Experiment with tobacco
It was in 1970, I was 9 years old and was studying in class II, my father wanted me to attend a private school some 2 hours’ walk from our village at Diklai. We usually got about two months summer holidays and my father wanted me to take extra lessons to be able to top the class. To reach Diklai we had to cross a river which had a huge log of timber laid across it for a bridge. The children from this village had difficulty in attending the only village school which was situated at Dalim, about 3 hours walk. Probably that was the reason for setting up of that private school. The school was a mere shabby shed of thatch roof with bamboo mats as walls, large enough to accommodate around 30 children. There were no rooms for different classes so everyone attended the same class, a multi-grade style. There was just one teacher who may not have had any qualification beyond the sixth standard. Whatever it was, I had to attend that school along with a cousin brother Chakra Bahadur Thapa.
During one of the classes at Diklai, I saw a student of my age taking khaini (chewing tobacco). I knew for sure it was tobacco but I could not imagine a boy of nine taking it regularly. I had seen my father taking khaini but he was an adult and probably it was right for him to indulge in that habit; but a boy doing that was unimaginable!
I had seen how my father used to procure his quota of khaini. He used to buy long leaves of dry tobacco from Assam and it was processed manually into palatable ‘khaini’. I had almost mastered the art of processing it, for I had assisted my father on many occasions. The leaves were chopped finely, some lime (calcium carbonate) was added and it was rubbed vigorously between the palms, occasionally sprinkling water onto it. When done, it used to be packed in an air tight long cylindrical container with a sallower compartment on the other end for some extra lime. On numerous occasions I had helped him process the ‘khaini’ but it never occurred to me that I should try. To me, tobacco chewing was the privilege only the adults were entitled to.
However, when this classmate of mine took it so casually I got interested too. I asked him why he was taking it and he said that it gave him some sort of pleasurable sensation. He also asked me if I wanted to try. At first I hesitated but later I thought, why not? We were sitting right at the back of the class and the teacher was quite unaware of what was going at the back. That boy took out a small polythene pouch from his shorts’ pocket gave me a pinch of tobacco from it on my palm. I had seen my father holding the tobacco between the forefinger and the thumb, and almost imitating him in my imagination, I did the same thing. I took the entire amount between my forefinger and thumb of the right hand, with the left hand I parted my lower lip from the gums and made a receptacle to hold the tobacco and carefully placed it there. As directed, I was to keep the tobacco there until all the ‘juices’ got extracted. Slowly I could feel the bitter and strong taste of tobacco flooding the floor of my mouth. I had the urge to spit but I had to experience the pleasure and I was not supposed to spit out. I swallowed about ten millilitre of oral secretion dressed with tobacco juice with utmost difficulty. The next swig was not so bad but within no time I started experiencing some strange feelings. My head started reeling, I was feeling tremulous and my limbs became listless. I was nauseated and would vomit any moment. I wanted to get up but my feet were too weak by then. I took the help of my hands and with great effort stood up, swaying back and forth. I gathered courage to request the teacher to go out. I said I was feeling unwell. I barely managed to reach a spot just out of earshot for other to hear me retching, and brought out everything! The khaini came first followed by the rice and buttermilk I had for breakfast and then the gastric juices; when nothing was left inside, the bitter bile came out! I was totally exhausted but slowly I started feeling better in the sense that my head was stable, the tremulousness had gone by then and I regained the strength in my limbs. That was almost near death experience to me!