I reach the place.
I have gotten accustomed to the smells of the place. The first thing you notice about a place, apart from the visuals, is the smell.
Bhubaneswar has its smells. Cows, milk, fruits, a little bit of shit in the places you and I wouldn’t frequent.
So I am used to the smells of the place. I look around fervently and all I can see is shops, colourful blurbs that seem to draw me towards them, while in the back of my mind I know what I really want. Except that I cant find it anywhere.
I call a friend. “Listen,” I say, “have all the shops been closed?”
No they aren’t, he tells me – but I can’t seem to find any.
And then, as I walk for a little distance, I see it. It’s a shop under a light. But mostly in shade. It’s dark, by the side of the road. The kind of place you’d say is a shady place.
The first thing you notice are the shiny metal pots. The vessels have lids on them, with polythene wrapper on top. There is a big pie on the top, with a share of it cut out. Chhenapodo.
You walk upto the guy and ask for how you want it. It’s a ratio. Bhang : rabidi.
Bhang sellers are different from the other businessmen of the world. They will not be looking at pushing as much as they can on you. If a bhang seller notices that you are coming to him for the first time, he will refuse to sell you more than 50 paisa worth of it. I have seen bhang sellers ask some newbies to return to their homes because they asked for “5 rupay ka bhang” with an air of arrogance. You do that kind of shit for liquor. Bhang, my friend, is sacred. God makes it, not fucking Vijay Mallya.
Dui-dui is what I ask for, he opens a small toffin box. Like the top most tiffin box in the metal cylinder combo tiffin carriers.
He takes out the paste. And he mixes it with a little sweet. Rabidi. Yes, the sweet that is the name of the former Chief Minister of Bihar.
The bhang and the rabidi are mixed properly and then after a while, a thick paste is visible. Green in colour. Green in a particular shade of green. If I had to truly illustrate to someone what was the colour of bhang, I would say it’s the colour of cow dung. Wet cowdung, the fresh one. Not the light brownish green that comes when the cow dung is used as fuel, fertiliser, or medicine.
So bhang is that colour. You swallow it. You don’t stop to relish it. Like wine. No letting the flavour rise in your mouth and that kind of bullshit. You just swallow it, and then if you have an adventurous streak, ask for a little bit of chhenna poda. Just a little bit. You know, your Plan C. You thank the guy, turn around, and he has already started mixing the glasses for the next person. You leave the place.
People often ask me, “What is different about bhang?”
I don’t know how to best explain this. But let me try.
You know, you have a beer, you get high. You smoke a joint, you get high. So what’s different about this thing?
There is of course the cliché that Bollywood sells to us. Heroines having bhang and getting horny and dancing in wet clothes – that kind of shit.
The thing about bhang is that you never know when it’s going to strike you.
Yeah, yeah. I know you have heard that before.
You’re probably imagining Ravi Shastri – the ISI Hallmark of clichés say it –. “That’s the thing about Gayle. You never know when he is going to strike you.” That kind of thing.
But the truth is that, bhang doesn’t hit you directly. It’s not like you have it and then, after a few seconds, you start feeling happy or anything.
You just go about, doing what you are doing.
You wonder, what is all the hype about?
Here, the ones without patience go ahead and do something else. Like drink a beer, smoke a joint, or whatever else the fuck it is that they do. They don’t wait.
Now, there is something you have to know about Shiva.
If the heaven was a school, and all the gods were teachers, Shiva would be the chilled out teacher. Definitely not a Maths teacher.
Shiva is known to give boons easily. Doesn’t work that way with Vishnu though. Vishnu is known to test his devotees to extremes. Devotees have had to jump into fire, pray for years together, and only after they had completely surrendered, they were granted the boon.
Shiva has been generous with boons, and this has often resulted in quite a few candidates who have shamed him. Primary among them being Bhasmasura, the shameless one who dared to chase the Lord himself.
But in spite of that, Shiva has generally been generous with boons.
You don’t have to do anything extraordinary. No smoking and coughing, no gulping down alcohol and feeling like you want to shit and puke at the same time. You just have to take it and wait.
And while you’re lost in all these thoughts, it strikes you that you have had bhang a while back.
And then I notice it.
Something is different.
I don’t feel drowsy, I’m walking straight. I’m not staggering, or wanting to lie down and listen to Jimi Hendrix.
But I can feel it.
Like a happy bubble has burst inside me.
And then I walk into the Reliance Fresh.
I need a pair of socks, a bar of soap, and a deodorant.
The security guard asks me what is in my bag, and when he sees my laptop, he writes down my name and phone number on a register and asks me to take my bag with me.
The deodorants are easy to find. Right on my left.
There are the usual culprits. The ‘Spray Me – Fuck a Chick’ deos.
And among them, I find a dark red bottle. KS writing across it. Kama Sutra – the leading condom maker of the country, now selling you deodorants.
And you cant blame them. For years now, ads have been telling us that we need to score chicks. Not just the homely salwar wearing girl down the street, but the blond who looks a supermodel too.
