Dhaka Courier

Our drug days in the 70s


Suddenly drugs is big news in Bangladesh as then Government mounts a war against drugs and uses encounter killing as a tool along with other conventional tools. Drugs have been around for long but were a niche social activity. Today it’s mainstreamed and a large scale business. People are talking more about the killings than the drug problem though. One is not sure if people really have much confidence in the long term success potential of the war. Drugs have always been here but the scale now is huge which makes it an issue.

The hierarchy of domestic aides

In pre-1971 Dhaka, we lived in a largish double storied building in Dilu Road with many domestic aides or what would now be called “kajer lok”. In those days, there were many categories of such people. There were the chauffeurs/drivers who were at the top. They were the upper class of the working class at home.

This was followed by the  security guards who were mostly retired ex-army with not much to do and certainly better off and healthier than the present lot of  apartment security guards who have no status except the right to use the intercom. All our home guards joined the war.

The third level were the “domestics’ hired by the office who cooked and did such work. Technically official but under the administrative authority of my mother.

Next came the cleaners, gardeners, their assistants and so on.  There was another grade – the domestics hired by the family -- but they were akin to low end family members rather than domestics. They were often our playmates too. That’s how the salaried upper class lived in those days.

But the gardeners and cleaners who were different. They were low caste Hindus who lived in close by Palpara which the Pak army burnt down on the night of the 25th.  There were several of them and in the evening they would gather near the car space in our house and smoke dope.

We had no interest in it and never were tempted even to explore. It smelt a bit strange and to us ganja belonged to the lower class and caste. It posed no social status or any threat. And it was so commonplace that my mother would send them milk and snack knowing about the obvious ‘munchies’ – dope induced hunger pangs --   which if not  indulged sapped the body. Weak cleaners and gardeners are of no use to the household.

War changed everything.

The campus druggies

In the post war chaotic, anarchic and insecure life- though hardly as bad as now- drugs arrived first in the form of ganja. Its also true many suffered from the mental ravages of war including the FFs and drugs became medication of sorts.  So many doped that it soon became the campus drug. Many also using it to feel “with it”.  But ganja was relatively harmless though those seriously into it seemed to lack much drive. Now many lack that without the additional boost of narcotics.

But alcohol was in as well and for us it was forbidden, unusual and the rest. If we didn’t become hardened drinkers, one reason was of course lack of funds. We were too short of money to be drunk, addicted or whatever.

But pills were another matter and always feared. I remember two cases and both were from pills- downers. I think it was a hypnotic – seconal- which was the culprit along with Mandrex or “mandy” as it was fondly. This friend of mine, a valiant FF who fell into its grip never recovered to lead a full life. He came to the University everyday but was not a student  and would sit in the chhapra canteens and drink tea and fly high.

He had been jilted and didn’t recover for long but the drugs were slowly finishing him. One day, during a Boi mela evening, he spilled it all to me in a drugged out haze. The strangest part of his confession was that he spoke entirely in English, a language he never used before or after. I don’t remember much what he said but do remember is amazing choice of language just to tell all that.

He later dropped pills after many mishaps and took to alcohol. Last year he told me , he had given up everything.  But drugs took away a career, and a life that he, such a wonderful person, could have done much.

The Dexis

The other victim, also an FF was heavily into pills and did ‘cocktails. He mixed uppers and downers - amphetamines - and it devastated him. He married a girl in a hurried ceremony – a lovely Hindu girl - and then because it was all too much swallowed an array of pills and conked out. By the time he recovered the girl had been spirited away to India by her influential father and they never saw each other again.

I would take him to soothsayers as he desperately searched for hope but it didn’t help much. One day, when a whiskey bottle-not his - lay in his car he just shut the door and windows and drank it as I helplessly shouted at him. His life went down much lower than the liquid I am sad to say.  Narcotics changed his life in ways he never ever thought.

Once, when about to sit for our BA exam, the students wanted to shift it for some reason and so the movement began. This friend of mine whose brother was killed in the war and which traumatized him greatly was a dexi/speed and dope addict. He wrote a long piece arguing why the exam should be shifted. So off they all went to the VC and asked him to shift the exam. After some arguments, the VC agreed to refer it to the Syndicate but my friend’s piece was left unread. He was very sad.

The next day everyone went to the VC again who informed all that the exams had indeed been shifted. As everyone cheered and shouted my friend stepped forward and said, “I have something to read. It’s my argument for shifting the exams. “The VC said, “It’s already shifted.“ My friend said, “It doesn’t matter. It’s a very good piece.”

The helpless VC sat and my friend began to read why the exams should be shifted after it was already done. After about 5 minutes his friends hustled him away much to the relief of the VC and his friends.

In our days, even the VCs were different.

  • DhakaCourier
  • Vol 34
  • Issue 47

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