For around two decades, Datta Shrikhande has been working at Muktangan Rehabilitation Center. Shrikhande, the coordinator at Muktangan, last Sunday became a name known to radio listeners nationwide after Prime Minister Narendra Modi mentioned his story of winning his battle with drug addiction and his achievements on Mann Ki Baat, the PM’s monthly address to the nation on All India Radio (AIR).
“The Ministry of Social Justice had a month ago asked for data on what our institute does, our views on drug abuse and case studies. Datta’s case, along with that of two others, was sent. The PM chose to talk about Datta in his speech on the increasing drug menace in India,” said Mukta Puntambekar, deputy director of Muktangan Mitra and project director of Muktangan De-addiction Centre.
Substance abuse caught up with Shrikhande when he was in Class IV. “Even before that, we used to occasionally smoke bidis. In Class IV, we started consuming alcohol during school breaks. I left school soon, to become an alcoholic. I started graduating to drugs. Before I knew, I was using ganja, brown sugar and almost everything that gave a kick,” said Datta.
Shrikhande, who is 51, used to live in Ambarnath area of Thane district. “My parents died when I was young and I was adopted within the family. There was a lot of stress in my life and drugs provided me brief relief. I started driving a rickshaw and later when that was not enough to buy me drugs, I started stealing,” added Shrikhande.
Along with his substance abuse, Shrikhande’s criminal history started growing. Thane police had to extern him for two years.
Shrikhande was admitted to Muktangan in 1992 for de-addiction. He soon kicked off the habit. He completed schooling and graduated in psychology. He was offered a job as peon at Muktangan, and later became a counsellor. He is now a coordinator. This year, he got a Master’s degree in Marathi literature from Yashwantrao Chavan Maharashtra Open University. “Once I was cured, it was like a new life. The head of the institute introduced me to a woman from an orphanage and we decided to get married. Radha and I have two children — one is doing BBA, the other is in Class X,” said Shrikhande, who is an expert cook too.
His first brush with cooking was when he was a peon at Muktangan. Soon, he turned into an expert cook. He was among the top 30 at MasterChef India Season 3, a cookery competition on TV. “I have two more wishes. I started working on my body building in 2010 and wanted a well built body within five years. I have achieved it. I am planning a show in January and my next dream is a biography. I think when people read about stories where somebody who was an addict gets back his life and goes on to do well for himself and his family, they get inspired, and inspiration is what many addicts lack in life,” said Shrikhande, who is trying to find sponsors for his biography.
“After he mentioned my name in the speech, meeting Modiji is also on my wish list,” added Shrikhande.
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