Amid crackdown on Drug-Mafia, a medico’s shocking update on Kashmir’s ‘epidemic of drug abuse’ has only questioned the community complacency on the surging substance abuse.
The structure draped in English ivy on the hem of a hill— dotted with graves— has no owner but has a set of keepers for day and night.
Two brick-chimneys standing tall overlook the burials at the graveyard. Inside, young boys and men seek an escape from the struggles of life.
The door of the deserted dwelling is locked, but a dilapidated wall serves as an entrance with the lush green ivy playing the perfect camouflage concealing the mud-structure from the public glare.
The path leading to the shelter is littered — some torn playing cards, their distinguished floral motifs embarrassed in mud, an abandoned Ace rests next to an emptied Codeine bottle, a used syringe crushed by the trampling feet of the visitors.
In the day, gamblers toss cards in a room. Some win, some lose. And as the sun gives way to darkness, in another room— with a half broken ceiling— under the cellphone flashlights, young men ‘forgive and forget’.
In the day gamblers keep the house, and in the night junkies take over.
Four years ago, a puff of cannabis that his friend had offered, had set Waseem ‘free from the persistent situation in his home’. But that ‘drag to freedom’ had set the 20-year-old on the path to the abandoned house.
When Waseen was 16 and ‘fed up with the violent discord between his parents’, the lone child had run away from his Dalgate home ‘to a far flung area in search of peace’.
As he paces his jump over the dilapidated wall, he says he ran away to Tchar. It was in the hometown of Kashmir’s most-revered mystic Sheikh Noor-ud-din Wali that Waseem took his first drag of marijuana.
In the central Kashmir town, the young boy says, he met a person ‘who sold cannabis to him’.
“I was in Class 10th,” the school-dropout recalls. “I had no idea about how to use cannabis but internet came handy. I looked up for videos and aped the process of making a joint.”
His phone rings and he reaches his pocket to receive the call. “He’s on his way from Sumbal,” Waseem says of his ‘dealer’ as he disconnects his phone.
He retreats, jumps the dilapidated wall and merges with the crowd on the road on which Kashmir’s oldest church sits. The wait ‘since morning’ has made him anxious, restless.
He walks with crowd, takes an alley and begins ascending a hill facing the graveyard. Men, women, children are buried on this hill as well. He avoids the tombstones, strides up the hill, till he finds a desolate corner.
“Till he comes,” Waseem says as he rests his back on an epitaph, “I will roll a joint.”
He doesn’t need visual aid to roll a joint anymore. He just empties a cigarette, minces a chunk of marijuana with his finger nails and mixes it with the tobacco. He then snorts the tobacco back into the empty cigarette and smokes up.
He looks calmer, his red-eyes like the setting sun on a cloudy day.
As he finishes puffing his joint, he rings his dealer. “The number you’re trying to call is currently not in the network area.”
Waseem is anguished at the automated response. He repeatedly presses the fast-dialer on his phone but to no avail. “Gulzar might have run away with money or maybe he’s in serious trouble,” the young boy speaks of his dealer, his voice clearly dejected.
His hope to take the shot appears diminishing like the light at dusk. His fingers keep reaching to the fast-dialer only to fetch the automated response. With each attempt, his restlessness grows. With each attempt, he pulls blades of grass from the graveyard soil.
His mind seems to be on a see-saw. Should he give up for the day and return to his home or should he keep waiting for the dealer’s phone? As he battles this conundrum, ‘Gulzar Dealer’ flashes on his phone. He quickly picks it, and a direction is passed on to him, before he keeps it down.
He’s quickly up on his feet as he begins to rumble down the hill, towards the main road where men and women wait for the last vehicles headed to, and returning from, Kashmir hinterland.
The bus-stop next to a petrol pump is jam-packed. The people appear as silhouettes by the time Waseem arrives at the spot.
It’s dark, but he identifies Gulzar getting down from a bus and rushes towards him. There’s an altercation soon after the duo exchange greetings.
“I’ve told you, so many times, to not call me repeatedly,” Gulzar, who appears to be in mid-twenties, scolds Waseem, as they move away from the bus-stop.
There’s clearly a sense of victory on Waseem’s face as he puts his arm on Gulzar’s shoulder, who has returned from Sumbal in Bandipora district— about 60 kilometers—in search of heroin.
In Punjab the junkies call the drug chitta. In Kashmir, the addicts too have a code: tichu.
The duo makes a quick retreat from the main road, pacing their steps hurriedly to the adjacent streets and begin the climb up to the hill. They cross the graveyard, where moments earlier, Waseem had rolled and puffed a joint, carefully avoiding the tombstones in the dark.
Gulzar is tired, perhaps not as eager as Waseem to take the shot. He asks him to take his share of heroin as the duo reach close to the church. The abandoned structure on the other side of the church road looks ‘demonic’ in the blurred moonlight.
“It’s 8.30 pm,” Waseem tells Gulzar as he appears apprehensive to enter into the den alone. Gulzar agrees to join him.
Like thieves in the night, the duo jump the dilapidated wall swiftly and stealthy, crushing the junk on the path with their feet. Their palpitating breaths are the only sounds one can hear. They do not open their camera flashlights till they move into the structure from a ground-floor window. Their camera flashlights open as they climb the staircase leading up to the room that junkies call their own.
Crushed syringes, plunger caps, cigarette buds dot the floor as Gulzar sits in a dusty corner and keeps his phone on the surface.
He then takes out a white powdery substance draped in polythene from the pocket of his pantaloons. “It’s 5 grams,” says Gulzar. He distributes the powder equally into two shares. They bought it for Rs 3500.
Waseem has been waiting for this moment since the day began. He’s ready and searches his pockets for a table spoon, an injection, and a lighter.
“Bring some water and a piece of cotton,” Waseem tells Gulzar, explaining the process of making a heroin injection.
Gulzar pours some powder, few drops of water on the spoon and ignites the lighter. He keeps the flame beneath the metal-spoon till the hard substance turns brown.
“There’s another way of taking heroin which is snorting through chaser, but injecting gives you a quick high,” says Waseem.
He uses the syringe to suck in the brown liquid from the spoon. It takes about 15 minutes to make a shot.
He then rolls up his shirt sleeves to find veins so that he can inject. “I’m so trained,” Waseem says, “that I don’t need a light source to inject and find veins.”
After taking a shot, he prepares another jab for Gulzar.
Both have now taken the shot and they look pale and exhausted as they lie on the dusty floor. “It was good substance,” says Waseem as he asks Gulzar to roll up a joint. “It got on my nerves.”
Though it’s a wintery night, there’s sweat on Gulzar’s forehead. He keeps touching his nose. “It’s a side-effect of heroin,” Waseem explains. “Usually, after taking the shot, the person’s body starts to itch.”
The duo then steps out. They merge with the darkness and the thin late-evening crowd and walk towards the nearby Dal Lake, a usual deserted and calm surrounding for them to breath in fresh air.
“It’s silent here. Isn’t it Gulzar?” Waseem remarks. “No chaos.”
Gulzar ignores his talks and crushes marijuana. He has now given in to Waseem’s request he made immediately after taking heroin shot.
Both puff from the joint. With the last drag, Gulzar leaves Waseem at the banks of the deserted lake. He sits silently, like the lake in the dark.
Disclaimer: In the face of the dreadful pictures shared by a senior doctor, this story attempts to understand and expose the dark world of hopheads. The names of the addicts in the story have been changed for privacy and security reasons.