Deos with a girl somewhere in the background, asking you to buy it.
And all the ads, selling the same thing. For a decade now. Like we are a country with our brains in our balls. And about that size too.
I really liked the recent Nivea ads. They are just telling you that it is a fresh smell and you will feel nice. That’s it.
Now, I understand that ads are made after considerable amount of research and surveys. Are you telling me most people of the country fantasise about getting wet blond chicks?Come on man.
And every one of them. Every fucking one of them. Telling you that you could score a hot chick by spraying this deo. From Axe to Set Wet to Denver to Wild Stone.
Wild Stone goes one step ahead and plays to a more niche category, the script of which has been plagiarised from Indiansexstories.net.
And then, I find the silver coloured bottle of Nivea. No bullshit. Keeps you fresh.
I pick it up.
So do advertisements influence the way we buy? I guess they do. I liked the ad, so I bought it. I am not too concerned about the technical bit, I know that even if I don’t get the blond chick I saw once in a net café, I will at least not cause discomfort to my co passengers. I pick it up.
I walk up to the first floor and I find that there is no one at all, just racks of items stacked up near each other, like in a school library. Nothing that interests me – stuff like detergents and doormats and room fresheners. I walk around carelessly, wondering if the CCTV cameras would be able to capture someone who is nippy at picking something off a shelf. The racks are quite high. He could probably stick it in his pants or something.
But then the thing is everything is jumbo size – family packs of soap and essentials. Stuff packaged in sizes so large, you would have a tough time explaining at the counter the bulge in your backside. May be the supermarket guys know this. A manager must have said in a meeting – “So the thieving bastards will obviously target the first floor which has lesser employees, so lets stock the top floor with items that you cant carry out.”
The others on the board must have smiled in satisfaction. They didn’t have to come up with anything else. It was good. The best thing to do was to smile. It’s a bit like when Lord Voldemort is at the centre of the table. Who are you? Peter Pettigrew – eager to please, Lucius Malfoy – obedient – with an agenda of your own, Severus Snape – the all knowing. The one who has it in him to zoom out and look at the larger picture.
But they all smile.
What the fuck am I thinking about?
I need to get back down. As I approach the stairs, I notice the stationary section. I pick up two notepads, one packet of erasers and sharpeners (they don’t sell them loose anymore), and a pack of envelopes. And just when I am about to turn, I notice them.
Sharp, pointed tips. In colours red, orange, purple, green, pink
I add them too.
I walk down to the payment counter and pay for whatever I have chosen. The attendant gives me the bill, and I walk out of the glass door. The security guy outside stops me, looks at my bill, and nods.
“But I have my laptop bag with me. Won’t you check my bag?”
He just shakes his head, as if it’s a possibility that is not even considerable.
“But what if I was taking away something small with me? Like a toy or something?” The words are flowing out of my mouth smoothly.
I realise it has been over a year since I spoke to someone in Oriya. I feel an urge to speak the language. There is a certain joy in speaking Oriya – it is lyrical and crude at the same time. And there is a benevolent, ‘I’m watching from above’ sort of a detachment towards everything. I think the thoughts and watch the words form themselves. And they’re sliding out of my tongue like little kids on a water slide.
The man clearly doesn’t share my enthusiasm towards speech.
“What will you do if you take something in your bag? You will take something worth 2000 today. Tomorrow you will want to take something worth 5000 and then your greed will make you go after something bigger, and you will get caught yourself.”
I was astounded by the philosophy.
“But that’s not the point,” I say. “What if I am not a seasoned thief? What if I only decide to try it out once, and am successful at stealing something that is of a good amount?”
The man looks at me for a while, thinking it over.
“How much will you steal, sir? How much will you steal?” He points at the building, “The owner earns crores in a day. What you steal will not even amount to a small fraction of what he earns in a day.”
For a security guard, this guy had a macroscopic, existential outlook towards things.
“But bhaina, how is it your concern what the owner earns? Would you check my bag if the owner only earns a few hundreds a day? You should aim at stopping any loss to the organisation – even if it is a small one. What if there are people who…. ”
He looks at me, exasperated.
“Maghiya sabu bele maghiya hin rahiba.” (Motherfuckers will always be motherfuckers).
A matter of fact statement. Like “There are more mosquitoes in rainy season,” or “This winter, the cauliflowers aren’t great.”
It could be a statement against the thieves. Or a metaphysical metaphor that could have been directed at me. May be the ‘watching words flow out of my mouth’ bit isn’t so great, after all.
I reach the safe confines of my room and find an IPL match going on. Someone is doing something and the commentator sounds excited. Everything is fine with the world. Apart from the fact that it is swimming above my head when I lie down.
As the day draws to an end, my ear is still ringing with his last statement. Serves me right, I think, for trying to finger a man who was doing his work.
But then, motherfuckers will always be motherfuckers.
(Illustration: Upali Mishra)