Interview with "Prem Baba"
'Prem Baba' is the alias for a villager from Lapas who we have recruited into our collective. In 2022 he made some selections for us from the fields around the village and from the plants surrounding his house. He agreed to do an interview with us to share with you.
Z: Baba, where are you from and how old are you? P: I was born in Lapas village 67 years ago.
Z: You speak fantastic English. Where did you learn? P: At school and with tourists in here Parvati. Also Goa, Pushkar when I was younger...
Z: Ah those are pretty specific places.. Up to no good? Prem Baba: I was packing charas sometimes and take it to places like Delhi, Goa, Pushkar when I was a young man. But then I have problems with police and I stop that business. Small money, small business and shanti is better... Focus on my farm and my family. That's where my heart is.
Z: How long have you been growing? P: I have been growing for almost 50 years now
Z: Can you tell me about your experience growing landrace cannabis in Lapas village, Prem Baba? P: I have been farming landrace cannabis and making charas all my life. It's local culture that has been passed down to me by my father and ancestors before him. We are very proud in growing maal, it's a sacred plant for our community.
Z: Can you tell me about any unique or distinctive characteristics of the landrace cannabis grown in Lapas village? P: The maal in Lapas village is known for being full of oil. Sargi Top is the best location for growing maal in Lapas village. The Charas from Lapas has a good taste like lemons and mango. Fruity. Our charas is the best in Parvati. That's why the old Italian foreigners come here every year since I was a child. Some of them even keep rooms in the village.
Z: Can you describe what your growing season looks like here? P: We clear the land and put the seeds in spring once the snow has melted. Charas rubbing season starts after monsoon once the plants are full of oil. The timing of the first rub depends on the weather. These last few years it has been very late and later every year.
Z: What was the season like this year in Lapas? P: It's OK. The monsoon arriving late and finish late. Very dry plants and not too much oil. The water isn't going into the soil. The time for making cream was very small.
Z: Where is the water going? P: The soil is too dry. Too much urea and chemicals. The water falls down the mountain very quickly. We have a lot of landslides. Before the fields were much smaller and there was more forest. The local people cut down the trees to make space for new land and put chemicals to grow more vegetables and apples.
Z: What about the new road to the village? P: Yes now with the road people are buying many "KGs" of chemicals in bhuntar to put in the gardens. Before it was too expensive to pay for carrying things to Lapas.
Z: Can you describe your earliest memories of charas? P: In my village charas was not just used for fun or medicine. I remember being a child and attending local festivals where charas was being shared. It was a bonding experience and it was also a way to connect with our ancestors.
Z: I'd like to hear more about your festivals - some say you have 'local gods' here in Parvati. What can you tell me about that? P: We have many festivals here in Parvati, most of them are related to our local gods and goddesses. They are the ones that protect us and our land. We have "Phuledi" during the sowing season, where we ask the goddess for a good harvest, and "Hadimba" in the spring, where we honour the goddess of the forest. These festivals bring the community together and are a time of joy.
Z: So how did you get started with making charas? P: I started making charas when I was a young boy my family. My father had fields and we would spend the all day during rubbing time at the small house next to the fields rubbing charas. When you are young your hands are smoother and the charas is more clean so most children help their families at a young age.
When I got older I wanted to make income aside from my family. One year I rubbed 5kg of jungli maal and took it to Pushkar. With the money that I made I came back to Himachal and hired some labourers to clear land for me to grow maal in my own field in Lapas. That season I rubbed 10kg of charas from my field and took it to Goa. I stayed there for some time going back to Himachal to make more charas only. Later I had some police problems in Delhi. I was selling charas in the tourist areas. After that I stop packing and doing business things. I opened my guesthouse and spend my time here in Lapas with my family. Its better.
Z: What was the price of Charas back then? P: Oh not much. Thirty years before one tola of cream is cost only fifty rupees.
Z: Is the quality better now or before? How did it change? P: Quality of charas depends on person. Before we make charas from the maal that grows wild on the mountain. We call this maal "jungli". These plants were very different, all and full of good taste and perfect feeling when you smoke. But then, the foreigners, Italians they come and only want "cream" and after people only want the cream. No one wants to smoke jungli maal. Only cream. To make cream takes a lot of time and hard work. You need to clear land to plant the seeds.
I like cream sometimes but not all the time. It is more pure and strong but jungli maal is better. Jungli maal is the best medicine.
Coming more and bigger gardens all over the mountain and the police started to make a big problem. They give many case to local people. The maal need to grow higher and higher to hide away from police. People go to jungle areas and cut the forest to grow maal. Now, also a lot of cheating people. Everyone want only money.
Z: What happens when the fields are replanted higher? P: It's a big problem. We have to move our fields higher up in the mountains and the weather becomes more unpredictable. We keep the jungli below and in the village there so we have something to cut down if the police forces us to.
Z: You mention "cheating people" - what do these people do? P: Some bad people are mixing charas. They put 'Dhoop' or whatever things they have inside to make the amount of charas bigger. This is bad business.
Z: What about the plants - have you noticed any change? P: Yes. Before we need less plants to make the same amount of charas. Before there was more oil on the plants. Now the fields are so big...
Z: Has anyone ever brought seeds from another country or part of India here? P: Yes. Some times people buy seeds from market in Kullu because not enough seeds after bad season. But every year mostly jungli is growing. If we stop planting the fields all will be jungli because too much jungli maal around. I keep seeds inside my house thirty "KGs" always. Then if problem I have too much seeds. One guy Italy bring seeds to me from Amsterdam. The plants were not healthy and died. Our Lapas maal is better.
Z: Can you tell me about the selections you made for Zomia? P: When I rub I take plants from one garden at a time. I wake up early, walk to the upper and select my plants. I take them back to my house, take a shower, breakfast, shanti and then I spend the day rubbing in my house. When I rub the seeds fall down on the floor and I collect them. Then I thresh them and put them in the container.
Z: So where did the seeds you gave us come from? P: Gunguni Dhar, Sargi Top and from my house. Always if I see a special plant I put the seeds in my home garden next year. Then I can make first quality cream every year.
Z: Why did you choose those fields? P: Sargi Top is the main fields. Very big fields. Most Lapas maal in Manikaran comes from there. Gunguni Dhar is best fields. Upper fields. The maal there is very best taste and quality.
Z: Is there anything that you'd like to share with cannabis farmers in other places? P: Growing maal is not just about making money, it is about preserving our culture and way of life.
Z: Thank you for sharing your knowledge and experience ji. P: I am happy to share our tradition and knowledge with others.