February 2006 News

The Kashmiri 'joint' Family

18 February 2006
The Hindustan Times

Srinagar: He whispered in my ear in Paharganj- 'Opium. I'll show you where they make it in Kashmir. Fields of opium. Just come.' Gulzar, a 30- year old Kashmiri houseboat owner had mistaken me, a 20-year-old newspaper intern, for a young American backpacker and this was his strategy to get tourists from all over America, Australia and Europe onto his Dal Lake houseboat in Srinagar. 'You can't get this stuff in Delhi,' Gulzar told me. 'I'll show you where they make it, you can have it and even take some home.' We took an overnight sleeper bus to Jammu and then boarded a Jeep to Srinagar. Once we passed through the tunnel into Kashmir, I tried to keep track of how many lies Gulzar had told me about his home. Srinagar was almost freezing; He said it would be warm. There was garbage everywhere; he said there was no pollution. There were policemen were every 100 feet ; he had said 'there is no police around so you can smoke a joint wherever you want.' But the biggest lie he told me was when he promised, 'This trip will be cheap.' But once we went under the tunnel he began talking about how any trekking we do - the main attraction in Kashmir - would cost thousands of rupees extra. About the only aspect of Srinagar Gulzar did not lie about were the drugs. The night I arrived, Gulzar and his 22-year-old brother Muneer, showed me a 200 g block of hash, the size of a videotape. They tried to pressure me to buy the whole block at 5000 rupees per 10 g. I repeatedly refused and asked if they were dealers. They denied it adamantly, saying they were only selling me drugs as 'friends' and that 'being a dealer is a dirty job we would never do.' But then why were my 'friends' en couraging me to spend all my money on drugs? 'No, no, no,' Gulzar repeated. 'You'll make your money back. This is an investment. You can sell to your friends' They were encouraging me to become a dealer. They also explained to me that while they would also sell me opium, there were some drugs available in Kashmir they would not deal in : LSD, cocaine and 'brown sugar' (heroin) from Afghanistan. We found opium days later when Muneer and I took a Jeep north to the village of Sumbal. There we went behind a make- shift home to talk to an older man, his wife and two children. The man's oldest son was the dealer and although the son wasn't home, the father promised to send him to the houseboat with the drugs. Waiting for me when we got back was the opium. Gulzar said that the dealer had come over to the boat, stayed for tea and left some opium in the hopes that I might buy it. I asked how I would even get the drugs out of Kashmir, Muneer said some tourists had bought as much as 1 kg of hash and opium and had hidden the drugs in false bottoms of wooden boxes, holes cut into the soles of shoes, hollowedout books and homemade candles. One tourist had hidden drugs in roast chickens and another, had swallowed bags of his Kashmiri souvenirs when he boarded his plane home. But for me? I could just put it in my camera bag, he said, because 'Nobody checks tourists leaving Kashmir anyway.' And they were right. Later that week I took a Jeep with 9 other passengers - all Indian and Kashmiri men - from Srinagar to Jammu and we were stopped by police three times. The other men had to show their identification, talk to the officers and were sometimes frisked. I, on the other hand, was not even looked at. I was just a Westerner.


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