STONED PACKAGE & FINAL YEAR COLLEGE:
In May 1970, Nanda, Sriram, Pervez and I plus half a dozen guys and gals from Central College, Bangalore went for the Science Talent Scholarship scheme Summer Camp to Benares Hindu University, Varanasi for our second summer camp.
By now, we were '"turned on. timed in. timed off. yaah yaah coco-jumbo yah yeah yeh. / Put me up put me down and make me happy." Mind you, as shotgun Murugesh says it, on MTV, "Mind it. We are like this only."'
Except that, I would have pronounced "only" as "oneee”.
At B.H.U., Varanasi we ran into an interesting league of students from other Universities. There was "Fandoos", brother of Shri George Fernandes. He could play guitar too, which, for the Chod Gang was qualification enough.
The science talent summer camps were, at that time, the nearest things to a special school for geniuses. At these camps we were supposed to be exposed to the latest strides made in the scientific world and taught things that were going to be added to the official syllabi a few more years down the line. Thus we got lessons on practical atomic energy devices, I suppose, given the materials we could theoretically assemble a nuclear device. We were introduced and allowed to on a rampage with a Geiger counter and a Ruby pulse laser. There was even a cloud chamber to trace particle paths.
For the experiments the Physics department had a radioactive source kept in a stout cylindrical brick structure with a deadly isotope source buried inside it. With full bravado I put my hands inside and took out a shining cube of some metal that glowed eerily in the dusk. I put it in my pocket.
It was Nanda put the fright into me “Gawd,man, chuck it away. You’ll die of radioactivitis or whatever.” After some time in my left pocket I felt quite contentious and flung it into the hedge. Next day the piece was found missing from its receptacle and the authorities had to bring out the Geiger counter and set it up. It took them about an hour to locate the object. Gingerly picking it up with the longest pair of tongs I had ever seen it was returned to its cavity. Having spent a mere half hour in my pocket, I still carry a patch of discolored skin and body hair on my left thigh.
The real reason why we were most enthusiastic about going to Varanasi for a month had nothing to do with academics.
“Grass is legal in UP,” Mysore Ravi had told us. “They sell it from Government run shops. Also, you can get Bhang lassi from almost every corner.”
Right on reaching the city and being installed in a Hostel in the Kashi Vidyapeeth or Sanskrit University, we all got onto a couple of cycle rickshaws and headed for Chowk or the main circle, where we were told the “Bhang-ka-theka” or Government retail shop was.
Sure enough, there it was. On a crowded market square where every shop had its signboards in Hindi only one shop window had an English board:
“Government Retail Depot. Ganja, Bhang and Poppy head Sold here. Prop. Ghanshyamdas. License valid up to 31st. March 1971.”
The “license valid” part was certainly the most re-assuring part of the legend. Our stay at BHU was up to early June and it was most reassuring that even if we came back for a winter holiday, we would find the place intact, ever willing to supply us, with officious government seal, Ganja at the rate of two rupees a Tola (aprox. 8/10 grams depending on the dispensers’ generosity or his knowledge of converting weights from local systems, British Standard Measures and the new metric system of Grams – 10 made a “tee” or Tola. At present this was enough. The same amount at the turn of the millennium could cost, in Bangalore up to Rs.200/=. God knows how much it cost in Soho or Manhattan, where, I’m told, its measured in ounces (14 gms.) I suppose that if you’re a serious “boomer” i.e. smoker of ganja, you’d better carry a calculator around. Especially, Sir, if you belong to the jetset – people that live in at least three continents.
It would be quite some time later in life that we could talk about “Kees” i.e. Kilos or lots of a thousand grams each.
As the song goes:
“Flyin’ in from Memphis to New Orleans,
Bringin’ in a couple of Kees…”
From: Coming in to Los Angeles.
In half an hour we had discovered the Lassi shops at the main circle. As we settled into the row benches provided in the lassi sellers little cub-in-the-h*** shop and saw him putting in a carefully measured amount of Bhang Paste, we hurried to inform him that we were already quite seasoned warriors and advised to put in twice, nay thrice his normal dosage per glass. We were all quite determined to get as stoned as possible this evening.
“humain tho sochath aap hain pardes apain eeka shaukin nahin maloom.”
