Tuesday, March 19, 2019
facebook


Rang mein bhang

Colours and the potent drink go together on Holi17 Mar 2019 | 1:51 AM

Holi is also called the festival of colours. The sobriquet makes obvious the integrality of the hues to the celebrations.

[ + read story ]

Pushpesh Pant

Holi is also called the festival of colours. The sobriquet makes obvious the integrality of the hues to the celebrations. There is something else that is equally indispensable to the festivities — the ubiquitous bhang, found in almost all sweets, savouries, or drinks traditionally eaten at Holi — from thandai to pakori to ladoo. The flow of alcohol — beer, wine and stronger stuff — may have shadowed its popularity at modern-day Holi parties but bhang dishes at Holi will never go out of fashion or tradition. 

Pot is cool

While bhang has been part of our rustic culture for a long time, it was in the autumn of 1969 when pot became cool. It was supposed to be the miraculous leaf with many names — hash, dope, grass and of course marijuana. The escalation of war in Vietnam had triggered massive protest on various American campuses and there was rising tide of ‘draft dodgers’, drop-outs and hippies. The Flower Children had made being square unfashionable. The Woodstock Rock Music Festival drew an audience of over 400,000 young and young at heart. This is when I realised that what had for ages been poor man’s painkiller and mood-altering narcotic of choice was gaining ground in the West as a recreational ‘drug’. 

Actually, it was a few years earlier when maverick Harvard professor Timothy Leary and his colleague had lost their jobs at the Ivy League university for pushing marijuana and other hallucinogenic drugs on campus. Allen Ginsberg had spent a long sojourn with his boyfriend Neil Cassidy in Benaras and had gone into raptures about the easy availability of good quality hash along the ghats. It wasn’t long before Kathmandu became the Mecca for those who wished to get high on grass. Since then much water has flown down the Ganga and dope junkies have started heading towards Malana in Kullu, Himachal Pradesh, from where comes the whiff of the best stuff. Alas, an increasing demand has led to corrupt trade practices like adulteration and one can no longer be sure of what ones is getting. Sarkari thekas (licensed shops) are the safest bet. 

Mid 1970s were the times when Bollywood movies seduced the young in believing that ‘getting stoned’ was a cure for all ills. First, Zeenat Aman swayed to the tune “Dum maro dum mit jaye gam...’ Soon other songs did their bit to popularise bhang. “Jai jai Shiv Shankar, kanta lage na kankar...” Then came Big B who endorsed bhang with a bang: “Bhang ka rang jama ho chakachak, phir khai lo paan chabai, aisa jhataka lage jiya par punrjanam hui jaye....”  He continued the frenzied pitch in Silsila with a scintillating ‘Rang barse’ as he gulps down a tumbler full of inebriating thandai. 

The general atmosphere of permissiveness that coincided with the coming of age of the post-Independence generation in India went a long way towards legitimising rolling a joint and taking a puff to get rid of worldly woes or just break free from the tedium of daily chores.

The high that is not harmless

It was argued that bhang/charas were harmless and shouldn’t be put in the category of illegal narcotic substances. While it is true that many countries fighting the menace of hard synthetic drugs have legalised marijuana, it is not quite correct to state that it is harmless. A prolonged use is addictive and almost certainly leads to personality changes. Ganjedhi or charasi are derogatory terms used to describe a dysfunctional addict. Though most of bhang/charas addicts aren’t violent and are extremely introverted, timid and dazed (stoned is an apt description). 

A person talking gibberish or acting in a strange absentminded way is often admonished with the phrase “Kya bhaang kha ke aaye ho?” 

For millennia, bhang, charas and ganja — all products of the Cannibus indica or Cannibus Sativa plant — have been used for medicinal purposes and ostensibly as trance-inducing aids to meditation. The resinous residue obtained by rubbing the green leaves slowly between palm yields charas and dried leaves are usually identified as ganja. Charas or ganja can be smoked mixed with tobacco in a cigarette or traditionally in a chillum (small hand held clay pipe). Bhang is commonly imbibed infused in a sweet or savoury snack — ladoo, pera , burfi, or pakori. 

