All Dealers Great And Small


All Dealers Great And Small

Illustration: Akshita Monga

Shah Rukh came into my life as a hero. Saving me from the drudgery that was college life, he swooped in, part don, part star, to deliver my first bag of weed. He was the first dealer I met in Mumbai and it seemed only fitting that he was called Shah Rukh. With his wavy hair and movie-star flair, he juggled life between cleaning a basketball ground and various filmy gigs involving holding lights or bringing chai on set.

SR was gregarious, even when we called him requesting a paltry 50-rupee bag of weed. He was a regular at our smoking circle, although he insisted on hanging outside the window, and joined our repeat screenings of Requiem for a Dream. And, like a gentle fairy godfather, who knew he was plying us with illegal pumpkins, he oversaw our consumption carefully. When my dentist roommate overdid the green and decided on a whim to take a semester off from his studies, Shah Rukh grabbed him by the scruff of his neck and took him for a walk. He made no bones about the fact that dentist boy would never get a single bud again. “I’ll get it for you guys, but if I find out that you gave a drag to him, you’re fucked,” he told us menacingly.

I missed SR when I moved to Delhi. I should have known that Delhi would be considerably less overflowing with the milk of human kindness. It was here that I was introduced to the notion of the white-collar dealer – the one who tells you brutally, without batting an eyelid, that he only deals in five tolas at a time (at ₹1,700 per tola), and only supplies to the posh Hauz Khas crowd. You know the audience: International school-educated wastrels who repeat “Malana cream, bro. Malana cream” like a stuck record. At the tail end of a torrid period of scoring this pseudo cream, which had the consistency of boot polish, my friend declared miserably, “Par ye toh malana nahi tha, sab chalana tha.”

Ravi and his tribe are unreliable in more ways than one. They tend to go by the French working week – available for four days, and never after 6 pm.

Ravi, my cold white-collar dealer, told me that he only met clients at the super-posh Khan Market, because there are no cameras installed there, and at Aurangzeb Road, because while the embassies all have CCTV cameras, they all look inward. Ravi had only esoteric thoughts – critiquing the weed you crushed from lower parts of the branch, or explaining that the maal called “ice” really feels like cymbals crashing around you. During one swift exchange in his car in Khan Market, he mentioned casually, that Kangana once scored from him at the exact same spot. That she tried to bargain with him, but then paid him double the money anyway – just for the fuck of it. I wondered whether this was just dealer bluster, and had no idea if I should believe him.

Ravi and his tribe are unreliable in more ways than one. They tend to go by the French working week – available for four days, and never after 6 pm. They usually live in upscale apartments with their mothers (sometimes nanis too), and stash the kilos of hash under their beds. If they are the “good guys”, their story will invariably have a version of “I’m in the dope trade just to pay my mother’s medicine bills.” But there is the crack sort too. A Bengali friend once dragged me to his dealer’s place for what was meant to be a quick score-and-bounce. We got there to find out that Babu’s mother was a different kettle of fish. She not only managed the finances of his trade while giving him pocket money for coke; she also had a gun that she casually used to shoot pigeons.

And then there was Bobby. He wasn’t stupid enough to invite you home: You’d have to land up outside his house in Jor Bagh and call him to say, “Haan, pahuch gaye.” He would zoom past in his Nano and take you on rides around Meherchand Market, passing you different samples. After the third joint, if he said, “Yeh sahi mango hai, you just took his word for it and left.

But no matter how bizarre my Delhi boys were, at least they were not scary like the weed aunties. Weed aunties are the formidable Maharashtrian women who sell maal near cooperative housing societies in Mumbai, while gently rocking themselves on cream plastic Nilkamal chairs and viciously chopping onions. They are a cross between Dickens’ Madame Defarge and TV’s Nancy Botwin. They are joined in this “Women for Weed” club by the infamous mashis in Kolkata, who park themselves outside temple entrances with carefully concealed weed packets in their cleavages. They can silence you with one intimidating look, leaving you a mumbling mess who says “glash” in place of “ganja” and gets handed over red crystal meth.

In my long dalliance with dope, I’ve been served by stoned Baba dealers playing the djembe next to honeymooning couples in McLeod Ganj and the Highwayman-types riding around on Yamaha RX135s in Chennai. The array of dope peddlers in this country will always surprise you, and remind you that you don’t have to be a menacing maestro like drug kingpin Avon Barksdale from The Wire to make it as a seller in the heterogeneous and welcoming world of weed. But whether your go-to for the evening is a Shah Rukh, a Ravi, or a weed aunty, you can be sure you’ll leave with a bag of stash, and a great story.