MH 420: Weed on Wheels

Vice

MH 420: Weed on Wheels

Illustration: Vidyasagar Saple

R

afi Ahmed Kidwai Marg, B N Pai Marg, and P D’mello Road together form a long, four-lane highway that runs through some of Mumbai’s meanest neighbourhoods and connects Matunga to Colaba. Seldom affected by the plague that is the city’s traffic situation, the stretch from Wadala to Mazgaon provides parking space to numerous trucks that ferry stuff to places unknown. It is also home to MH 420 (number changed to protect the privacy of the occupant).

This old, beat-to-shit, hunk-of-junk parked at the side of the road is a permanent fixture, famous for the balding, partly deaf — but endearing — asshole, who along with his nirvana-inducing, munchie-generating, eye-reddening stash, inhabits its shitty confines.

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He’s been dealing weed from this abandoned truck for 15 years. His career choices were limited to either taking over his late father’s job as a conservancy worker, cleaning up after this city, or entering the exciting, dangerous, fucked up world of crime. He chose the lucrative drug trade, of course. Of late, he has even diversified into the police informant vertical, thus granting him immunity from shakedowns by both cops and other dealers.

We share more than a dealer-customer dynamic. Unknown to most people, he completed his secondary education from an English-medium school, in the late 1980s. There, he was tutored in English and Math by my mother, of all people. Thankfully, my mother is oblivious to two things: One, her beloved son’s mad, ninja-level, rolling skills, and two, the fact that she spent a few years explaining the nuances of the English language to a peddler.

What mama doesn’t know won’t hurt her.

It was during my first solo pot run, about seven years ago, that I met Shahjahan. I hesitantly asked for do “pudi maal”. What I got in return was an earful of “bhenchod” with a liberal sprinkling of “chutiya harami”. I was made the instant he laid eyes on me. At the time, I lacked my magnificent beard, and bore a striking resemblance to my mum. The fact that he lives six minutes away from my home added to my woes.

My comeback, of “arre uncle kya hua” was met with more expletives. Then I was asked my age. Twenty, I replied (emphasis on “lied”) and whether my mom knows I smoke maal. I shat my pants twice, then ran home. The next day, a friend of mine scored a pudi from Shahjahan, and being a regular, brought up the previous evening’s events. Shahjahan told him two things: First, that he could go fuck himself, second, that my mum taught him English for free and he didn’t want to repay her by dealing weed to her son.

On my next trip, a few months later, business sense prevailed, and I was reluctantly handed two pudis of marijuana. On subsequent trips we became better acquainted, to the point where I have him on speed dial and can score on credit (which I never do, because it’s kind of fucked up). He routinely asks me for help whenever he needs a confusing sarkari or other form filled out. Clearly, mum’s efforts to teach him English haven’t borne fruit.

Shahjahan’s day begins at 3 pm. He lives in a row of shanties that are soon going to be converted into MHADA homes. The shanty, which he shares with his elderly mother, is indistinguishable from the rest, except for the Tata Sky DTH receiver poking out of the roof and the Videocon LCD inside. After taking stock of his supply, he tallies up the day’s earnings. If a re-up is in order, he heads to Chembur for a bulk run. If not, he usually shoots the shit with the local “patels” and “shaanelog”, slyly mining information to be discreetly shared with the cops later on.

“The fact that his neighbourhood is on the cusp of a real estate orgasm is really good for business. With middle-class chawls giving rise to swanky high-rises, Shahjahan is on a roll.”

Come 7 pm, he heads to his office, where he spends the next eight hours or so dealing weed to everybody; from the guy from the slums to the people in the “Mersidis”. The fact that his neighbourhood is on the cusp of a real estate orgasm is really good for business. With middle-class chawls giving rise to swanky high-rises, bearing the names of some of the city’s finest developers (which is a crock of shit, I’ll rant about another time), inhabited by people with enough money to fund a coup in a small African country, Shahjahan is on a roll.

Flush with cash, he casually mentioned marriage during my last run. It is highly unlikely though because it’d crush sales at his favourite brothel in Kamathipura (we’re both guys, we talk about sex too). We have a routine 15-minute conversation every time I buy some pot. We’ve discussed everything, from the recent influx of synthetic drugs (which he hates because according to him, kudrati jadi buti is ek number, and MD ka bechan is bad for business), to his “vacation” a few months ago during an intense crackdown on dealers caused by the misplaced drug paranoia after a spate of MDMA-related deaths in the area (he went to his gaon in Satara).

Till 11 pm, the day is slow. He kills time tuning into his favourite radio station as he waits for customers. He adores that “Afghan Jalebi” song. I catch him at dinner. It’s fiery, eye-stabbing red schezwan fried rice in an aluminium foil container. The colour reminds me of Amsterdam’s peep show windows. At 50 bucks a pop for about 600 grammes of rice, some vegetables, a few scraps of chicken (highly doubtful) and a spice level akin to freebasing raw capsaicin, this fried rice is manna from heaven for stoners, drunks and anyone looking for a late night carb load.

I ask him if he’s heard of Afghan Haze or the Kush that comes out of Afghanistan while he’s singing the song between mouthfuls. He shoots me a quizzical look and replies, “Kya hai woh bhenchod?” I explain, he shoots back, “Manali se aata hai yeh maal, full fire hai ye, angaar.

I give up, he isn’t after all Tony Montana or Pablo Escobar, he’s my friend/dealer who lives in a shanty — no yacht, automatic weapons or hot blondes with silicone-enhanced assets here. The deal’s done. I wait around the truck, to shoot the shit. The brief silence is cut with his nasal, “Nikal bantai, three star aaya”, and just like that, I see a cop car pulling up. Time to get the fuck outta dodge.

Nothing new. They’re just here to ask Shahjahan what’s happening and if he’s heard anything about anything going down of late. A good tip gets him paid – how well, depends on the tip. People refer to him as a ‘tipper’ from time to time, but he’s quick to dismiss it. He prefers khabri. According to him, tipper is the bottom rung of the ladder; it involves snitching on petty crimes like chain snatching and theft.

A khabri informs on more serious crimes that could put a life at risk. I wouldn’t even want to hear a syllable of some of these khabars. Why? Because, death by stabbing, or multiple tube lights to the head, or a ceramic tile and a couple of empty beer bottles to the face, or a cheap rampuri to the gut, might happen.

The cops leave and the night goes on. Drunk teenagers, sober adults, and others mollied out of their minds, show up to score some weed. The night is long and the money is easy. Not really… Shahjahan does have to fight the odd, spaced-out charsi who might try to rip him off.

Come 4 am, business is done, and it’s time to leave. No locking up required. Nobody fucks with Shahjahan. Hell hath no fury like a drug dealer whose stash has been interfered with. Tomorrow is re-up day, and a lot of nasty shit can happen, so he needs his sleep. Right now, it’s back to the shanty and back to mum. He’s hoping she makes him something nice for breakfast.

A couple of weeks after writing this article, Shahjahan went AWOL. Rumours surrounding his disappearance, range from the plausible (he’s just gone underground after a deal gone wrong) to the macabre (rival dealers got him and got rid of the body in the marshes). I think he’s chilling in his gaon, waiting for the heat to die down. But I have a hunch the wheels on the toke truck haven’t stopped spinning yet.

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