The Incident of 19 February

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was in my last year of Masters. Last semester.

I was doing a lot of junk around that time. We were scoring from Rajinder. It was really convenient. He lived close – R.K.Puram. More importantly, you had no fear of getting caught by cops while scoring. Rajinder was a cop himself.

He was an inspector or something. Not high up. He had a contact in the narcotics department who supplied him seized smack. He used the stuff too. He was basically a user and sold the stuff to keep his habit.

Nothing comes close to the gut wrenching sweetness of junk. Junk addiction is like falling in a highly destructive but immensely gratifying relationship. It just strikes me that my relationship with Rosa mirrored my junk habit but more about that later.

A junk user has only two phases: in and out. When you are a user, your every thought revolves around junk. If you have it you don’t care about anything else.  When you don’t have it, the only thing you care about is how to have it again.

 *

I really can’t remember how we first scored. It has to be from Old Delhi, I suppose.  That is where we started scoring from in the beginning. Someone must have tipped us off. It is pretty openly done around that area, anyway. Junkies sit with their foils and run lines, usually covering their heads with a cloth, in the corridor that houses the LIC building and stretches from Ramlila Maidan to Delite Cinema.

(I still remember what Peter had said of junk, before we got on to it – “it is a drug of the fallen.”)

On the other side of the road lies the GB Pant hospital. The bus stop next to it teemed with junkies as well. This entire region is like the junk capital of Delhi.

We must have asked someone we spotted with a foil to get it for us. This is the least effective way of scoring. Junkies are bastards and they have no conscience. They will take your money, ask you to wait and run away with it. Or else, they would give you dirt packed neatly in small bits of paper. This happened a lot to us initially. But we had to go through it as we had no direct contact with those who sold the stuff.

I remember vividly one of our initial scoring trips. We had gone there in the evening and left the auto at Zakir Hussain College, which lies close to GB Pant hospital. We walked past the stable, with the horses neighing at the setting sun with a dreary melancholy, the wafting smell of beef being fried on the other side of the road in small stalls – for two rupees you could get quite a lot of it. Snacking on Old Delhi delicacies like this was a pleasant part of the scoring process.

By then, we knew this junkie who lived in Ram lila Maidan and sold stuff. It was Robi who made a contact with him. Robi led these expeditions. We first checked for him next to bus stop outside GB Pant but he wasn’t there. So we went and looked for him at Ram lila Maidan. Not to be found. We went to his house next.

After walking the impossibly narrow and dirty alleys of old Delhi’s slums, with open sewers on both sides, people looking at you suspiciously – we stood out of course, in our clean middle class clothes and appearance – we reached our contact’s house. Robi called him out but no one responded. So we walked inside, climbing a small and decrepit flight of stairs. His wife and kids were inside but they had no clue about his whereabouts. They were really hostile to us so we got the hell out of there.

On our way out we met someone who said he could score for us.

We trailed behind him. We did not offer him money upfront. He said that was fine. That he would take it once we were close. “A lot of people will take your money and run away. I am not like that. I can see that you need the stuff. Don’t worry, I will get it for you,” he said. Of course, since there are no free lunches in world, we were prepared to give him one pudiya out of what he scored for us.

After some more walking in those lanes – it was already dark by now – we reached another old, ramshackle house. Standing at the door, he asked us to wait outside. We saw no reason to suspect him – he had to come out the same door – so we gave him the money.

Minutes passed. We stood outside, smoking, avoiding direct eye contact with passersby.  Half and hour and he still didn’t come out. We began to get restless. Finally, Robi walked in and I followed behind. We came across a large courtyard with no one in it. The house was in the center of the courtyard and its door was closed. The bastard had slipped through another small opening between the wall of the house and the wall of the courtyard.

Desolate and desperate, we went back again to GB Pant, swearing to beat up the guy if we ever managed to catch hold of him.

