Mr. Datta Shrikhande has overcome his past and transformed his life. From a drug addict for 10 years to a bodybuilder, from 5th class dropout to degree holder and from shoplifter to Master Chef and counselor. Watch the following short video on his life.
Do read his full interview with Inspiration Beings team to know how his childhood circumstances played a role in getting him into drug addiction, how he got a chance to come out of the addiction but he got pulled into by his own mind trap, his triumph over his excruciating withdrawal symptom, his transformation and last but not the least his simple but profound message.
Please tell us your personal background and childhood?
I was born and raised in a low stratum society. Including me, my parents had three sons and I was the youngest. Since my uncle and aunt had no child, they approached and requested my parents for my adoption. After a lot of persuasions, my parents agreed and gave my custody to my paternal uncle and aunt when I was an infant. While I was getting raised at my adopted parents, they were blessed with their own biological children and were engrossed with their own kids. I was not being treated equally by both families. From early childhood, I had feelings of inadequacy and of being discarded. I couldn't connect with people and never felt worthy or wanted by my own relatives.
Tell us about why you went into addiction and what were the repercussions?
I had a hard transition in my life from primary to middle school. Since I was not being monitored at home and being deserted by both the families, I started hanging out with the bad company and first tasted alcohol when I was in 5th grade. The English language was one of the subjects in school which I was unable to comprehend. Also, there was no one at home for supporting me with my school studies. Under this pressure, I stopped going to school and no one in my family pushed me to re-joining the school.
None of my guardians took interest in what was happening in my life. Both of my mothers and my biological father passed away due to illnesses when I was young. I started getting the feeling that only money could change the situation and if I could earn more money then I would be treated important and wanted by everyone.
I started working in a local bar at a very tender age, and I got influenced by local goons and addicts, as everyone who walked there were either shoplifters, drug addicts, or criminals. I started drinking with them regularly and thought drinking made me forget all my problems and loneliness. After a while, I got introduced to drugs.
When I was under the influence of drugs, I would think I had immense power, and things were under my control. But when intoxication used to get over, I would feel helpless and guilty.
Did you ever feel like leaving addiction after you started?
Yes, God had given me an opportunity to leave the addiction and to live a normal life. Since I was a drug addict, my adoptive father thought, my marriage could bring me back to a normal life. I was introduced to a girl named Kusum who was a friend of a distant family member. Despite knowing all my addictions and vices, Kusum was ready to accept me. This was the first time in life someone had shown affection and love towards me and I felt worthy.
With determination, I left my job at the bar and started working as an auto rickshaw driver. I started a new journey and walked on the new route for earning my livelihood. I had a dream of marrying her once I get settled. I was sober for six months but one night, my old friend, insisted me trying out a new drug - Brown sugar. He dared me that, as I could give up on the other drugs, I could give up this too. I fell into my own mind trap, as I was quite confident of leaving it after trying it once. But it didn't happen, in fact, I relapsed in brown sugar addiction to such an extent that I lost all the hopes on life and my marriage with Kusum. Eventually, I got fired from my job and in no time, I was completely broke.
To continue my addiction, I started pick-pocketing along with my other drug addict friends. I lied, I stole, I cheated, did every heinous thing to get money for my addiction.
I knew that nobody could sustain such a lifestyle very long and I knew that death was imminent. But I had no control over my addiction and life. My mind and brain were deeply under the influence of drugs. I was doing things which were inconceivable even to my mind and nature. Still, I kept repeatedly doing it. I never wanted to face the world and the burden of my conscious, by coming out of drugs.
Later Kusum, the girl I liked, was married off to another man by her family. I was happy for her and about the fact that she was not married to me; a drug addict. I was under the impression that she was living a happy life with her husband. But one fine day, I got to know about her suicide. She was the only person who had accepted me wholeheartedly, I had ever known in my life up to that point.
I was shattered and held myself responsible for her devastating and unfortunate death. I think that was a day, I decided to quit addiction!
Tell us about your recovery journey and how did you come out of it?
Soon after the incidence of Kusum' s death, I got terribly ill due to my lifestyle and additions of over 10 years, I had become a motionless bag of bones. My weight was 39 kgs at that time!
I had not only changed physically but my addiction had made me selfish, empty, depressed, argumentative, jittery and completely negative towards society.
With my brother and sister in law's support, I was admitted into to Muktangan; a well-known rehabilitation center at Pune.
