I am writing this column with mixed feelings. Maybe with a tad confused state of mind. The reason for this flummoxed condition perhaps lies in my dithering position after watching Udta Punjab and the controversy over it. As a writer of a reasonably successful historical fiction novel, I have always held the view that whenever the narrative has moved from non-fiction to storytelling, that’s when the real story usually comes out. It’s only then that shared pain takes place, awareness happens, and the issues get the spotlight. I spoke about this phenomenon at the New York literature festival last year where it was seconded vehemently by the head of the Jewish Federation of East Connecticut, USA, Jerry Fischer. According to him, the Jewish Holocaust started drawing sympathy only when movies were made, and novels were written on it.
So, why the mixed feeling when Udta Punjab fits exactly in line with my thinking? Blame it on that drop of tear that rolled down on seeing the milestone Punjab in the opening scene. Promise, it wasn’t the crocodile variant that has been used as an alibi to stall the movie’s release. It was a feeling where you wanted to protect your state from the shame that was about to unfold. There was anger towards the politician for bringing Punjab to the point where Bollywood would now find drug as a theme instead of its rich culture and progressive ethos. There was a feeling of resentment against Anurag Kashyap and Ekta Kapoor for misusing the ‘freedom of expression’. Just for commercial gains, labelling a state as full of drug addicts is not a done deal. I don’t consume drugs just as hundreds of my friends who reside in Punjab. So, who gave the duo the licence to paint everyone with the same brush. I have a serious problem when free speech becomes an alibi to defend commercial interests since the movie is certainly not out of love for Punjab. It was an idea waiting to be milked, and Bollywood did exactly that. Similar to what it did when there was profit to be made by glamourising the same damn thing –Punjab’s high life comprising vodka, pegs, and joints. One wonders how a Yash Chopra would have handled his Punjab.
Once I had overcome these feelings, I was reminded of the scores of articles and columns that I have written since 2004 on the growing drug addiction among the youth. They were surely not lies. Then why was I turning a blind eye, just because I wanted to protect my state from ridicule.
Rather, it was time to face the real question that had reached a point where a reel on it had become justified.
Answers and growth only come to cultures that raise questions and correct their course. Gagging voices, protecting the wrong or brushing issues under the carpet is a dangerous practice. Without sounding like a Donald Trump, here are some questions that have baffled me each time I have picked a pen to write about the problem.
1) Why is drug addiction more prevalent among the Sikh peasantry than the rest of Punjab?
2) What are the reasons that it is less visible among the youth of traders and shopkeepers in the cities? The observation might appear uncanny, but genuine community leaders and academics might want to consider these questions.
Whatever the Congress or AAP may harp, but there is no SAD government in Canada, and yet a chunk of Punjabi community is embedded in drug culture there. What is luring them not only to consume but trade as well?
The other question that perplexes me is that why do young Sikh boys, given that tobacco is such a taboo, consume substance like ‘chitta’ and habit-forming medicines. Is there an innate desire to try intoxicants? And since smoking is prohibited, they try something else. Perhaps the clergy focused too much on not blowing the cigarette rather than recognising the fact that every intoxicant is a taboo.
With these questions, I walked out of the theatre only to find a WhatsApp message from a dear one. How was the movie? “The film offers no solution to the problem,” I replied. “Anurag Kashyap is not the CM of Punjab,” came the reply. This line helped me retune to my original thought that the storyteller has told his story, now it’s up to the caretakers of Punjab to hold the ‘digda’ Punjab. Or from ‘chitta’, back to Green.
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