Pubdate: Sat, 10 Jun 2006 Source: Pioneer, The (India) If you wanna hang out you've got to take her out; cocaine. If you wanna get down, down on the ground; cocaine. She don't lie, she don't lie, she don't lie; cocaine... One score and five years ago, we would smoke ourselves silly on stuff slyly procured from Peter's joint off Park Street as Eric Clapton belted out his smash hit in the hostel common room. To suck on a reefer was as fashionable as wearing bellbottoms and dog collar, floral print shirts, a version of which is a rage this summer. But nobody would venture beyond Buddha sticks. Anything harsher than hemp was as much looked down upon as a cad who would kiss and tell. It's not that 20-somethings were not doing hard drugs a quarter of a century ago. Just that they flew around in an orbit of their own, a charmed circle to which entry was barred unless your wealth was in direct proportion to your lack of scruples. It's much the same today, too. The happening crowd that parties at the happening spots chills out on lifestyle drugs like cocaine, Ecstasy, LSD and heroin. The rich and the famous spend a fortune while chasing the big orgiastic and orgasmic high. Some months ago, I had written about a Delhi lad who told me that he gets off with his girlfriend after downing a cocktail of viagra and cocaine. "It's heady and the night never ends," the girl chipped in her tupenny bit. Saturday nights cost a packet, but that's ok since daddy foots the bill. The rich and the famous who are the toast of the Page 3 circuit, like fashion designer Prasad Bidappa who was picked up by cops in Dubai for possessing drugs and then rescued by the Government of India or actor Fardeen Khan who was arrested on a cocaine charge but has for all practical purposes escaped punishment, are flush with cash earned any which way. Recreational sniffing and snorting is as much a part of their daily routine as brushing your teeth. They sustain the underworld economy of hard drugs in India whose turnover runs into hundreds of crores of rupees. Lured by the emerging market, a police official says, "South American and Chinese drug cartels have increased their cocaine trafficking in both Mumbai and Delhi." A recent UN Office on Drugs and Crime report paints a grim picture of increasing drug abuse and addiction in India. With Afghanistan producing heroin worth more than a billion dollars a year and Myanmar determined not to lag behind, this assessment is not surprising. While the spurt in the demand for cocaine, heroin and other derivatives in our cities may be of recent vintage, archival records show that apart from widespread consumption of opium and ganja, there have been cocaine addicts in India since the 19th century. A 1951 study in the archives of the UN Office on Drugs and Crime provides an interesting detail: "Habitual use of cocaine started quite accidentally three-quarters of a century ago in Bihar State. In spite of severe restrictions imposed on the importation, possession and sale of this drug by the Government of India, the habit spread from Calcutta along two main railway routes to Uttar Pradesh, Delhi, the Punjab, and to the north-western frontier ( now in Pakistan ). From Bombay, it spread to other large towns in that state, such as Surat and Ahmadabad." We know that Arab traders brought opium to India in the early middle ages. But how did cocaine, a derivative of the coca leaf, arrive at our shores? A chronicler of the history of cocaine says, "Royal Kew Gardens... began a crash programme of coca research and colonial botanical experiments in India, Ceylon and elsewhere." Was this the source of the first vial in India? Never mind the truth. We can always blame the British for our cocaine problem, too. And pretend all's fine with our society, especially its creamy layer.