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#10 That Night With The Smoke up Supreme

We keep hearing about legends that often sound strange, fascinating or sometimes absurd to us. We usually don’t believe in them. Sometimes we even laugh at them. However, deep down, there’s a child in us that wants these legends to exist. Deep down, we want our world to be a lot more than what we see around us.

My days in Pune had many landmark moments and a few of them involved meeting interesting people. In fact, on my second day in the city, there was a girl I met during an interview who later dragged me into a café and gave me life lessons without even telling me her name. Among those interesting people I met in Pune, there was one who was part of a legend. A legend called Smoke Up Supreme.

The training for my new call center job was in rotating evening shifts. This meant I would get free from work post-midnight. The office cab dropped me at 1:30 AM and I used my key to silently enter the apartment. An empty, messy hall welcomed me as I walked in. Like most nights, my flatmates Irbaz and Chayan had yet another ‘smoke up party’. I switched off the TV, picked the empty beer bottles scattered on the floor and while keeping them aside wondered if I made a mistake moving into this apartment.

After bagging the job, I began looking for a place to live in Pune. My office was in Yerwada and I was suggested to look for a place in Koregaon Park. There was a real estate broker who connected me to Irbaz and Chayan. They lived in E block of a society in Lane C called Famous Heights 2. They were looking for a flatmate who can reduce their rent burden. No security deposit or excess money was required for a spacious apartment that had huge windows with Mula-Mutha River view. Also, it had iconic places like Osho International Meditation Resort and German Bakery at a walking distance. I had no reason to say no.

A couple of weeks later I realised that their whole purpose of having me in the apartment and reducing the rent burden was to buy more weed. I was okay with their smoking up but it was all new for me - a departure from the usual family life that I had lived back in Indore. They had a lot of, as they called them, ‘smoke up buddies’. Random guys kept showing up in our apartment with seal pouch full of marijuana. They always sat in a circle, pass the joints and get high. The smoke up buddies would invite more of their smoke up buddies into our apartment and this little cult initiated by my flatmates kept growing.

I never tried smoking up with them, but would sit and listen to their post-high conversations. Not only was I absorbing the cultural shock, but also the knowledge about weed, all kinds of drugs and the bizarre stories around them. It was then that I first heard about Smoke Up Supreme. Through those post-high conversations, I got to know that he lived in Lane Five of Koregaon Park, he rolled perfect joints and had the best tricks to get the right high. The great anecdotes and weed stories he would narrate during smoke up parties added to his fan following. His reputation among weed smokers of Koregaon Park got me curious to meet him.

I entered into one of the rooms and saw Chayan and Irbaz sleeping at either ends of the bed. They had not even changed into a nightdress. I went into the other room, looking for a place to sleep, but found a guy standing next to the bed. He silently studied an empty Old Monk Rum bottle. I walked up to him, but he still did not acknowledge my presence in the room. I had to clear my throat loudly to gain his attention.

“Bro, what if I refill this bottle with freshly brewed rum, will it still be an old monk? Or it would then be a young monk?” He asked in all seriousness.

“Um… I don’t…” I was searching for words to reply. His half-open, red eyes gave me the notion that he was high.

“Who are you, by the way?” He asked, without being bothered about my opinion on old or young monks.

“I am Rihaan. I live here with Irbaz and Chayan,” I said.

“Who’s Irbaz and Chayan,” he mumbled and wasn’t sure if he even knew them. “Anyway, do you know how to ride a bike?” He asked another question.

“Yeah, I can ride, why?”

“I am hungry, bro. I want to have Bhurji Pav,” he said.

“I don’t know if there will be a place that’ll serve at this hour…”

“Outside railway station, bro,” he interrupted me.

“Oh, I am new in Pune, so I don’t really…”

“Come,” he interrupted me again, “I’ll introduce you to world’s best Burji Pav,” he said and started walking, “don’t forget to carry your office ID card.”

