“Here’s the thing, everyone is on shit. Maybe it’s booze, or drugs or their own ego, but no one isn’t on something.” This revelation was what changed everything for Salman*, an alleged drug dealer from the elite echelons of Delhi society. “My life changed when I figured it out. Everybody is high or chasing one.”
I met Salman as most of his clients do—through a series of random encounters at a bar in Hauz Khas. With over Rs. 200 crore worth of cocaine seized last year in the city alone, Delhi is cementing its reputation as the first among India’s cities when it comes to rising trade and use. This April, Rs. 10 crore worth of liquid cocaine was seized in the capital. But when this issue is covered in the media, it’s mostly reporting on drug busts or human interest stories about users in rehab. I wondered about the middlemen—those responsible for perpetuating the myth of cool surrounding cocaine and keeping the supply chain running.
And so, I found myself at a three-story apartment in a quiet middle-class neighbourhood in South Delhi. Inside, the flat was a tribute to kitsch: Star Wars and ’90s memorabilia everywhere. Salman was a surprise as well—a failure of the imagination on my part. In his late 40s, he was tall, well-dressed, loud and charming—every inch the overgrown boarding-school boy. Drugs are fun, his body language strives to convince you—drugs are sexy and cool.
And Salman only deals in “cool" drugs—coke and MDMA, he told me in his posh, private school accent. “I could get you other shit, but I don’t want to because I prefer to sell what I do.” (Delhi dealers don’t seem to have gotten the memo about not getting high on your own supply.) He’d put so much time and energy chasing the perfect high, he started selling. He’d naively thought the purer the coke he used, the less he’d do.
It took me awhile for me to realise that while “charlie” is a common enough nickname, Salman didn’t use it interchangeably as we spoke about drug culture in the city, dealing, and addiction. it was “coke” when he dropped clinical gyan, “charlie” when it’s a comfort.
Interview has been edited for clarity and length.
VICE: How “good” is the cocaine in Delhi?
Salman: You know those guys bragging about how good their coke is? That’s bullshit. When it comes to charlie, people need to understand that there are no grades of better; there are grades of worse. So the dealer gets one batch and what you’re paying for is how much or how little he has cut it.
Do you claim yours is the best?
It’s not the best, but it’s close. You could maybe find better, but it would cost an astronomical amount, and you wouldn’t really be able to tell the difference anyway.
How much it gets to you is entirely dependant on your body chemistry. It’s also something that is cumulative. Like, when I first started off, I could go partying all night and still get a hard-on at the end of the night to the point where people were asking me “how the hell are you still getting a hard on?” Now, half a gram, maybe one gram, and that’s it for the night.
You cut your coke?
Everyone does. What’s leaving South America is 80 percent pure. You wholesale it. Say you buy a kilo. You chop it in half. Then you’ve added half a kilo of additives to each. Now you’ve got two kilos.
In the US it’s cutting, the Nigerians call it stepping. They just bung the additives in the bag itself and then step on it, so it’s all powder.
What goes in there?
Disprin, maybe speed, some aspirin, depends on what’s [available]. Some dealers charge more if they’ve cut it with ketamine. It makes more sense to cut at your final destination, you have less to transport.
What sells more, coke or MDMA?
You can’t really fuck with Molly (MDMA). You’d have to [cut] it at the source. So Molly in Delhi is consistent. Come Magnetic Fields, I might have a lot of buyers, but charlie’s the thing.
MD you cut and dilute in its ingredients, not once it’s made. It’s easier to make MD. Making coke costs you fuck-all except effort. A lot of effort, labour. MD’s a lab and it’ll take you two days. A 100 kilos of coke can take you up to two weeks.
Which do you prefer?
I get the best MD, but I don't overdo because I know that’s the crazy stuff. So when I know I’ve got good company and I’m happy to be up for two nights I do it. I love it. I’m happy and I’m bouncing crazy. But I also know that’s not sustainable over a long period of time. My health is fucked up enough as it is, I can't fuck with it more after a certain point. And I'm not a child.
There’s a lot of overlap between the two cultures. Most people have gone through coke before they get to MD. Coke is easier to get, cheaper, more common. You're more likely to run into somebody who’ll offer you a line of coke than a hit of MD.
Molly is a club drug. As you get older the parties stop, and no sad bastard is sitting at home by himself on it. You can do Charlie with a squad, you can do it by yourself in the dark, you can do it in the club. I don't look for events to do drugs, I look for people.
So health-wise, you think MD is worse?
