The Waltz of Maria and Juan!

Every town or city, has its own USP or its claim to fame. But the quaint little Military Cantonment that we were posted to straight out of Medical School had no such redeeming features

 The Waltz of Maria and Juan!
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Lt Gen U K Sharma, AVSM (Retd)

Every town or city, however small or big, has its own USP or its claim to fame. But the quaint little Military Cantonment that we were posted to straight out of Medical School had no such redeeming features.

Located almost at the edge of the plains of North Assam, it was actually quite a few kilometers even from the foothills of the Great Eastern Himalayas, and quite some distance away from the mighty Brahmaputra in its south. There was almost nothing to write home about because the town even got its name from a small village abutting the cantonment. Otherwise, it didn’t even qualify as a town.

Did I say there was nothing to distinguish it? I forget that it was perhaps the most lit up place on the entire miserably slow route of the then Arunachal Fast Passenger, and yes, it had a famous Transit Camp.

Life sometimes got so dull that my friend Kris Rau had taken to calling up the Duty Clerk of the Transit Camp every morning as a ritual, to enquire if an officer of AMC had checked in the previous night. If the answer was a yes, he would immediately ask if the officer was from Armed Forces Medical College. That occasional occurrence was celebrated with a whoop and a dash to my office to announce the event. The Mess Havildar of our tiny Mess was immediately instructed to jazz up the menu. Another chicken in the nearby village was sacrificed to celebrate the special occasion.

It was therefore a very special day when we heard that a college mate of ours and a very intimate friend, Captain Cinereous was in the transit camp and hotly arguing with the Duty Clerk for an appropriate accommodation in the Transit Officers’ Mess. Kris rushed to the Transit Mess in an ambulance, horns blaring to bodily move Cinereous to our Mess.

Someone called up Col Dee Pee, our Commanding Officer to know if all was well. I was summoned to Col Dee Pee’s office to explain what the commotion was all about. We broke off early that day from the hospital, and reached the Mess. After excited bear hugs and High Fives, beers were opened and some very animated conversations got going. The cook got ample time to make it a very special lunch. The Mess Havildar came and whispered in Kris Rau’s ears at least twice before he was permitted a good hour later, to carry out his drill of “Bhojan prastut hai Shrimaan!”

Cinereous regaled us with his tales of the ‘field’. He was actually located at high altitude and was roaming the entire sector on numerous temporary duties. For us plainsmen, he was a hero. He had to answer some very dumb questions from the two of us, and he could really embellish his tales with some hyperboles to keep the excitement going. We had almost nothing to contribute.

Suddenly, he shot a question at us, “Can’t we find some grass growing here?” I said, “Of course we can” and pointed to the luxuriant growth of elephant grass in the central square which was once the Mess Lawns. He gave me a withering look and said, “Weed, man! Hashish! Cannabis! Hemp! Marijuana!’ We both looked askance and felt rather stupid.

“Allow me!” said Cinereous, and walked out of the Mess on a recce. We followed him sheepishly. Right behind my room, a place I had never been, he shouted “Paydirt!”

There was dense foliage of plants with shiny seven-leaf clusters growing just behind my rear window. I asked hesitantly “Weed?” “Yes Sir! Of the finest kind” said Cinereous.

He then taught us how rubbing our palms from the foot to the top of the plant a few times would get plenty of the plant’s resinous dark liquid on our hands. But, he said, that is a very laborious process even to make a single ‘joint’. Instead, he plucked two fistfuls of the clusters and marched back into the room. We could only follow.

“Do you guys have a table lamp?” asked Cinereous. I quickly provided mine. The lamp shade was turned facing the ceiling and packed with the leaves. The lamp was switched on. In about 10 minutes, the room was filled with a faintly sweet, familiar odour and the leaves were toasted to a crisp.

They were taken out of the lamp shade and crushed to a brown powder. A cigarette was produced, emptied of its tobacco and filled again with the powdered leaves admixed with tobacco. ‘What are the little white balls in there?” I asked out of curiosity. “These are buds of the Marijuana plant. Potent stuff!” replied Cinereous.

Joint rolled, it was ceremonially lit. A deep drag on the joint, and the familiar smell wafted out with the exhaled smoke. Cinereous looked pleased, a beautiful expression of happiness on his face. And that’s when the glow of the joint reached the buds and in true North Assam fashion, they literally exploded with loud pops on his moustache and his shirt.

It was the moisture inside the buds that turned into steam and caused those explosions. Half his moustache went up in a small flame and we had a difficult time brushing the embers off his Shirt Angola Drab. It was riddled with punctuate holes.

We were worried for Capt Cinereous and his shirt but couldn’t stop laughing either. And that is how the Waltz of Maria and Juan ended that party!

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