The Spirit of Rehab

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There’s no easy way out, no magic remedy for an alcoholic keen on kicking his habit. De-addiction isn’t achieved overnight with yoga, meditation or talk therapy, says Vijay Nambisan, in his essay Rehab Diary. Part of a new anthology published by Speaking Tiger – House SpiritDrinking in India: Stories, Essays, Poems edited by Palash Krishna Mehrotra- this essay offers an entertaining and insightful glimpse of what lies behind the walls of a Bangalore based Rehabilitation Centre. Though tackling addiction is recognized as a tricky business in many countries, this isn’t so in India. De-addiction and rehab facilities remain rustic and archaic, since addicts are viewed as losers who simply need to be set back on track with a stick.

Rehab Diary describes Nambisan’s fifth attempt at giving up alcohol. Though his stay in a fairly well known though unnamed centre in Bangalore is voluntary, most other ‘inmates’ are here against their wills, set up by relatives who have paid for strong-armed men in a van to ‘capture’ them under a false pretext and imprison them till they clean up their acts. The writer finds himself in the company of Raghu, an Andhra farmer who claims to have been duped out of his inheritance by his maternal uncle; some Maldivians who pay extra to get special treatment; and a variety of other men struggling to control their dependency on booze and drugs.

Desi-style rehab at this Centre – which is a cross between a prison and an Indian public school – relies on the use of punishment and humiliation to breed fear, considered the cure for addicts. The atmosphere is rough and nasty- manipulative counsellors pit the addicts against themselves and each other. Summoning shame is the name of the game, which clearly doesn’t work for the author. “ When you drink, you forget the shame. When the drink goes down the gullet, however the drink is obtained, all shame is forgotten,” Nambisan writes. Instead of inducing fear and shame, the writer recommends the use of methods that build on the “feel good” factor as a means of de-addiction.

Free will has brought Nambisan to the Centre, and a month later, he decides he’s had enough of the cramped quarters and bad food. But since the lens of his account in Rehab Diary is directed outwards rather than within, we are left wondering what he’s actually gained from his experience? Aside from romanticizing his relationship with the bottle, Nambisan is clearly critical of the methods employed by the Centre, even though he calls Alcoholics Anonymous a “noble organization” and says, “the Twelve Steps are a programme that even teetotalers would do well to follow.” Perhaps he is content being included in the category of “recovering addicts”, whom he says are “much nicer guys than the average?” That’s the spirit.



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