Withdrawals were awful. The pain in my body was excruciating. My brain used to pinch, I used to feel breathless. I had a high fever for weeks no medicines were working. I vomited and fainted multiple times a day. I could never stay warm nor cool at any given time. The entire time I was going through withdrawals, in that phase I couldn't sleep even for the tiniest bit for days. On top of the physical agony, I was delusional I heard voices and had constant hallucinations; I used to feel the presence of Kusum and my parents departed souls and their anger and agony towards me.
With great efforts, I completed the treatment for 35 days. After a month of living a sober life, I started feeling much better mentally as well as physically.
All my fellow batch mate were ready to resume the society but I had none to look forward to. I had spent years in addiction, and thoughts of getting pulled back to the addictive lifestyle petrified me. I pleaded the director of Muktangan, Dr. Anita Awachat, to accommodate me thereby giving some job in the organization. She was gracious to give me a job of a helper in the kitchen of Muktangan. She has been the source for my inspirations.
Tell us how your recovery helped you in your personal life?
Over the period, I also started helping addiction fighters. I focused on building their self-esteem, confidence, and faith that they could change.
After two years of my working with Muktangan with the guidance and support of Muktangan director, at the age of 30, I was married off to an orphan girl, who accepted me despite knowing my background.
When I crossed my 45th birthday, a different idea emerged into my mind. I thought I have played nasty with my body throughout by doing addictions, why shouldn't I be taking care of my body by shaping it and can motivate addiction fighters. When you are positive, your brain starts producing positive and constructive thoughts.
I started preparing for bodybuilding at the age of 46 and participated in Bodybuilding competition at the state level when I was 51, 52, 53 and 54. In the first year, I bagged Bronze, in the 2nd & 3rd year, I was awarded Silver medal. In the fourth year, I was the proud owner of the Gold medal. I was awarded in top 10 nationally in the same year 2018.
When I started going to the gym, young people, half of my age, used to mock me but later I became an inspiration for all of them.
During this transformation, I had also developed a huge interest in cooking and became the head chef at Muktangan. It was a great feeling when addiction fighters and employees at Muktangan enjoyed food prepared by me. With their encouragement, I participated in Master Chef India in 2013, I was 47 years old then, and was shortlisted in the top 25 nationally.
In 2017, I was awarded by the state government of Maharashtra for my contribution to rehabilitating addiction fighters in their recovery from drugs, alcohol and chemical substances.
In 2018, India's prime minister mentioned my example in his speech while addressing drug addiction problem. This was one of the proudest moments of my life!
When I look back, I feel so happy that a person like me could achieve so many things in life. If I could achieve then I think anyone can!
We also got to know that you completed your master's degree! How did you manage that when you had left school in 5th grade?
Oh! It is an interesting story too. Once my younger son stated, "Dad it is embarrassing to mention your education with our friends as you have completed education till 5th grade only."
I always want to be a role model for my sons; off course the second part of my life (he laughs). I started pondering on that thought and decided to pursue my education again. I feared the English language and had left school, but I decided to face my fear and complete my education. I re-started my education when I was 43 and completed my graduation in Arts when I was 46, I achieved my master's in Arts at the age of 49, my specialization subject is Psychology. I became first graduate and masters in my family.
I will be pursuing my PhD soon. I also want to write a book about my experiences, battle with addiction and the journey of my life which I hope will inspire others who struggle in their life.
I am a counselor at Muktangan.
To help drug addicts to bring back to normal life, by setting an example for them, has become my new addiction.
What message do you want to give to others?
I would say if people want to get addicted then get addicted for the right purpose!
What I have achieved was not easy for me but was possible only because I developed my will power. I had to go through the hardest time of my life to develop my will power, but others don't have to go through hard experiences to develop it.
Will power is like a muscle and can be developed by anyone.
People workout to develop their muscles, similarly, we need a workout to develop our will power too. It can be developed by finishing the task you have taken up, however the small task that could be, and keep pushing yourself to do little more than you expected out of yourself. Once you start doing this, over the period your will power muscle will get developed. Remember that when people go to the gym, they start with small weights and gradually increase the weights. Most of the people would give up the gym either because they start with higher weights or expect instant results. It is a process and you need to give time. Don't lose your hopes if you fail, the key is in continuing your efforts and not giving up even if you fail.
Once your will power is developed, you can achieve anything in your life; The sky is the limit!
Mr. Datta mentioned that he considers the gym as a temple and never misses visiting the gym. Even if he is sick, he visits the gym and sits there as a daily ritual.