundless wail. Then, slowly, Smarak's face turned into a skull-face, laughing menacingly. Horrified, Atin opened his eyes. He was shivering. Smarak's death had been a huge shock to him & now after this experience, Atin was a bundle of nerves.
In a bid to soothe his nerves, Atin went up to the empty canvas in his studio. He had made up his mind to paint a portrait of Smarak. A happy & smiling Smarak. Atin picked up the paintbrush. As soon as he did that, Atin went into a trance. He no longer had any control over his hands. But his hands moved toward the colour palette, & then the paintbrush moved towards the empty canvas. Atin watched in awe as different strokes coloured the canvas. Atin's hands were moving furiously fast over the canvas. Within minutes, the portrait was complete.
Atin was shocked. What he saw infront of him, jerked him out of his trance. there infront of him,stood the canvas with the finished portrait. But the portrait was not of Smarak. The portrait showed a man's face resembling a bony skull. The man's face had shrivelled up & the eye sockets were abnormally large. The mouth hung open. there was blood on the man's clothes. And in the background, there was smoke. Cigarette smoke, Atin told himself. Cigarette smoke with perfect rings of smoke going up. The face looked similar to the image of Smarak, that Atin had dreamt of a few minutes back. Only this time it wasn't Smarak. A chill went down Atin's spine. For the face that was staring out at atin from the canvas, was none other than Atin himself!
Dumbfounded, Atin sat down. He couldn't figure out why he drew such a self-portrait. A weird idea struck him. Maybe it was Smarak who made him do this. Maybe Smarak was trying to show Atin, his future if he kept smoking. The doctor's words rang in Atin's ears. "His smoking habit proved to be fatal for him". Terrified, Atin stubbed out his cigarette. And in that very moment, he pledged that he wouldnt touch another cigarette for the rest of his life.