He is a typical youth from Punjab’s Doaba belt. It has a substantial Dalit population, and unlike several other parts of India a large number of Dalits here are comparatively well-off in economic terms, which also makes them an assertive social force.

He is proud of the fact that he can understand and speak broken English. Above all Naman (not his real name) is gainfully employed, as assistant to his advocate father who has leftist leanings. Naman is in his late twenties, is married and has a schoolgoing son. He earns well validating affidavits in the local court as his father is licensed as an oath commissioner.

The man has been a substance user for several years and for some months has been going clean after a relapse. His story could represent the thousands of youth who have fallen prey to alcohol and drugs in Punjab.

“It all began during my school time. It started with alcohol and then came to charas and finally heroin and chitta. It was a routine getting the stuff from a source and heading to the tubewell motor room on the farm where I would have it either in the company of friends or by myself. I have chased, smoked and injected drugs for several years,” he recalls.

He has done two sessions at a private rehab centre to tackle his dependence. “I went there on my own after taking my family into confidence. It was a realisation that came under the influence of heroin, that I needed to take medical help if I wanted to live.

“Experiencing the withdrawals that came on the fourth day of my stay at the centre was the most painful experience of my life. I would have preferred death to that pain, discomfort and nausea. But after that I recovered,” he says.

This is a story almost every recovery addict can share. But it is the journey to the second stint that is most interesting, and sheds light on the very important sexual aspect of the substance problem that is hardly discussed at the rehab centres or seminars and workshops.

After his first recovery, his parents had thought it better to marry him off.

“Things went well for some days until one evening the thought led to craving and I was able to convince my wife to get me a bottle of whiskey lying in the house. I promised her I would consume it only in very small quantities over several days, but that was not to be. One drink led to another and the bottle was finally empty by dawn.”

“Then I started going to my group of friends who were using heroin and chitta. I would go and sit with them while they chased or smoked or injected the drug. There used to be rounds of gossip and jokes. This continued for 22 days, and then again I had the urge and fell prey to it.

“I had heroin that day after being incited by one of the friends. I came back home and had a desire to have sex with my wife. That was the occasion I got maximum satisfaction from the act, and I knew it was because of the substance.”

He then decided he would take heroin once in a while when his wife and he wanted to be intimate. The arrangement lasted for some weeks and the couple led a blissful life. But the heroin trap was very enticing and soon Naman was back to the old ways.

“I still remember the pain I felt when I wasn’t allowed to go and see my newborn son in the hospital since I was under a heavy dose of heroin. You are aware how Punjabis celebrate the birth of a son, imagine my plight lying at home after invectives were hurled at me by my father and brother. It was so disgraceful. I wonder whether I’ll ever be able to tell this episode to my son when he grows up,” Naman recalls with a lost look on his face.

Besides the damage that substance was doing to his body, there was a related problem which many like him in Punjab face. He had fallen prey to hepatitis C, or kala piliya as they call it here. This was the point that his wife and parents decided he had to go rehab once again.

They arranged for his ‘pickup’, which in the parlance means forcible abduction to lodge a person in a rehab centre.

A return to rehab meant a round of filthy abuse and shaming at the customary ‘blasting session’. Thereafter the treatment began again.

“One thing about this pickup business is the addict never forgives their spouse or parents for subjecting them to such inhuman treatment.

“I remember how once, when I was taken to the local hospital for my kala piliya medicines, I consumed the capsules in bulk hoping that I would fall severely ill and be allowed to go home instead of the rehab. Once again my wife came to know what I had done and I was sent back to rehab after a stomach wash.”

“Things had changed once again when I came out clean from the rehab treatment. When I again had sex with my wife I told her honestly that the performance would not be like the one under the influence of heroin. Being a paramedic she understood, and never said anything about it ever since then.

“Had she not been a paramedic, my married life would have been over a long time ago. One of the reasons that addicts are unable to give up the substance is that they’re scared of being unable to perform sexually with zest. They do not realise that the substance too eventually leads them to impotence.

“Another aspect is that initially when your libido is high you might have an extramarital relation, or start taking the services of sex workers. But you need to realise that in a conservative society like India, what will your reaction be if your wife too starts going elsewhere to satisfy her physical needs, when the substance starts taking a toll on your libido?”

Apart from assisting his father with his legal dealings, Naman now spends most of his time at the rehab centre where he was treated.

“After the initial humiliation, an addict comes to accept the centre as his home. The primary reason for this is he knows that everyone, including the managing director in most cases, has been through what he is undergoing. That guilt and shame is not there. Instead there is empathy.

“No one looks down on you. Then there is also the fear of relapse and subsequent treatment again. The centre prevents you from flowing with the thought of the substance and falling prey to it again,” he disclosed.

“The centre teaches you to accept life with its shortcomings. Our centre is located above a restaurant. The compulsion of a substance user in recovery to eat khichdi or dalia while the aroma of pizza or chicken burger comes wafting from the floor below is a learning in itself - to accept what life offers you.

“One has to strike a compromise with life,” he said with a twinkle in his eye.

Cover Photograph source - https://bit.ly/3dhOoTb