Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Of Browned Teeth And Sticky Glue

A few kids sat downstairs, eating sticky blobs. "It's glue, the kind that puts copies together," Mithu volunteered. "We got it from picking the bark off a tree." Was it sweet? No, they replied. Then why eat it? I thought of glue sniffing, instinctively accusing them of getting high. "No, no, it's not for nasha." Then what? "We just like it." They smiled and looked down. I suspected a secret. However, Shantaji assured us no intoxication was involved. "Even I eat that sticky glue, it's not bad for you." That's the good news.

The bad news? Four year olds chew tobacco, ruthlessly spitting it on open ground with casual cool. Hence, one sees children with browned incisors and thirty-somethings with practically toothless mouths. Lal Chand, the neighbor's ten year old, smokes beedis imitating his mother's heavy puffs.

I haven't seen much alcohol in the village. According to Nand Ram many years ago Rajasthan was declared a "dry" state. This restriction lasted for three years. During that time his father and others in Shreeji ka Kheda brewed their liquor from sweet jaggery. As expected, many brewers became heavy drinkers, Nandram's father being one of them. "We no longer make liquor here," he says, "but drink occasionally."

Habitual drug usage quite possibly contributes to the high male mortality rate. Working at the mines and smoking a few joints seems a surefire way to weaken one's lungs. There's not much interest in quitting such practices. Parents don't stop their children from downing sachets of Miraj, powdered tobacco. Like those before them, they are building a prematurely aged generation.

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