What’s the first thing that comes to your mind when I say the word ‘rehab’? Dingy dorms, addicts tied to the bed and subjected to intensive clean up treatments. But if we told you that a bunch of junkies live together, strum guitars, listen to The Beatles and share their hardships, you’d think I’m crazy!
“For the first two years that I started out, I was used like a laundry; do drugs, come to me, clean up you system and go back to their old ways. My father told me that to teach Tom French, you need to figure out Tom. That’s when I started living with these addicts 33 years ago and realised that I was Tom because even I had an addictive personality although I have never done drugs in my life”, asserts Dr. Yusuf Merchant, the ‘Doc’, as his “junkies” fondly refer to him as and the founder of Our Sacred Land or Land as it is popularly known, a one-of-a-kind rehabilitation centre in Kalyan for people with addiction and behavioural problems.
“Its just a piece of land and that’s why its called Land”, says the Doc with a straight face. For one thing, he’s nothing like a doctor. He claims to be a rebellious child and an individual who grew up in an unpleasant family environment. “I became a doctor by chance. My father had a flourishing business and I wanted to get away from that. After my parents died, I started a clinic at their home in Crawford Market and began having patients over. We would live like a family and help the junkies. Once I got married and had a daughter, I felt that she deserves a family even if I didn’t have one. Its just a matter of rewiring your nerves and become habituated to something new”, quips Yusuf. The entrance to his clinic is nothing like any that you must have seen – trippy Pink Floyd and Beatles posters adorn the stairwell and 70’s rock plays in the background and you feel like you’ve been transported to a different zone altogether. It is, truly, an experience in itself.
“For me, addiction is an antithesis to connection, not even sobriety. The kids that visit my clinic are very sensitive which also means that they’re extremely creative. These kids are self-consumed and are not really connected to anyone. I don’t like boring stuff, personally so we have a lot of interesting activities where the kids are paired with someone and the pairing changes everyday. The first thing we do is a catharsis which is basically like emptying the dirt out of your mind. Then an activity called Anchoring follows where you need to hold one finger and visualise something positive repeatedly. When you do these things approximately 90 times a year, your mind automatically gets fine tuned to the positive thinking. Even now, I am thankful for leaving home and struggling to be someone because look where it has got me!”, exclaims Doc.
Our conversation is peppered with the occasional ‘F’ bombs and straight-faced jokes which make you feel like you’re catching up with an old friend. “Anything is achievable if you can visualise it positively and see yourself doing it. I believe that if you blame someone, you’re never getting a solution. Land is just a philosophy about how to be happy and get some meaning into your life. If you don’t add value to something, then it becomes boring. My job is to give these kids a purpose and they find the way themselves”, asserts Yusuf Merchant. Normally, the success rates at any general rehabilitation clinic is 18% but with Doc, the graph shoots up a high 85% which is commendable for someone who is so jovial and light hearted for a doctor.
“There’s a boy called Arjun Nath who was a heroin addict and wanted to publish his novel, which he did last year and it is a memoir based on his time at Land. It goes to show that there’s no bad guys, there’s only bad behaviour. I have a detached attachment but it makes me feel happy to let people go so that someone else can get a second shot at life. When they leave, I’m the only one crying”, he says. During the course of the conversation my eyes fall upon the platinum Beatles record hanging above our head. “Oh, it’s only 1 of the 100 records that exist all over the world and I got this one at an auction in Sotheby’s”, grins Doc. Steering back into familiar territory, “I insist on familial involvement because that makes the process easier. As humans, it is our general tendency to protect ourselves if we feel threatened. So if I make the kids comfortable, they’re going to feel wanted. If someone wants to leave, they are free to. Why jump over the wall when you can walk out of the gate?”, he asks.
Land sees about 40% junkies from the ages of 20-30, 30% below 20 and 30% above the age of 30. The Doc visits them every alternate day and spends time to know each one of them and has being doing so for the past 30 years. “This is my life. Some parents come to know of me and then send their kids here. Parents are addicted to worrying and so we help take that obstacle out too. Its nice to see these youngsters realising what they really want to do and help them connect to their calling”, he signs off. For a man whose given so much to people who’ve lost all hopes, it’s only natural to hope to meet him again.