August 22, 2012
Daijiworld Media Network
For all those who watched the 9th episode of 'Satyamev Jayate' on Alcohol Abuse telecast on July 1, must have been touched by the poignant story of top journalist Vijay Simha’s battle with the bottle. Vijay shared with the public his addiction to alcohol and drugs and the downward trajectory his life had taken during this period. As per his own admission from being a top journalist he had become a destitute, was disowned by family, ridiculed by friends and acquaintances and was virtually living on the pavements of Delhi. At the end of his herculean efforts of narrating his life story which was an altruistic act, Vijay thanked Oswald Pereira for the help and support given to him in fighting his way back to recovery from addiction.
Many of us may not be aware of the fact that this Oswald Pereira (Ossie, as he popularly known to all those who know him) is a Mangalorean, hailing from Bajpe, who had his high school education at St Aloysius School in Mangalore before leaving for Mumbai at the age of 15 in search of better prospects. In this city of dreams he saw his life taking a topsy-turvy turn and by 20, before he could realize he had become a chronic alcoholic. Much later at the age of 47, after losing everything that people value much in life - job, family, friends, home, respect and everything else, he made up his mind to mend his ways. While 32 years of his life were spent as an alcoholic, he has spent the last 33 years of his life as a recovered alcoholic devoting his time and energy to counsel and rehabilitate alcoholics and drug addicts. Journalist Vijay Simha whom Oswald guided to the road of recovery, calls him as “the founding father of drug and alcohol-related rehabilitation work in India”, for his pioneering work in the field of rehabilitation.
Passion for Work
Now even at the ripe age of 80, Ossie shows no signs of slackening the pace of his relentless service to help alcoholics and druggists to emend their way of life. Now based in Delhi, he conducts counseling sessions thrice a week for recovering addicts at Rama Rehabilitation Centre run by Sanjay Mathur a recovering alcoholic and addict, who was treated at Kripa. It is said that Oswald’s ennobling service has enspirited thousands of lives so far.
Ossie, has seen the best and worst of life. Though he wants to forget the past memories, the harsh realities of not being a responsible husband and father still haunts him. Ever since turning sober his sole priority has been to help others like him to turn a new lease of life. He does not hanker after publicity and prefers to keep a low profile. Yet, there is a feeling of resignation which comes out when he says “I had a bitter parting with Kripa Foundation of which I was the co-founder. They have hijacked something that I started”. The sentence reveals more than what it merely conveys - agony and hurt he has endured in all these years.
Ossie whose roots are traced to the Pereira Kamath family of Bajpe had come to Mumbai along with his brother soon after SSLC. He got a job Rs. 40/- in a musical store to begin with. Later he began working as Telegraphist in Overseas Communication Services where he became a union leader. By 20 he had turned into an alcoholic and this alcoholic binge continued till he was 47. Recalling his spell with alcohol he says “unfortunately we (brothers) were introduced to alcohol at a young age by my uncles who were also alcoholics. There was a family tradition of binging on alcohol during celebrations and feasts which later on became an addiction”. It is four years since he visited Mangalore, where he has some friends and relatives, and says he says has no plans to do so in the near future.
He married Florie, a Mangalorean girl settled in Mumbai and they had 3 sons. As his drinking lifestyle continued unabated it eventually resulted in him losing everything he had – his job, his friends and his family. In 1978 not being able to cope with his continued drinking, his wife was left with no alternative but to leave him and take on the responsibility of bringing up her three young children, all alone.
AA to the Rescue
Ossie spent the next 12 odd months a destitute - living with his last few friends who would take him in, roaming the streets and sleeping at railway stations, doing just enough to get his continued supply of alcohol. He was introduced to Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) about 2 months into this period, but the initial introduction did not work as despite everything that had happened to him, he had still not hit “rock bottom” and did not think he needed AA to help him. It would take him another 10 months on the streets, living and working in “joints” before something jolted him to realize his rock bottom. It was the sight of an unclaimed body of an alcoholic, lying for 15 hours near the joint he worked at, which altered the course of the rest of his life. The fear of death akin to the one he witnessed made him realize that he had to do something with his life.
He went back to seek the help of Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) and that proved to be the turning point of his life. “I had lost my job, my wife and children and I wanted money for my daily drinks. I was literally on the streets of Mumbai begging for money for my drinks. The sight of the unclaimed body opened my eyes and I thought I had to do something about myself”, says Ossie recalling his decision to go back to AA.
Once on the road to recovery, the fellowship of AA became the buoy that kept him afloat. He attended meetings regularly and began counseling other alcoholics to change their lives. One of these alcoholics had a Cold Storage business and Ossie got a job working there. He continued spreading the message of AA and two years later on the 15th of August 1981, he co-founded Kripa Foundation, one of the first live-in rehabilitation centres in the country. He rendered the next 22 years of his life, relentlessly in the service to help alcoholics, addicts and their families change their lives. During this time Kripa grew and spread out across the country. Due to growing differences in philosophies with his co-founder, he left Kripa to co-found Astha Foundation and worked there for 3 years. He experienced similar differences working at Astha too, as to put in his own words “I was fed up with the dirty games they played. There were differences of opinion and I did not like their style of functioning”. But the ardor for work continues, age notwithstanding, as if like repentance for all those years he had lost during the prime of his youth to addiction. It is a recovered addict that gives him utmost satisfaction.
Helping Hand to Addicts
Journalist Vijay Simha gives the entire credit of his recovery and sobriety to Ossie for helping him overcome his addiction problem. Talking to Daijiworld about the role Ossie played in his recovery he says “when I reached rock bottom because of addiction to drugs and alcohol, there wasn't a single person in the world I was willing to heed. But when Ossie started talking about the signs and symptoms of addiction in the rehab class, it was like a slap on my face. Many slaps, actually. I was shocked. From that moment, I moved from denial to acceptance. Ossie was the father figure I missed in life. I used to spend hours seeking clarity on sundry issues from him. I realized that my addiction had nothing to do with the substance. It was alcohol, marijuana, opium, hash and smack. From Ossie, I understood that the problem, and the solution, lay within me. I haven't looked back since”.
There cannot be a greater tribute than this to Ossie, to see addicts pick up the threads of their lives and keep moving. As for his own life Ossie has reconciled with his family and is now living in Delhi with his youngest son. His two older sons are working in the Gulf. His wife Florie died five years ago.
None of the children bear any rancor for the past events but are happy that the life of the family taken a turn for the better over the years. As his son says my “father was a typical victims of alcohol, who lost everything in his life to his addiction. He has made every effort to make amends for his mistakes ever since, through his service to the society and we are really proud of that”.
What Vijay Simha says sums up the person that Ossie has become: I have met perhaps thousands of people in the course of my professional and personal interactions. I am able to say with certainty that Ossie is the greatest human being I have met. It was like he handed me the keys to life”.
There must be thousands more who must be sharing these feelings of Vijay Simha, all those whose lives Ossie has been able to touch in the last 33 years of his sober life.