“No one could fool Guruji without him figuring it out,” Mayant Kamal Giri remembered. “I was 12 and had been smoking for two years when he asked me if I’d smoked charas. Maine kaha haan, phir unhone meri gaand pe lath maari. I told him yes, and he kicked my ass.” Kamal, who is now 32, brought a lighter close to his chillum.We were in a dimly lit hut in the woods about 30 minutes east of Laxman Jhula in Rishikesh. Minutes had begun blending into one-another, hotboxed by the smoke from Kamal’s chillum in the 20-by-15-foot kutiya. I was looking for a local charas-dealing sadhu I’d heard about when I chanced upon Kamal at a medical store, where he was buying Dettol and shampoo (he likes to keep his dreadlocks clean). I thought this was unusual behaviour for someone who's supposedly relinquished all worldly possessions.
Kamal explained that he hadn’t had much choice in this decision. “There was no boy born in my family for 40 years,” he explained, sitting down with us at an empty ghat. “My parents went to Guruji Sajan Mahant Harihar Giriji Maharaj-ji in Gujarat ka Swarg—Junagarh—to ask for help. My family had twins—me and my younger brother—and donated me to Guruji when I was six, where I took sanyas.”
Our conversation veered towards sadhus and charas. Kamal insisted that only sadhus can smoke, due to their better physical condition than us moh-maya folk. “I could handle smoking at 10 because I had been a baba for four years,” he said. “Your brain can’t handle it—your memory will be destroyed.” I asked him if I could smoke if I too took sanyas, to which he replied, “Sure!”Around mid-day, Kamal took me and a photographer to his friend in the woods, Shankar Giri, a “Kutiya Char” aka “Hut resident”. When we got to the cottage, we sat in a circle of people around an unlit bonfire, a bell, and a framed picture of Shri Bholenaath. Besides myself and the photographer Pranav, were Kamal, Shankar Giri, and two other dudes who didn’t speak throughout the time we were there. One of them, we were told, was a local truck driver who just comes over to hang.
“Serious smoke is too much, man,” said Shankar, speaking in English. “It causes many problems in the normal body.” Kamal was busy lighting up.“It doesn’t affect us as baba—nothing, baba got no family, you know—is alone.” Shankar continued haltingly. “I’m is almost is die, but I’m is here. Understand?”
As smoke thickened the air, I thought I caught a glimpse of meaning. A couple of rounds later, the sadhus had struck up a rapport with photographer Pranav, over being Gujarati. He asked them if they ever had trouble with the police.“Abay police ka maa ka fudda yaar. I fuckin’ only smoke up,” Shankar exclaimed. “Other people don’t do it? The police don’t do it? Abay chalo.” Shankar then told us he could induce women to orgasm just by touching their heads. He spoke about how tourists tell him about India’s rape reputation outside. He stays in touch with people who give him donations via Whatsapp, he said.
As the sun reached its apex, we tried to leave. The sadhus asked us to return for the evening festivities, where he’d introduce us to his raging friends but only if we brought two kgs of full cream milk with us. We declined their offer.As we stepped out, the two started smoking again. Two roads diverged in that wood and, perhaps it was the hotbox, but we’d forgotten which one we’d travelled by. The sadhus pointed us to the steep ascent behind the kutiya. The 30 minutes trip to the cottage turned into a two-hour trek to Laxman Jhula. We ended up eight kilometres east of Rishikesh, with no tuk tuk in sight. Moral of the story: you can't trust a stoned sadhu who thinks you need a little spiritual salvation.
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