The black bejeweled valley stretched below, and the surrounding brown mountains, stood in adamant splendor. Deep down, from the distance, the river roared and screamed, as it bravely traversed its stony course. Far behind me, a gray road snaked its way through the mountains, its quietude only disturbed by screeching brakes and honking of the few vehicles that transported travelers of the night. I sat far away from the din, and the curious headlights of the passing vehicles. Sitting on the very edge of the cliff, under the velvety sky proudly exhibiting its starry adornment, I felt miniscule. I wanted to blend with the magnitude and the monstrosity of nature.
There was a chill in the air. A rustle of leaves behind me foretold that my three traveling companions, Medha, Ansh and Tarun, would soon join me. Medha approached and draped a shawl around me. She sat down next to me, whispering an affirmation in my ear. I looked around expectantly. Our two male friends, sat down comfortably, and spread their ware on a towel on the ground. So they had managed to procure it.
I turned around to face my friends and participated in the preparatory ritual.
“The sadhu in the yonder hut has promised us his best ware. He says we are safe in this vicinity,” chirped Tarun.
“We can stay there as long as we want without anyone noticing us,” assured Ansh. “We don’t need to drive on before dawn, as the sadhu has graciously offered a place in his hut, where we can enjoy this experience, huddled in our sleeping bags.” A mischievous glitter escaped his eye.
The temperature dropped as the night advanced but we all felt a warm gush of blood in our veins. We were excited about what we were going to do. We chattered about our experiences of the day as we navigated through the mountains of Rishikesh, on our way to a ski-trip to Auli. While we talked, our hands were busy. We emptied the small cigarettes of their tobacco content and Ansh burnt of a small portion of the greenish-black lump he held in his forefingers. He mixed the small burnt out portion in the tobacco from the cigarettes and kept it aside. We picked up empty cigarettes each and proceeded to fill in the cylindrical paper with the concoction.
The rolling of the cigarettes completed, we ceremoniously lit one up and took turns to take a puff each, inhaling deeply. We felt the dry smoke, parching our throats, entering our lungs and slowing overtaking our senses. As the sadhu had promised it was indeed the best hash that could be procured in these mountains. Our conversation stalled, we let the smell of the hash-ridden smoke engulf us, and we drifted away into our own worlds. Ansh lay down, while Medha proceeded to roll some more cigarettes. Tarun got up to get water from the car. I felt the chemical effects of the herb in my veins, in my sinews, in my mind. I turned away from the group and sat facing the valley again.
I let my thoughts float and I let my imagination loose. I was hoping for a vision, a revelation, a panoramic display of the secrets of nature, as my senses became more aware of the sounds, the colors, the smells and the sights around me. I was dissolving; I was becoming one with the Universe.
Prodded by instinct, I held out the shawl wrapped around me, in the fashion of a mendicant. The sky relented and dropped in my lap the precious stars that adorned its bosom. I held the stars in my lap and gazed at them. The world was at my feet, the heaven in my arms. I was spellbound. The rapture in my mind and my heart was overwhelming. A silent tear fell into my shawl that held all the stars of the universe.
“Tomorrow a new star will embellish the skies. When morning would drive the night away and I would return the stars to the firmament, my tear would also become a star.” I whispered to myself, in a burst of imaginative ecstasy.
A gentle tap on my shoulder broke my reverie. “Listen girl, you are poised too dangerously at the edge of the cliff,” Ansh admonished me as he offered another cigarette. I got up to join the group sitting at a safer distance. I let the stars fall from my lap into the ground below.
“Maybe my tear was not destined to be a star. It would be a dew-drop,” I smiled as I took a puff from another cigarette. Either way I would be one with nature.
We had built a small bonfire and as I sat with the group, now nibbling at some food, I reflected on the elements of nature. The gushing of the Ganges down below and the blaze of the fire in front, opened newer vistas of thought and imagination. I dreamed and I soaked up the experience. This was a new high, a new stupor, the beginning of a new craving, and the birth of a new stupidity.
After another cigarette was shared between us, we decided to call it a day as we had a long drive ahead. Since it was nearly morning, we decided to catch a nap in the car and start at the break of dawn. We spent a sporty holiday in the snowy hillsides of Auli and enjoyed our skiing trip. On our way back to New Delhi, we stopped again at the sadhu’s abode and bought more hash to carry home. The sadhu gave us an amused look as we departed. He was wise enough to know we were men and women of the world, with trapped spirits and misguided notions on letting the spirit soar. We would learn of our deceptive thinking in due course.
Back in Delhi, Medha, Tarun, Ansh and I continued to meet on weekends and enjoy hash-filled evenings.
“Since I experienced the high of this stuff, I am exploring more notes to create my music.” confessed Ansh.
“It makes me one with the Universe,” I observed dreamily. “But I also think it is helping me generate more colorful ideas for the advertising campaign I am working on.
“No creative outbursts for me, just relaxation,” Ansh informed us.
Medha shook her sadly, “I do this just to be in your company,” she declared unpretentiously.
