Sunday, October 14, 2007

Junk Babble

Junk transcends demand and supply, the pusher, the pimp and the product. It becomes the wide white line between unsure and cringing-at-death’s-door-dead sure. Junk decocts virile craving from limp desire and impotent curiosity. It needn’t know any rules – of biology, of hunger, or sex or conscience – for it is designed to never loose.

The only entity truly comparable to junk (the perfect product) is virus (the perfect parasite) - both pernicious, beguiling shape shifters. When alone and homeless, they exist as cold, inanimate crystals. It is if allowed to poison, that they become poison.
It makes little difference whether you call him a host or a user, for following inoculation, he ceases to matter. He is now just a medium. He becomes the virus, or the drug, and follows orders.

Though initially, he may be thrown scraps of life like euphoria or illness, as his breakdown blossoms, he eventually experiences nothing. Only a need to be filled. Like a vessel. He cannot defeat the drug or the virus. It shall leave him only if it wants. If it chooses not to, he is destined to die. In either case, it will be the same cold, lonely, emaciated death.

Yet when the medium is dead, they are not. They have already spawned and moved on. The body that was once home has been used and now outlived its purpose. And hence, like the virus, junk is immortal.

“Every dead body that is not exterminated gets up and kills. The people it kills get up and kill.” – The Gorillaz, Clint Eastwood

Junk is not some machine executing an algorithm of decay. It truly enjoys breaking you down. Somewhere, in someone, Junk is always working, and for it, everyday at the office is a good day. Each body bagged is a victory, every sickly surrender a cause for celebration. But like a smug, invincible sportsman, it extracts the most entertainment from the resistance of those who try not to be broken. Junk is moody, but the swings are predictable. It initially offers its respect and glory to someone who wants to go down with a fight. But its patronage is fleeting, and the subsequent retribution for wasting its time is humiliating.

William Burroughs was turned into both a legend and a pathetic example by Junk. Junky serves as his and his drug’s Bildungsroman. Intention is not the only reason it is a detached and factual account. It is also a fractured piece of writing because it precariously tries to weld together the exploits of its two characters – the user, and the chemicals that own him. At places Burroughs narrates, at others, he is forced to take dictation.

In return for his persecution, he is rewarded with a cruel yet honest education. Junk’s dropper-and-syringe tutelage enriches the mind and conscience of a man whom years of the best possible schooling had left wayward and confused. (“Junk is a cellular equation that teaches the user facts of general validity”)

For example, he is taught how at times, renunciation of effort is not just the best, but the only option “I have seen a cell full of sick junkies silent and immobile in separate misery. They knew the pointlessness of complaining or moving”.

How the most important and the worst job is often the same “The job of peddler was a sort of public service that rotated from one member of the group to another…….All agreed that it was a thankless job……As George the Greek said ‘You end up broke and in jail. Everybody calls you cheap if you don’t give them credit; if you do they take advantage’”.

And how the consequences of a man’s actions stalk and hunt him down “You don’t wake up one morning and decide to become a drug addict. It takes at least three months’ shooting twice a day to get any habit at all” “One morning you wake up sick and you’re an addict”

It is scarily magnificent, for all the right reasons.

I saw my first junky in my second year of college. He must’ve been about forty, had no legs, and only a right hand. He sat on a wooden cart in front of Bombay’s Churchgate station using an empty milk tin as a begging bowl. It’d clearly been weeks since he’d bathed and probably days since he’d eaten. He swore at everything that did or didn’t pass him by – at the people who spared loose change, at the people who didn’t, at the lice trampoulining in his hair, at the strays smelling him and barking at him, at God, at fate, at me. Even without what was to come, he was one of life’s more pathetic sights.

His stubborn outpouring of venom persuaded most to walk away. A lady ferrying her kids home from school decided to move on to the next stop and catch the bus from there. But I couldn’t go. It felt like one of those DiscoveryChannel moments, where the gnu walks up to the water’s edge to drink, and you just know a crocodile is going to lunge out of the Nile, clamp down on his neck and drown him – something was going to happen.

And it did. His peddler came. It was no Jesus-comes-to-the-lepers encounter. It was a cold mechanical transaction. There in full view of anyone bothering or daring to look, the pusher took a vial of Ketamine out of his front pocket and snapped it open. He loaded it into a hungry syringe the legless one had waiting. The needle was then plunged into the beggar’s one remaining limb, and emptied. The beggar melted – slowly, warmly turning into a bag of skin filled with liquid joy, just barely holding on to the human form. His peddler, meanwhile, emptied the milk tin of its change and walked off. All of this in less than 90 seconds.

It was magnificently scary, for all the wrong reasons.

Given a choice, I would have stayed and watched him as he lay prostate on his cart, smiling at the sky, now unmindful of the stray licking his leaking vein. But I had a train to catch.

I tried searching for him on subsequent trips to Bombay, but he was never there again. In all honesty, he’s almost definitely dead, and it’s not like he’s taken some shade of the great watercolour with him to the grave. You can rest assured, his place in the chemical chain has already been taken. Three-stump lives on though. He features in one of the more believable recurring nightmares in my head, wedged between some stuff from The Ring and the one time I saw a horse drown.

As for Burroughs, towards the end of Junky he claimed to have defeated junk. He committed the grave mistake of gloating – “The decision to quit junk is a cellular decision, and once you have decided to quit you cannot go back to junk permanently any more than you could stay away from it before”. Burroughs went off in search of a telepathy inducing herb supposedly used by the Russians in slave labour experiments. His wife left him, as did most of his sanity for a large period of time. Junk hunted him down in Tangier and nearly drove him irreparably mad. Rehab happened, and he wrote again, but I’m pretty sure he’d never write like Junky. Much like the three-stump’d beggar, he’d been gifted 158 pages worth of immortality, been used and thrown away.

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