(I thought you were outsiders and may not be quite used to this.) He said apologetically.
Bhang is, as far I know one of the most powerful intoxicants in a natural unprocessed base. Unlike Grass or Ganja, it was drunk as a drink often added to some form of a milk shake base. The sweet along with the high protein dry fruits, cream and essences that go into it helped enhance the “high” you felt. I think that really good bhang high can induce hallucinations comparable to Acid – LSD.
Of course, the rest of the evening was a series of wonderful hallucinations.
First, we hallucinated that we’d already paid the rickshaw-wallah. We argued vehemently about it and finally had to give in when the said rickshaw-wallah got half the towns Rickshaw-wallahs and threatened us with dire consequences. One of the faculty members, who had come to take us for dinner at the University mess, rescued us and settled the irate rickshaw men at quite a premium. As we finally got underway, he turned to his female colleague’
“Dekhna Lataji, ee Madrasi vidyarthiyon se hum zaroor thung aa jayenge.”
(Make sure of it, Ms. Latha, we’re going to have a lot of trouble from these students from the south.)
Next we hallucinated at the mess. It was a kind of buffet and the course director had extolled us to each as much as possible and help ourselves to as many helpings as we wanted. We need not have been told to. We were quite famished after a long three-day train rides from Bangalore. The Bhang had got us flying at supersonic speeds seeing psychedelic patterns in the Chapattis and Dal that was being served. We could have eaten horses. We hallucinated that every time we went back for another helping, it was only our second.
“If they’re going to eat so much, I suppose you better revise the food budget allocation to NCERT,” said the faculty member to the director.
“Kyaa daroo peeyen hain?” (Have they consumed alcohol?) He asked, “No,” said the faculty member; “there is no whiff on their breaths.” “Perhaps, they have had bhang.” Concluded the director surprisingly accurately, “Jaane do, yaar” (Let it be) he further indulged us.
We hallucinated back to the hostel and pulled out our guitars. There were two with us and one with Fundoos from IIT Kharagpur. It was the first of many such jams I have had in these many years since. Get high on anything and you can play with any willing stranger, the music creating its own language of companionship. It doesn’t matter what you’re high on as long as every is equally high on the same high. It becomes a bit messy; I later was to find if some of the band is high on booze, some one on grass and some one not at all. I’ve experienced it myself and seen many other bands as well come to split because of non-compatibility of highs.
Next day we did a bit of introspective post-mortem.
“ How come we don’t get so blown even if we smoke a dozen joints one after the other.” We asked.
It’s osmosis,” said Nanda, the scientist. “Smoke from joints is absorbed by the lungs osmotic ally. Only such and such a high level can be reached from a particular quality of Ganja. But Bhang goes down the alimentary canal and gets completely absorbed. Especially with the Lassi, sweet and cream. I’ve read all this in High Times magazine.”
“ Can you take too much?” I asked. “Oh yes, he said you’d do an Oh-Dee then. There may be nothing left but the pieces.”
“The hallucinations,” said Parvez thoughtfully,” what if some one took bhang without knowing it and the hallucinations came on. What would happen to him?”
“Oh s***, he’ll be totally f***** man, go crazy I suppose”, said Nanda.
“Then”, said Parvez with a wicked look, “let’s try it out on soon on someone”.
It was May in Varanasi with temperatures on the wrong side of hundred Fahrenheit. Every one of us had started becoming addicted to lassi or chilled yogurt. One of our class from Central College, Bangalore, Teeny, was the worst sufferer. He had never been outside Mysore state and never known such severe summers. He consumed Lassi copiously. A studious and serious scholar, sure to make a great theoretical physicist, Parvez befriended him one evening and told him “I’ll take you to another lassi bar. You get a green lassi, much better that the usual. Come with me and we’ll try it.”
When we reached the Chowk, Parvez got the lassi maker to ensure as strong a dose for teeny. Nanda and I also joined them and on our way back, Parvez kept inquiring from teeny how he felt. “OK,OK,” said Teeny at first, but after about twenty minutes he admitted a slight dizziness.
