Among the outlier experiences of life, scoring definitely ranks up there. India is a land of vast diversity, with each city housing multiple worlds within it. We inhabit a certain world, and there are others whose world is very different from ours. Scoring takes us out of our comfort zones into unknown territories, and even for the dealers, dealing closely with a clean-cut, respectful, polished guy is not the standard affair. What adds a further twist to the tale is that despite all differences, there exists a bond between us and them – the knowledge that there are some experiences which the two of us appreciate, and others don’t. It is like the fan base of Pandit Ravi Shankar’s music – people have strong opinions about it, but very few actually know what it is. And those who know have to hit it off, no matter how diverse social, economic or educational backgrounds they are from.
It was around 8:00 PM, and life in the bustling twin cities of Hyderabad-Secunderabad was at its peak before it was due to settle down in 2-3 hours. Neel was in the lane beside Wesley College in Secunderabad, in front of the Hanuman Mandir. Across the road from the Mandir, there used to sit a Mochi from whom Neel had scored stuff one fine Saturday afternoon a few years ago. At the moment, it was dark, and there was no sign of either the Mochi, or his makeshift shop.
In front of the Mandir, there were sitting two lines of beggars. Crossing the road, Neel stopped his bike in front of them. Blasting a horn from his bike, and without making eye contact with a specific beggar, he commanded
“Oye! Suno idhar aao.”
One of the beggars leapt up to him.
“Vo Mochi kahaan gaya?”
“Mochi to chala gaya sahab. Kuchh kaam tha?” the beggar replied in chaste Hindi. He was apparently a native of the UP-Bihar area.
“Haan, maal chahiye tha. Tumhaare paas hoga?”
The beggar looked scandalized. “Arre nahi sahib, kaisi baat karte hain… hamein kuchh nahi pata… Hum to bimar garib log hain, sab apni bimari se hi pareshaan hain, ye sab shauk kahaan se…”
“Ji… ji sahib?”
“Bhai maal kahaan milega?” Neel was getting impatient.
“Clock Tower chaley jaiye sahib. Vahaan par ek aadmi khada rehta hai, vo de dega. Abhi vaheen mil jayega.”
Neel handed the beggar a 5-rupee coin, and started his bike.
“Jai Bajrang Bali, sahab”.
Clock Tower circle was surprisingly deserted. Making sure that there was no policeman in sight, Neel rode around it. At the intersection beside the hotel, there was a bearded, apparently Telugu guy walking aimlessly. There was nobody else in sight. Neel rode up to beside him and stopped his bike.
“Kyon anna, ek packet kitne ka?” He called out.
The bearded man was shocked out of his wits. He frantically looked left and right, and then took a step back.
“kya chahiye aapko, saar?” he asked defensively, his voice shaking.
“Tumhaare paas kya hai?” Neel smiled.
There was an awkward silence, as the dealer looked at Neel, measuring him. Finally, he broke into a smile.
“Dum hai saar.”
“Hai na, fir naatak kyun kar rahe the? Kahaan ka maal hai…”
The quest for good stuff had taken Neel inside Dhoolpet, the low-reputed area of old city Hyderabad. Apprehensive about taking his bike inside the area, he had parked it in a public parking in Begum Bazar, the last market before the no-go zone. The area had looked just like any other old city area, with huge beef carcasses hanging in butcher shops, mosques and old-style temples dotting the skyline and signboards in Urdu and Hindi. All par for the course, except for a huge ‘Shanti Committee’ board at the intersection, bearing pictures of several skull-caps and tilaks.
There was a permanent ‘Shanti Committee’ in this area. Made sense, because this area had been affected by every single communal riot to have taken place in the history of Hyderabad.
“Bhai is taraf kaise aana hua?” Asked the autowala, negotiating the narrow lanes, bemused at the bespectacled, jeans and t-shirt clad Neel, who very apparently did not belong there.
“Bas, Prachanda Mata Mandir jaana hai, darshan karne”, Neel cautiously replied.
“Subhanallah, bada nek khayal kiya”, the auto wala smiled. “Darshan hi karenge ya prasad bhi le ke jayenge?”
“Prasad aap dilwa dijiyega?”
“Bilkul dila denge, kyon nahi dilayenge”, the autowallah negotiated one final turn and stopped in front of a temple which said Prachanda Mata Mandir. “Aap darshan kijiye, Prasad hum le aate hain.”
Neel weighed the pros and cons of asking around for dealers in this area. These narrow lanes didn’t make for the most comfortable of places, he was there for the first time, and felt like getting the job done and getting the hell out of there as soon as possible.
“Thik hai, rate bataiye”, Neel got out of the auto, stood up straight and looked the autowallah squarely in the eye. It was time for business now.
“Bas bhai jaan, 250 rupaye packet.”
“Yaar ye kaun sa rate hota hai?” Neel dropped all niceties. “100-100 mein packet mil jaate hain.”
The autowalla looked at Neel from his driving seat, and holding him by the eye, got out. Spitting out pan masala, he cleared his throat.
And then looking into Neel’s eyes with infinite theatrical affection, he said something which was going to remain etched in Neel’s mind forever
“Bhai jaan”, started the autowallah, “Hum Musalamaan hain. Paise ka hamein laalach nahi hai”. He closed his eyes for a second, as if reconnecting with the almighty before the climax. “Hum to mohabbat ke bhookhe hain.”
Handing him 600 bucks, Neel asked him for three packets, and went inside Prachanda Mata Mandir for darshan. As he came out, the autowallah was emerging from a nearby galli. Getting inside the auto, the Mohabbat ka Bhookha handed Neel 3 packets of stuff. Neel stared at them. Stuff looked good, but each packet wasn’t worth more than 100 bucks each.
“Ye 200 ka ek packet hai?”
“Haan bhai jaan, baithiye jaldi, police ka chhapa padne wala hai.” The autowallah said in a shaking voice. His eyes were turning red. He had apparently just ingested some drug.
“Madarchod bhosadika”, muttered Neel under his breathe, as he realized the futility of arguing over already paid money in such a deal in such an area, and sighed and got into the auto.