It had begun to drizzle by now. But we didn’t care. We wanted to score at any cost. It would have been soul-destroying to return empty-handed. We asked around again. We still had a hundred rupees left. Enough for two pudiyas.

It was then that we came across the one eyed Bengali man with pockmarks all over his face who sold bananas or something during the day and got high on smack at night. He said he knew where to get the stuff from. We tagged along. Just behind Zakir Hussain College was a park. The boundary wall to the park was broken and junkies were going in to get their fix. The Bengali asked someone to get two pudiyas for us and told him we will pay once he got it. That man never came out again.

I am not sure how we scored finally but we did. The wretched face of the Bengali has somehow stayed with me after all this years, like a living nightmare. Just like junk is.

We immediately went inside the Sulabh loo next to the stable, got inside one of the stinking latrines, the inside of the commode caked with shit – we could not care less. Robi took out a foil and we chased some lines before getting out and hailing a rickshaw, drenched in the rain and the over powering relief that junk gives you, by now. Of course, since we had no money left, we had to drop the rickshaw in JNU near Ganga Dhaba, tell him we would be back after buying cigarettes and disappear.

The point of telling this particular story is to illustrate how painful it can be score if you don’t have a proper contact. Which brings us back to Rajinder.

Rajinder did not give stuff all the time. Only after he came back from office. We used to wait for him on the street outside his house. The scooter parked outside his apartment was a sure shot sign he was there. But he would not come down immediately. He would fix himself first. Junkies would make a proper queue which covered half the street. He would go to everyone in turn, like a priest giving communion, and give them their share. His stuff was good too. Another Sulabh loo stood next to a shopping complex further down the street where we would get our initial fix to beat the withdrawal blues.

So, on 19 Feb too, we were high on Rajinder’s  junk, probably in Roy’s room in Chandrabhaga when we got to know a commotion had broken out near Administration Block.

Oh, on that getting caught by cops while scoring junk: it happened to me only once.  Roy and I had gone to score. Same area. We managed to score without much trouble; we were getting better. The guy who helped us get it wanted to run a few lines. So all of us – there was another hanger on – got down in this open ditch just in front of the hospital. We realized that we had run out of smokes. You can’t chase stuff without that. You need to smoke after you pull in the junk smoke to keep the latter in and blow it out slowly to hit you properly. So I volunteered to get some smokes. I went to a tobacco shop close to where we were doing the stuff. We used to buy smokes from there often, in fact.

I bought what I had to and turned around. I saw all three of my comrades standing, out of the ditch. Being interrogated by a couple of plain clothes policemen. I asked the shopkeeper –“what do you think happened?”

“Are you from Japan?” he asked me in return. He knew I was part of the same gang.

The plain clothes cops left in a bit; they took the other two with them but left Roy behind. Roy told me later that he said he was a JNU student and was conducting some sort of research in the area.

So, back to the incident of 19 feb.

We went, all three of us I remember – together for the last time in fact – Roy, Robi and I. We sat on the rocks just opposite the Ad block, the perfect view possible, and began to roll a joint.

Students were agitating. Not less than a hundred. The issue had been building up for a long time. The JNU admin was not paying the minimum wages to workers who had been doing construction work in the campus. Students had been fighting on their behalf for a many months but the admin was paying no attention.

By students I mean the radical sorts. SFI and AISF, of CPM and CPI respectively, were not particularly active in this movement. It was Democratic Students Union – a far left group – and AISA – CPI (M-L)’s student wing – mostly.

The movement was being led by JD, a phd student, big beard and all. I smoked up with him a few times but I didn’t really like him. Just. I think the feeling was mutual. I particularly didn’t like his girl friend Rhea. She was also a political activist. Kind of De Beauvoir to JD’s Sartre. I once asked JD what he thought of Kundera’s dictum that all extremism in art and life is a veiled longing for death and Rhea started about how death in India was a patriarchal thing with women not being allowed to go to funerals.

