Ignorance is indeed bliss sometimes . . . I did not know the enormity of the challenge of Narcotic Drug Addiction. I took it as my responsibility to respond. . . . Society at large did not know about this condition . . . so let me start spreading awareness . . . It was that simple. I had nice relationship with the official photographer of KEM Hospital. I requested him to shoot some slides for me. I prepared script of a slide show on drug addiction. I had around eighty slides in all. By changing sequence of the slides and adding-deleting some, I could create almost seven variations of my talk that would cater to different audiences. So, with same visuals I could address students, adults, addict, Medias, police, teachers . . . with different contents and sequence. Mrs. Prabha Apte a close friend of mine donated a slide projector and a screen. I started visiting wherever I was invited . . . Over next three years I must have given over 600 presentations across Mumbai . . . There were chawls, bastis, schools, Ganesh festivals, community lecture halls. . . . Many social organizations, political parties, trade unions started calling me. I did not say No to anyone.
Just before I started this individual crusade of mine, I had passed my MD examination and was approaching the end of my three years residency. Dr. G.B.Parulekar, Dean of KEM knew and supported my work. So did Prof. Dr. L.P.Shah . . . Before my residency ended a new post called ‘Lecturer-in charge De-addiction’ was actually created in Municipal Corporation. I applied for it. I was called for interview. There were few other candidates. But everyone knew the result. I had no ‘pull or push’ or ‘political clout.’ It was sheer volume of work by an individual . . . By this time I had organized probably the first community detoxification camp in Maharashtra at sweeper’s colony opposite Mahalaxmi Racecourse. I had started separate group therapy for addicts. I was training law enforcement officials.
One day the hall where I was taking my groups got a consignment of 50 brand new foldable chairs . . . courtesy Mr. D.S. Soman, the then police commissioner of Mumbai. I received a handwritten letter by actress Smita Patil, who became a close friend thereafter . . .
One fallout of all these efforts was, patients coming to ‘see me’ even before I had passed my M.D. examination. The credit must be given to all my seniors, as they appreciated this fact. As such my ‘public relations’ with everyone working in KEM from ward boy to the Dean were excellent. Because of my activities in literature, dramatics, journalism, social fields and media; I had gathered a fairly large circle of friends and well-wishers around me in these ten years since I entered the medical college. It was hard to believe for my own self that a shy student, conscious of his middleclass, Marathi medium background was accepted so well by so many . . .
So, without a gap of a single working day I glided in the post of lectureship. (Incidentally I had topped my batch in MD examination). This gave me fresh impetus to reach out to more people. I had written a play on addiction . . . a musical which was staged by all AA members to celebrate fifty years of AA in India. It was a unique activity where a top class performance by all ex-alcoholics was presented in Mumbai. I wrote a script now on drug-addiction. A group of youngsters started staging it. The same group after two years produced ‘Ek Aakash Sampale’ first ever Marathi serial on drug addiction. At the end of each episode I used to come on screen and summarize the episode. I also developed a six part educational programme ‘Bhasmasur’ on Marathi DurDarshan.
During this time Anil Awachat (Senior Marathi writer and social activist) whom I call my Baba now, and his psychiatrist wife Dr. Sunanda came in my life. Only son of one of their family friends had got entangled in narcotic addiction. Both Anil and Sunanda were helping the family. They came to me to discuss my work. They were staying in Pune. Anil got so interested in my work that he stayed with me in my KEM quarters for a month. We visited many places in Mumbai associated with Narcotic addiction including my patient’s homes. He attended my group sessions in KEM, public lectures and sat with me in OPD. The result was a series of journalistic articles published in Maharashtra Times, a popular Marathi Daily. The articles were widely discussed in the entire state. Famous Marathi writer P.L. Deshpande and his wife Suneeta approached Anil-Sunanda and offered funds to start an exclusive treatment centre on addictions.
Sunanda was working in the Government Mental Hospital in Pune as a senior consultant. There was a specious building lying vacant in those premises. She and Anil managed to get permission to use it as a centre and Muktangan De-addiction centre started in August 1986. I anchored the opening ceremony (as I did on the 20th and 30th anniversary of Muktangan). Baba Amte, noted social worker was our chief guest. We got out first patient admitted right after the conclusion of the opening ceremony. Sunanda used to call him ‘Shakunacha Mahadev’ . . . meaning ‘The God Shankar of good omen.’ His name is Mahadev Ghare. He is sober from that day and attended our 30th anniversary as a special guest.
I decided to quit my lecturer’s post in late 1986 and soon started a day-care centre for alcoholics and drug addicts in Thane along with impatient facility. Dr. S.R. Kanbur and Dr. Suneeti Kanbur, prominent Gynecologist couple from Thane provided their hospital space for this and provided support for a decade without expecting any monetary returns. It was a great risk for their reputation as theirs was a Gynaec nursing home. But they believed in the mission of de-addiction.
At a time almost twenty recovering addicts used to be there at Shivneri (Name of the hospital) throughout the day. We started making greeting cards, Diwali lanterns and Christmas trees. We organized an awareness programme for all educational institutes in Thane titled ‘Drug Fight89.’ This brought me in close contact with a young police officer named Hemant Karkare. Our association turned into a very deep friendship till his untimely heroic death during the terror attack in Mumbai.
Around 1990, Sunanda had been diagnosed with breast cancer and was spearheading Muktangan and caring for hundreds of addicts. As her health started showing fluctuations I pledged to come regularly every month to Muktangan and contribute which is going on till todate.
Working with Sunanda was a fantastic experience. She gave me more respect than I deserved as her junior colleague. She used to mention my name as her teacher in de-addiction. This was more out of her humility. But we shared a deep bonding. She was my mother as well as a intensely close friend. I had become by this time an integral part of their family. Even today, a set of my clothes, towel, toiletry is at Baba’s home. Actually my elder brother stays in Pune and I do visit him but my ‘home’ in Pune is with Anil and Sunanda.
We were developing a treatment programme for de-addiction with our experiences and with a cultural ethos of this soil. There were group activities, patient get-togethers, individual counseling sessions. Sumitra Bhave and Sunil Sukhatankar directed a film ‘muki’ for Muktangan and I wrote its title song . . . I was enjoying the work as my personal work was slowly getting institutionalized . . . And then in 1996, Sunanda left us. Although we knew this was coming, it was tough to endure . . . Muktangan was at a tough cross-road.
(contd Part III) ……