His rate of speech was ridiculously slow and his words were a bit slurred. Understanding what he said required concentration. I wouldn’t have joined him otherwise, but my desire to sleep died when I noticed potato chips garnished all over the bedsheet. Also, the idea of a plate full of Bhuri Pav ignited my hunger. We reached at the society parking and he handed me the keys to a white old bike with multiple scratches all over its body.

“Do you have all the documents of this vehicle? In case cops stop us to check?”

“You don’t worry about that, bro. No one messes with the Smoke Up Supreme,” he said. I was a bit startled when I realized it was him. Suddenly, I looked at him with a tinge of respect in spite of his unkempt beard, messy hair, untidy hoodie he wore and his strange body language.

“Oh, finally I met you. I have heard so much about…”

“Start the bike, bro. I feel like a freedom fighter on a hunger strike,” he said and chuckled over his own joke, completely ignoring my enthusiasm.

Throughout the ride to the railway station, the only thing he said was “left” or “right”. Though, the loud engine noise from his bike made up for the silence. We reached outside Pune railway station and a series of Burji Pav vendors tried to lure us into eating at their cart.

“Stop at the cart with least customers,” he said.

“Usually people eat at places with more customers,” I said and stopped at a cart with only one customer who was eating boiled eggs.

“They all serve almost same taste,” he said while getting off, “I try to balance the universe,” he said. I understood much later what he meant by that.

The Bhurji Pav was served. He kept taking big bites and chewed like a cow. The Bhurji kept overflowing and falling off his mouth once in a while. He kept eating silently and staring at the empty road. I was done eating in no time but he ordered another plate with a few extra Pavs. I let him take his time to eat and meanwhile, wondered why everyone looked up to him and called him Smoke up Supreme. The way I saw it, he behaved exactly like any other doofus that entered our apartment.

He paid his share and asked me to pay for mine. I sat on the bike, assuming we’ll go back to the apartment but that wasn’t the case. He asked me to stop the bike outside an old building at the end of that road. The shops in that building looked closed for years. I could only see one shutter at the corner shop in the basement that was half-open. Two guys in vests were arranging carton boxes and big, white parcels outside the shop. The Supreme took the bike keys from me and opened the dickey to pull out a heavy black pouch.

“Come,” he said as he walked towards that basement shop.

I took nervous steps to follow him. He greeted the two guys and told them that I am with him. We walked into the shop and a chemical like smell hit my nose. As we walked further, it appeared to be a parcel transportation setup. The white parcels and cartons were stacked all over the place, leaving only a narrow area for people to walk by.

“Where are we going?” I nervously asked.

“To meet Sikka Bhai,” he said. I had vaguely heard that name in one of those post-high conversations in one of the smoke up parties in my apartment. I wanted to ask more but chose not to.

There was a small entrance at the end of the shop that connected to the adjacent one. Supreme then greeted everyone on our way to the shady cabin of Sikka Bhai. I pictured Sikka Bhai to be like a typical Bollywood villain. Potbellied, unbuttoned shirt with fluorescent coloured netted vest peeping out. I also imagined the gold chain, rings and a scar on his face. However, when we walked inside, I saw a slightly overweight, sharp looking man wearing a formal shirt and pant. The groomed moustache and beard only added to his neat look. There was also a suit jacket hanging on the chair. It was as if he was about to attend one of those high-class corporate board meetings.

“Supreme! Where have you been?” I suppressed my laughter the moment Sikka Bhai uttered his first words. His accent was exactly like a typical Bollywood villain. They exchanged a hug. Sikka Bhai gave me a curious look and then questioningly looked back at the Supreme.

“He’s a friend. Harmless. Don’t worry,” Supreme said and Sikka Bhai gave a trusting nod. Supreme then handed over that heavy black pouch to Sikka Bhai. I heard clanging and guessed that the pouch was full of coins. “Same quantity,” Supreme said, while Sikka Bhai unzipped and checked the pouch. He nodded and moved his eyes to instruct one of his workers there.

