Kashmir in Drug Dragnet: When ‘Badshah’ Belief Gave Birth to a Beast

Art portraying perils of addiction. KO Photos by Abid Bhat.

A noted cop’s passionate speech on drug menace lately made many former addicts to share their substance abuse accounts in Kashmir. In one such saga, a druggie here details his high-and-dry dope dependence and drifting life.

By Asma Majid

IT’S a busy market place with a shrill of tooting horns. The fruit vendor enumerates his list of fruits in a voice so loud. The autowalla fights with the passenger for his denied extra ten rupees. The shopkeeper slaps clean his goods with the duster. The woman bargains for a few extra mint sprigs. The child caterwauls to have the grossly overpriced toy. A random guy walks through unnoticed while people are engrossed in their own affairs. But I have learnt to seek their attention.

My strangely dusky face, dishevelled demeanour and queer gait that makes them look at me in awe has a long story – untold and even unrecalled before. But today, I summon my memories to play my past once again before these watery eyes.

Among the trio of brothers, I, the middle child of my parents and perhaps the most pampered one never experienced a lack of love as a child. The father, a businessman tried his best to keep us unaware of the crackling effects of financial crunches. He even left no stone unturned to treat my adenoid, an illness that haunted my entire childhood. I sensed it all, more than my brothers could – the financial instabilities that made life far from convenient.

A happy home is the starting place for love, hopes and dreams. I dreamt too and I dreamt big but what followed was life – that which runs oppositely parallel to the tender expectations of human heart; that which drags one from innocence to experience.

Post the ancestral property division, we shifted to a new roughly erected single-storeyed house, the maximum my father could do given his income owing to his lack of dexterity in the field of business. Back in the house of my grandparents, huddled up with my eight fussing cousins in a room of 6×8 which was supposed to be the kid’s room, I dreamt of a new big house and father would ensure me of my personal space there.

But as a 14-year-old with mammoth expectations, this house was not an inch near to what I had fantasized. It was rather akin to a lodge or a temporary encampment fit for a night’s shelter.

Back in school, I had heard the story of Gulliver among Lilliputs. But here, the case was obverse. Our new abode was a Lilliput among the Gullivers – the towering villas that surrounded our shack and there it stood amid them all, so distinctly small and negligible. My then callow self could not be pacified with the idea that we owned the place and it was home.

New house was followed by new school. On the very first day, I carried the memories of my old pals and their souvenirs with me which included a pack of tattoos, a miniature plastic car, few shiny Pokémon cards and a red hand band. These had been my farewell gifts from those I had grown with and spent my entire childhood. This indeed was my treasure and sensitive to its handling, I made sure to hide these keepsakes in the secret inner pocket of my school bag.

In the school, I was rather a wallflower. I spoke with a lisp and this added to my introversion.

Days passed and I could hardly get along with others. I feared they would tease me for my lisp or that I didn’t carry everyday canteen money like they all did and thus kept aloof. Moreover, I had no attraction, no talent enough to lure somebody into my friendship. A boy or two talked to me randomly but no one ever invited me to stay or play along.

Instead of getting accustomed to the new place and the new school, I felt all the more detached. One can relate to the kind of ennui that comes when one tries to adjust to times and ends up a failure. I was never extraordinary at studies in my former school, but now, I began to struggle to get just a little good at it.

Notebooks bereft of brown paper cover, diary not signed by the father, poor grades and lack of interest in the co-curricular activities – these were complaints enough to summon my father now and then to school. He dropped his head in shame there but I received my fair share of scoldings at home. I wasn’t obstinate but feigned I was, for I couldn’t explain all the complexes I was caught into.

What starts as fantasy often ends with fatality.

One fine day, as I left the school furtively just to make sure none could trace my path back to my despicable abode, I sensed a heavy tap on my shoulder. Petrified, I looked back to see who it was and with this I never looked forward again. This was the inception of a long journey towards regression and deterioration.

He was tall, dark and skinny, square-jawed, some five to six years older than I was, with intense eyes and curly burgundy hair. He asked me with a grin, “You live in the house with the fencing of corroded roof-sheets, don’t you?”

A drop of sweat trickled down my temple as if a worm crawled down my face. Unable to utter anything, I ran as far and as fast as I could. The sense of shame stemming from the reverberations of his words clouded my vision and I stumbled upon a stone and fell. Now I realise that stumbling was but a foreboding of my eventual fall.

I couldn’t sleep that night for his horrible countenance kept me awake. I never saw him for the next couple of days but somewhere I knew he would show up again and so he did.

This encounter was more or less similar to the previous one but this time he politely asked, “Can we be friends?”

There was no scope of refusal. After all the months of loneliness, this was a ray of hope for companionship. I realised he wasn’t as bad as I had deemed him to be.

After a day or two of friendly conversations, he understood my problem and assured me of a personality overhaul – that which would make me the Badshah (the king) and make others look up to me.

The idea of being a Badshah was enticing, plus it required no great effort on my part. All I had to do was to smoke a cigarette. I had seen a distant uncle of mine do so and he had a big car and an Iphone too. So I agreed.

Friends keep each other’s secrets and upon his reiterations, I assured him of my complete silence on this matter for the fear of losing my newly-found friend, Kaif.

It was only two weeks after Kaif introduced me to heroin that I started to feel it seeping through my body and not leaving a single vein dry. My secret inner pocket was ready to hide the new treasure. Kaif would call smoking heroin a recreation just like the ones we did in the play-time periods at school. But this recreation had more to it than mere play.

When I was a freshman, that was like a fun state and I started smoking whatever cigarettes Kaif offered me characterized with increased dose and variety. I began to like it and didn’t want to stop.

In medias res, I lost my grandfather, my longtime compadre and with his passage from the world, I became a wreck.

But after this, I became unambivalent regarding my recreation which was now my only refuge from the appalling face of life.

Thus I repudiated all thoughts coming down from my super-ego that spoke against my refuge.

From moderately fair, my skin tone assumed a dusky colour. My body movements became involuntary and all of it did not go unnoticed by my parents. Dismissing my initial fits of hysteria as mere tantrums, much to their shock, they finally encountered my incognito self – that which I had been trying hard to hide so far.

As my addiction got worse, my parents became desperate to cure me. The drill was usual, they put me in rehabilitation centres, one after the other, but I had mastered the art of elusion. Nothing could bind me now that I had already broken free of the manacles of my troubled life.

Discharged from school, I had now the entire time in the world for my recreation. Kaif had his restrictions and I was supposed to have my own money to make things work.

With each passing day, my desire to have more rose its head like an intoxicated bull. My feral instincts had by now completely overswayed my docile self. Whenever I was denied money, I would lose control and break things, bang the doors, slash the windowpanes, push whoever tried to subdue the animal in me.

No good word, no warm hugs and no patting of hair would calm me down. I was beyond reproach and unruly. My recreation had held my soul captive and I had bowed down in utter submission.

Kashmir's War on Drugs is getting gritty day by day.

Five years and still counting, my life is a sore.

What I started off with as a fun thing has become a necessity for my body without which the edifice of my being might crumble down to the ground. It’s like my body is inhabited by a beast and all my family’s efforts for my restoration are for nix.

I lack the resolve to get rehabilitated. They all say drugs would quadruple my chances of dying but then who lives forever? I always wanted to escape my life but had no talent to escape into. So, this, my recreation is my escapism, my new escapism!

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