An addict of yesteryears has now become an inspiration for doctors, engineers, professors, businessmen and lawyers in Kashmir.
Inside Kashmir’s known clinic crowded with confused caseloads, Faizan looked stoned. Sharing a wooden bench with a young woman wearing a flabbergasted face and an elder looking jittery, he tapped his feet while restlessly waiting for his turn.
When his name was called out, he picked up his belongings and hurriedly entered the room.
He was greeted by some smiling faces — a bunch of psychiatrists and psychologists— attending his ‘muddy mindscape’.
Before his regular clinical appearances, Faizan used to put boot polish on slices of bread and ate it. The drug addict would also consume the white powder from ‘Nevla’ packets.
Fearing for his life, Faizan’s family one day brought him to a Srinagar’s reputed clinic where mental health specialists put him on the road to recovery.
But beyond the clinical treatment, Faizan craved for dope and would always seek means to address his addiction.
High on heroin one day, he bumped into his neighbour who decided to ‘peddle out’ his addiction.
The neighbour was a cyclist who introduced the addict as a brother to his group.
Faizan gradually started showing interest in cycling and the group soon arranged an expedition and event to award him.
The camaraderie worked and boosted his morale to participate in regular cycling events.
The cycling gradually allayed his addiction and put him on the healthy track.
The cycling group that Faizan joined was started by a former government official, Mushtaq Bhat in the year 2000, with a motto to ‘alter lives with adventure’.
Mushtaq’s Jammu and Kashmir Cycling Association — recognized by the cycling Federation of India — identifies the distressed community members and helps them with cycling expeditions.
“Our aim is to provide recreation over recreational drug to youth,” Mushtaq says. “And this belief has helped us touch and treat many lives.”
But sustaining the cycling cause was never a pushover for the man who quitted his ‘secure’ government job for the drifting adventure.
“Our group was not growing until the year 2010 when a participant from Kashmir, Shabir Akhoon won a medal,” Mushtaq says. “It was a special feat for all of us as Shabir had won the race with a general cycle.”
Back then, he says, the cyclists didn’t have resources to buy a professional cycle. “So we bought few general cycles to participate in Nationals.”
Many years down the line, Mushtaq now runs over 20 cycling clubs across Kashmir.
“We work on healthy habits,” he says. “Participants wake up early in the morning and start cycling every day for about two hours. It keeps them physically and mentally fit.”
One of the new entrants in the group is a bicycle buff from Srinagar whose post-university life had badly distressed him.
“There was nothing to do except sitting home idle,” Farhan, a 27-year-old participant, recalls his life outside the campus.
To manage his monotony, he joined a private organization but left the job in 2019 because of the crippling situation in Kashmir following the abrogation of Article 370.
“The mental pressure was so high that it left me frustrated,” he recalls his captive trauma.
“After a few months, while scrolling social-media timeline, I saw a post on the Sunday cycling event. I thought of joining the group. Next day I went and participated. I felt relaxed. After that day I’m continuously going for cycling. I hardly use any other means of transport now because cycling has made me fit and I’m happy to play my part in preserving the environment as well.”
Farhan has already participated in the cycling expeditions to Sonamarg, Doodhpathri, Kaman Post Uri, Gurezand other destinations.
“Cycling ended the cycle of my worries,” he says. “And now, I’m happy to live a healthy recreational routine.”
The motive behind the growing craving for cycling isn’t merely driven by the desire to counter addiction and anxiety, but also to live a healthy life in Kashmir — where security situation, stress and sedentary lifestyle have together shadowed life.
“But I’m happy that cycling is becoming a part of our lifestyle again,” Mushtaq says. “We had suspended it due to our blind pursuit of modernity and other things. But now, the change is there to see.”
To sustain the cycling change, he enrolls more and more participants and runs separate groups for each age group.
“It’s all about coming together for physical and mental fitness cause,” continues Mushtaq, who covered the longest road trip from Srinagar to Leh in 2018 in 18 hours and 23 minutes.
“Everyone has a reason to join the cycling group and it’s overall proving good to people.”
Meanwhile, Faizan is no longer seeking hope in dope and has also stopped showing up for his counseling sessions.
He now looks forward to his Sundays when he wakes up early in the morning and leaves home with his cycling gear. He calls his group and meets them near Srinagar’s HMT Crossing for the collective expedition.
The addict of yesteryears has now become a national medal-winning cyclist from Kashmir and an inspiration for doctors, engineers, professors, businessmen and lawyers — all part of his cycling expedition group.
“I’m happy to drive out addiction with cycling,” Faizan says. “If I can do it, then others grappling with drug menace can do it too.”