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Riches to Rags: Shaukat’s Story

Shaukat Ali Sayed is an educated man, well-traveled, and married with two young sons age 10 and 12. His wife works at large department store in Kalyan. At one time, he had a prosperous shipping business, an office, and 12 staff members in the Fort Area, but that would all change.

Originally from Calcutta, he came to Bombay in search of work in 1990. He trained as a mechanic in the Mumbai Port and spent 5 years sailing around the world on foreign ships, “I went to America, South Africa, South America, Europe, The Gulf, Singapore, Malaysia.” But it was his profession and the transient lifestyle it engendered which planted the seeds of his addiction: “I was getting easy money and lots of it,” he explains, “nine months on a ship, no distractions, and free-flowing alcohol.”

After five years of port-hopping he started his own business. His company, Universal Maritime, organized ship repairs and crew recruitments. He married and settled in Kalyan, but he retained his old friends. One of his relatives was smoking brown sugar and peer-pressured Shaukat into trying it. He was addicted almost immediately. Yet, money continued to flow. At that point in time his addiction was controllable and he could let go when he chose, or so he thought. Eventually problems erupted in his business: he was experiencing great tension, and inevitably the addiction escalated. His marriage fell apart and, consequently, he had to leave the family home.

When Sankalp’s outreach workers – Prakash Pardesi and Sunil Birla – first spotted him, his life had hit rock-bottom. He was living on the streets and stealing to feed his habit. Although Shaukat continued to use, he started visiting the Kalyan DIC and making tentative use of its services. Yet the association with outreach workers and peer educators offered a glimpse of hope for change. He was haunted by a better past: “I used to think all night, ‘Why am I in this situation, I don’t want to do Nasha, but I can’t stop. I had a very good life, and now I’ve been reduced to stealing on the streets.’”

Eventually, he got more involved in Sankalp’s services. He was counseled and encouraged to get himself clean. At the time, Shaukat was in a very bad medical state; he was malnourished and had abscesses on his feet. He was transferred to Sankalp Nivara Community Care Center where he was cared for and slowly nursed back to health.

And then the almost-unavoidable relapse: “I was not yet mentally prepared to stay clean. I didn’t understand how to stay clean,” he says, somewhat regretfully. But Sankalp’s outreach workers and counselors did not give up on Shaukat. He was given extensive one-on-one counseling and encouraged to continue attending group counseling sessions and Narcotics Anonymous meetings. It made him aware that the road to recovery is long and hazardous, but not impossible.

As in any successful rehabilitation programme, considerable self-discipline was also involved. Shaukat was prepared to give himself time to examine his own actions and motives: “At night I used to think about what I did wrong that day and try and work on it the next day so that it wouldn’t recur.”

Shaukat has been free of his addiction since December 2009 and decided to dedicate himself to working at Sankalp. He lives at the Kalyan Drop-In Centre and has taken advantage of activities for self-improvement: he is participating in a Nursing Training course, went to an HIV workshop, does documentation work for the DIC, and participates in DIC activities. “I wanted to keep myself constantly busy,” he asserts.

In January 2010, he was appointed as Peer Educator in Kalyan. Now, Shaukat has been promoted to Counselor at the new Detoxification Centre in Ulhasnagar.

Shaukat is now physically very well and feels very good about life. No longer an addict, he is happy using his experience to help others. He feels very privileged to have had the opportunity to talk about his life and be given a second chance. He does not want to go back to his earlier life of easy money and drugs and alcohol. Although his old circle of friends has faded away, he has created a new social circle in his drug-free life.

Written by Havovi Anklesaria. This story appeared in our April 2011 newsletter.