For the next fifteen minutes, the only sound we all could hear in that cabin was of coins being dropped on top of each other as the worker counted them. Once the counting was over, the other worker appeared with an identical black pouch. Supreme unzipped it, dug his nose inside and sniffed hard. That was the first time I saw him smiling. The hugs were exchanged and we were on our way out. Supreme opened the dickey of the bike and placed the pouch. He then drew an ID card and wore it around his neck.

“Where do you work?” I asked and tried to look at the company name on his ID.

“Nowhere, bro. This is a fake. Police won’t check the dickey if we both appear to be going back home from the office,” Supreme explained.

I felt relieved once we safely reached Famous Heights 2. Police didn’t stop us. It was 4:30 AM already. While Supreme was checking that black pouch again, I noticed a couple sitting on the society bench, sharing a cigarette. I couldn’t help but notice the girl. She was stunningly beautiful. While I looked at her from the corner of my eyes, she leaned into the guy and they began kissing.

“Suvreen. She’s out of reach, bro,” Supreme said.

“Um… I wasn’t really…”

“She’s hot,” he interrupted me, “almost every man in this society fantasises about her, but not worth your time. She fucks that guy all day in her apartment,” he said. “Come, let’s walk, I’ll show you something a lot sexier.”

I still wasn’t sleepy. The night with him so far was scary, but weirdly intriguing. Less hesitantly, I followed him. He began walking towards a declining path right next to Famous Heights 2. For some reason, I had never walked in that direction to check where it leads. It was still dark; I was hesitant again, but kept walking anyway. A few steps later, I stopped and felt a chill run down my spine. I had walked into a small crematorium.

I noticed Supreme sitting on a bench at the side. I nervously walked further and sat next to him. When I looked in front, the chills disappeared and I felt a sense of clam restoring in me. The bench overlooked a beautiful view of Mula-Mutha River. Koregaon Park is situated along its banks due to which the area has a few crematoriums. While Supreme was rolling up a joint of his newly bought marijuana, I absorbed the view and smiled.

“You don’t talk much, bro,” Supreme slurred a while later and then clicked the lighter to light the joint.

“I… I talk. Just that, all of this is quite new to me. I am still trying to belong here,” I said.

“What place are you from?”

“Indore,” I said.

“Indore…” He thought for a second, “I’ve been to Indore once. It was three years ago when I had to visit Ujjain.”

“Yeah, it’s quite nice. Pune is great too, but…”

“It appears that you miss your people a lot,” he said.

“I think so. I thought I wouldn’t, but it seems that I am.”

“Do they miss you back?” He asked.

“All the time.”

“Then you’re lucky. Just give it some time, bro, you’ll be fine,” he said and puffed the joint hard.

“I am not sure if I will be. The culture here is either alien or confusing to me,” I said.

“Confusing?”

“There are many things -- like for example, right now I am still wondering why you paid him in coins? Just because his name is Sikka Bhai?”

“Because he gives slightly more quantity if you pay him in coins,” he jeered and puffed the joint again, “he tells people that coin payments are safer, but he told me the real reason once when he was drunk.”

“What was that?” I smiled.

“When he was a kid, he loved coins - still loves them. He told me that his ultimate dream is to dive in a money bin full of coins,” he laughed, “like Uncle Scrooge.”

“Ducktales?” I laughed along and he nodded.

“He began wearing suits because he wanted to look like mafias in Hollywood movies and not Bollywood ones,” Supreme added and I laughed harder.

“I was so looking forward to meeting you, but meeting Sikka Bhai was definitely a bonus!” I said.

“Looking forward to meeting me? Why?”

“Maybe you don’t know, but Irbaz, Chayan and all their smoke up buddies are your fans,” I said.

He laughed again, puffed the joint and exhaled the aromatic white cloud of smoke.

