Punjab’s sixth river of sorrow

Punjab’s sixth river of sorrow

Photo for representational purpose only

Rameshinder Singh Sandhu

An odd feeling struck me as I spotted a corpse being taken to the crematorium, just as I had arrived in my car at my maternal village, not far from Amritsar. With a huge rush, and women wailing, I halted on the side. When I reached home, I asked who had died, assuming it would be someone old, but I was wrong. ‘He was young and had just completed his graduation, but addiction to drugs took away his life,’ I was told. The same evening, when I stepped out to meet neighbours, the grave topic of drugs was already heavy on their tongues, with many counting the number of youngsters who had died under the influence of drugs.

As if their count was less, during my nearly three-week stay alone, three more youngsters bid adieu, again because of their addiction. They were all ‘very intelligent but their company resulted in the collapse of their destiny’.

What I can’t forget is a cremation that I attended, where especially women, were shouting against the business of drugs. Their candid questions kept filling the air — Why does the government not check drugs? Why do the police not act against drug sellers? Do they know what a mother goes through when she loses her son? I must have been the most shocked, as it was the first time that I had encountered the impact of drugs so closely. I had only read news reports on drugs from time to time, sitting far away in a city.

During bhogs in the village gurdwara, like a ritual, speakers addressed gatherings. They ranged from elders to some local leaders, who either expressed views on how the youth could be kept away from drugs or simply blamed the politicians. A retired school headmaster, while addressing the gloomy gathering, underlined, ‘Can a bird ever fly on one wing? Let’s not forget that the drug supply too gets wings from where it should not be getting. The less I say the better...’

Ironically, whenever I went for a walk in the village, I came across many more youngsters who seemed trapped in the world of drugs, and whenever I talked about them, the response would be, ‘even in many neighbouring villages, it is the same story’.

As I headed for a long walk with my neighbour to the next village, we came across a teenager lying unconscious just at the entrance of the village. With syringes scattered around, some villagers were already trying hard to wake him up. Thankfully, he was still breathing, but as he was being put on a motorcycle to get him home, the only word scribbled on his T-shirt, painted a queer picture before us, reminding us once again of youngsters who are drowned in the sixth river of Punjab, as everyone calls it. It read Gabru. The irony, however, is that years come and go, and our Gabrus continue to get ruined. What are we waiting for? It may already be too late.

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