Summer vacation for Pooja Mehendale (name changed on request) was exceptionally short: it lasted eight days. The 19-year-old returned to Nagpur, her hometown, to spend holidays with her parents, but was frantically packing in a week to return to Pune, where she is studying for her management degree.
She could live without her parents, but not her constant fix of vodka on ice, and the occasional beer.
"I am planning to visit a de-addiction centre," she told Hindustan Times. "The loneliness of living as a paying guest in a new city got to me. People seem to hang out with you only when you are drinking, and I started shaping my social life entirely around alcohol."
In packed pubs and apartments of the young and growing city, more and more young women like Mehendale are clutching glasses hard, drinking themselves to a point from where it takes long, painful hours of withdrawal, endless pills and a grim resilience to come back.
Traditionally, the westernisation and women’s lib in the metros were blamed for alcoholism among young women.
Frustrations and loneliness of blooming cities and bustling study-towns are arriving now with our daughter’s or sister’s luggage.
"Hardly a woman came to our centre for treatment two years ago. Now we treat 4-5 cases a month at our outdoor patients department. The number of enquiries from female addicts has gone up to 20-22 per month," said Mukta Puntambekar, project director, Muktangan De-addiction Centre. The centre is now starting an exclusive set-up for women by August 26.
Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) started an exclusive women’s group in Pune a year ago. According to a Mumbai office bearer of AA, there are four centres catering only to women addicts in Pune.
Kripa Foundation treats eight women addicts at its Bandra centre in Mumbai; it treats 15 women at its Pune branch.
Muktangan has even started getting enquiries from Solapur and Satara from girls as young as 15 or 16. "Earlier, addiction among women was restricted to metros and they would be mostly above 25 years," said Puntambekar.
Every year, about a lakh students come to Pune to study. Lakshi Rane (44), a counsellor at Kripa Foundation who herself successfully battled alcohol addiction, attribute this to a growing number of single women living alone in a new city with disposable incomes, but few friends or family to fall back on.