by Khalid Bashir Gura
SRINAGAR: As the sun sets, the orange evening light filtering through the grill windows of Drug De-addiction Centre, Khanyar falls on the stout, shivering, 21 year Ahmed, former Mixed Martial Arts ( MMA) Champion, a resident of Srinagar.
Before drugs became an addiction for him, it was winning gold medals that were his addiction.
“I have won 14 gold medals at national, state and district levels,” he said while detailing his journeys within and outside India. Besides earning money with each accomplishment at different levels of the game, he travelled to many parts of India and abroad.
At 8 years of age, he pulled his first gold. He had started to play Thang Tha, MMA, and Ultimate Fighting Champion (UFC).
Unlike his contemporaries who wanted to follow societal norms of being a doctor or an engineer, he was clear with his goal in life. “I just wanted to be a fighter. Neither doctor nor engineer,” he said. His family was proud and supportive of his pursuits and success.
Sharing The Burden
However, things fell apart when he shared a room and came into contact with another person at a hotel before his flight to South Korea at Chandigarh to participate in one of the MMA fights a few years ago.
Unaware of what was in store for him in the interaction with other players at Chandigarh, he questioned out of curiosity as to what they were doing with a substance.
This is called Chita, they told him and planted curiosity in him to try it once.
It worked for the teenager as he succumbed to peer pressure.
Since then there was no looking back. He had to fight every day with himself to stay ‘high’ and to get a kick. However, they also taught him to dupe anti-doping tests for athletes. “We used to pay to people for urine tests, pass it on as our own and do away,” he said.
As his voice falters while recalling, his descend started, as he recalls. He started to taste failures. The addiction to succeed, the goal to be a fighter started to be replaced by another addiction and another goal; the goal on how to quench the thirst of drug cravings to subside the pain its deprivation entails.
His interaction metamorphosed into friendship with Chandigarh friends lured and introduced him to a new world of addiction, which ultimately left him debilitated by decimating drugs.
Sweating, and struggling to breathe at the rehab, he unmasks himself and breathes heavily. He runs his fingers through his streaked hair nervously and gathers words with difficulty.
His cravings for heroin after being at rehab for days, his withdrawal symptoms, and the process of detoxification at the rehab make him fidgety, confused, and muddled with speech. He is hopeful that he will clean himself of drugs and never go to any extreme just to get that kick by sniffing or injecting drugs.
Convinced by his mother and driven by the fear of witnessing his close drug-addicted friend’s deaths due to overdoses, he agreed to get himself treated to get rid of drugs. At first, according to his doctors, Ahmed cried, tried to flee, and was reckless and wreathing in pain.
However, as the diagnosis for detoxification began, he became nonchalant and began to make sense of the place where he had landed.
Before coming to rehab as he was aware that he will be deprived of them for weeks he assured he took enough drugs, only to counter cravings later.
“I don’t remember how I came here. Once back to senses, I remember the unimaginable pain I had to go through,” he said, adding that he never wants to get back into that friend circle that he formed in Kashmir soon after getting addicted to drugs in Chandigarh.
Phone With Mother
“My phone is in the custody of my mother, she must have changed my phone number,” he said, to keep him away from the peddlers and friends who entice and lure him into drug addiction.
“I and my family have a lot of money and the peddlers and friends must be making a lot of calls. I am sure my mother would have broken the phone SIM card,” he said.
Besides his mother’s tears that drove him to rehab, it is the societal boycott he faced that made him realize that he needs to detoxify himself of drugs. His own former friends who were proud of his addiction to gold medals started abandoning and hating him as he started new addiction to drugs, he said.
Sense of Guilt
“This all hurts,” he said, adding that a moment and introduction with the bad company changed the outcome of his life.
“Even my siblings are ashamed of me,” he said as I have belied their expectations and dented the image of the family in the locality.
Once he came back home after participating in games, he started locating peddlers who could quench his thirst for drugs. And soon people of the same feather flocked together.