The popular beverage in Benaras is seldom consumed by connoisseurs without a marble-sized globule (goli) of bhang. Our personal favourite is munaqqa, a specialty from Benaras, a toffee-like confection that is made blending bhang with gulkand, saffron, sultanas, silver leaf and cardamom seeds. You can slowly dissolve a lozenge in your mouth and experience an exquisite mildly euphoric ‘high’. Repeat, if desired, but don’t forget the cautionary warning about it being injurious to health.

‘Benefits’ of booti 

Those who claim that they partake bhang only for medicinal purposes never tire of extolling its virtues — it stokes sluggish appetite, builds up stamina, enhances sexual prowess, sharpens concentration and so on. There is no dearth of stories associated with world champion wrestlers whose daily diet included an amazing dose of bhang. However, assertions made on the basis of subjective experience and anecdotal evidence can’t substitute scientific tests in laboratory. 

Denizens of the holy city of Banaras enjoy thandai round the year but in other parts of North India the drink is prepared and served to celebrate Holi. 

Masterclass of making thandai

Preparing thandai is an art that is on the verge of extinction. First, the finest quality ingredients have to be assembled. Besides pure unadulterated bhang, full fat milk, almonds, pistachios, sultanas, green cardamoms, poppy seeds, char magaz (melon and pumpkin seeds), black pepper corns, fennel seeds and dried rose petals, maybe a few strands of saffron, are indispensable. Milk is boiled on low heat and is constantly stirred till it is reduced to almost one-third of its original volume. The grinding of bhang is already underway. No mixer and blender is allowed. Old fashioned mortar and pestle or better still sil-batta (grinding stone) should be used. Not only the bhang but the seeds, nuts etc also have to be hand-ground to a smooth paste. This is stirred in to by now cold milk. Bhang is then put in a fine muslin cloth tied into a pouch and soaked in the milk. It is squeezed at regular intervals and only when the thandai has acquired a pale mossy tint and absorbed the intoxicating taste is it ready to be served. 

Tripping on the trip

Bhang doesn’t hit you immediately. It creeps in slowly to overpower your senses. The ‘trip’ often starts with uncontrollable giggling, stoking a ravenous appetite and ends up with long slumber. But there are times when the ‘trip’ turns bad and instead of euphoria, a fit of paranoia sets in. There is disorientation of time and space, sensation of nausea and hallucinations. The distressing after effects may linger for days.

One recalls the days when in hostels bhang-laced thandai was mass produced for Holi. The usually laborious and expensive process of making thandai was dispensed with. Bottled thandai mixture was poured in buckets of milk and the bhang was stretched by rubbing a copper coin in the ground bhang. It was believed to enhance the kick. Bhang doesn’t loosen the tongue like alcohol but does remove inhibitions or at least takes away the will to resist. The suspicion isn’t baseless that popularity of bhang at no holds barred revelry during Holi is largely due to use the state of intoxication as an excuse for intentional advances that would be considered objectionable otherwise. Bhang ki pakori used to play a strong supporting (mischievously villainous) role in Hindi pornographic literature before internet dealt it a mortal blow. 

Whatever are the highs or lows associated with the intoxicant, the ever-present duo of colours and bhang at Holi are not going anywhere anytime soon.


In good spirits

I remember having bhang when I was living in Chandigarh. In fact, I have had bhang thrice in life — twice in Chandigarh and once in Mumbai. With friends and family we were enjoying bhang and I kept saying ‘kuch to ho nahi raha hai’. We were at our uncle's place and you won't believe I kept saying the same line for four hours. Then, once we went home after playing Holi, I went for a shower because we would usually go to Nada Sahib on Holi and I spent three hours in the shower. It was one crazy trip. I think the after-effects are really bad. — Mahie Gill (Actress)

I always like to be in my senses but one of my friends made sure I try bhang. This was in Delhi and I was buzzed and I danced all day long and ate eight burgers and about anything that came my way. Also, I was under the shower for four hours, I was in limbo! Then I decided to sit in a stranger’s car that looked like my friend’s car. It was crazy; since that day I swore of never doing it again. That was one of the funniest days of my life and of course for my friends who had to see me behave like a monkey! — Alankrita Sahai (Model-Actress)

Bhang is an old part of our culture, especially on Holi, just like in films. I've tried it a couple of times during college and it was lot of fun. During Mumbai Laughter Challenge, 2-3 of us had bhang. Next thing I realise, I was sleeping on the floor of our hotel. I tried getting up but couldn't move. Then after sometime I found myself sitting in a washroom, then later I was sitting next to a wall and crying and telling everyone to save me. I had such weird trips. We had a flight home next day and I was totally lost during the flight as the stewardess found out and was laughing because I couldn't register a word of what she was saying. Bhang became a terror for me and I decided to never try it again. — Balraj (Standup comedian)

