Chasing Blue Skies: My Stint in Rehab

First Person

Chasing Blue Skies: My Stint in Rehab

Illustration: Namaah/ Arré

O

n July 1, 2012, the night after I crashed my Gypsy into a wall after blacking out, I decided to give up drinking. Again.

In my 22-year tryst with vodka, I had done the rounds of rehab. I’d been inside several depressing, windowless rooms and spent hours lying on many hard iron cots, behind locked tin doors through which the sounds of violent clashes between desperate inmates and ruthless staff would come at me. The last centre I was admitted to at Neb Sarai had a window with iron bars. It overlooked squat buildings, electric wires strung from pole to pole on which pigeons sat sagely. I have spent days staring at those birds, hoping one of them would get electrocuted and die.

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New centres had mushroomed on the outskirts of Delhi, in the arid hinterlands of the NCR. These weren’t clinics run by doctors; they were just farmhouses devoid of booze and drugs where like freshly washed linen, you were hung out to dry. I was done with dark rooms. All I wanted was a bit of sky.

I checked in pissed drunk. A bottle of Smirnoff downed in less than three hours. Samir sat and watched me waste myself quietly and then drove me to Naya Din*, one such farmhouse which masqueraded as a de-addiction centre, late that warm July night. My husband wasn’t a fan of rehab. The whole business was too dark for him. When he finally decided to clean up, it was quick and ruthless. He went cold turkey at home one fine winter morning.

After Sam left, I crawled into my first-floor room and passed out. In the morning, my bleary eyes opened to a mild sun spilling on a cement floor. Outside, all was quiet. The rooms arranged around the courtyard were locked; their inmates were attending class. A reedy boy was cleaning up the rooms. Inside the small, dark area, I could see multiple beds crammed up against each other with barely any space to walk. I thanked God (and Sam) for the “deluxe category” booking. It wasn’t much, just a single bed and a nightstand but at least I was alone and there above the courtyard was the open, blue sky.

Naya Din was run by two heavyset Haryanvi Jats – Vish and Laala – the kind who wore massive steel kadas on their hairy forearms. Their set up didn’t have any doctors and only offered a lock-up of sorts where you were interred until the will to drink or take a hit left you. They allowed no contact with the outside world. Once inside Naya Din, you were lost to the world until those who had put you in came back to reclaim you.

I hated the idea. I had to negotiate hard for weekly visits from Sam. Vish and Laala had given in only because I was a voluntary admission. And also, because they were a little stymied by the idea of a graying, elderly woman as an alcoholic.

The first few days passed with ease. The place was filled with boys from lower-income backgrounds, struggling to recover from heroin addiction. With my shock of white hair, I was quite the sight. While the other boys stared at me in silence, not knowing what to make of a woman as old as their mothers, two of them came up and asked me outright. “How did you land up here?” One was a skinny 19-year-old fellow named Prakash, the other a 20-year-old called Mohan. I laughed and told them that grey hair was no guarantee against stupidity.

Mohan and Prakash both lived in the common dorms with the other addicts, sweating it out in a stillborn monsoon, as they battled their demons. Like most others, they too had been picked up and forced into rehab at the behest of their despairing families, tired of all the stealing and violence that came with addiction. They had handed their sons over to Vish and Laala to do whatever was necessary to reform them, with very little idea about what de-addiction from hard drugs actually involved.

I would chat with the kids late into the nights, sharing my bounty of cigarettes and gum. They were sweet boys, trying hard to make up for their mistakes. Mohan wore a look of perpetual hope on his face. He had become fixated on the idea of that phone call which would set him free. He’d been inside for six months.

Prakash, the more vocal of the two, told me about Vish’s violent streak, the brutal punishments meted out to the inmates, but I didn’t wholly believe him. Addicts are shrewd and manipulative people. Nobody knew that better than me. So I nodded along.

It wasn’t until I saw Vish slap one old cleaner that I would begin to believe that something was going very wrong under my patch of blue sky.

***

Our days had a fixed rhythm. We woke up at the crack of dawn. After tea, exercise, some cleaning, and breakfast, we sat in class for lectures – counseling and writing sessions. I skipped as many as I could.

After the first-week honeymoon was over, I spent the day in the throes of withdrawal, feverish to the point of hallucination. My limbs ached at night and I had started dreaming about iced vodka. Sometimes the boys howled into the nights cursing their families, crying out for their wives and mothers. On those nights, time would slow down further. I would smoke standing at my little window, thinking about the seemingly innocent choices we made on our way to addiction and how twisted the path on the way out was. I’d spent the best years of my life battling addiction, and for these boys and their families, the fight had just begun.

How many men like him languished inside this place? How many such farmhouses posing as de-addication centres existed in this no man’s land?

By the end of my second week, the worst was over; the withdrawal symptoms had ceased. When I woke up one morning without the unbearable weight of the day on my chest, I knew I was on the mend. I heard some commotion down in the courtyard. Prakash, Mohan, and a few other boys were standing shirtless in the hot August sun. They were being slapped heavy-handedly by Laala. I shouted at Laala but he turned a deaf ear to me. The boys stood there quietly, their backs turning a furious red. Their crime – they were caught hatching an escape plan.

That night, I wanted a drink desperately. My heart was aching for these boys and the terrible situation they were in. Inside this vault, they were at the mercy of two Haryanvi thugs, who would brutishly beat them up; they had nowhere to go. I felt rage toward their families, which had left them there and hadn’t looked back. In the three weeks since I had checked myself in, four new boys were brought here but nobody left. Did these families even want their boys back or had they paid to bury their problems in this godforsaken farmhouse and moved on with their lives? I still wonder.

In my fourth week at the centre, a short, stout guy was brought in. Tears rolled down his eyes, as he pleaded to be let go. He kept saying that he had never touched a drink or taken drugs. He spoke about his wife and how frantic she would be. For days, I refused to believe his bullshit. I finally asked him what had conspired. Vijendra, it turned out, was a Gujjar who fell in love with a Muslim girl, who his family refused to accept. The couple moved to another part of Delhi and got married. But the family tracked them down and promised that they would accept the marriage, if he came back home.

When he returned, a few bouncers were waiting for him. They picked him up and brought him, far away from Delhi, into this unmarked farmhouse, where addicted sons and inconvenient lovers could be made to vanish. How many men like him languished inside this place? How many such farmhouses posing as de-addication centres existed in this no man’s land? Did anyone hear the voices of these lost men?

The next day, I asked for a visitation from my husband. In the small waiting room decorated with plastic roses and a mute television screen playing old Bollywood numbers, I quickly whispered Vijendra’s story to him. I asked Sam to get in touch with the wife and give her this location.

The following day, while we were in class, two local policemen knocked on the door, accompanied by Vijendra’s wife – a slight girl wearing a hijab. As she wailed and rushed into to her husband’s arms, Vish and Laala quickly handed Vijendra over without a fuss, claiming he’d come in voluntarily. Vijendra protested, so did his wife, accusations were hurled but no case of kidnapping was lodged.

***

Vish and Laala, I would later realise, deep sixed many men and not once did the cops come for them. The law had been adequately compensated for perpetuating these disappearances.

I don’t know if Mohan or Prakash ever left the farmhouse, but I know that Naya Din and countless other unregulated “de-addiction” centers still exist. They continue to shine as beacons of hope for desperate families and in the glare of this blinding light, terrible things are done.

I started drinking two months after I left Naya Din, but I never went back to rehab. Even with a patch of blue sky, I realised, there was no escaping darkness.

*Name changed

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