“My social circle comprised of people who always wanted to be high and intoxicated. I learnt about a ‘magical powder’ through them. I recall them saying how this powder makes one feel like god. Their incessant talk made me curious. One day, I accompanied them to a hotel where it was being sold; and became an heroin addict before I knew it. That was the ‘Turning Point’ in my life.”
These are the words of Mr. Chandra Shekhar, Founder-Director of the Delhi-based Turning Point Foundation; he calmly and quite matter-of-factly took me through his incredible journey from being a hardcore addict to going on to establish a foundation that helps youth who are addicts, just as he was many years ago.
As he reminisced about those years, he described himself as a “slave to drugs”. It was drugs that started directing all his actions. His addiction even led to broken barriers with friends, family and colleagues. Not only did he ruin most of his relations but he gave up on his core principles and beliefs too – thus becoming a totally different person. This obviously impacted the respect and social standing that his family (which comprised of his parents and siblings at that time) held in society. Despite the awareness, he was not able to let go of the addiction.
In 1995, after 5 long drug-induced years, he finally decided to enroll himself into a detoxification center. Though he is cured of his addition today, he yet describes his time at the center as “the most difficult phase of his life.” The first six months were the worst. Physically, he suffered from incessant body aches and extreme pain in his knees. Emotionally, from depression and frustration, he was low on confidence and very often, tempted to take just that “one drag”.
These are all usual symptoms of rehabilitation and were it not for the support from his family as well as the folks at the center, he may not have made it through. With time and not to forget, much determination, he experienced what most rehabs face too – decreased cravings, an increase in confidence, and acceptance of the self. Time also saw the restoration of family and social relations. This was another ‘turning point’ in his life; though in complete reversal to the one he experienced earlier. In memory of this healthy turn, he decided to name the organization he went on to set up (to help addicts like him) Turning Point Foundation.
So what motivated him to set up a center and help others like him, instead of going back to the comfortable life that he once lived? It was the genuine happiness and pride that he experienced from friends and acquaintances when they learnt he was drug-free once again that made him do so. Be it relatives or neighbours or even the restaurant at which he was a regular customer. Their genuine good wishes coupled with their suggestion that he should help others like him, led him to go on and actually do it.
On thinking about it, he realized that he was truly happy to see (or even hear of) others let go of the addiction, so why not aid them in doing so? He went back to Bangalore, to the center that cured him, but this time to understand its workings.
A few weeks later, he returned to Delhi not only with the understanding but also the realization that it was a huge task. Furthermore, that he would not be able to run one, on his own, successfully. So letting go off the thought, he went on to apply for jobs, to carry on with his life.
In 1998, at the job interview for a local NGO he had applied to, he met a gentleman named Jojo Thomas. A MSW and LLB by qualification, Mr. Thomas is also a Member of the Supreme Court Bar Association. At their meeting, Chandra Shekhar learnt about Mr. Thomas’ desire to work for health and social issues in society. The rest, as they say, is “destiny”.
“Mujhe pata tha akele kuch nai ho sakta. Saab (mein unko saab bhulata hoon) ko milke mujhe bahot khushi hui. Unke paas education hain aur mere pass experience. Dono ne milke, foundation ko Alipur mein shuru kiya (I knew I would not be able to run the center alone. Which is why I was thrilled to meet Sir (I refer to Mr. Thomas as “Sir”). He’s got the right education and me the experience. We came together to set up the Alipur center.),” sums up Mr. Shekhar. Alipur is a nearby slum, which has a fair number of drug addicts. (TPF is based in Alipur, North West Delhi and works in Delhi, Punjab and Haryana. Its institutions and outreach programmes cater to more than 5,000 people each year helping them to rebuild their lives.)
Starting off small, the foundation has seen increased cases over the years, primarily due to the “word of mouth” that spread thanks to its initial successes. From individual door-to-door counseling, to education on the effects of drugs, to general health and even HIV/AIDS awareness camps, the organization provides a gamut of activities today. In fact, most of their patients are those who have come on their own accord – after seeing a friend/neighbor being cured of the addiction. With time, in 2008, their one roomed center also gave way to a 40-bedded center that occupies a complete building, in Alipur itself.
Over the last 3 years, about 2,200 vulnerable people i.e. those prone to getting addicted easily, have been covered under TPF’s outreach activities, which includes educational and counseling camps. From these efforts, 325 IDUs were identified. A total of 2,800 addicts and their families have benefitted from the organisation’s services over the years. That’s no small number, if you ask me.
“It’s inspiring how people want to change. Yet, they find no platform to guide them through the process. By seeing this transformation every day, I feel I need to reach out to more people and make them aware. It’s the support we have gotten over the years coupled with addicts’ blind faith in us which keeps us going, even during crisis,” says Mr. Shekhar.