Vijay, 52, (he goes by one name) counsels homeless drug addicts. He was a junkie himself. For 23 years. He stole, he starved, sold everything in his house, threatened suicide, ate off the roads and went to jail— all for smack.
One day he just quit.
These days, he uses his life story to highlight the ill-effects of drugs at the three government shelters.
Former drug addict: What transformed me
I was a teenager when I first tried smack. I did odd jobs. My friends got me into the habit. Within a year, I was addicted. I realised it when I started stealing.
In the early 1980s, smack (brown sugar) was sold only in Paharganj. The government did not know much about addiction among the poor. At first, I stole from my house and then from relatives. They began avoiding me.
I started stealing from all my employers. If you are poor, you cannot buy drugs without stealing. For 10-12 years, I stole and picked pockets. From wallets to manhole lids — you name it. Most homeless addicts hide a blade in the mouth to cut luggage ropes in cycle rickshaws or pockets. I did it too.
Drug addiction is an illness – psychological and physical. When I needed money, I cut my hands and blackmailed my family. I ended in prison at least twice every year. The cops did not arrest me for stealing but for using drugs, a smaller offence. In jail, there is no way to get drugs. Naturally, there was no temptation. Our brains work like that. Addiction is psychological.
Thousands of homeless die every year, not because of drug addiction but because they stop eating or caring for themselves. I once bought drugs for `200 but not even a slice of bread. I picked a kachori from the road and ate it. I meet addicts who spend `3,000-`5,000 on drugs but don’t have money for food.
Fortunately for me, my family took me to a government hospital. I was admitted there thrice. The day former prime minister Rajiv Gandhi was assassinated, I was discharged. I went straight from the hospital to buy drugs.
Drugs took a toll on my body. There came a time when I could barely steal. I felt disabled. A friend who introduced me to drugs came to see me. He told me he had been clean for two years and took me to a rehabilitation centre. Not everyone is as lucky as I was.
For 22 months, I stayed there. I was kept occupied round-the-clock with jobs such as counting match sticks. When I came out, I knew drugs were in the past. I have not touched drugs since. It has been 15 years now.
Life would have been different had I not become an addict. The prime of my life would not have been wasted.