Just what Parvez was waiting for, “Har..Har.. You’ve had Bhang, Man” said he gleefully, “Now you’re going to get zapped out your head. This infuriated Teeny and instead of laying back and enjoying the trip he suddenly got paranoid and violent, “You f****** want to kill me. I’ll report you to the police”, he screamed.
By the time we got to the hostel, we were all hallucinating. Teeny in a hallucination of rage, while Nanda, Sriram and I were writhing in mirth at the absurdidity of the whole thing. Teeny, a puny stick of bones suddenly had the strength of ten men. He picked up Nanda and threw him out of the hostel front door like a rag. Next he went after our guitars and wanted to smash them up in revenge. None of us could handle him. We had with us, a student from Kerala – a polio victim with deformed legs. But he made up with a very broad strong chest and muscular arms. He got hold of Teeny in an iron grip and pinned him down onto the bed and kept him there till he wept himself to sleep after about an hour. “ You guys better be careful with the drugs you take and give to others,” he warned darkly, “else you’ll have me to deal with.”
Jamming with Fundoos we started to look at newer directions in Music. Being from Bengal, he could play a few Hindi Film songs and some “Robindra Sangeeth” which Tagore had arranged to be played to Spanish guitar accompaniment. He gave us the chords for “Roop tera mastana” from Aradhana the big hit of the last year.
I started taking an interest in Hindi Film music and decided to keep an open mind to all types of music. There was, I knew, a bigger world beyond Rock and Roll. Also, as the only entertainment was the movies, that too only Hindi movie, we would all go out and see these and sit and debate the merits of the music of each.
One day, the Faculty of BHU took us out for a picnic to Sarnath, the archeological site. In the evening an impromptu get-together had been arranged. We too sang a few songs with our guitars. The major part of the evening was a ghazal recital by one of the faculty and his wife. She was a most beautiful woman and in silence we heard her most melodious voice and, even without really following the words, got overwhelmed by the beauty of this music format. Gazing at the Faculty member’s beautiful wife, I instantly became a fan of the ghazal, the Indian Blues Song.
At the Summer School, each of us were expected to involve in any practical project, At Punjab University, the previous year, Nanda and I had collaborated on a project to make a basic “flip-flop” circuit with two transistors. A thoroughly useless project. At Varanasi, I had decided to make something that I really needed. Nanda had raked up from an old issue of “Electronics for you” the circuit diagram and instructions for making an Echo Chamber.
It was quite a dated version. It had an electro-mechanical delay device. Two piezoelectric record player cartridges were placed under a foot long wire spring. The electric signal sound was played through one and picked up after a delay by the other. It was powered by three RCA Valve tubes and then had to be fed into an amplifier. I never did get to finish making it since most of the vital components could not be found, search as we did the markets. Finally, my dad got the parts from old air force spares, but by the time these reached, our one-month at BHU was over and we were on our way home. But the experience had taught me that knowledge of Audio electronics was as important to a Rock Musician as it was to a Radar Mechanic. Also, most importantly, how to solder cables and leads.
It had been some three months since my last hair cut. Now it hung shoulder length in glorious hippy fashion. I’d also grown my side burns, Elvis like, as far down the side of my face as possible. Also, I had grown my moustache walrus like, till it almost became a “foomanchoo” style.
A pair of dark “Gandhi glasses”, pink bellbottoms and a Nepalese cap completed my attire as I rode in from the college gate past the “arse park”.
“Oh my God!” exclaimed Kausalya. I heard it and knew at once that whatever chances I may have had of succeeding in my romantic efforts were truly and finally gone.
There was, I decided, nothing else to concentrate on, but getting a proper Band together. Balls to college. And, balls to Kausalya.
Music, Art, Theatre, Journalism and other Culture Vulturing:
With about 2 % attendance in college, it was a surprise that I did get the Band going yet. In the final year, the Chod gang had undertaken a lot of activities.
Shekar launched ROT Magazine that year. Some kind of take off on MAD Magazine, it brought out the “nonsense of student life”. One day, I do believe, historians will discover that ROT, in 1971, was one of the truly pioneer underground periodicals from Bangalore.
We brought out three issues. One of them carried a Bangalore University baccalaureate. Printed on toilet paper. Another commemorated Jimi Hendrix.