JD was there that day. He came and asked if we had something to smoke. We did. So we rolled and smoked one with him. Students continued to assemble. Double the previous number by now. I had seen many agitations by then but it was obvious that something was going to happen today. Violence was in the air, the slogans had that extra edge, the upraised arms seemed to mean business.

JD smoked and left. Some other activists also took a break and came to smoke. We had no interest in participating, of course. We were fine, watching.

Suddenly, an ambassador came in. The proctor was inside. The students gheraoed the car. They stopped him from coming out. The driver left. Someone got a rope and tied it all around the car. Others wrote slogans on the body of the car. Someone got on the top of the car. It all happened in an instant, almost.

It was then that I had my first good look at Che – he got that name later. He was standing atop the car, raising slogans. He was clearly the most visible amongst all the other activists. He was everywhere, raising slogans, putting up posters on the walls of the admin block.

Rebecca was there too – an NRI girl; she was quite active in this movement and on that day particularly. I was friends with her. She asked me to join, push the car, which they were doing but I denied. Later on, I thought about my refusal. It was a purely instinctive reaction. I am an observer. Participation is not for me.

This went on for quite a while. The crowd kept on swelling. In between, a small group of students from Sutlej were also trying to make their presence felt – protesting about the sorry state of furniture in their hostel.

Negotiations began. A group of teachers, including my Head of Department, came to plead on the behalf of the admin to release the proctor. The students refused. In between, even those who had no connection with the movement with would come in and peek in the car to look at the imprisoned proctor – like an animal in a cage in a zoo.

At some point, the Vice Chancellor called in the students who refused to compromise, demanding better wages for the workers. Dusk fell.

The proctor was released finally. He would later complain that he was not allowed to read Namaz – it was a Friday. The students denied saying it wasn’t true. I don’t know the truth.

The admin reacted with vengeance. Ten students were rusticated, including Che, JD and Rebecca. Later on, the admin said they could be re-instated if they paid a monetary fine of 10,000 and wrote an apology letter. The students had gone underground already. Che would tell me later that he lived in the house of a staff member for quite a few days, coming out only at nights.

All of them gave an apology, except Che – which is the primary reason I became interested in him. In any case, I don’t think his family would have had the money to pay the fine, which was not the case for others. Che was not a proper student too; he was studying Pashto part-time. Everyone else was from a middle class background, with parents willing to bail them out. Incidentally, those from Sutlej protesting the sorry state of furniture and curtains in their hostel were also fined but it was later revoked.

It took a very dramatic University General Body Meeting to pressure the admin to take the other nine in. It took place in the basket ball court outside my hostel, Tapti, and went through the night. Those supporting the expelled students stood on one side and those who were not, on the other side – SFI and AISF. This was the first time I openly defied my so called party affiliations and voted for the expelled students.

We won. I remember an emotional Rebecca hugging me. It was already morning when the UGBM got over. The rusticated students got in and got on with their lives. JD finished his phd and is now teaching somewhere. I saw Rebecca a few months ago. I could not recognise her at first. She just looked different. She is doing her phd now and keeps off politics.

Che was rusticated and debarred from writing JNU entrance for an indefinite time. We became very good friends after this incident and continue to be. I still can’t say if the incident was responsible in any tangible way but I dropped out of my MA – I just didn’t write my finals; I did smack all night before the first exam and was in no state to go for it.

The movement just petered out. Everyone forgot about the workers. Some said JD was satisfied with his shot at glory and that was enough for him.

So much for student- workers unity.

* * * * *

Abhimanyu Singh,29, is a senior correspondent for The Sunday Guardian, Delhi. He has written for The Hindu, The Caravan, The New Indian Express, Motherland and Ink Magazine, previously. His poems have appeared in on line journals like Pyrta, Kitchenpoet and Red Poppy Review. He has made short films, played music in bands and solo, organised and participated in poetry readings and acted in plays. He counts the Beat writers as a major influence. The excerpt is from a novel he is currently working on. This is his first contribution to Snake-Oil Cure.

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