Now that the Udta Punjab hullabaloo has died down and everyone knows about the Punjab drug issue, let’s talk about the rest of India where the drugs and alcohol problem is also prevalent.
Recently I spoke to my niece Aiyana in my old home town Lucknow. When I was living there it was quiet, conservative and rather dull. None of us had access to drugs or alcohol and we spent our days studying and gossiping. But all this has changed in 2016. As my niece tells me that in a reputed college hostel in Lucknow, everyone has access to marijuana and almost everyone consumes alcohol.
In her words, “Even if we don’t want to drink there’s so much pressure to fit in that we succumb to it. Otherwise we’ll be called losers.”
She also says that there are some who “smoke up” the entire day but are brilliant at studies. Their parents don’t care as long as they get the marks at the end of the year.
I just came back from an Under 25 Lit Fest in Bangalore. When I met the youngsters they were all brimming with excitement and enthusiasm. The founders were 21 years old. The volunteers ranged from 19 to 24. They were all bright, motivated and focussed. But when I began speaking to one of them Tarun and began discussing the Udta Punjab issue he said, “It’s not just in Punjab, it’s here in Bangalore too.”
When I probed a little further he opened up to say that alcohol was at a reasonable price and weed was even cheaper. Everyone had it.
“But why?” I asked in confusion and a concerned forty year old aunty tone.
“To celebrate sometimes, to take the pressure off most times, to get away from the depression largely…” Tarun ruminated.
“What would you be depressed about? You have an entire future ahead of you. You don’t have a stale marriage, responsibilities of kids, EMIs of a house or wrinkles to worry about,” I said.
He laughed. “We have other issues. Mainly relationship issues. Studies pressure. Lack of a future in this country. Corruption. No money.”
When I told him to explain more he said, “Mostly girls and guys cheat on each other and they become depressed. Some get into a commitment too fast and then realise they don’t want it. So they break up. By that time the other person has fallen for them and is heartbroken. So alcohol becomes a way to get away from it and soon it becomes an addiction.”
“What about drugs?” I asked.
“Everyone has it, knows where to get it and uses it. It’s mild though. Some of us don’t use it at all. And we rarely drink. But there is pressure to be part of a group and we all hang out and drink or smoke. It’s easy.”
That night I went to sleep pondering about why these youngsters were unable to move on in their relationships. After all there were so many apps that could help you move on! After a full eight hours of sleep, I awoke the next morning and spoke to one of the volunteers and asked if they got enough sleep as well. (Yes I realise I’ve become an aunty) She replied that everyone was working till one in the morning. To which I said, “Oh so you got six –seven hours of rest. Good good!”
She laughed and replied, “We finished working at one but went drinking till four (am). We’ve got two hours of sleep. But we’re all very eager.”
Later I looked for signs for who went drinking and who slept and I couldn’t make out at all. All the volunteers were on their toes, smiling and working through the day.
Then I figured that this generation uses everything including alcohol as an escape. Apps that help you get over a relationship by finding someone new to sleep with or alcohol that takes away the pain of being alone. And they all feel alone. The fact is they are a passionate lot of people. They are passionate about their relationships, work, studies, commitments, ideas, etc. And when there are hurdles along the way their passion dies as quickly as it was fuelled.
But why is this generation needing escape at all? And why do they need the drugs to focus when they have fertile minds that will allow them to do so anyway?
Aiyana in Lucknow says, “There is so much competition that just having a fertile mind isn’t enough. Sometimes the pressure is so high that the only way to release it is through marijuana or alcohol. It settles the over worked mind.”
There is a huge generation gap that is also occurring between youngsters who are between 18-26 and their parents. The demands of the parents to secure high percentages to get into college and then get employment, the ire of the parents when the child is having a relationship, the distrust, the judgements, the lack of communication is distancing the bond between the children and the parents. So these youngsters turn towards their friends and social media. Social media only has strangers and in a competitive world, the friends they rely on and the relationships they have become either too dependent or too toxic.
“My girlfriend cheated on me with my best friend,” revealed one youngster Shrey to me. “I lost not only the love of my life but also the person who I could turn to.” Shrey fell into depression and started drinking.
A young reader of mine came to me and asked, “Maam you give relationship advice. I want to be open with my parents and tell them about all my relationships but they only scold me and continuously tell me to stop seeing people and focus on my studies. How do I get through to them?”
In my own aunty way I replied, “You must understand their core issue as well. They’re scared that they you will lose focus and not do well. Once you assure them of that they will be fine with your relationships.”
To which she responded, “I have. I study a lot but I also need a personal life and I read books too. So what’s the harm of having a boyfriend? I want to be honest with them but they’re not getting me.”
Before I could respond my fellow young author friend said, “Lie. Your parents aren’t going to understand. YOLO.”
Reports show that “During 1992-2012, the per capita consumption of alcohol in India has increased by whopping 55%, the third highest increase in the world.” In a country where there is an increasing generation gap between the 60% of the population - the youth and the ones who can influence them – the older 40%, alcohol takes over as a counsellor. Another worrying trend from India is that the average age of initiation of alcohol use has reduced from 28 years during the 1980s to 17 years in 2007. In India alcohol abuse also amounts to huge annual losses due to alcohol-related problems in work places. Nearly 25% of the road accidents are under the influence of alcohol and it is also a significant risk factor for increased domestic violence. (http://indianexpress.com/article/india/india-others/alcohol-consumption-rising-fast-in-india-oecd-report/)
What is the solution to the alcohol crisis in India? Banning it will only lead to spurious alcohol which could be fatal for everyone. Lecturing about it could ostracise the people involved. And making it more expensive could lead to more crime as youngsters will find new ways of acquiring the money for it. Showing videos before films will only make the youngsters laugh.
Even putting a disclaimer in Bollywood movies when actors drink is not going to change the alarming statistic of the youth who drink.
The solution just may be simple.
1. Parents need to be trained to communication better with their teenage children, maybe through regular on campus workshops.
2. Counsellors who are non-judgmental and not too old in age on every campus who help the youngsters deal with their relationship issues.
3. Workshops on spirituality, healing and meditation on a regular basis with the youngsters made compulsory.
4. More sports facilities so the youth can be occupied with physical activities and good coaches to help them.
5. Role models from different spheres of life who can visit the campuses and speak about their own journey and influence them. 6. Maybe even online apps that can advise the youngsters about relationships their career opportunities and guide them.
Youngsters today need a guiding light. They need to know that marks aren’t everything and they will succeed even if they don’t get into a great college. They also need to know that it’s alright to have different relationships and move on from there instead of settling into depression because you were jilted or broke up.
A week ago I lost my cousin who was forty years old to alcoholism. She had been admitted to NIMHANS for rehab, she had also gone to a retreat to detox for a month a few years ago. Most days she was lucid. But alcoholism was a monster in her life which she could not control. It began in her college when she needed “just one drink.” Soon she needed more. When her boyfriend left her, she turned to alcohol even though she had supportive parents who spoke to her about the relationship and guided her in many ways to do various things in life. But alcoholism was a demon that refused to let go of its clutches. She died of multiple organ failure starting with her liver. Her parents are still heartbroken and wonder where they went wrong and what the purpose of her being in this world was!
The youth of India must understand that the problem and the solution lies within. You must believe in yourself. You must understand that even if there is corruption today, the country needs you to quell it out and make it better. You must know that dying young and living dangerously is not cool. No one will care or remember. The only way you can make a difference is to be proud of not fitting into this alcoholic culture. It may be the most difficult thing you’ll ever do but you’ll have a life that will be worth it.