“These guys… they just like the idea of having someone to idealise. In reality, they know nothing. None of the really knows what it means to be The Smoke up Supreme,” he said.

“How did you get this name? There has to be a reason why this ‘weed community’ looks up to you so much.”

He looked at the river view for a few seconds, finished his joint and began rolling another one. I patiently waited for him to speak.

“Baba gave it to me when he came into my life. Or I should say, I went into his,” Supreme said and put the joint between his lips.

“Baba?” I asked and he nodded.

“I came to Pune for college and soon got into all kinds of drugs. I began doing it all - Cocaine, LSD, Ecstasy… you name it,” he said while the joint was still between his lips.

He lit the joint, puffed it hard and then began staring at its burning tip.

“I moved in Koregaon Park three years ago. Since day one, through the window of my new room, I began noticing an old man who lived right opposite my place. Every day, he would walk out of his old house; old plastic mattress tucked under his arm. He would spread it under the tree outside his house to sit; crush the cannabis leaves to put it in his chillum and then smoke up for hours. He did that every single day.”

He paused to puff the joint.

“The way he did his chillum, that intensity - it evoked a desire in me to smoke up with him. I walked up to him one day, asked if I can join and he welcomed me with open arms. I sat with him for days and smoked up with him. We talked about cannabis and the world around it. He gave me knowledge and wisdom that I possess today. I began calling him Baba. He fucking saved my life you know; by asking me to give up on other drugs and embrace cannabis forever,” he said.

“And you agreed?”

“I had to. No one says no to the Smoke up Supreme after all,” he said.

“But, you’re the Smoke up Supreme,” I corrected him.

“I am now. But at that time, he was.”

“I don’t understand,” I said and he looked at me for the first time since we were sitting on that bench.

“Smoke Up Supremes have been around for generations. It’s a mantle that keeps getting passed on as the time progresses,” he said in all seriousness.

I almost scoffed the moment he said that but chose to keep listening with a straight face. I tried to believe him harder as he continued.

“I remember that morning when Baba - the previous Smoke up Supreme asked me to summon all the guys in Koregaon Park who do weed. That night, he had arranged free marijuana for everyone. A lot of guys came to meet him under the tree outside his place. We all smoked up, introductions happened and that’s when he made an announcement.”

I could see a sense of pride in his eyes when he said that.

“He told everyone that many years ago, someone gave him the mantle of Smoke Up Supreme and in recent times, his dreams are indicating that it’s his time to pass on the mantle. He officially passed it on to me that night. Everyone in that ceremony was high and didn’t care about what Baba was saying. They only remembered the name and how cool it sounded to them.”

“You told me they don’t know what it means to be the Smoke Up Supreme…”

“…they don’t. This mantle comes with a price. When I did all kinds of drugs, my family tried hard to help me come out of it but eventually gave up on me. They accepted that I’ll die one day due to the drug overdose. I was a black spot on their dreams, religion and society. They decided to cut me off, let me stay here in Pune and just send me the money I need.”

I could hear his voice getting heavier.

“Now, I don’t do anything else except weed. I know weed won’t kill me. I might be socially more acceptable if I go back to my family, but I can’t,” he said.

“Why not?”

“There are promises I made to Baba and to the Gods. I have to fulfil those promises for the rest of my life,” he said.

“What promises? What Gods?” I asked in all seriousness. This was getting interesting.

He finished his joint, thought something for a while and shook his head.

“You already know a lot more than you probably should, bro,” he said and looked up the sky, “let’s just say… it’s an internal matter.”

I realised that he wasn’t willing to talk more about it. I didn’t insist. The morning light had begun to appear, ending that night with the Smoke up Supreme. The legend that I was told about that night sounded strange but also fascinating. Maybe it was just his weed talking, but deep down I was hoping that somewhere out there this legend exists. Deep down, I wondered about the promises, about the Gods he mentioned. Also, I often wonder who, in the future, he would pass on the mantle of the Smoke up Supreme.

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