I am not rich like the people in Shillong city. I earn a living by growing cabbages and beans in my small farm on the outskirts of Mawphlang village. It’s not very far from the famous Sacred Forest, filled with spirits who protect us and punish those who try to harm us. We live a simple life in the forests and mountains, assisting visiting tourists and foreigners.
When my third daughter started attending school, I began growing marijuana in a small patch on my farm. I needed the money and couldn’t survive on cabbages anymore. The relative who advised me to grow cannabis told me it doesn’t take much to grow it and that it also doesn’t harm the field. Later, I got into a deal with a local boy who sells weed in Shillong and Guwahati. On the days when he doesn’t buy any from me, I sell it to the locals who smoke up. I earn Rs 1,000 ($14 USD) monthly from it, and sometimes it goes up to Rs 2,000 ($28 USD) in peak season. It’s an income I make on the side.
Watch: What's Really in Your Weed?
As far as cops are concerned—we’ve learnt to handle them without any help from the forest spirits. Most of them aren’t very bright, having come to the force using their connections and political help. But there is one incident that stands out as particularly harrowing. It was a week after Wangala, a post-harvest festival celebrated between September and December, when a new cop posted in the area happened to cross my field. Though he spoke Khasi, I believe he was from some other part of Meghalaya. “Whose field is this?” the stout, short cop asked the neighbors. Nobody told him it was mine. Like all the cops who come here, he just wanted a bribe.
There are rarely any conflicts in our region, and most villagers live in a self-sufficient community helping each other without harming anyone. We solve our problems with the help of our village council, which is very active. The village elders taught us a few tricks to deal with such cops. I knew that this new cop wouldn’t arrest me for this. However, he was well within his powers to burn down my field and destroy the crop. And since that was worth thousands of rupees, I decided to try something new.
“Are you talking about this crop?” I asked him. “It grows on its own near my farm. What’s the problem?”
“It’s marijuana. It’s illegal to grow it here,” he told me.
At this moment, I decided to play dumb. Being a smartass would often mean a confrontation, which would inevitably end up in him extracting money from me. I wanted to save that money.
“What illegal? We villagers use it feed it our sheep,” I told him.
“It’s used as a drug. I will have to burn it down,” the cop added.
“Don’t you know anything about animals and farming? We feed this crop to to our livestock when they get cholera. We’ve been doing this for centuries,” I told him. It was an outright lie. I had heard that some farmers use weed to feed pigs, to make them grow fat. But I didn’t have any pigs. So, using the crop as a medicine for sheep seemed like the best excuse I could come up with at the moment.
He asked around to see if I was lying. My neighbors of course, supported my version. It emboldened me to play ‘the poor farmer’ role further. “I don’t mind if you burn this down,” I told him. But then, your police and government must promise to provide cholera medicine for my sheep. And if possible, suggest other effective cholera remedies,” I added in a slightly aggressive manner. I knew he couldn’t make that promise.
He looked around at the sheep and the farmers who were staring back at him. I didn’t know whether my lie was working or he thought that I would be a tough nut to crack. He then simply asked me where I could get some rice wine. I directed him to the man who sells rice wine and he went on his way. I saw him come to our village twice or thrice in the next year, but afterwards I think he was posted at some other place.
My ‘cholera medicine’ trick became so popular that soon people actually started believing it. It became a sort of truth. I have heard people in neighboring villages using the same trick while dealing with cops.
People from our village have invented many other tricks for such situations, and passed them onto others. We use them on occasions when we get caught driving without a license, gambling during village festivals, or supplying rice wine. I also gamble because it’s one of the few sources of entertainment available here. We play modern games with cards and traditional games based on symbols. During festivals, we enjoy bull-fighting and keep ourselves high on rice beer. The younger ones are crazy about football.
I haven’t tried smoking weed myself. Rice beer is good enough for me. But if someone likes weed, that’s his choice.
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This article originally appeared on VICE IN.