Shekar later printed a tabloid Central Blurb. When the police marched onto the college lawns during the strike, the Blurb headline said it all – “Cops on Grass”.
Working on these print jobs was long and we spent a lot of time inside a printing press, experience that was to help me in my future career outside music. It also made me consider dropping out of Physics and do Journalism instead.
Central College was a bit of a higher brow than the rest of the University. The great T.G. Vaidyanathan was a faculty in the department of English. As I do now read, TGV used to conduct his classes more inside the India Coffee House down Avenue Road than inside the college premises. Usually assuring that the other lecturer, whose class was going on, had half his class missing.
Bangalore’s cognoscenti already had a rich tradition in amateur English Drama. The Chod gang would also land up at these shows, if not for anything else, to make a nuisance of themselves. We landed up at a serious play – “the Dumb-waiter” with a conch shell and Sriram’s inevitable trumpet.
TGV was the nominated faculty for cultural affairs. The local daily, Deccan Herald, had put up an inter-collegiate dramatics concert. The plays had to “One-Act, not more than an hour long”. There was a cash prize. Better still, there was an amount of Rs. 175 allotted to each college towards sets and make-up.
“Sir will you let us do our college entry this year?” Sriram asked TGV. TGV had a soft corner for Sriram and almost considered him an intellectual.
“Can we write our own play, sir?” Sriram asked. “Oh sure,” said TGV, “and try and see if you guys can fit in some music, you know, a soft instrumental guitar. Let Nanda play it like a background”.
We took his advice and sat down to write the play, Sriram & I.
“Come on, Chod. This is our chance to really f*** all the buggers.” And we got down to work. By morning, the short play titled “One night at Suzie’s” was born.
The plot was very simple. Set on a street corner outside Suzie’s house are Suzie’s customers lining up one by one to “’ave their turn”. In order of appearances, they are a passerby, an auto rickshaw driver, a college student, a businessman and a college professor. Suzie doesn’t appear on stage, only her hand reaches out from a slit between the curtains to collect from each customer cash in advance.
As the customers waited they conversed. What they talked was not very important. The only requirement of the script was that everyone spouted as much bad words and absolute filth on the audience. I wont even try to repeat it was just a torrent. And, it went on and on. Moreover, almost everybody smoked grass defiantly on stage. The Auto driver rolled up a “beedi joint”, the college student put a “Rizla” cigarette paper and the smoke through a rubber band rolling machine. The Proffesor took out his stash from an expensive looking pipe tobacco satchet and filled his briar. The only way out for all this combined smoke was over the audience.
One of the cast,I, as the businessman who goes into Suzie’s first, had gone off stage and was talking to a group of bemused press reporters and had forgotten to come back on for my cue. Bravely, Sriram and Parvez carried on ad-libbing and getting fouler by the minute. Nanda behind the wings kept banging on his guitar wildly.
“But,” said Parvez playing the role of Autorickshaw driver, in the midst of this whole adlib dialogue. “Where the f*** is that fukcing arsehole bastard Chod?”
“There’s the f*****,” said Nanda, pointing down the aisle, “there he is, dhandling with those blinking reporters.”
Down the aisle, I was just getting much thrilled with Parvez laying it on thick with the foul language, when I suddenly remembered,
“Oh S***, I’m fuckin’ supposed to be on stage.” And rushed straight down the aisle and bounded onto the stage pulling up my pants (as per the script) entering stage from the audience (not as per script) just in time to see Nandu and others come on stage to conduct the “police raid” and bring the curtain most mercifully down. There was a feeble round of applause, mainly from the press and judges benches. If this was modern theatre, no one dared risk their scholarly reputations that this wasn’t.
It was all quite avant garde, everyone agreed. The play had started with some obtuse philosophy on how constrained we all are and need release. This accompanied by some soft strumming. There were no sets than the curtains and nobody wore make-up. Naturally, we wanted the whole of the allowance.
In the audience, no body quite knew what to do or how to react. The previous play just staged had been by Mount Carmel College and these girls occupied the front two rows. They blushed, sniggered and bent to fiddle with their shoelaces. The Chief Guest sat looking grimmer and grimmer, his face going all shades of red.
