Tuesday, September 7, 2010

Chhaang Town Story ...

Chhaang Town is a fairly big Tibetan enclave on the far side of New Delhi or within Delhi, I can't say for sure because nothing is ever permanent in India. Anyway during the 80s this was a popular place to hang out for many, and specially the rebels, activists, and more specifically the Delhi University crowd of hopefuls and idealists, and of course the Tibetans, where they tried to build their own little Tibet and drown their loss of roots in the very potent Chhaang, a drink made from fermented rice. Tibetans have been living in India for decades and India is like home for them. They even managed to get some land, space, and freedom - which unfortunately the Chinese took but in turn spurred the Indians to give them some of what they had lost. The Indian government however didn't give them citizenship. I think, as a thank you, the Tibetans gave Chhaang to the Indian men but didn't disclose its potency.  So while the Tibetans knew how to down bales and bales of Chhaang without going crazy, the non-Tibetans like my husband and his good friends weren't quite aware of this paddy baby or tried not to show it.

The Bullet, of the Royal Enfield motorcycle family, being the preferred mode of transportation for most hot bloodied men in Delhi during the 80s and 90s, was extremely popular with the bad boys, specially for ferrying themselves to and fro from Chhaang Town. Sometimes the boys returned in one piece but at other times the bikes came back in many pieces. The latter incident was one more excuse to drink gallons of tea and other stuff at the mechanic's under the tree. Those were the days when India was free of all cops, and the atmosphere still reeked of the 60s. This is the story of one such incident when my husband Bapi, and his friend Sandy roared into Chhaang Town one morning. By the time afternoon came around, these two were thoroughly soaked in the Tibetan culture and even the natives of Chhaang Town showed concern. In the huts and colors of Chhaang Town it's easy to forget oneself and that Momos (dumplings) are usually eaten when Chhaang is consumed, specially in large quantities. 

Rebels without a cause - Bapi and Sandy.

As events would unfold, the two friends forgot to order momos and the Tibetans forgot to inform. After all, the two looked seasoned enough. It was getting close to the time of tottering out of Chhaang Town but only one could do so. Sandy had to be dragged to the bike. Many came to help and even Bapi-the-veteran needed some assistance in starting the bike but nonetheless joined heartily in the discussion of Chhaang and bikes and the deadly combination of the two. Sandy lay on the dirt in his la-la land as heated discussions flew around him and over him as to what was the best way to deposit him on the bike or whether he was in a position to be picked up at all or whether he should be moved to the huts till somebody sober came to fetch him the next day. Alcohol impairs the ability to walk but boosts the ego tremendously, something the Tibetans have been telling the world to get rid of altogether (the ego). Sandy was immune to the big ego and my husband could feel and taste only ego at that time. So, a string was got, Sandy was put in pillion, and the string used to tie Sandy loosely to Bapi who swaying a bit himself managed to hold Sandy with one hand and the bike with the other - and off the two buddies went riding into the sunset.

All was gentle swaying, occasional swerving, and purring. Sometimes Bapi would see Sandy, then at other times only his hand told him that Sandy was still there. Sandy could move in three directions - backwards, left, and right. At times he would hang backwards precariously defying gravity. At other times he would hang awkwardly to the left or right. But at all times, Sandy and Bapi managed to stay on the bike. There were some moments when even the hand of Bapi could not prevent the butt of Sandy from sliding off the seat. Nonetheless the three of them, Bapi, Sandy, and Ms Bullet kept going. There was no stopping these three. All was going well and the god of spirits was happy, when just half way home, they began to be pursued by a University bus. The bus was full of shrieking college girls. Oblivious to Bapi and Sandy who had been under scrutiny for a while, specially Bapi who was driving with one hand while holding an oscillating specimen with the other - the girls felt a compelling need to intervene. And when college girls get to that, all hell can break loose. Added to that was the passion of seeing such injustice, and boys behaving badly. The moment had to be seized, the downtrodden to be helped, and the helpless to be assisted - or their education would be meaningless in their eyes and the eyes of the world.

The bus driver was threatened, the bus stopped, and the infamous three barely managed to stay upright with all the noise and commotion that confronted them when they were rudely stopped. Sandy of course slid to the ground and lay there, while Bapi went into a state of shock. The girls came out screaming vile stuff at Bapi and the comatose Sandy. Bapi was told he was the most evil man to treat his friend so callously. How could he do it at the peril of the friend's life. The bus driver shrank or ran away, nobody knows. It was close to a blockade. Everybody wanted to help the girls. Most ignored Sandy. But really it was Sandy who had created all this fuss by his swaying and swinging and what not. Nobody saw that. Only if he had sat up straight like Bapi. Not one rickshaw but many rickshaws were stopped. Total confusion reigned. Which rickshaw would be best for loading Sandy into? The Bus driver had smoked his bidi so he was ready to go anywhere. Sandy smiled when he was hauled into the rick by the girls. Even in his inebriated state Bapi managed to stay in his shocked state. The procession started with Bapi and Ms Bullet in the lead, closely followed by the rickshaw with Sandy's hands and legs hanging on either side, and last but not in the least - by some very belligerent but triumphant looking girls in the bus. The best or the worst part of the story was that having 'chhaanged' their pockets completely, our two heroes had no money for the rickshaw and I had to foot the bill. I think those girls in the bus should have picked up the tab or taken Sandy with them in the bus. 


  1. Why am I not surprised? Very nicely written Joyce, so perfectly captures the essence of how it used to be. If I had your gift with words, I'ld write a story on what it was like going on a bizarre/other-worldly/surreal trip with the 2 heros of your story to the hills for 10 days.

  2. Thanks Bukie for reading and musing about the bizarre.
    Thanks Raman for being the first.

  3. As usual nicely captured the funny moments at that time and well expressed! No wonder some crazy times u have encountered with Bapi!!

  4. Urmila Samson: September 9 at 1:27pm.
    I laughed out loud! Lovely story, well written!

  5. I am still laughimg,... can't stop...keep picturing the two of them tied together on the bike...!!. Thanks joyce, you bring back memories of a very special time...