There are two Sunnys worth mentioning in Bengaluru: One is a (thoroughly respectable) classic European restaurant that is named after a dog. The other is the pseudonym of a Nigerian dude who sells coke out of club-hub Indiranagar, Bengaluru’s hippest neighbourhood. Although it’s hard to verify, since coke dealers aren’t the most talkative bunch, rumour has it that most of the coke in Bengaluru is controlled by a single reticent group that operates out of Indiranagar (and more recently, out of the burgeoning club and bar scene in Bengaluru East). I enjoy scoring from them mostly because of the irony of the pick-up point. What irony? Read on.
The first time I scored it was from a guy named “Charlie” (which is about the silliest name for a coke dealer ever, since that’s the most common street name for cocaine apart from snow, blow, white and C. It’s like a rice dealer whose name is Basmati). Charlie asked me who my contact was and disconnected immediately. After verifying with my friend, whom he was familiar with, he called me back and asked me if I knew where the Byappanahalli police station was. I did. He asked me to meet him opposite it in an hour. I reached the Big Bazaar outside the station and called him, and within a couple of minutes, he pulled up on a scooter. I jumped on, we went for a spin, during which he dropped two grams of coke, each wrapped securely in black plastic, into my hand. I put Rs 9,000 in his, we thanked each other, and he dropped me off exactly where he picked me up. Opposite Byappanahalli police station.
All coke isn’t that cheap, however. Different types of coke go at different rates: You can get coke at Rs 4,000, Rs 6,000 and Rs 10,000 a gram, depending on how good it is. “Celebrity coke” can cost up to Rs 12,000 a gram. They say that if you’re addicted to coke, it’s a sign you’re making way too much money. It’s called a “gentleman’s drug”. It produces a smooth, elegant high that keeps you firmly based in reality, just better. It makes you alert, energetic, ultra-confident and smooth, but in so sexy and subtle in a way that you often don’t realise you’re high until it wears off. A single decent-sized line of coke gives you a nice 20-minute high that wears off immediately (and a gram gives you roughly 20 lines, although it obviously depends on how thick you make them).
Being on coke ensures that you can drink (alcohol) like a fish, and it’s also great for beating “downers” on other drugs.
For nights of heavy partying, people often save coke for the early morning after when they’re fighting the chemical “crashes” or hangovers of MDMA or other drugs. I have a friend who ritualistically snorts coke at the end of a heavy night, and uses the 20-minute coke high to drink as much alcohol as he can. By the time the coke wears off, the alcohol kicks in, allowing him to pass out and sleep like a baby. Given how groovy the high is and the versatility of its uses, it’s no surprise so many people think that coke is the perfect party drug.
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“How do you have the money to do this every week?”
I just had to ask. While not as expensive as coke, a single pill of Ecstasy can still cost anywhere between Rs 1200 to Rs 1500 a pop, and I was looking at 10 yellow spades in a clear packet. These were just the pills saved for himself and his friends, says H, a Jayanagar-based student in his mid-20; the other 490 were currently safe in his almirah.
In Bengaluru’s party scene, some folks buy party pills from friends and/or dealers every now and then for a good Saturday night. But for people who really like to roll with it, a small initial investment ensures that the wheel keeps turning. For as long as you like, it seems, or until you get caught. The key to sustainable drug use, H says, is contacts and quantity. He tells me, “You may be buying a pill for a grand, but I just picked up 500 for Rs 100 each. When you buy in bulk, they’re literally cheaper than a pack of cigarettes.”
According to H, the margins are amazing. And arbitrary.
“My friend sent them over in a bus from other parts of Karnataka. He’s been sending sealed parcels every day for three months now. You know I had to wake up at 6 am to collect them from the bus stop! The bus was an hour late and I just had to wait there doing nothing.” How does H plan to make up for his annoyance? “I’m going to push these for Rs 300 extra.”
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Push. It’s such a great word, less criminal than trafficking, with none of the sinister notes of dealing. Pushing is a lovely term for the act of selling drugs and better yet, anyone can do it. If you walk in to a nightclub near Palace Grounds on a Saturday when they’ve announced a “trance dance marathon event” or “10 hours of non-stop live psy”, the drugs will literally sell themselves.
Parties like this are mini-raves. A rave is an extended dance party that’s designed around ensuring that people on drugs reach the full sensory potential of their “trips”. The best raves happen outdoors, and can go on for days, even a week. Bengaluru’s answer to conventional raves are psy, trance and house music parties at outdoor clubs, venues perfectly designed for psychedelic experiences with their open sky and dripping tree branches. These parties aren’t just about the music — the décor, lighting and ambience have a lot to do with the success of a rave. You’ll notice that a lot of ads for these parties don’t just name the performers, but also the group responsible for “visuals and décor”; swirling lights and other special effects designed to complement and enhance your trip.
Most of the people at raves in Bengaluru are on MDMA or acid, or a combination of both (known as a “candy flip”). MDMA is a psychoactive drug that induces a six to seven hour-long trip that gives you a rush of energy (making you want to dance or jump around), increased sensitivity to light and sound, and powerful feelings of love and euphoria. LSD or acid is a hallucinogen that alters the way you perceive the world around you, mentally and physically. While many say that acid makes you “hallucinate”, a more accurate description of the effect it creates is that it provides “visuals”, or the illusion of moving patterns and shapes. An acid trip lasts up to 10-12 hours and can also be a deeply thoughtful and spiritual experience. Mixing the two, or “candy-flipping” creates an intensely pleasurable, sometimes overwhelming, synthesis of these two experiences. It’s not uncommon at raves to find people unusually mesmerised by moving lights, music and even the sensation of their own skin.The drugs provide an altered state of perception that make the ordinary seem unusually meaningful and sublime.
