Isharat Hasan Parsayan can barely stand on her feet without a walking stick. The 78-year-old Colaba resident clutches the stick while pushing her bent frame forward. However, the constraint has not deterred her from showing up at the excise depot early in the morning on a Saturday, to claim her monthly quota of opium, which she says is the “only force that drives her life”. Isharat, who is of Iranian descent, is the only woman amongst the 206 surviving opium addicts in Maharashtra.
She says the addiction began practically after her birth. “I was born in a large family where my mother had little time to look after me,” said Isharat. “I, along with other children in the household, would be looked after by an ayaa, who would put drops of afim ki pani (water spiked with opium) in our mouths, so we would sleep for hours without disturbing her.”
The problems started as she grew up. “I remember I would not feel like doing anything when other children of my age were busy playing.” Initially, Isharat’s mother would give her hot liquids, assuming that would help her. When the tea did not help, she took Isharat to a doctor, who quickly identified the problem and advised her mother to continue with small quantities of opium, which was considered harmless then. “My father was a staunch Muslim who abhorred intoxicants. However, my mother continued giving it to me on the sly,” she said.
Isharat said that “fortunately” for her, her husband Hasan, who owned the Duke of York restaurant in Colaba, was also an opium addict. “Initially, I would share some from his quota of official opium, before he got me a licence,” Isharat said, who has stuck to the habit, a decade after her husband’s death.
Isharat believes that opium is better than any “English dawa (modern medicine)” as it has kept her active and free from disease over the years. “I have no ailment and I am quite fit and active at this age. This is because of afim (opium) without which I cannot stand or walk. The habit will die with me,” she said.