Sunday, 11 June 2017

Book conversations: White Magic

White Magic: A Story of Heartbreak, Hard Drugs and Hope
Arjun Nath
Harper Collins India, 2016

I have referred several long-term alcohol dependent patients to rehab centres.  But they rarely ever come back to share their experiences - that is, if at all they do go on to have a successful rehab.

The few who have been to rehab in the past have only recounted horror stories of how staff verbally and physically abused them, how they were tied up and/or tortured, and in some cases, how they had to jump over the compound to escape the 'prisons' they were in.  

Naturally then, with White Magic I was curious to find out the insider's account of what it is to go through drug rehab as a patient.  I was hoping for a balanced account of the successes, happy outcomes, unsuccessful attempts at rehab, and the difficulties faced by staff and patients alike in battling a notoriously recurrent and exasperating problem that is drug addiction. 

I am sorry to say I was left disappointed...

What we get in this book is a personal account of the author's rehab experience in one particular centre called The Land, which we are told operates very differently from the rest, and has high success rates.  That's fine...I am okay with that bit, even though the author does not comment on the effectiveness of his own rehab experience in the end.  

However the rehab experiences of Nath or his fellow programmers recounted here are very few.

Instead the majority of the narrative is filled with the maverick founder Doc/Bhai's life story, whom, it is plain to see, the author lionizes.  Everything about his difficult birth, his dysfunctional family life, his headstrong attitude, and his struggles through life as he sets up the rehab centre initially at home, and later at The Land are described as in a biography.

More than anything, his multiple affairs and love life are described in lurid details.  Bhai comes across as a cantankerous Casanova who beds anything that remotely resembles the female of the species.  Sorry to scoff, but this is not what I wanted to find out from the book.

In spite of all this, I did manage to find a few things worth remembering: that the idea of rehab is not to run away from the drug, but to run towards a fulfilling life; that any goal is achievable as long as one aims high and works towards it; and that the power of belief in, and the act of prayer to an impersonal higher power can in themselves achieve more than the rigid belief in any one particular faith or its god.  

Few more things that rankle: there is a generous use of cuss words; not just from the programmers, but also from Bhai himself.  And they all smoke like chimneys in rural England.  It is as though the rehab program does not consider the harmful effects of nicotine.  Instead, cigarettes are inhaled in preference to oxygen, and their non-use is applied as a punitive measure against some transgressions in The Land. 

The writing is mostly excellent, although there are quite a few sentences which I had to read again to coax the meaning into my (thick) head.  Nath does mention that his 'soup'y writing may not appeal to one who has no interest in the subject of drug addiction or rehab - or indeed, enlightening onselfe about the life-story of Bhai.  I agree with him there... 

Only go for it if you enjoy reading biographies of eccentric individuals and their flamboyant lives.

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