Life was good. We had moved into the little hut in the jungle and were quite friendly with our landlords. Although we seldom saw her husband, the lady would come over and motion that she would like a beedie. Donna would happily pull a couple out of the pack and smoke one with her. They talked and talked, neither speaking the language of the other. But they laughed and seemed to understand as they told each other stories of the day.
Rule #1, Don’t Panic
We went to the chai shop each day, where a stream of carrom competitions, music, swimming, and calling out, “Bum bolenath,” continued. We had just loaded a chillum when someone pointed far up the beach and said, “Police are heading this way!” It would still be a good ten-minute walk before they arrived. Calmly, we wrapped our chillums and stash in plastic bags, dug holes in the sand, and buried them. We waited and watched as the police passed one chai shop and the next. They were coming directly to this chai shop!
Everybody was calm, paying little attention, as the five or six police officers entered the shop and looked around. The carrom game continued, and chai was ordered. One policeman pointed at a small duffle bag. “Who’s bag is this?”
The young man selling photocopied “Zapp!” comics raised his hand and said, “Mine.”
“Could you open it up, please,” the policeman asked.
“Sure,” he said, doing so without hesitation.
“And what is this,” the policeman asked as he pulled out a plastic bag with about twenty tolas of charas. A tola is about 10 grams. “I’m afraid you are under arrest.”
In India, “bak shish” means a small sum of money given as a tip, bribe, or charitable donation. This is a common practice in many countries and particularly in India. This was the moment for this young man to pay such a small sum to avoid serious trouble. Unfortunately, he was not so bright and decided this was an option he would not take. So, he looked the police officer right in the eyes and exclaimed, “No bak shish!”
The officer did not take kindly to the impertinence of the young man and ‘frog marched’ him to his rented hut in the back of the chai shop where they could talk to him in private. His girlfriend was horrified at the situation but was much more intelligent than he was and kept quiet. Occasionally we could hear the young man belligerently call out from the back, “No bak shish!”
The thing about bak shish is that the more people you add to the equation, the higher the payment cost. So, when they decided it was time to take him to the police station, the price of freedom continued to rise. What was once five payments perhaps doubled to ten.
Before leaving the chai shop, the police gave a few tolas to the shop owner. He had lost some business from the young man selling the charas in front of his shop and called the police. The officer then walked to the far end of the beach, giving the remainder of the charas to a chai shop with little to no business. Everybody was taken care of and happy; the police left with the young man.
We bought the confiscated tolas from the chai shop. Three of us then walked to the far end of the beach and made a deal for the rest. Everybody was cared for and happy, except the young man getting deeper into the system and into trouble.
Chillums and stash were dug back out of the sand. Life on Om Beach returned to a stream of carrom competitions, music, swimming, and calling out, “Bum bolenath.”
Still in Prison
We met his girlfriend some months later. He was still in prison. The police had confiscated his Endfield motorbike. The price of freedom had increased tenfold. She was still trying to get him out of prison, saying, “The only reason I’m doing this is so I can kill him!”
Next: Om Beach Continues