We are sitting in a poorly lit bar somewhere in the thronging metropolis of Chennai. The bar has a musty smell which the waiter, on enquiry, tells us is actually from the room freshener. However, the prices give no indication of the general seediness of the place – they are as high as their electricity bills are low (from the poor lighting and non-existent air conditioning). But they have draught, which is good enough for X, Y and Me. We were getting together after many months and any place with draught and chairs to sit on would have sufficed.
Conversation ranges from (as always) escapades in college to girlfriends (or more precisely the lack of it) to work. We are halfway through our second pitcher and there is a nice buzzing in our heads. This is the point when the silent-when-drunk guys go silent and the loquacious-when-drunk guys start making speeches in Swahili. But for us conversation continues as usual. The only change in us is that we are talking more serious issues now, mostly personal and family related ones.
X: Shit man! My brother has screwed up big time and I don't know what to do. [His hands leave the beer mug and slowly start massaging his forehead]
Me: What happened?
X: The thing is...see...he started doing weed in college a year back. I knew about it, but I thought that it's one of those things that guys do in engineering college, so I didn't bother much about it. But a few months back, he started acting crazy...I mean...you have seen 'A Beautiful Mind', right? He started acting like a schizophrenic...finding crazy connection between things and talking about the universe and stuff.
X: Yeah. So we took him to a doctor who diagnosed him with cannabis psychosis. My parents didn't even know that he was a smoker, so cannabis psychosis was a shock to them. Whenever my mother calls me, she ends up crying and I have to console her saying it'll be all right and stuff. Whoever thought smoking grass would lead to such fuck-ups?
Y: Come on, yaar. Everybody does grass in college. But I've not heard of anybody who got this. It's hard to believe!
[Y used to be a ganja master while in college. He is a legend in his college for growing the finest marijuana inside his vast college campus when he started suspecting that the quality of grass supplied to him was not up to his standards. I, never having got high on anything other than alcohol, remain silent and commiserate with X]
X: I know, even I tried it while I was in college. The only reason I didn't continue doing it was because I didn't like the high it gave. The doctor told us that a very small percentage of people have a chance of getting cannabis psychosis and as luck would have it, my bro is one of those.
We all go silent for a while and wordlessly sip our beer. I was thinking about the mess my friend was in and many thoughts came to mind – most shocking was the discovery that 90% of the people of my age I knew had tried grass at least once in their life. In fact, soft drug usage in most of the engineering colleges in south India is pretty rampant. In other parts of the country it is fairly common in the Mallu and North-East groups, but is limited by the availability of good 'stuff'.
I remember the time I was in NIT Trichy for a couple of days. This was in my final year and I was standing in the corridor of the hostel, eyes wandering aimlessly. An NITTian joined me with what resembled a crude cigarette in his hand.
NITTian: Want a puff?
Me: No, thanks. I don't smoke.
Me: No, never even started.
NITTian: Oh, ok. If you don't smoke weed I've got cigarettes. Navy Cut?
Me: Thanks macha, but I don't smoke anything.
Another thought also comes to mind as we sit around the table silently staring at our beer mugs – that no amount of momentary pleasure is worth the pain and suffering that the whole family would have to endure in a situation like this. My heart goes out to the mother for whom the world came crashing down when she heard of the condition of her younger son; to the father who was left wondering whether it was some mistake on the parents' part in bringing up the child that resulted in this; to the brother who for a lifetime will feel guilty about not doing something when he could have.
While each of us are doing all this thinking, the silence is becoming too stifling. So we go ahead and do the most rational thing we could – order a third pitcher to drown the silence.