As time passed, Ansh and Medha slowly withdrew from the habit, but Tarun and I clung to it for our creative elevations. We were hooked. Tarun and I slowly started experimenting with other means of intoxication. Though I remained loyal to hash, Tarun proclaimed that he had evolved to a higher plane, the next level in his obsession.
”You have to come with me. I have procured the invitation through close contacts and there is nothing to worry about. We will be with friends. Come on, be sporting; it will be a different experience.” Tarun persuaded me.
“OK, but only this one time. And don’t get zonked out! Remember, you have promised to take care of me.” I conceded, doubtfully. “On second thoughts, I will not even try anything new and will only be your guest, not a participant.”
“Your call. Let’s see if you can resist the temptation to fly high.” Tarun winked at me.
I accompanied Tarun to a rave party where hallucinogenic drugs were the main course. I remained steadfast and my consciousness that evening helped me to come out of my protracted trance and compulsion.
We entered a smoke filled, dimly lit hall with human forms, loitering, blabbering and lolling in a variety of intoxication. The psychedelic environ made me anxious, but Tushar reassured me. I followed him to a small table, where his new acquaintances huddled in different stages of hallucination. Someone offered Tarun a very tiny bit of white paper and as Tarun and I seated ourselves in a corner, Tarun put the paper laced with hallucinogenic acid on his tongue and closed his eyes. Within fifteen minutes Tarun started sweating and sat almost still, pupils dilated, as if he was communing with higher forces. I looked at him wide-eyed. He was totally lost to the world, as he continued to sweat profusely.
Another fifteen minutes, and Tarun suddenly opened his eyes and started behaving weirdly. His face was flushed and he was salivating and trembling. He started howling as if he had seen a vision that scared him out of his wits. His reactions were uncontrollable and quickly noticed by others. Some people gathered around us.
“What’s happening? Is he alright? Please help!” I pleaded nearly in tears.”
“Relax, this happens some times,” a young man put his hand reassuringly on my shoulder.
“What happens, some times?” I choked back my tears.
As I developed cold feet, requesting people to help, Tarun, writhed as if in pain and fear and attempted to shield himself from unseen forces that attacked him. By now, I was also hysterical, requesting for medical aid.
One of Tarun’s acquaintance, tried to hold him down, whispering into his ears, and telling him to relax. Tarun was oblivious to the ruckus around him. He was fighting unseen demons. Unable to help him, his friend turned to me and said in slow tones, “Tarun is undergoing psychotic delusion brought about by the drug he was experimenting with. He will regain his normal self, only when the effect of the drug subsided.”
He was helped by another man to move Tarun to a quieter back room. They kept on reassuring him that he was in safe place amongst safe people. I was too shocked to speak, when I was told that it might take another an hour or maybe three hours for the effect of the drug to wear of.
For the next half an hour, that seemed like aeons to me, I saw Tarun’s distorted expression and the far away look in his eyes, as he tripped on visual perceptual distortions stimulated by the acid. I regained some semblance of composure and called up Ansh. “You have to come here, you have to help us. Nobody is calling in medical aid. I am helpless.”
”That non-sensical brat! And you dumb-wit! Why did YOU have to go! I am not going to be a part of this stupidity and walk into that god-forsaken place. You made your choice, now you pay for it.” Ansh hissed into the phone, gritting his teeth.
Fifteen minutes later, I saw Ansh walk across the room. I was relieved and instantaneously rushed to him, weeping into his arms. Ansh slightly pushed me aside. He was fuming with rage. He walked with me into the ante-room and spoke to the two men about the possibility of taking Tarun to a doctor. However, the two men refused the possibility, fearing legal consequences. They assured that Tarun would be alright after the effects of the drug wore off and then he could be taken to a doctor.
Ansh stayed with Tarun and me, all night long, as we anxiously waited for him to come back to reality. Ansh called up a friend of his who was a private doctor. The doctor suggested some stress-reduction techniques and advised that a light conversation be kept up with Tarun. The agonizing hours refused to slip by for us, while the revelry continued outside the room, as eager guests poured into reach new zeniths of intoxicated stupor. My heart turned in my stomach as I saw my friend, struggle between sanity and insanity.
The first rays of the sun brought some semblance of consciousness into Tarun. Ansh and I heaved a sigh of relief and we drove him back to his house, where he received further medical attention for Ansh’s friend. We were informed that Tarun had a bad trip where instead of pleasurable thoughts, so deep fear and hidden phobia in his conscience had been stimulated and came into the forefront.
For many years after that Tarun was reluctant to speak about his psychedelic experience and he refused to indulge in any further experiments with drugs and herbs. The visions of the night continued to haunt him and he delved in recurring psychosis. We were supportive of Tarun but we were never again supportive of hallucinogenic drugs.
I specially developed an aversion for external stimuli using drugs. I had been witness of an easy transition from a pleasurable new experience to the horror trip of one’s life. I had always sought a transition into the heavens’ above. I now realized that before I reached the heaven, I had to conquer the hell within. From stupor, to stupidity, I was now on the path of self-discovery sans dope and drugs.