From a drug-induced high to a natural one: How Panki Sood conquered addiction

The drug problem in Himachal Pradesh can present a gloomy picture — but the story of Panki Sood offers hope.

Panki is a mountaineer, a “managing host” at the Great Himalayan National Park — GHNP Treks and Explorations — in Tirthan Valley, Himachal Pradesh. He has engaged around 60 locals who take people on treks in the GNHP, a UNESCO-listed World Heritage Site.

He loves heights. But before 2007, Panki was perpetually “high” on drugs of all types: marijuana, cocaine, heroin, synthetics. He lived in this state for over 15 years.

When narrating the story of his addiction, Panki talks candidly about the "moral bankruptcy" and “utter selfishness” his dependence on drugs brought him. “Like many parents, mine also thought that marriage would make me responsible. In 2004, they got me married and my wife knew nothing about it. It was when she was eight months pregnant that she got to know about my addiction. She was shell shocked. But I manipulated her, as most addicts do (with the people around them),” Panki says.

 From a drug-induced high to a natural one: How Panki Sood conquered addiction

Panki Sood. Image by Ana Grillo/Good Karma Projects 2015 via Facebook

As he wouldn’t be allowed to move outside his home freely, sometimes he would use his little son as a pretext to get his next fix. “The urge used to be so intense that I would go outside on the pretext of getting my son some fresh air. But as soon as I got out, I would leave him at the gate and rush to get my dose,” Panki admits.

On one cold February evening, Panki took his son out and left him at the gate: “I did not even care that my son was not wearing socks. I just wanted my drugs. My elder brother, who was visiting, saw my son playing outside and on inquiring why he was left alone in cold, got to know about my act.”

In Panki’s own words, all hell broke loose, and when he returned, his family beat him up. “My wife also slapped me twice. Then everything was silent,” he recounts.

A friend of Panki’s had undergone treatment at a rehabilitation centre in Delhi. Panki’s parents decided to take him to the same centre. “They tied me with the rope which I used for camping, put me in the car and took me to Delhi,” Panki recounts.

After nine months at the rehab centre in Delhi and another three months in Kullu, Panki finally triumphed over his addiction. “The day I was taken to Delhi was 13 February. I remember the date because my family celebrates it as my birthday,” Panki says with a smile.

Panki’s older brother had been among the first to have obtained a Master’s degree in Tourism Studies in Himachal Pradesh. In 1996 he started an ecotourism company which trained guides in Nubra Ladakh. Later, he began working as a teacher of Tourism in Kullu Degree College. After Panki’s rehabilitation, he started working in his brother’s firm.

But the memory of those years as an addict and the effect they had on his family (among the most respected in Kullu) still haunt Panki.

He says, “My parents had the worst experience in dealing with my addiction. They took me to different places to get me treated. I remember they took me to a doctor in Ludhiana where I was kept for 24 hours for treatment and in the morning I saw a pouch hanging by my bed and the doctor claimed that it contained all the heroin I had in my body and now I am clean. Just 24 hours after returning from that place I was sitting with my dose.”

Panki began smoking when he was 13-14 years old. With marijuana easily available in Kullu, “it wasn’t a big deal”, he had tried that fairly soon. But it was when he went to Chandigarh for his senior secondary that he got into drugs. “For two years, I did nothing, was just into drugs,” Panki says.

Now, Panki says he has a clearer understanding of why he got addicted in the first place. Bullied in school, he felt unable to express himself and was always low. Smoking the first joint made Panki feel great. From marijuana to cocaine and heroin, he made quite the leap. By 2006, he was in “bad shape” and wanted to quit.

“I changed places, went to dargahs and temples, really wished at that point of time that either I get rid of this addiction or die,” says Panki.

Having conquered his addiction, Panki and his family are now in a much better place. “My wife and I often go to schools and other places and share our story. Addiction is really bad. There is nothing great in the story of someone like me who was a hardcore drug-addict at one point of time. I share my story just to tell people that drug-addiction is not the end of life. You can always get rid of it and there are better things in this world that gives you high and in a real sense,” he says.

I look at the T-shirt he is wearing with a quote by the Dalai Lama printed on it: “Happiness is not something readymade, it comes from your action”. Panki sees me reading the quote, smiles and says, “You know I read somewhere that every saint has a past and every sinner has a future. Your act makes you a saint or sinner. My actions now give me happiness.”

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Updated Date: May 08, 2016 08:39:31 IST

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