In 1996 I worked as a musician aboard a cruise ship. One of our exotic ports of call was Bombay, India.
We stayed in Bombay (Mumbai) for a few days, which gave us time to get of the ship and get around. Usually, we would find a local taxi or guide who would escort us around to see all the sights.
My friend went out on the first day and made the aquaintence of a local driver who called himself Billy. Billy took us off one morning to show us around. We weren’t really interested in the typical sightseeing so much – so Billy gave us the alternate tour.
The most memorable stop on our tour was a crematory and grave yard. We walked in not knowing where we were being led – and the first thing I noticed was a feeling of great stillness. I don’t know how else to describe the feeling except as if time stopped for a bit. There were piles of firewood, a large scale, and large metal things that looked like outstretched chaise-lounges many feet up off the ground. After being asked to leave a small donation, we were told the extra large chaise-lounges held dead bodies for cremation, and the scales were to weigh the body to determine how much firewood was required to burn it. There were birds I recognized to be some kind of vulture or buzzard perched on the walls of the open air facility.
We spent a while taking all of this in until Billy motioned we should follow him. We walked out of the crematory area through an opening into a very lush and old looking cemetary. Billy explained this was where Muslim people were buried becuase their religion does not allow cremation.
Billy took a drink from a bucket of water set on a table nearby, and looked at us with a smirk, inquiring if we’d like some too. He knew we wouldn’t drink out of that bucket, so it was all a big joke for him and we laughed.
Next we went around a corner and sat down on a bench where the caretaker’s shed must have been. Several very polite Indian gentlemen came out and sat down with us. One of them pulled out a chillum, which is a cone shaped pipe used to smoke hashish. Another produced a strip of gauze. Billy borrowed a cigarette from my friend and took it apart, cupping the tobaco in his hand. He then broke off a chunk of hashish from a much larger piece, and using his hands as a blender mixed it all together with the tobacco. This went into the pipe, the gauze was placed over the other end and each person had a drag, each moving the gauze down a few inches before they passed it on. The effect was rather instantaneous and quite profound.
So there we were, sitting with a bunch of Indian guys, in Bombay, at a crematorium, in the graveyard, smoking hash. There wasn’t anything negative about it. It was a cultural experience to be quite honest. These guys definitely had a different outlook on life, death, work, and most everything else we thought we knew so much about.
After parting company with our new friends, we went to an Indian restaurant. In India. Where I had Indian food for the very first time. Stoned.
I’ve been sober for over five years now, motivated by a variety of reasons. But let me tell you… smoking never got any better than that.