Wednesday, March 2, 2011

GLASSI JUNCTION: Punjab's route to Lapataganj

Drugs are Punjab's proverbial sixth river, and so swollen is it currently that unless we de-wash ourselves of the comfortable notion that we will somehow learn to wade through the muddled waters, we will soon be flailing our arms and swearing to God that we will act differently if we get just one more chance. But by then, the crazy gods will be helpless,
writes Nischay Pal

IRONIES, juxtapositions, contrasts always help us in understanding complex issues impacting our society, but in case of Punjab, such a juxtaposition can leave you utterly confused at times. Here is one: two streams of popular Punjabi pop lyrics are flowing side by side on your TV screens, at cultural festivals and at the umpteen Nites all around.

1. There's always the mandatory song urging our youth to stay away from drugs, describing how nasha can destroy you. These songs lament the way Punjabi young men are wasting their jawani and there is always a call to make this the land of the pure.
2. Another competing and even more vibrant line of lyrics celebrates the drinking culture of Punjab, Glassi nal glassi phrases abound, even the village belle is compared to a bottle of desi sharaab and when it comes to showcasing our gourmet at a place like Chandigarh's Kalagram, the hub of cultural activities in the region, the restaurant is named Club Glassi.
Not a single protest is heard either against the songs celebrating the culture of asking friends to come with a bottle to the tubewell wala kamra or the nomenclature of Club Glassi.
And then all seminars on Punjab's economy, culture, traditions, future, village life, education system or health parametres will always feature dramatic statements about drug menace in Punjab, shocking number crunching and sometimes even as pious an expression as administering an oath against use of drugs.
Meanwhile, most people know that drug trade cannot thrive without political blessings, that any local SHO always knows the characters who ply the substance, that certain politicians in the state are identified with drug trade and that elections are lost and won on drugs in certain constituencies.