This was six-seven years back, I had just come to Mumbai. My neighbours and friends said let’s try bhang. I am not a fan of Holi because of the too much mess, but I agreed. I must have had three-four glasses but nothing happened to me. So, I decided I am too hardcore for bhang. — Hard Kaur (singer)

The fun of bhang cannot be matched by any other intoxication. My Holi experience is of Benaras. It is said to be Shiva’s city and, therefore, you get the most authentic bhang there. After having bhang with cashews and milk, I caught on to the trip of laziness and drowsiness, as you know one gets stuck to one emotions. We must have finished playing Holi around 6pm and I woke up on the third morning, basically 22 hours of sleep. That was my trip and I hope everyone gets a happy trip. — Sahil Khattar (actor)

I belong to North India and having bhang during Holi is very common. I have seen my friends have bhang and behave in a funny way. Somehow, I have always been the chauffeur for everyone, dropping friends home safely after Holi parties. I remember once I had bhang and then ate 10 big aloo paranthas. My hunger knew no limit and later I slept for many hours. — Ankit Siwach (TV Actor)

I am someone who is forever high on life. Alcohol or smoke is the last thing I would any day do to get high. But, I am also a hardcore brownie lover! My friends took advantage of the same and once on Holi they made me eat a bhang-stuffed brownie. God, I have never laughed that much in my entire life, like I did that day! — Aparshakti (actor)

My only experience of bhang was in 1970 when I had gone to Calcutta to become a disciple of Ustad Munnawar Ali Khan. There he took us to someone’s place. I didn’t know they were serving bhang and I had it. It did relax me a lot and I was quite happy because I learnt Raag Gujari Todi. — Primila Puri (Classical vocalist)

— As told to Gurnaaz Kaur

Rang mein bhang
How Panchatantra travelled
’Art & Soul

How Panchatantra travelled

17 Mar 2019 | 1:51 AM

From among those who read a bit, there must be few, very few, who have not heard of the Panchatantra, that great repository of tales and fables, ‘certainly the most frequently translated literary product of India’, which goes a long, long way back into the past.

Fighting hate through music

Fighting hate through music

17 Mar 2019 | 1:51 AM

Against the backof the architectural marvel of Humayun’s Tomb permeated with lights, carefully kept diyas, minus any cacophony of advertisements and shutterbugs, the Sufiana kalam and dance performances, all defined the soulful experience called Jahan-e-Khusrau.

Colourful palette for the palate
Food talk

Colourful palette for the palate

17 Mar 2019 | 1:51 AM

As Holi approaches, our thoughts turn to colours of food.

When BP fluctuates due to machine’s fault
Consumers beware!

When BP fluctuates due to machine’s fault

17 Mar 2019 | 1:51 AM

How accurate are the blood pressure instruments used in hospitals and clinics? I had gone for an annual health check up last week and my blood pressure was checked in three different departments and all of them recorded different readings.

The fort that could not be breached

The fort that could not be breached

17 Mar 2019 | 1:51 AM

The serpentine wall seemed to go up endlessly, as if to reach out to the clouds.

Udupi, a numismatists’ delight

Udupi, a numismatists’ delight

17 Mar 2019 | 1:51 AM

Did you know that when all digits on the serial number of a currency note are the same (like '555555' or '777777'), it is a type of fancy note?

The world as they picture it

The world as they picture it

17 Mar 2019 | 1:51 AM

In the synthesis of a rare, sensuous winter and a sunny spring, heavy rains and lightning arrived in Kolkata to welcome a great creative event called the ‘Mahakumbh of Photography’.

‘Every film is a make or mar film’

‘Every film is a make or mar film’

17 Mar 2019 | 1:51 AM

Like a true blue Punjabi, director Anurag Singh, who makes his big ticket Bollywood debut with Kesari next week, is candid, honest and earnest.

The never-say-die spirit

The never-say-die spirit

17 Mar 2019 | 1:51 AM

THE documentary filmmakers play a vital role in telling true stories of people and their lives that cut through the clutter and help us to understand the reality of tough situations they face.