Strongest Hemp (Bhang) I Ever Drank
In the summer of 1974, when we lived in Delhi, we went to visit Sudesh’s family in Amritsar. One day her aunt (father’s sister) invited us to lunch at her home. They lived in the old city where lanes were narrow and the lifestyle pleasantly laidback. The meal was going to be rather elaborate and in the old style. It would be cooked slowly with the participation of the guests and eaten slowly without looking into the clock. Then there would be a short siesta. In the early afternoon we were to have snacks and a drink, i.e. some sort of homemade sherbet, buttermilk, or almonds milk shake. We were to return home by the evening. Sudesh’s two brothers, a sister-in-law and a cousin also came along. Some of us went about mid-morning; others came a bit later.
Bhushan, one of the sons of Sudesh’a aunt was attached to a group of sadhus (recluses) and influenced by them to acquire unusual habits and tastes, one of them being eating or drinking bhang. It is a variety of intoxicating hemps that grows wild on the banks of canals all over Punjab and is available free of cost to everyone who might care to want it. I too had occasions to eat bhang in the company of college friends. None of my friends were connoisseurs, so they did not know how to pick potent leaves. I remember getting a mild knock that lasted for half an hour or less.
A ‘brilliant’ thought occurred to my elder brother-in-law Satpal. He said to his cousin Bhushan, “Brother, why don’t we do something special in honor of Partapji’s visit. Let us prepare a rich, tasty and powerful drink of bhang for him.” Bhushan was delighted for such a thing was easy for him to arrange. He went off and returned with the bhang, almonds, poppy seeds, and other ingredients. His plan was to serve the special drink with the afternoon snack.
All of us participated in preparing the meal. Each one picked a task he or she liked. All of us sat on the floor; some inside the kitchen and some in the adjoining room. We worked, visited and chatted. Some told very good jokes. The meal was ready by noontime. People washed up and assembled for lunch. We all sat in a circle on the floor with the main food pots in the middle. It was one of the tastiest meals I had eaten anywhere in the world.
After eating lunch we talked and laughed for a while and then had a short siesta. By about 3:00 Bhushan finished making the drink with special bhang he had brought from his experienced sadhu friends. Everyone reassembled for the snacks and the special drink. I was a little apprehensive for I knew that on rare occasions bhang could be a potent inebriant. So I asked Bhushan how strong he thought his drink would be. He said not to worry; even if it were extra strong, one glass full would be equal to a 750ml bottle of beer. I knew I could drink a couple of liters of beer and hold it with dignity
Bhang was served starting with me. I liked the rich drink and slowly finished my glass. When the others had also finished drinking, Bhushan carried the jug around for second helpings. Some refused to take more but some took half or a quarter glass. I hesitated, but Bhushan persuaded me to take half a glass saying that it would not make much difference. I obliged him.
After about a half hour of chatting we get up to leave. People were talking cheerfully as they descended a narrow staircase. I quietly leaned against the thin concrete railing. Suddenly, I felt the railing quiver. The thought of earthquake flashed through my mind, but then I remembered the bhang. I instantly knew that I had drunk potent stuff.
“Let us hurry if I am going to drive,” I announced. We all hurried and got into the car. Driving about three quarters of the way I had no problem. But then the wheels began to ‘wobble’. Luckily there was not much traffic and I knew the way like the palms of my hands. I slowed down and by mustering all my grit and strength made it to the house and into the garage. I heaved a long sigh, went inside and fell on the bed like a sack of sand. My senses were gone. The only sensation I could feel was that my mouth was dry and I needed a drink of water, but I could neither talk nor gesture. Sudesh’s cousin Rani came to watch over me and from the expression on my face understood my need and brought some lemon drink. Drinking it helped, but I had already entered the state of hallucination. First I began to see brilliant colors all around me that gave me a thrill I had never before experienced. I felt like a very joyous corpse. Next I began to feel as if I was levitating. Up and up I was going, but luckily without any fear. I even began to get brilliant clear thoughts that unfortunately did not stay with me long.
I did have a bit of consciousness deep inside my mind. For instance I could hear that the whole family was terribly excited. One of their major worries was Satpal and his younger brother Mahesh both of who had gone on to the road on their scooters after drinking bhang. I heard Sudesh telling her father to put both of them to bed if they come to him. Luckily they came home safely. From all I could hear I got the sense that most of the family was drunk but none as much as I.
Next thing I remember is that I was lying down on bed, it was about 10:00pm, all eyes were on me and they were filled with worry. I sensed that our neighborhood doctor came to examine me. He sat down on my bed, felt my pulse, checked my temperature and asked me how I felt. I had slightly recovered by then and was able to talk. I said. “Doctor, it is wonderful. I am fine. I feel great.” He asked me to tell in more detail how I felt and I told him I was seeing brilliant colors and levitating. I also told him not to worry for I was not sick. He enjoyed my account of my condition and laughed. After about half an hour he told my worried father-in-law that there was nothing wrong with me. He said that I would be okay by next morning. No medicine was prescribed and I was left in peace.
Next morning I was conscious enough to hear and see but was still in the grip of a strong stupor. By late afternoon, i.e. about 24 hours after taking that wonderful drink, I was fully normal. I never again took bhang but neither did I ever regret that wondrous experience.
November 17, 2007