Are we then living in an artificially-induced intellectual stupor where we all know the disease, its origins, its line of treatment but the sum total of our combined laments, hypocrisy and noisy protestations is becoming visible by the day: an ever increasing menace of drugs?
Some are calling it Punjab's sixth river, and so swollen is it currently that unless we dewash ourselves of the comfortable notion that we have all learnt to wade through muddled waters on any issue, this is one that will see us flailing our arms and swearing to God that we will act differently if we get just one more chance, and the crazy gods will be helpless. Because we are all bringing it upon ourselves, ourselves.
When an epidemiological survey of drug abuse was conducted in 24 rural villages of four Community Development Blocks (CDB) in three border districts of Punjab covering 1276 households in 1976 by D Mohan, KR Sundaram and HK Sharma, the figures were termed 'shocking'. That was 33 years back. What term will you use for today's data?
Well, here's how we make the data more acceptable, or less shocking. Drug menace now is being seen almost divorced from liquor consumption. That's an achievement for the liquor lobby because had it not been so, we would have been a state that earns its maximum revenue by making people druggists, officially. We, of course, still do that.
As we said, a deliberate refined art form of living in a dazed stupor. The lush green fields, the touristy bhangra postcards, the village belles at the well, the Heer-Ranjha images and the Satguru Teri Ot emblazoned across a decorated truck have a new companion in Punjabi iconization: a young man stooping in the street, a bottle in hand, asking for a bit of opium, or bhukki, or ganja. That's because smart, urban lads in jeans riding expensive bikes get their high from heroine and are still to enter iconography of drugs, awaiting their '60s moment.
As for the politician, he finds the scapegoat that is tied the nearest to his little cranium. From Osama bin Laden to bad quality of black salt, Pakistan comes handy. So whip the bad boy. Easy accessibility of drugs is blamed on the proximity with Pakistan borders.
From the land of the Gurus to Green Revolution to militancy to a state vying for SEZs, this is the one throne in our collective consciousness today. Just a mention of once affluent village in the heart of Amritsar, Maqboolpura, is enough to hang our heads in shame. Almost every home here has lost some of its male members to the menace of drugs.
Drug menace is not something that affects only the user. Drugs are tied with AIDS, and with plunging earning capacities. As resources are claimed by drugs, illnesses get into a habit of becoming serious, and the pace is only matched by apathy as the drug user divorces himself from reality more and more. Punjab's countryside is full of heart-rending stories where women have first lost husbands, and then sons to drugs.
Now, a new face of the drug user is emerging. For decades, the face was one of a male. Drug problem was always primarily a male problem. Now, for the last few years, girls' colleges are reporting the problem and all-girls' hostel wardens talk of incidents of violence over drugs. Phrases are being flogged to death: "The drug abuse has become like a cancer at the heart of our society" pulls at heart strings no more. As sensitivities get numbed, talk about creating awareness among the people sounds more and more hollow.
Substance abusers get into depression, display anxiety, experience powerlessness and low levels of self-esteem. To boot, there's often a surge of criminal activity since the pathway to crime usually proceeds from trauma to drug use. At this level, drug comes in as a sort of self-medication and then goes on to become addiction and finally to crime to support these addictions.
Physical, mental, verbal and financial abuse follow soon. "I don't know why. I didn't realize it. I loved my family so much. They were supportive of me. They were there for me, but I didn't deserve what my husband put me through." You get stock responses of this kind, but the liquor vends are on the increase, government responds with advertisements of even more thekas and cops across the state often fight with local women groups protesting against a vend near the village school.
Drug rehabilitation programs do not work since therapy works rarely with outpatients  while shame and stigma works against a stay in rehabilitation centers. In such a scenario, instead of something like the AA movement, Punjab is witnessing the new age scientist making money: De-addiction treatment with laser therapy.
With farming in crisis, farmer suicides daily staple news, primary school education in doldrums and medicare support from the next door dispensary or hospital in tatters, the vibrancy of Punjab is a myth. When young men come down to selling their blood to procure the daily dose of deadly drugs, or even beg on the streets to keep their addiction alive, words lose meaning. The media is meant to tell you what is happening, but in this case, you have a ring side view of the reality yourself. The skeletal structure, pallor, deep sunken eyes, and particularly the multiple injection marks on his arms, give him away, telling the tale of his notorious past. You know this is the face of Punjab today, not the politician who claims to turn it into California, unless he has seen that dark side of California which, God forbid, he may be planning to gift wrap for us.
From the first taste of bhukki or the harmless gutka, the problem of epidemic proportions first arrives in sachet sizes. Soon, the route to graduation winds through cough syrups like phansydril and corex, proxyvon, Dormant 10, diazepam tablets and hits the potent road of opium, charas, ganja, mandrax, smack, heroin, pausing at times at lizards' tails and quaint application of shoe polish, smelling petrol and iodex spread on bread.
In the cities comes peer influence, thrill-seeking and curiosity. "With the consumption of intoxicants having become so widespread, an introduction to them is treated as some kind of a coming-of-age ceremony by most boys," said Prof Manjit Singh of Panjab University's Sociology Department.
Another professor narrated the tale of a boy who knew what was wrong with him, failed to do anything about it and then finally came up with a solution. "It was really frightening when he one day asked his mother to shoot him dead so as to save him from this misery."
Do we have that option? Asking that we be wiped off the face of the earth so that at least our memory survives that we were once a vibrant state, our mustard fields were yellow, our farmers fed this country, our lovers crossed the Chenab on unbaked pots, our young men died on the borders with bayonets in hands, our girls kept up their chins up in the worst of the circumstances and our women replaced the bull on whose horns the earth rests?
May be that is a solution which will help us hide the ugly reality that we killed our daughters in the wombs, refused to recognise the greatness of our own culture, divorced our mother tongue Punjabi, ended the tradition of an engagement with the written word, and then finally picked up the bottle, jabbed syringes into our wrists, expertly made opium balls, and then met at the Club Glassi Junctions to sing Aa ja mitran de theke te, glassi naal glassi kharkke.
Juxtapositions, as I said, often confuse us, or, as the village idiot character of Sharat Joshi's tales often says it pithily, sometimes they don't. Strange how the idiots are increasingly sounding so intelligent these days! Or are we in a stupor to even recognize who is an idiot? If we don't get this right quickly, Sohna Punjab will soon be Lapataganj.

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