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Drugs in Pune is an open secret. A secret which by even little shaking can spill more skeletons from the closet than one can possibly count. Going by the journalistic ethos, `Citadel' walks through the dark alleys to get to the roots itself and comes out......drugged!

The sun was going down...slowly, almost menacingly, as we treaded the danger zone at Yerwada. Looking completely at peace with itself, the place was throbbing with life, except that there was an eerie undercurrent that hung about us. An ominous silence prevailed. From shopkeepers, including the one manning a small grocery store to a group of youth chatting at the corner, innumerable suspicious eyes gauged us in distinct unisome. A familiar face by my side did help a bit - but not much as I walked in their line of vision. What reverberated in our minds was the word of caution we were given by Anurag, a student of Symbiosis, in advance. "Look like druggies looking in drugsland. And yes, don't look probing and curious. They don't quite like freshers if they are not formally introduced by one of their trusted customers. Even a tiny seed of suspicion, and they may become very dangerous!" And why not! Anything that threatens to thwart their livelihood must be quashed. And this being Pune's main drugs mandi , fetching business worth rupees fifty thousand per day, the probability couldn't have been higher. We played our part well.

The man sitting under the tin shade put his hand inside a bag and pulled out a small packet or going by its street name, `pudi'. The `Pudi' exchanged hands and we got the first feel of what a neatly made pillow pack of hash is really like...;One in every five students is on drugs," reveals Anurag laconically, as we are taken aback by his statement. The anathema of drugs is fast paralysing this Oxford of the East with its tentacles. The gravity of the situation can be underscored when this student of a local college continues in his sardonic tone," Yerwada hub is one of the places where I have to wait as there are always so many customers." And yes, this hub where surprisingly, the business is run by a lady called Bhabhi, you can get anything and in any quantity you can afford. Bhang, marijuana, hash... for rupees ten, fifty, hundred.... "anything addictive but nothing murderous. In fact, there isn't anything sold in Pune that can kill," offers this Mister-Know-it-All, who is hooked onto grass and hash, cryptically.

As we explored the drug scene in Pune, were we surprised at the flawless network that outlines the town right from Gultekdi to Pimpri! There is a fair division of market ensuring peaceful coexistence. Surprisingly, finding the exact locations of these drug havens wasn't difficult at all as the student community easily threw up names of places, disclosing the "open secret" with unbelievable nonchalance. Even so when they flatly informed about the customised service, bordering on a dash of novelty, "To save students the labour of going upto the drug dealers, a man with a bag full of these, used to come to a lodge where students lived and dropped the supply at the doorstep, every morning," quips Ketan, a trifle amused at our shocked looks.

Little doubt then that the cumulative business done in this Oxford of the East easily runs to the tune of a lakh of rupees per day, and that this "small market" has potential, which is constantly growing. Little wonder then that it is a warming business which has been taken up people least expected, like that old couple in Khadki, selling Brown Sugar.


But then, it is a game played by rules. And discretion is the cardinal rule. Or that is what twenty-three year old Ketan would have us believe as he threw down a gauntlet before us with unbridled cockiness. "You walk up and down that gali ten times. I'll bet you anything, if you'll even find anything remotely suspicious."

Prophetic words! For indeed, as our olfactory senses led us to an obscure little lane on the Bombay-Pune highway, it looked like a scene out of any basti where children played in the narrow lanes while a group of young men engrossed in playing cards. Though nobody bothered to even throw a cursory glance, an authoritative old lady sitting on a chair looked up. Barely perceptible non-verbal communication with just a knowing nod and our escort picked up the message of where to pick up a pudi.

For them the word `discretion' has far more dimensions as is evident when this friend shares a nugget. "A friend of mine who also happens to be a regular went there to pick up stuff. That day, they simply refused to acknowledge him. He was very puzzled as to why they were not entertaining him. He even asked them "Band kar diya kya?" Feigning ignorance in return, they counter questioned "Kya band kar diya?" Flummoxed, he returned only to realise that the underlying reason for their abnormal behaviour lay in his borrowed motorcycle which read `PRESS'."

"Doing drugs does not raise so many eyebrows nowadays," states Ketan matter-of-factly on the growing drug menace among students. Especially with 'Do your own thing' being the latest mantra. "The percentage of outstation students hooked on to drugs is definitely higher than the local students. But it is not that Puneites are not prone to the drug culture. It's all a personal choice that starts right from when one decides to make friends and join in a group," clarifies this student from Delhi. Even as we write this piece, we stumble upon a friend and local guardian of two students, who is currently undergoing a nightmarish experience. Mainly because his wards who were brilliant students, have got addicted to drugs."Ever since they came to Pune, both of them have taken to drugs in a big way. No amount of reasoning is helping to talk them out of it. I'm feeling so guilty as ultimately they were entrusted to me," chokes this popular deejay.

So while the narcotics which numbs the reality and blurs the senses is within the reach of the exceptionally experimentative generation next, we wonder how this menace is taking this cultural capital of Maharashtra in its grip? "Actually, sometimes even I wonder so," admits Ketan who had stepped in Pune for a bright future but today finds himself a hopeless slave to the dictates of dope. "The situation is scary".

How many times have I seen my college mates leave their bikes or watches as security just to have that pinch of Brown sugar." A characteristic precursor of the times to follow. To date there has been no case atleast reported, of criminalisation in youth for these stupefying drugs. But that day may not be far when this revered gateway of knowledge camouflages into a portal of sleep walkers in the city of broken dreams!


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