Connaught Circle in New Delhi, India. I was staying in a charming run-down shithole nearby, infamous and verminous, hippie rainbow murals long covered by flaky layers of Asylum Blue. A wise-guy room-boy presciently recommended a left-behind book titled "Trainspotting". He assured me I'd like it, smiling at my clueless scepticism.
November 1994: the Hindu Divali 'lights' festival going full tilt. I waded in thick, wandering the thronged streets, stunned and dazzled by constant firework detonations. No idea I would soon meet my guide to the Underworld.
A conversation started with some street guys; a couple named Raj spoke good English. One of the Rajs opened, cursing the bourgeoisie and their conspicuous waste of money on fireworks. I agreed, wholeheartedly and hypocritically. As the prosperous wound down, blew off final firecrackers and left in their jeeps, the truth emerged. Raj, Raj and the ragamuffin gang were engaged in small time dealing, cannabis to tourists. I was done with cannabis, although back-slipped to cigarettes.
Gradually, Raj baited the hook. Mentioned the guys had lined up some heroin. Should arrive shortly...? I pondered trying it, just to chalk off. Raj recited the statutory health warning. Claimed this stuff is the ultimate bitch; I would become a junkie. Inconceivable. Raj smiled knowingly.
"I'll turn you on. Why not?"
I always did like getting lit up. From dentist gas to speed; psilocybin to MDMA, via lots of wine and smoke. Thought I was all drugged out by 23 and quit the lot, even cigarettes. Began hiking, hill-climbing and went back to college. Planned to get a life. Destiny planned something else.
Later that Divali night, I was offered a line of white powder to snort. The guys noted my good luck in trying top-quality number 4. No charge: friendship. I sat back with a ciggy to wait for another sound and light show. Instead, everything just...glowed. Subtle but rich; imbued lustre. The hubcaps on an old parked car shone like polished heirloom silver. Raj checked me out.
"Feeling it? Oh yeah...good line. Hey, we're going for some food in a while. Coming?"
I wasn't hungry, but felt so lovely and mellow, up for hanging out. Certainly...actually, the shadows and spookiness of the City Of Djinn* had receded somehow. The fact that everything around was grimed and broken and the utter destitution of the fellows was really not an issue now. Everyone was cool and sweet. Loaded.
After I vomited up my food we all lay on blankets spread on the pavement, like at the beach. Basking in the winter night, cosy from the inside out. Under the arches of Connaught walkway, outside boutiques and banks, no-one gives a rat's arse. No criticism, man; folk just wander by. Like, if you want to lie in dust and garbage stoned on heroin, getting a midnight tan with the marginals, go for it. It's on you, your Fate or whatever.
That's what I was vaguely thinking, while getting a leg massage from a chap called Pandit. Western males don't usually share such tactile intimacy, but it felt amazing. When in Rome and all that...hang-ups dropped. We arose and wandered through wondrous smogs and cracker-smoke. They introduced me to the night-people who gathered and played on the patchy grass in the Circle center park. All kinds of cats, bizarre bazaar. Hustlers, gamblers, schizos. Shoe-glue, spirits, sleepers. Exotic in dusty silk blouson and grey-green pin-prick viper-eyes, I was welcomed to the freak-scene. I felt like the honoured guest at the after-party. Actually, I felt like the character Max in the children's book "Where The Wild Things Are." I had traveled far, boldly faced the Wild Things, danced their dance and befriended the monsters, who turned out to be sweet. Even became their king for a night! And it was all a dream.
Except. In the book, Max wakes up. I didn't. Going back later to the guys, I hung out. This time, they accepted my money. Now, heroin wasn't white but brown. Not snorted; melted on foil, inhaled by pipe. Bitter treacle...hold the smoke in, brother. Raj said I was a quick study. One day, the powder was red. Red?
"Yes, we call it Lal Kila. 'Red Fort'. From the Red Fort area of Old Delhi. Low grade...what to do."
I got ill. Whether it was Red Fort, mosquitoes, pollution or what, I was brought down, hard. So sick; fever, vomiting. Aches, scary-feeble coughs. Bad sign. I crawled to a free clinic. Didn't think to spend money on healthcare. That would be bourgeois, or some scam. The clinic diagnosed septicemia and pneumonitis, the cloudy chest X-ray told it true. I could die. Still, I didn't check in for treatment. Just learned to pray, ride it through. A word from the wise: leave Delhi. Go somewhere clean, a nice beach. Slowly I recovered; luckily I was young and fit. Felt stronger for having suffered. Things had got real for a minute. But I made it home...that time.
What lessons were learned? Heroin was delicious, as advertised. Harmful; so stay lucky. I went back to Delhi, many times. Turned out heroin was here at home, too. Cheap and good back then. Friends and family were spooked and worried. Protests were white noise to me. New friends were made, and some old friends were into trying smack too.
How does this end? It doesn't, really. Just goes on. I spent a lot of dough. Became an IV poly-drug user, liar and criminal. Desperate schemer, veins collapsed, lungs scarred. Busted in my city. Later, busted abroad. Looking at mandatory life. I skated away but lost my reason briefly. Paranoia and despair; a gallows drop on infinite rope. A Djinni had got me.
*Djinn (or Jinn AKA Genies in the West) are a race of sidereal entities usually invisible to humans but may assume shape-shifting forms (especially animals). They can be good or evil and it is believed they can affect humans, benignly protect or malignly possess. Djinn can be roughly regarded as a type of demon or imp although their children are seen more as fairies, gnomes etc. Delhi has been termed "City of Djinn."