Dum Mein Gham: How I Survive as a Non-Stoner in a World Full of Potheads


Dum Mein Gham: How I Survive as a Non-Stoner in a World Full of Potheads

Illustration: Arati Gujar

I’ve been a non-stoner all my life. I’ve never felt the need to light up, be blazed, blitzed, baked, cooked, be in the presence of Mary J, or be otherwise wrecked by an intoxicant. The trouble is, I am surrounded by stoners.   

The reverential approach that stoners take to scoring, rolling, and smoking just never appealed to me. For most, this isn’t that big a deal. There are bigger problems in the world. Like the fact that we’re living in a time where you could walk out of your house and a plane could literally crash down on you. But in my experience, most of the Bandra and South Bombay hipsters I hang out with, think that me not smoking pot is a pretty huge deal.

My friends are a mood. They have metal cases or stash boxes to keep their stuff in. They proudly state “420-friendly” in their dating app bios, which contain gems like, “If you ain’t toking, we ain’t thoking. #TokeMeDaddy” and, “Teri crush maal hai, mera maal crushed hai.” You get the gist. I often find myself bewildered tracking group conversations that veer from “Legalise It” to “What if each of Ravan’s heads got a different munchie craving?” Also, I have no idea what a Rizla is, and at this point, I am just too afraid to ask.

Before you write me off as wound too tight, I’m not knocking pot without ever having tried it. I spent the better part of my twenties living in Venice Beach, California, aka the land of medical marijuana. My surfer bro roomies there made me try epic-sounding strains like Sour Tsunami, Ghost Train Haze, and Alaskan Thunder Fuck, but even then, the only things that impressed me were the creative names. Clearly, smoking up wasn’t for me. And my roomies respected my choice to stick to pints instead of puffs.

It was bliss. Stoners and non-stoners co-existing in harmony. Sadly, I couldn’t stay in that paradise, and once my course ended, I came back home from Venice to Vile Parle. That’s when I met the urban Indian pothead.

Why are stoners in our beautiful country always enthusiastic about getting you to try their maal? Why is the notion of someone being able to spend a night out without having a hit of their spliff so astonishing to these people? Who hurt them, and why are we suffering for their sins?

I have lost count of how many nights I’ve spent being the lone soul pouring himself a peg while the rest of the room passes around a J.

Lately, a party just doesn’t seem like a party anymore unless I am reminded by some well-meaning person that, “This stuff is from the earth, bro. Just try it.” I’ve also come to really enjoy having absolute strangers tell me how it will help me and my partner feel more connected in bed. In front of said partner. Who I’m on a first date with. You see, some people go to social gatherings for the music, the hobnobbing, the relaxation. But not me. I have more refined tastes, like having a disheveled dude in a Pink Floyd T-shirt tell me I’m blind to the truth because I’m sipping on rum and coke instead of having hits from his neon bong.

I have lost count of how many nights I’ve spent being the lone soul pouring himself a peg while the rest of the room passes around joints and laughs their asses off. I once spent two hours trying to figure why my friends were laughing uncontrollably while eating raw Maggi straight out of the pack. “Because of the giraffes on your chest, bro,” they said, referring to my Minions T-shirt. I think the only time I genuinely enjoyed being with my baked friends was when we watched old Jackie Shroff interviews together. Thank you, Jaggu Dada, for being the wholesome content that stoners and drunks alike can find hilarious.

Being the only person who doesn’t love Mary Jane in a social circle of stoners has become my cross to bear even at places I didn’t expect. I guess life is funny. One moment six-year-old you is holding your infant cousin brother in your arms. And just like that, he’s twenty, coughing up a storm and complaining about how his current dealer is slacking off on the good stuff. Expressing your concern for his lungs just gets you a long lecture about the history of how ganja is part of Indian culture, and a reminder that you’re a hypocrite for hitting the bottle while dissing stoners.

It took me a while to realise but there’s an innate hypocrisy that goes with dabbling in drink and yet looking down at your herb-enthusiast homies. And after spending enough time with both, I prefer spending the party with a mellow, cutely insistent stoner than a boisterous, belligerent drunk.

I guess I’m lucky my vice is a socially acceptable one. I don’t envy stoners or their constant concerns over whether their dealer has been busted by the cops or is just lying low, nor do I wish to have to chase my high in the backseat of a smoke-filled car, instead of an air-conditioned bar. There is a ray of hope for my stoner compadres though. From Shashi Tharoor to Baba Ramdev, several surprising advocates have spoken up in support of shedding the stigma surrounding stoners.

And the day this stigma fades away, when the prohibition of pot is finally lifted, I will narrate my version of Voltaire’s famous words in solidarity with my blazed brethren, “I may not share your fondness towards cannabis, but I will defend to death your right to get stoned.”