“I don’t want to hide the truth. My nephew has died of drug addiction,” says NRI business tycoon Darshan Singh Sahsi. It is a day after his public acknowledgement of truth in a poignant speech at the gurdwara in Rajgarh near Doraha, 20km from Ludhiana, where on Sunday he addressed the collective grief of a village, and a community’s grave denial.
It was the ‘bhog-ardas’ (concluding prayers) for 36-year-old Jagjit Singh Sahsi — who leaves behind his wife and a daughter barely six years old — and Darshan was speaking in gratitude to the hundreds who turned up to share the grief.
While much is being made of a political slugfest over the drug menace, and data is being thrown around, it took an ultrasuccessful NRI ‘chacha’ (uncle) — a living symbol of modern Punjabi success — to acknowledge ground reality. Before him, politicians delivered condolence messages without mentioning the open secret.
Jagjit was found dead with a packet of ‘chitta’ (smack/heroin) in his hand. “I have flourished on foreign shores, lived the dream, so to speak! But I am a failure. I could not save my child”: On the phone with HT on Monday, Darshan echoes the thanksgiving speech, as also described by senior journalist Baljit Balli, who was present at the bhog.
“Something has gone wrong with Punjabi culture... Moral degradation and collapse of the education system have birthed a generation that does not know how to live with ‘sanjam’ (patience), as was prescribed in Gurbani (words of the Sikh gurus).”
He doesn’t know whom to blame: “People name ministers; I find all that hard to believe. But, who are the dealers? ‘Chitta’ is home-delivered now!”
He further says, “There is no guidance, no direction, particularly for rural youth. Easy money and less manual work mean you have an entire generation in this trap.”
‘LIKE A SON’
The nephew, Jagjit Singh Sahsi, was more of a son to Darshan, who runs a multinational cloth-recycling business and has family farmland in the village. “Jagjit’s father, my elder brother, died in 1979. My other brother went to Canada in 1985, while I followed him in 1991. Since we took Jagjit’s elder brother too to Canada, he lived here with his mother. We wanted him to study first. But he fell into wrong company. And we thought it was a passing phase.”
But this was no “ordinary recreation like opium”, says Darshan, recounting when the enormity hit him.
“Ten years ago, Jagjit’s mother was on her deathbed at a Delhi hospital (she died of brain haemorrhage). On the day, when we sat down to eat, he collapsed. Not even love for his mother could make him skip his day’s dose. I had never felt as helpless as I did that day.”
Policemen told him “this ‘chitta’ deadens the brain”.
They married him off, “hoping it would set him right”, and helped him migrate to Australia. “But he found ‘stuff ’ there too... He kept asking for money on one pretext or the other, and I kept sending,” Darshan recalls, “I thought we should keep him comfortable so he does not go back to drugs.” After the birth of his child, Jagjit returned to the village, and was hooked worse. “Last time I got close to taking him to Canada was around four years ago, but he was rejected in the investor-visa interview. He was so intoxicated that he could not show his documents properly.”
‘WE CARRY IT WITH US’
About the culture, he says the problem is “very much present” in the “under-educated” Punjabis in Canada too. “We carry this with us,” he says. In his speech, though, he said it’s a problem amongst the White population too. “Only parents and family can curb this menace. Don’t run after money! Save your kids. Educate them,” he beseeched in his 45-minute address.
He adds that he had once made a list of local dealers by scanning through his nephew’s phone: “I shared it with the police; but I see that many of those are still active. Two or three of them died of drugs themselves. If I know the names, won’t the local police?”
Among those who spoke at the bhog were Punjab assembly speaker and senior Shiromani Akali Dal (SAD) leader Charanjit Singh Atwal, and Congress MLA Rana Gurmeet Singh Sodhi, while Ludhiana MP Ravneet Bittu too attended. The who’s who of the area was present.