“Its all very modern, sir”, protested the theatre critic of Deccan Herald. “But I don’t know quite what to make out of it. It’s a bit too modern for you and me.”
“Next year,” advised the Chief Guest. “Pre- Censor.”
Many in the audience, however had at least heard of “Hair” and “Oh Calcutta”, in which a lot of liberty had been taken on the Broadway stages. They did come to us and most politely tell us that our attempts were quite mild when compared to the latest in underground theatre.
We collared the organizers, got our Rs. 175 without delay and left promptly to go and have a good drink and a nice feed.
The other intellectual pursuit of the congnesetti were the number of literary discussion groups and debating societies that had come up. They came in all shades and sizes – Debates, Conferences, Workshops, Mock parliaments, Brainstorms etc. The gang used to make it a point to attend as many as possibly. We, the Chod gang had one single point agenda on these events. Somehow turn the topic from whatever it was originally and get the whole group discussing “why the whole university should not be freely advised to smoke grass and why ganja cultivation should be legalized.”
The programmes usually ended up with a totally bewildered set of participants who wondered what the talk was all about and what it was supposed to be all about: “I thought the topic was hindi-chini-bhai-bhai.”
On the odd occasion that the debate convenor, if there was any , protested at the digression from the main subject, another member of the gang (our secret weapon) would stand up and refudiate all the arguments put forward by us so far. To which the majority of participants would generally tend to agree. This would ensure that the discussions continued along the lines we desired endlessly.
“I would really say, Mr. Sriram,” said Ms. Sreelatha, Speaker of the Mock Lok Sabha.
“We seem to have digressed. Can we keep further arguments outside the purview of ‘grass’?”
“The lawn outside, Madam Speaker,” replied Sriram, “needs mowing.”
Then there were the Student Strikes. Since our first year in college, September and October seemed have been programmed to present student strikes.
In 1968, we had a small left-over effect of the anti-hindi strikes of the previous two years when students from the southern Indian states revolted against the imposition of the Hindi language on them. In 1969, a strike erupted because 40 students were sent, at government expense, to Expo 70 at Osaka, Japan. A large section of the students accused the authorities of neopotism and gross favouritism in selecting the candidates to be sent to Japan. The strike in 1970 was the most violent of all. The students were agitating, this time, for nothing less than the removal of the Registrar on grounds of corruption and neopotism. This small whirlpool of a student agitation in Bangalore University was, in fact, a spin off from a monumental split that had recently taken place in India’s ruling party – the Indian National Congress under Indira Gandhi.
The agitation started peacefully enough. Gangaraj and M Raghupathi were the leaders of the Students Action Council which was spear heading the strike. A tent was set up in front of the senate building and a photo of Mahathma Gandhi was put up. Gangaraj sat down to a “fast-unto-death” in true satyagraha style. He was to be accompanied by groups of five students on “relay hunger strike”. Each group was expected to fast for 24 hours and be relieved by the next group. I was allotted to the fifth batch as representative of the Chod gang.
When my turn arrived, I made sure I was fortified by a hearty meal in the hostel mess and reported at the tent. It was quite a gala affair. Gallons of orange juice and glucose flowed, so no one was really fasting. Juice did not constitute food and was therefore allowed.
In the university, no classes were being held. Large processions were moving from the various colleges gravitating towards Central College and the University Senate Building. There was a wide police bundobust, There was tension, but the students, perhaps 20,000 of them, were generally quiet rasing slongs “We want Justice. Down with the Registrar. Throw out the corroupt.” Gangaraj gave a short speech and extolled the students to return home.
“Come back tomorrow here. Don’t go to your classes. The Education Minister, Mr. Ramakrishna Hegde will come here and address you all. Keep peaceful.” He extolled.
“We want violence”, this slogan from a section of the students at the back. “Satyagraha is no use”.
“Be patient, tommorow there will be a solution.” Gangaraj assured them.
The College campus took on a bit of a carnival atmosphere. Some of the students brought their guitars and started singing protest songs. First of course, was our college Bob Dylan, who got up “blowing in the wind”. Sriram organized a mock funeral of Student Rights and then burnt an effigy of the Registrar and Vice-chancellor.
I watched all this from the protest tent trying to look as pitiably starving as possible. It was only five O’clock in the evening.
