On an unusually muggy spring day, 16-year-old Amol (name changed) stands in a dingy lane near Hauz Khas. He sniffs a handkerchief every few minutes. Approach him and he smells of white eraser fluid.
Contrary to perception, Anmol is not one of the countless homeless kids in the national Capital who are addicted to the cheap drug. He studies in Class 11 in a reputed public school in south Delhi.
“I started sniffing when I was in Class 7. I buy two bottles a day and it costs me just Rs 50,” he said. While the knowledge that eraser fluid, glues, nail polish removers and naphthalene balls can be misused as drugs is not new, the profile of the kids using them has come as a shock to many.
School bathrooms, deserted classrooms and alleys are preferred by addicts. At home, the bathroom is the most common place that children sniff in.
“I tell my mother that I need the fluid for projects, so she doesn’t suspect me. I also make sure that I don’t leave an empty bottle in my bag,” said Chaitanya, 14, a resident of Vasant Vihar.
Abuse of this kind is very difficult to spot, as it is not noticeable. One doesn’t need a secluded spot to sniff. It can be done in front of teachers and parents, most of whom never find out.
“Sniffing whiteners is a rage among students. Teachers don’t even get to know what’s going on,” said Rohan, a college student, who started sniffing when he was in class 7.
And it is not just eraser fluid that is used. Household items such as phenyl and naphthalene balls are also being used.
“Sniffing petrol from car and bike tanks does not cost a dime and can be done anywhere. We go out in the evening and open tanks of bikes,” said Shrey Khanna, a resident of Naraina.
While sale and purchase of contraband drugs is risky, inhalants are available at any neighbourhood shop.
Easy availability aids the swift increase of abuse of household items.
“Addicts buy it more than once a day but I can’t say no to them as they will go and get it somewhere else,” said Brij Kishore Sharma, who owns a stationery store in Vasant Kunj.
(Names have been changed to protect identities of students)