Its hard to come away from White Magic without rooting for the author Arjun Nath, without marvelling at the safe space that is Land, a rehabilitation clinic apparently like no other, run by a man affectionately called Doc. Its harder still to meet the young writer and ex-addict without being equally impressed by how articulate he is about his journey from addiction, including multiple attempts at rehab, as well as his passion and belief in an inter-connected universe.

We wouldnt even be discussing this if it didn’t seem so germane to his transition from being a smack addict to a recovered ex-addict and a writer, with one book out and another in the works. Being a writer is clearly an identity that gives him more joy than the slightly more regimented life of a corporate lawyer, a previous identity that has been all-but-discarded.

The book itself – which started as a biography of Doc, aka Dr YusufMerchant, the driving force behind a rehab and year-long rehabilitation programme near Kalyan in Maharashtra – is part-biography, part-memoir in its final form, and wholly readable. Naths fourth attempt at rehab has by far been the most successful, as he has been clean now for six years.

Talking to Nath, Im shocked to learn that even in a privileged, upper-middle-class setting, there was no awareness about methods of detox. Nath says he tried to quit cold turkey several times, not knowing that there were medicines that could help. Theres a wisdom in him that belies his 30-something years, and a confidence when he speaks that is worlds away from the young man he describes in the book who had low self-esteem, and essentially a hole that needed to be filled with his drug of choice. Excerpts from a conversation:

You are sharing something thats incredibly personal, and its also a very tumultuous journey. How do you feel about the book being done?
It’s somehow tied in with this whole getting sober process for me. It’s about going to rehab where there are so many changes being made every day, little things, you’re learning so much about yourself, about how you interact with the world around you, about your relationships and then you think that since you’re making these massive changes in your life and embarking on this, you know, new life, maybe you should make some new choices while you’re at it?

Because you know, who gets the chance to say I no longer want to be a lawyer… or I no longer want to be associated with this entire bunch of people. Since we’re changing stuff, let’s throw some more stuff on the bonfire!

That was fantastic, so in a way you take that leap, you make that leap and you say, I want to live a life, sober and be aware of what’s happening around me, painful as that may be at times. I no longer want to live in this bubble where nothing penetrates.

And since you’re doing that, let me just try and see, this is something I’ve always wanted to do – I’ve always wanted to write a book… can I make this a career? And you don’t know if it’s going to work out for you, whether it’s going to make you happy.

And then you find slowly… that maybe it does. Maybe this day that I stayed clean and not got absolutely blown out of my mind was a good day. Maybe this day I’ve spent writing 500 words without any expectation that I’m going to have deadlines to meet, or salaries to come in, or bosses to deal with – maybe this is a good day as well.

And those things progress for me, step by step, all simultaneously, hand in hand. So when the book finally came out, or when HarperCollins accepted it, it felt like validation of all those days that I had those doubts – is this going to work out?

Five years I lived with that. Is this something that’s going to work out? And all of a sudden, boom, yeah, you get that absolute rush, it is such a rush, absolutely fantastic.

I want to come back to Dr Merchant, who sounds like such a force of nature, incredible. Hes been so instrumental in helping you change your life. You say you temper some of what he says with what other people say about him – how does that process work?
Right. It’s hard actually. I think most people who have half a brain who go to rehab, especially this one – everybody goes through that process of first being hostile towards Doc, because you feel threatened that he’s going to change stuff about you, your life, from maybe listening to what he says. Then you go to thinking this guy may have a point, to respecting him, and then to the other end of the spectrum entirely, he’s on a pedestal for a lot of people, even people who’ve left ten years ago.

They’re tongue-tied or in awe of him. He’s just everyone’s buddy, though you may not be that way to him. It’s hard not to be in awe of somebody who’s so… he’s got a tremendous personality, a lot of colour. It’s just hard. So that was a tricky bit. How not to feel like this is some sort of cult-worshipping tribute to this guy!

Did you have to check and correct and go back and double check with other people how hes been or is he very upfront?
This guy, one of the big beliefs of his life is that sharing makes everything better. I know stuff about him that most people don’t know about their spouses, their kids, just because he’s so open to talking about it. He’s doing it for himself, he totally gets this… How do you live this incredibly hard life without sharing things? He shares constantly.

At times it got damned annoying because I just wanted to get away from him after a while. It’s like come let’s talk and three hours later you’re still talking, or listening, or recording stuff or writing stuff. It was very cathartic for him as well, I like to think it was helpful for him as well. So it was great. He actually doesn’t stop talking about himself.

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