“Give him a glass.”
“Oh! Thanks! ”.
I took a glass with a couple of pegs of whiskey and some ice-cooled water. It’s been sometime since I’ve had a drink. I wasn’t in a bar. I was at a den actually. A den of smokers, drinkers. Basically where addiction reigned supreme. And no one was surprised when I lit a cigarette with some ganja in it. The bars have shut down on smoking, you know! And it’s really a freedom to smoke while drinking!
One of them passed me a packet. White powder. I rejected the offer. I hadn’t come for drugs. I just held up the half burnt stick in my hand in front of him and gave him a wink. Nodding he passed me another pack. This time I got what I wanted.
It took me a real hard good look at myself to get me to come here. Staring non-stop at my image in the mirror, I had to convince myself whether I’d be up to doing it. In the end, it didn’t take much of a conviction.
This place, swarming with addicts of all kinds, was really a place. And believe me, a place which you should come sometime in your life and just get immersed and involved in it. Only then, maybe, you’d ever get to feel what drives these human minds to engross themselves into this degree of craving and compulsion of the fag and drinks and drugs. I realized this, sooner than later, having spent a little more than three hours in this infest.
It’s really another story how I came to arrive at this place. Building up a rapport with an auto-rickshaw driver, I came to know the other side of the story. And it was him who brought me to this place, with a little bit of nagging from my side. He had promised to meet me at 5.30 in the evening at a notable crossroad. I actually doubted him if he would come. But he stayed true to his words.
“Hello bhai! All ready kya?”
“Haan! So how far is this place?”
“Not far. Yet it’ll take us half an hour. The roads are not that good.”
On the way, we chatted further. Came to know that the ‘den’ was actually one of the drivers, not necessarily only of auto-rickshaws though. But drivers all the same. Now for those who have no idea of how many autos actually ply their trade in this part of the city, I don’t know the exact number, but I can safely tell you, with over confidence, that in the past 8 years I have regularly travelled on this route, and very rarely have I taken a ride in the same driver’s auto. Very rarely, though instances have been there. And I can’t really hide my surprise when I saw approximately 200 autos parked nearby. And I don’t think I really need to mention explicitly what their drivers were doing there, I guess! So do a bit of mental 2+2=4 to calculate, if you have to satisfy your curiosity and prove your dumbness!
And then I heard the real story. Right from the horses’ mouth. Amidst all that “nasha” , I got the topic I wanted to get up and going.
These people, the drivers. It was a habit with them. A daily habit. I had gone there in the evening. From what I heard, the place teemed with double the people at night than present then. One of those guys. He was probably something like 20 or 21. Round about my age. He told his story. He was from a village in the parganas. When he was 16, his dad sent him to the city. To fend for himself. He used to be in school then. He even passed 10th. He became a grade 11 dropout. He had some long far-off relative driving autos. And he ended up doing the same. Within a month he had started to smoke. And thereafter it didn’t take him much time to start on leaves either. And he blamed his earnings for all this addiction. He got raw money in his hands at the end of the month. He had leftovers. He didn’t have much else to spend all that on. And so enter beedis, cigarettes, weeds, drinks, and drugs. By the end of the first six months, he was well deep into all this. And he sustained himself that way.
Another person. He was old enough to be my dad. Don’t know why the chain of confession stories started. He said he had a job in a factory. And then jobs were cut. It was twenty one years ago. He was newly married then. Not agreeing to be a rolling stone, he came into this trade. Now he’s one of the senior guys around. He kept his distance from such addictions however. For a long time. In the morning he drove, in the evening he drove. And when he didn’t, he was dutifully attending to his wife and small kids. And then many days later, Infact years later, when his daughter got married and killed for want of dowry, he took to alcohol. His family life sort of broke up after that. He only spent time at home to sleep. And when he didn’t endless quarrelling followed. And this bloke wrecked himself for it, and all the while narrating his story kept cursing.
Many such 20 year olds and 50 year olds and far more in between have their own stories. Stories of a lifetime. They all had one common aspect. A dynamic inability to encounter life, as it appeared. It wasn’t their weakness. Situations compelled them. And they got lost in the maze, spiraling out of control. It was late. I had to return home. One of them was returning. I hitched a ride. By then I had smoked quite a wee bit of ganja and hash, drunk 3 pegs of whiskey and half a bottle of beer. And trust me I wasn’t high! Those who know me personally will testify to that claim! And I knew I had to keep myself within limits in an unfamiliar and unknown place. And above all, I had satisfied a long-suffering curiosity to get into a group of hardcore addicts, feel it and feel the moment. And even above that I got to know a couple of stories which I’ll remember till I don’t have Alzheimer’s!