In his review of Raman Raghav 2.0, Mayank Shekhar writes: ‘His own drug habit reflects the changing scene in upper-class urban India. Yeah, coke is the new marijuana, now deal with it.’ The reference is to Raghavan, the coke-snorting policeman in the movie, who snorts anywhere and everywhere, once even while investigating a crime scene.
Is coke the new marijuana? More people are doing it but in terms of social acceptability, maybe not. In Delhi parties, those snorting will usually separate themselves from the rest and do it behind closed doors. If you find that some of your friends mysteriously disappear and appear again after five minutes, and they keep doing this, start looking for the ‘coke room’ in the house.
Marijuana, on the other hand, is as socially acceptable as having a beer. When I was watching the Karan Johar-produced Kapoor & Sons, it struck me that I was watching the word’s first stoner family flick. His Kabhi Khushi Kabhi Gham was sold with the tagline: ‘It’s all about loving your family.’ Kapoor & Sons is about loving your family and getting stoned with them. In one scene the grandsons get stoned with granddad (played by Rishi Kapoor). Later, while going to bed, grandson 1 tells grandson 2: ‘Pata nahin Dadu itna acha maal kaha se laaye.’
The widespread use of pot has led to a class system forming around the drug. Ganja, the leaves of the plant, is consumed by the working class: rickshaw pullers, auto-rickshaw drivers, gardeners, plumbers and domestics. It was five rupees a ‘pudiya’, when I was in Delhi University in the mid 1990s. Prices have remained stable. It’s gone up to Rs 50 now which, calculating for inflation over twenty years, is not by much. To get ganja, all you have to do is go to your friendly neighbourhood slum.
But hashish—now that’s a different matter. In the last ten years, the price of hashish has skyrocketed. It goes up by about Rs 500 every six months. Hashish is obtained by the rubbing the leaves of the plant; up in the hills of Himachal, where it comes from, literally many hands are involved in its production. There is child labour involved. A tola or 10 grams retails for anything between Rs 4000 to Rs 6000, even more, depending on the quality.
Hash has become a status symbol you take with you when you go out; it’s not something you smoke, much like the sports car you keep in the garage, and never drive, or the bottle of single malt that you keep locked in your bar but never open.
The class division comes in here. For hash is not sold in the slum; the working class simply cannot afford it. It’s sold by middle class kids from the privacy of their homes and to their large circle of friends, and their friends, and so on. When I was in college, there was a distinction between consuming pot and selling pot. Middle-class college kids would smoke with some righteousness: ‘…but I don’t sell’. The seller was always some poor disenfranchised Indian in the shanty who’d occasionally be kicked around by local thullas.
These days, there’s no shame in a middle class kid being a ‘dealer’. It’s a convenient source of income. There’s also a certain glamour attached to it.
In status-conscious Delhi, it’s a form of conspicuous consumption for the user, much like the iPhone is or the car you drive. But because it so expensive no one really wants to share it. The guy with the ‘maal’ will show it off, then put it back in his pocket. It’s the contemporary equivalent of what the single malt bottle used to be. You would open your bar, show your friend the whisky, and shut the bar. The idea was to incite some envy in your friend and establish your higher status.
Similarly, these days, someone will ostentatiously pull out his tola of hash in a party. Everyone is offered the chance to smell it: ‘Yeah, man, mango smell.’ Then the person who has it will take about forty-five minutes to make a joint. When the joint is passed around, the friends realise that the roll-up is mostly tobacco with very little hash in it. Hash is so expensive, that the owner of the piece doesn’t really want to smoke it; he carries it with him from party to party, for snob value. An acquaintance of mine has been carrying the same piece with him for a year now.
If you think of it, there is no drug menace as such. That can only happen if you use the drug. Hash has become a status symbol you take with you when you go out; it’s not something you smoke, much like the sports car you keep in the garage, and never drive, or the bottle of single malt that you keep locked in your bar but never open. To paraphrase Walter Benjamin, who, on being asked if he had read all the books in his library, said: Well you don’t drink tea everyday in your finest china, do you?
(The writer’s new book, House Spirit: Drinking in India was published recently)