“During the course of my stay in Patiala, I found out that after the sunset, drugs in the state are more easily available than even medicines,” writes Arfi Lamba
From DDLJ, Veer Zaara and countless other blockbusters that introduced us Punjab as the land of sunny mustard fields, pretty lasses and Bhangra, Bollywood has moved on to stranger pictures of the state. Pictures that aren’t just far removed from these stereotype, but ones that are actually quite scary. In Abhishek Chaubey’s Udta Punjab, I hope we get to see the real Punjab of drugs, addicts and peddlers and of cartels run under the watchful eyes of politicos and the police. It’s heartbreaking, especially for people like me, who have grown up in the land of the five rivers.
Ironically, I am not even a part of the controversial movie and it was while shooting for another blockbuster in Patiala that I got a firsthand experience of the worrying state of affairs. We were lodged in a very reputed hotel of the city. I take time to adjust to new places and sleep just flies out of window on a new bed. So the first night, after reading a book and watching television aimlessly for long, at 2 am I decided to take a walk outside. On my way to the garden, a young boy at the reception called out to me, asking if all was well. “All good. Just going out for a stroll, it’s a new bed, that’s all,” I replied. Walking towards me from behind the desk, the guy asked if I needed something. Thinking it was an offer for a coffee or tea, I politely declined. He, however, winked and said, “Paaji, maal haiga, lena hai taan.” It took me two seconds to realise what he meant. I smiled and left for the garden, disturbed and wondering what was going on? On my way back, I could not hold myself and chatted the guy up asking what he had? The conversation was an eyeopener. For this young man at the reception, offering me opium was just like offering tea as a routine, and he himself was addicted to opium through the day.
“Youngsters are happier making risky voyages to foreign shores with their life’s savings and sweeping the floors there than tilling their own fields. And parents are happier to send them out, lest drugs will take them away anyhow.”
In fact, intake of a small amount of opium is an accepted norm amongst the youth in Punjab. Almost as common as taking milk for breakfast. The mental and physical damages are quite evident. Rehab centres and hospitals are overcrowded with addicts and older folks are the only healthy people left in many villages. Later, during the course of my stay in Patiala, I found out that after the sunset, drugs in the state are more easily available than even medicines.
It’s a disturbing picture overall. While Himalayas protected the Northern and North-Eastern frontiers of our great motherland, the responsibility of protecting its North-West frontier always rested on the marshal forces of the state of Punjab. It is sad that the same Punjab is today a crumbling state of disillusioned people resigned to their fate. The fallouts of the not-so-Green Revolution of the 60s, and the atrocities committed by governments post 1984 to kill a rebellion for a separate state, are now emerging with depleted aquifers, wasted farmlands and farmers in debt. Youngsters are happier making risky voyages to foreign shores with their life’s savings and sweeping the floors there than tilling their own fields. And parents are happier to send them out, lest drugs will take them away anyhow. And surprisingly, we are not even admitting the problem. The state and the central governments are hell bent on brushing the problems under the carpet and sitting like an ostrich with their heads buried in sand than looking for solutions to them. All they’re interested in is coming to power, making their monies, settling personal scores and moving on.
The sorry state of affairs reminds me of Punjabi poet #AmritaPritam‘s most famous poem Aj aakhaN Waris Shah nuN, narrating the horrors of partition to Waris Shah.
Kise ne panjan panian vichch ditti zehr ralaa
Te unhaan paniian dharat nun ditta paani laa
Is zarkhez zamin de lun lun phuttia zehr
Gitth gitth charhiaan laalian fut fut charhiaa qehr.
(Someone has mixed poison, in the five rivers’ flow,
Their deadly water is now, irrigating our lands galore,
This fertile land is sprouting venom from every pore,
The sky is turning red from endless cries of gore.)
Her lines, unfortunately, ring true, time and again for #Punjab.
(Arfi Lamba is a young Bollywood star featured in various Indian and international films. Some his notable works include Prague, Fugly & Singh Is Bling)
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