“I pleaded with my friend who himself used to consume weed and cannabis as to where I can avail heroin,” he said. Soon the duo went in a car to South Kashmir’s Sangam to avail the drug from a dealer. “South Kashmir is simmering with drugs,” he said.
The Circular Shift
As his friend circle changed so did his goals, need for money. He soon went to deserted spots in the city in his car with his friends and consumed drugs together.
Initially, they would inhale on foil with a chaser and as the thirst for pleasure grew, they ultimately resorted to intravenous (IV) injections of heroin.
However, the new pursuit of pleasure came with its own costs. Each day it cost him Rs 5000 and the four friends purchased it together for Rs 2000 a day. But managing those expenses every day was not easy. In order to manage expenses, he would hoodwink transactions in his father’s business.
“By hook or crook, we had to manage the growing expenses,” he said.
Family In Dark
For a very long time, his parents were in denial and delusion as they still nourished dreams of seeing their son as a star athlete.
According to him, once the person gets addicted, it is difficult for him to play or do any other fruitful and productive activity in life as he remains either confined to his room or his mind always is in pursuit of pleasure and hunt for drugs.
“A person becomes irresponsible, oblivious to surroundings,” he said with a sense of remorse in his voice.
Spent A Fortune
But during lockdowns, communication blackouts, and restrictions of movements the search for drugs became desperate and frenetic. He searched for peddlers in other districts and went far off places like Sopore, Baramulla, Tangdhar just to get that kick.
Given the desperation and situations of lockdown and shutdown in Kashmir when the access and availability was difficult, Ahmed said that he purchased one gram of heroin for Rs 1000- 15000 which otherwise cost Rs 2500- 4000.
Desperate For Normalcy
Now at the rehab, as he is being cleaned of drugs, he hopes while overcoming cravings. “I want my respect and dignity back. I wish to be accepted as a part of society and family. I want my old friend to circle back. I want that old addiction of playing back and hard practice sessions back,” he said.
But as he wakes and sleeps in rehab, he recalls days when his family was devastated to learn that he is taking drugs. All day locked in a room; his family wondered what he does in the room?
“My habits had changed. I used to wake up late in the morning and my family members started questioning my sleeping patterns. I satisfied them by saying, I slept late,” he said, but when this prolonged they suspected.
“I used to inject heroin in my room,” he said, and finally in the state of intoxication, he was discovered lying in his room.
Youngest among his peddler friends, he would hang out with them throughout the day and return late at night.
Earlier, when his hunt for Maal according to him began, his peddler friends found their way into his life and friend circle. They soon invited him to join his club and consume drugs with them in the playgrounds, or in a car parked at deserted spots. Initially, we would consume in his own locality in a car and people never suspected us.
A Death By Drugs
But the fear soon descended on Ahmed when he saw a friend’s around him started dying due to drug overdoses his doctor and counsellor said that such deaths are passed on as simply deaths or heart failures due to social stigmatization.
“The reality why some of our youth are dying remains unknown,” he said.
Rehab Managers Speaks
According to the head of the rehabilitation centre, Shabir Ahmad Shabir, who is also Secretary of all Jammu and Kashmir Youth Welfare Organization, it is the nuclear families, unaccountable availability of money, and easy availability of drugs, which is deteriorating the situation.
Even though police continue to crackdown on peddlers, the ground situation continues to be grim.
“Painfully, we end up lifting their bodies ultimately from public toilets, roadsides, or in graveyards,” Shabir said. Due to social stigma, the family is in denial and does not want to see the destructive path they have taken. According to experts, it is because of the increase in drug addiction that the incidents of crime are increasing.
“Even though I am feeling the pain is subsiding but I wish no soul on earth goes through pain that drug addiction and its withdrawal entails,” Ahmed said.
The drugs led him to a debilitating path as a bleak future started staring at him soon as he left his education, lifelong cherished dream, lost good friends, loving relatives and siblings.
His past haunts his present and he is rehab is trying to reclaim a new future with a new resolution to start a new life. He will be able to realize his new dreams only if the world surviving on his addiction and affluence allows him to breathe freely.