At a Bengaluru rave, you’re likely to find the usual mix of tie-dyed harem-pant-clad hippies, psy (music)-lovers, college students and a few frustrated professionals, all mostly between the ages of 18 and 35, although by law every rave must have at least two senior citizens reliving the pure psychedelic 60s and putting all around them to shame with their dancing. A combination of drugs and drug culture dictate that dancing at raves isn’t exactly like dancing at a regular nightclub. There’s a lot more dreamy whirling and waving of arms to the sky; the music is also much, much faster to keep up with the drugs, so the dancing is more rhythmic, repetitive and even robotic, less sexy than conventional disco-dancing. People who aren’t already on drugs at raves are probably trying to score; it’s just a matter of scoping the crowd, asking the right questions (“what are you on?” is a good opening gambit) and being directed to the right “friends”. And they’ll be there.
A friend who’s a casual pusher (casual in that he sells the extras when he scores for himself, as opposed to actually making a living off it) says there hasn’t been a night when he was unable to push at least 10 pills to strangers at the venue.
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Raves have been around since the mid-60s, but a new and rare excitement in the drug scene (and like raves, also brought to India by foreigners) is the ayahuasca ceremony. Ayahuasca is a broth made from the combination of two plants of south American origin — the ayahuasca vine and a shrub called chacruna which contains the hallucinogenic drug dimethyltryptamine (DMT).
“DMT is LSD’s grandfather,” says V, a journalist and musical prodigy who uses words like “vibes” and “astral” a lot. He, too, stresses that the drug scene is all about knowing the right people. Last year, he was lucky enough to be invited to an ayahuasca ceremony in Srirangapatna, along the way from Bengaluru to Mysore (which is, by common stoner consensus, the pot capital of south India).
Until recently, people had to trek deep into the Amazon to get in on an ayahuasca ceremony, but over the last decade, “shamans” have been taking the drug out of South America and to different countries, where they hold ayahuasca ceremonies locally, ostensibly in order to spread the spiritual enlightenment this medicinal concoction can bring. V knows of three ceremonies that have been held around Bengaluru in the last two years, and temporary, quickly deleted Facebook groups speak of a few more. Participants are “chosen” and told the location of the ceremony at the last minute to avoid detection by police and press. Judging by the popularity of these secret Facebook groups, ayahuasca ceremonies hold a deep fascination for many trippers who have heard about the legendary Amazonian drug.
A single ceremony hosts about 30 people, presided over by a shaman, who takes the drug along with the participants and “guides” them through the dark mindscapes they’re likely to get lost in. Preparation for the ceremony is two-fold: A bonfire is lit, around which a protective circle of sticks and stones is built by the participants of the ceremony, who also dig a “shit pit” and an adjacent pit to collect vomit. Each participant also readies a bucket to keep near them through the ceremony — throwing up (and diarrhoea) is an essential part of the trip. It’s said that it’s the ayahuasca ridding your body of toxins and bad energies. The other is the “spiritual” or mental preparation: The shaman adorns himself with an ornamental headdress, wooden totems and other charms. He also warns the participants that they may not smoke weed until after the two-night long ceremony.
The experience, V says, is just indescribable. He recalls flying through a tunnel and seeing astral visuals of a kind he’s never experienced, including visions of mysterious spiritual beings that were equal parts terrifying and comforting, while others at the ceremony reported feeling transported back to their childhoods or ruminating over long-forgotten crises, spiritual conundrums and thoughts about the nature and true meaning of life. After the ceremony, I hear, some participants even decided to stop smoking cigarettes and other toxins because of how cleansed they felt because of it.
Studies of adults who took ayahuasca in the 60s say that many people reported that their lives took turns for the better after the ceremonies — greater satisfaction in relationships, jobs and just life itself. Soon after his ceremony, V completed a series of (truly amazing) paintings inspired by the experience. It is, however, not a drug for the uninitiated: For most, it’s a once, at best twice, in a lifetime experience. It’s said that it simply doesn’t get better, or more intense, than ayahuasca. How do you get invited to such a ceremony? Well, as V says, when your soul is ready, you don’t have to go looking. “It just comes to you, man.”
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Bengaluru, more than other big Indian cities, has a heavy affinity for all things hippie and psychedelic. Aided by its strong rock and metal scene, its legacy as India’s pub city and the abundant availability of good weed from Mysore and Kolar, Bengaluru in general displays a collective nostalgia for the counterculture of the 60s and 70s, and its attitude towards drugs can be appropriately nuanced. It’s not uncommon to find a hippie high on pot or rolling on acid turning up their nose at “pointless” party drugs like MDMA and coke that don’t provide the spiritual and intellectual stimulation psychedelics do.
Bengaluru’s hippies frequently escape the city for holidays and acid trips (Gokarna and now Hampi have become hippie getaways for Bengalureans and foreigners alike) or flee to Kodaikanal for magic mushrooms between June and October, which is the only time they’re available.
That being said, there’s no drug you can’t find here. While some drugs are cheaper or easier to get in other cities, like hashish in Delhi or Mumbai’s infamous meow (MDMA’s cheap second cousin), if you have the contacts and the money, Bengaluru has, fortunately or unfortunately, everything you need.
Sadie Gonsalves is a pseudonym
(In arrangement with Grist Media)