Two years ago, when he was in Class 10, friends lured Gaurav Khanna (name changed) into the uncharted world of ‘winking’.
The practice of inhaling an intoxicating mixture of white ink fluid and diluter, or ‘winking’ or ‘whiting’ in student parlance, is an easily accessible, low-cost way to get high.
“I had friends who sold the idea to me. So I felt a bit peer pressured into trying it,” said Khanna, who gave it up after a couple of months. “Everyone knows about it, lots of people do it, and some people get addicted.”
On Monday, students at a well-known Noida school were caught on CCTV camera, sniffing the fluid on school premises. The phenomenon is equally prevalent in Mumbai, say doctors.
“It’s difficult to have numbers for this, but it seems to be increasing among the sophisticated classes who have easy access to these things,” said Dr PC Shastri, a psychiatrist, treating three such addiction cases at the moment.
A bottle of whitener or correction pen costs as little as Rs 25 and can be bought at any stationery shop, making it cheap and easily accessible. It’s addictive value lies in the short-lived high it provides.
“It doesn’t make you hallucinate, it just makes your reactions a little slower and dazed,” said Khanna.
Shrradha Sidhwani, a clinical psychologist with Mindtemple, has been treating around 14 cases in the past six months alone.
“Because of stress in the family or peer pressure, children might turn to inhaling these substances when they feel low, and it provides a temporary high,” said Sidhwani.
Some of the symptoms of the addiction include behavioural changes, lethargy, loss of appetite and distractedness.
However, the numbers that go in for treatment may not reflect the number actually indulging in ‘winking’, as several students said they knew others who had tried it.
“From what I can see, the whole of Mumbai is doing it; I know at least 20 of my acquaintances are, and none of them are getting treated for it,” said Ravi Desai (name changed), a junior college student.
At one city school, students even asked the counsellor up-front for a discussion on ‘winking’.
School principals, however, appear to be unaware of the issue. Several said they had never come across this phenomenon.
“We’ve never come across this at all, students don’t even carry such stationery to school,” said Avnita Bir, principal of RN Podar School in Santacruz.