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Saturday, April 18, 2009

The bhang-wallah of Varanasi

"When brown sugar first came in from Peshawar, about fifteen years ago now, it cost fifty rupees per gram," says the bhang-wallah.
"I selling, making ten rupee per gram profit, thinking I am rich man!" His hands thrust up into the air.
"Now, I have this shop, two hotels. I am one kilometre from Mama Ganga. Everyone know me. Baksheesh is high for me. When I lending to friends and sister, they not giving back."
He rummages in a drawer under the table and unwraps what looks like a shiny, semi-solid molasses, with a sharp, pungent, soil-like scent.
"Opium was only for the foreigners. India men not like. India men sell to foreigners, then drinking!" He grins a gappy grin, waving an imaginary glass between us.
"Then people start taking, enjoy the happy dreams. Now everything is possible, and for India men also. MDMA, heroin for snorting, ecstacy..."
The bhang-wallah is permitted by the government to sell a mild form of cannabis, known as bhang, to devout Hindus. Some Sanskrit on my back suffices as qualification in this regard.
Bhang comes in a smoking form, for use in pipes, and is also served in a lassi, a sort of curd milkshake.
However, the bhang-wallah appears to have expanded his product range beyond the entirely legal.
He picks up a brown tola, like a thick crayon a child might use, and hands it to me. I sniff it momentarily, run my thumbnail along its surface and then bang it, hard, off the side of the table.
He laughs.
"This is last year's crop," he chuckles. "Already stale. But good enough. I keep for the Japanese. They come to see Sarnath, where holy Buddha made his first prayers."
He hands me another tola, but this is flat and malleable.
"This year, this year," he trills. "Have whatever you want, sir. You name it."
"Cocaine?" I asked.
"No, sir," he shook his head sadly. "No cocaine. Too far from the source here. But I have opium from Lao, good Chandu, India man loving this Chandu, not normally for foreigners. And heroin, very good, from Taliban man."
I cut to the chase and ask for what I came for.
"Ah sir, this also is not possible," he sighs. "Today is festival day. Nothing is open. All shut. No curd delivery this morning. So I cannot make you a lassi."

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