Three brothers aged between nine and 13 years are enough to bring the house down. But when this trio sat huddled in a corner before slipping into a trance, the deafening silence was enough to drive their mother Sunita Devi, 35, crazy. The three had got addicted to inhaling an adhesive and it seemed to be the only bond they shared for a year till October 2012.
A distraught Sunita knew she would have to pull her boys out of the morass before it was too late. She also knew that she had no support at home for her alcoholic husband would only thrash her more when she broached the topic. In fact, his physical abuse was the reason for the youngest of their sons to take to sniffing the adhesive.
Sunita narrated her plight to Niti Jhanji, a local resident in whose house she is employed as a help. Jhanji, 60, suggested she get her children enrolled in Theatre Age, a non-government organisation (NGO) in Sector 24, Chandigarh. Today, Sunita is a grateful mother. "Hamari madam na hoti to mere bache kabhi na sudharte (If my madam wouldn't have been there, my kids would have never improved.)"
It was her youngest, the nine-year-old who was all of seven when he first experimented with the adhesive "to forget" his father's beatings. A friend introduced him to the addiction and later his elder brothers, then aged 11 and 12 years, took to the habit. "We used to sit together in a corner at home and inhale Fevibond (the adhesive) when our mother left for work," recalls nine-year-old.
So is their father, a rickshaw-puller, kinder to them now? Says the eldest: "No, he doesn't come home now. Earlier, he would come home drunk and beat up our mother and up on some pretext or the other. We would be scared and angry. We wanted to forget the pain and sniffing the adhesive helped. But ever since we were taken to Theatre Age, we have given up the habit."
All three had dropped out of school but are now looking forward to taking admission in Class 1 in a local government school. The youngest is focused on what he wants to become in life. "A doctor," he grins.
Zulfiqar Khan, president of Theatre Age, played a key role in bringing the life of the children back on track. "They came to me on October 10, 2012. Diverting their attention from the addiction was a challenge. We used wooden toys to keep them busy and never forced them to study. They developed a liking for playing cricket and football. But the computer is what fascinates them the most."
He said he had instructed their mother not to involve them in household chores for the time being and she agreed. "The only promise I told them to keep was to tell me whatever they did, even if it was something wrong they did. I called it our 'sach ka agreement (agreement of telling the truth)'. I promised that whatever they shared with me would stay with me. Slowly, we developed a bond of friendship," he says.
With 22 years of experience in dealing with children from varied backgrounds, Khan says: "Channelling children's energy into something they love to do brings out the best in them. The three brothers are an example of this."
Alarmed at rate at which drug abuse is gaining popularity among children of the tricity, Savita Malhotra, the head of the psychiatry department and drug de-addiction centre at Post Graduate Institute of Medical Education and Research (PGIMER), says: "Sniffing adhesives is becoming a serious problem. It can even be life threatening. Such an addiction can cause brain damage, memory loss and respiratory problems."