“Look at this Chod bastard,” Bandy told Sriram, “It’s only three hours since he hogged a solid meal in the hostel and now he’s pretending he’s dying of hunger.”
Later in the evening, the Press finally arrived. Gangaraj has been on fast for five days now and the doctor came to take his temperature. It was a little above normal. We capatilised on it and browbeat the reporters to give a greatly exaggerated version. The others on “relay fast” including myself, put on elaborate airs of martyrdom. The next day the papers headlined, “Student Agitation intensifies, Gangaraj serious.”
The next day, as anticipated, a huge restless crowd had gathered. Many of the student leaders of various colleges pressed for more direct action and take the agitation to the streets. Groups had already stockpiled stones and brickbats to attack the police if they interfeared. A group from RC College came up on a 1000 cycles led by FM Khan. A couple of hefty guys pulled out the huge 100 year old wrought iron gates of the college and flung it across the main road effectively raising a barricade.
One of the student leaders went up to the tent and symbolically took down the portait of Mahamathma Gandhi and replaced it with one of Subash Chandra Bose.
Mr. Ramakrishna Hegde’s visit was a disaster. As his State Car came in, the headlights and windows were smashed by brickbats. Nevertheless, he still ventured forth and helped Gangaraj onto the roof of the car where both of them tried to address the seething mob. A loudhailer mike was passed up to them. But it was futile, without achieving anything Mr. Hegde was advised to leave and the car barely pulled through the throng and the minister escaped to his office just up the road to Vidhana Soudha.
I had finished my contribution to the relay fast by one O’clock so, I left for the hostel where another hearty meal – even better, it was a festival day awaited me. But by the time, I had finished lunch, all hell had broken loose. First, a mob entered the Senate offices and threw all the wooden cupboards from the first floor balcony. These with all the files and papers in them soon became a huge bonfire. The police had been refused permission to enter the campus, so they attacked the hostel and beat up a few innocents in the lavatories. The rest of the students barricaded the hostel gates and climbed onto the roof which was three flours up. From there a constant barrage of bricks, furniture, huge steel cots and whatever could be used as a projectile was hurled. The police retreated. At least on day one, the students had won.
On the campus, yet another ding-dong battle between the students and police was in progresson the lawns. Not finding enough stones to throw at the cops, a gang had raided the Geology department and were hurling valuable specimens collected over a century of research by eminent geologists of the erstwhile Mysore kingdom. One of these had been my great-grandfather.
The Police Commisioner studied and displayed one of them, a greenish brown stone with visible shining flecks as he displayed it to the press. Taped in fading sepia paper was the legend “ Aureferrous hameatite quartzite, Collected by Prof. Sampath Iyengar, Ajjampura, Chitradurga District, June 1911”. Must have been at least a few micrograms of gold ore in it.
The strike continued in its violent phase for three more weeks. The University suspended all classes. There were acts of arson – BTS busses were burned. The Gang was at the forefront.
“That’s not how you burn a bus, man,” said Viji to me. With an assorted group of almost a hundred students – the braver and rowdier elements, we had stopped the bus on a remote residential area and forcibly disembarked the passengers. I had just dropped the tenth match stick into the fuel tank. “tear up the bus seat and stuff the foam into the and light it like a wick.”
Following his instructions, we succeded in setting the fuel tank alight in a dreadful whoosh. Within fifteen minutes the whole bus was gutted.
There were a whole lot of escapades that the Chod Gang got into. Among others, poor Parvez was picked up and given a bad thrashing in the dungeons of Upparpet Police station. Andy had a fortunate escape, in fact turned the tables on the Police, when a mob of about 400 students surrounded the two policemen in mufti and locked them up in the Principal’s lavatory. When the press came, they got a statement that the policemen were imposters from a harresed Commisioner.As I said, the escapades of the Chod gang were numerous, and I don’t think I can do justice right now. It requires another tome by itself. I did try to put it all down – the years 1968 to 1971, way back in 1973, but I’ve lost the manuscript. Sometimes, I’ve a sneaking suspicion that it was pinched. Have you seen the experimental movie by Arundathi Roy, yes the Booker T one, “In which Annie gives it those ones” ? There were too many similarities there, I felt.