VISHAL THAKUR’S CLOTHES hung off his gaunt body. He did not have the means to satisfy the demands of his hollow belly, and could not bring himself to ask the family he had alienated for help. Friends had dropped out of Vishal’s life when they realised that he was deaf to their pleas to get his life together. Neighbours whispered “nashedi”—junkie—when he lumbered past on the forested roads of Shimla. Thakur was in his early twenties back then, and had already been dependent on a cocktail of psychoactive substances for a decade—alcohol to begin with, at first covertly stolen from his father when he was not yet a teen, then bhang, opium, smack, assorted over-the-counter pills, cough syrups, amphetamines and prescription opioids. The only community he had left consisted of other drug users, whom the good and normal townspeople of Shimla wanted nothing to do with.
After days of hunger, Thakur found respite at the langar in Shimla’s largest gurudwara. He ate as much as he could, and crammed his pockets with rotis for later. On his fourth consecutive day getting a free meal, he was kicked out and told to get help. He began to starve again. Pain and sweating marked the onset of a different hunger—the desperate craving for a rush. Paranoid and weak, he stumbled around the city. When he collapsed, no longer able to move, a passerby handed him twenty rupees. He used the money to get high. Food could wait.
Anxious young men in the main room of the Moksha Foundation clung to Thakur’s every word as he narrated his story. Thakur is no longer the desperate, dishevelled boy he was describing. Today, he is the head of Moksha, a private de-addiction centre that caters to those with the same affliction he once suffered from.