Not sleeping and not eating and being hyper is bad for your health. I had three strokes. I had four heart attacks. I lost my eyesight, I lost the use of my legs. I was blind, in a wheelchair and I had one hand working.
All this was before you started using?
No. This is the reason why I started using. Cocaine saved me. If you're in danger of having a stroke, cocaine is the only thing that can prevent you from having brain damage. [In fact, cocaine usage is linked to an increased risk of stroke.]
I have crystal clarity when I’m on drugs.
Have you read the article about the Vatican blessing cocaine-infused wine?
Yeah. It tastes like shit and it doesn’t do anything cause it’s in your stomach. There’s an episode of Top Gear where they are actually taking cocaine pills.
So the ingestion is not the way to go?
Rectally is the best way.
How did you end up dealing?
I saw my guy too many times in the week and he finally just couldn’t keep up with my and my friends’ demands so he hooked us up with his dealer. Finally, it was the only way to get the purest in the city.
Spend a lot before you get up high enough to the source, and when you’re that rich, you’ve got rich friends and then it sort of trickles down. I’d buy a gram, do two lines and give the rest away.
What’s with the straw? (There’s a Frooti straw, cut in half, lying on the table.)
It’s what I use [to snort]. Notes are filthy and unhygienic, and smaller bills like 500s are clasped by poor people. They smell.
That’s why Delhi boys are poseurs. If they’re serious, you do it on the way to the club, or be surreptitious. Take a Cafe Coffee Day stirrer, scoop some out and boom! I can do it while driving for fuck’s sake. And those fuckers who do it at the Summer House or Kitty Su bathroom—ugh that’s countertop is fucking filthy. A thing worth doing is worth doing right.
"Half the fucks I sold to are running Daddy’s bidness entirely coked out."
I notice you don’t drink.
What’s the worst thing in a bar? The one guy you don’t want to be around? It’s the rich Delhi douche with the bottle of Black Label and cut charlie.
Drugs make me happy and bouncy. Drinking just makes me sad. Self-loathing does that anyway, I don’t need to add to that. Plus liquor will cut into my high.
When someone is an angry drunk, you don't blame the alcohol. No chemical can make you anything that you aren’t. All it can do is reduce your inhibitions and allow you to excuse your actions. If someone says they blacked out and don't remember what they did, I laugh. Just ask someone who has gone through child sexual abuse, the repression of trauma is a very common incident. I have history of blacking out because I was very heavily sexually abused as a child. The stuff that my brain came up with to cover up, and thanks or no thanks to [a clinical psychologist], it all came out. All this shit started coming out and it was ridiculous. It was like pulling the plug on a drain that’s been shut for so long. It literally turned my life inside out.
You were a journalist once?
Yeah. Journalism was gruelling. And paid shit. Ten years of journalism never paid as well as two years of dealing. I was clearing a lakh a week, sans taxes.
Tell me about the kind of people you deal to.
Lawyers love charlie.
Charlie is all about control and preciseness. You take it when you want, it kicks in in minutes, if you’re fading, you re-up. If you think you’re gonna fuck, you pop a blue pill.
People would keep coming over man, all times of the day. And Delhi assholes, they’d just expect me to drop everything for them. Their poor planning cannot be my headache. Regulars wouldn’t just be over to buy. They’d want to plant themselves there and snort here.
You didn’t mind this?
I was lonely, I was sad and I’d lost all the money I’d been making. I’d fooled myself into believing that they were my friends. The tipping point was when I caught someone who’d just bought an extraordinarily large amount pinch a bottle of whiskey on the way out. Guy could more than afford that bottle but he still did it because fundamentally I wasn’t a person but a source, for everything.
"If you get a choice to walk away from this, walk away."
Would you consider yourself addicted? And would you sell to someone who was?
I’m not going to be a saint about it, but I’m an addict, a high functioning one.
If someone can get out while they can, they should. Very often I’ve got a guy or a girl persuading their friend to try coke. And I'm like, “fuck off”. Do not ever force someone to do drugs. And if someone says “I don't do it,” I’ll say you're a smart person, don't fucking do it. If you don't smoke, I'm not gonna shove a cigarette down your throat. Regardless of the fact that I enjoy it, I'm addicted to it.
If you get a choice to walk away from this, walk away. I’ve only been an addict 11 percent of my life and the other 89 percent was pretty good.
In my opinion is it worse than cigarettes or alcohol? No, but at no point will I ever think I’m better off with it than without it.
*Source used a pseudonym.