Pain, PAIN, blinding searing pain,
Pain as I felt my face was on fire,
Pain, pain, scorching, hurting, blinding, throbbing pain……
This is me Namrata Singh.. ..and this is my story. I belong to a regular, middle class family, in the northern part of a booming metropolis. My father was a chartered accountant with a small, private firm. My mother was the quintessential housewife, ever willing to feed (read force feed) me and my brother with home-made, heavenly delights. I grew up on paneer, chappatis dripping with ghee, lassi and a variety of desserts. I was always bubbly, chirpy, I used to talk a dime a dozen, and most of all, I remember being fat. Chubby to my parents, fat to the world!
My parents lovingly called me Titli, because I was always gaily flitting about. Happy to be in the company of others. Additionally I was a voracious reader and would eagerly devour fictional as well as non- fictional novels.
I could always be found in the company of others with some savoury or sweet item stuffed in my mouth. The result was, by the age of 11, I weighed a good 70 kilogrammes. Now to my loving family I was their Titli, but in effect I had raced on and become a behemoth!
Teenage acne kicked in, and this along with my weight issues, did not bode well for me. However, I always had a close circle of friends, who were always by my side. Sara, Marsha and Nitin were always around me and loved hanging out at my house. The jalebis and gulab jamuns, I must say, were added incentives. My mother would gladly feed an army, at any given time.
I never had any love life though, and gradually Nitin paired up with Marsha. Sara and her family moved to one of the Gulf countries. I always felt like a third wheel while hanging out with Nitin and Marsha. So I gradually just threw myself into my studies, scoring well in exams and finally opted for Commerce in a reputed college. I continued to keep in touch with them, and with Sara through emails.
My dad wanted me to get into finance, so I went along. But in the vacations I enrolled myself in a Journalism course. I felt at home in the world of writing and expressing myself. Dad was adamant for me to continue Chartered Accountancy, but I persuaded him to let me change streams and this was how I landed a job at Surya News Agency. The proprietor was a Mrs. Anuradha Chaddha and here is where my actual story begins. I was 24 years old by then, and weighing in at a good 100 kilogrammes. I was 5 feet 1 inches short and no one from the opposite sex had ever looked at me twice. I used to have my lunch and then take a walk before resuming work. I frequented a little garden near my office and that is where I first saw him. Aniket. He was tall, dark and absolutely the opposite of me in everyway. I used to sneak peeks at him and I guess he noticed it. One day he struck up a conversation with me.
I was surprised and flattered that he deigned to even speak to me. I didn’t have a very good image of myself. The small chats switched to longer phone conversations. It was 1990 and WhatsApp wasn’t common. So phone calls it was. I was totally smitten by him, and did not realise how deeply I was falling for him. Meanwhile, he began getting irritated if I didn’t pick his calls immediately, if I was out even shopping with my mother. He knew I only spoke about Nitin and Marsha, but he even began getting suspicious about Nitin, my childhood buddy. Warning bells began ringing in my head.
I decided to call off our relationship. I was a woman of the 90s and even though I had low self esteem, I knew when a relationship was not right. He begged, he pleaded and I forgave him just once. Just 10 days after that he overheard me speaking on the phone. It was a male colleague, calling regarding a project deadline. He slapped me in broad daylight, in a public garden! I scratched his face and slapped him back, then picked up my damaged Nokia phone. I told him never to contact me again. He growled, then threatened, that no one had ever slapped Aniket Gujjar. “You will pay, you huge overgrown Titli!,” he threatened, and stormed away. I was angry, but unperturbed by his threat.
I simply went on with my work and in a few days Aniket Gujjar was behind me. Little did I know what was in store for me. One day, I was calmly sitting in the cosy garden, after lunch break, listening to FM radio on my new mobile phone. Suddenly, I felt a liquid being poured over my head, that quickly began eating up my skin. My face was on fire, I screamed. I felt pain, pain, burning, searing pain. I wanted to claw away my face with my nails. I was blinded. I fainted.
I woke up in an antiseptic smelling hospital room. Monitors beeping, face bandaged. I looked around with my one, open eye. The other one along with my entire face, was bandaged up. I began crying when I saw my parents anxious looks. I had sustained severe burns due to acid flung on my face and hands. My nose was also damaged. Somehow more than the injuries, it was my little remaining self esteem that I lost as well. I went into an abyss, a shell of pain, shame and guilt. It had been Aniket of course, who had cause me this pain, this humiliation. All I ever wanted was to be a news reporter, and he had ripped that from me in one fell swoop. All because I said No to him. I was depressed to say the least. The bandages came off and even though the mirrors were taken away from me, I happened to get a glimpse of my mangled face, in the mirror of my mom’s compact powder pack . I cried, I screamed , I was a monster. A fat, huge monster whose dreams had been crushed. I had lost sight in my right eye but truth be told, I had lost my sanity as well.
My poor parents and brother rallied around me night and day. Nothing worked. I collected all my pain killers and swallowed them at once. I was found just in time and my stomach was pumped. “Titli, what are you doing to yourself darling? You are more than this. Aniket has been detained, and is in jail. We will see that he doesn’t get bail. We are following up on the case,” pleaded my father. “ Titli, please do not give up. We love you. Where has that bubbly, chirpy butterfly gone to?,” cried my mother. I was unmoved. I remained determined to end it all. Counsellors were summoned but I just gave them stony stares. I didn’t respond.
This is when my boss Anuradha stepped in. She had been instrumental in helping my family arrest Aniket. Everyone at office knew of our affair. Two office boys gave witness to the fact that he was in the garden at 2pm, when my world had caved in.1
Anuradha enveloped me in a warm hug. She sat silently by my side, and brought me a novel from by my favourite author. She was a good friend and knew me well. “Namrata, what are you doing to yourself, dear? You are spiralling downwards and I know you are such a bright spark. Do not let this incident weigh you down. I can see anguish in your parents eyes. Your brother requested me to come and speak with you.”
“ Why are you even bothering with me? I am of no use to you or your firm. I can never be a journalist, on the field, microphone in hand. That evil man poured acid not only on me, but on my dreams. He has destroyed me!” I cried. The tears stung my recovering skin. I winced in pain. It had just began to repair itself. Skin grafting was of no use, the damage was extensive.
Anuradha hugged me and promised me this. “I will be here daily at 7pm, come what may. Meanwhile I want you to write down whatever you feel or do daily. Do this for me”. Somehow, I felt better after her visit. I did what she requested. I began writing diligently. Fervently. It was cathartic.
The next week she reinstalled the mirror in my room. “ Look, but look beyond the mirror. You have been chubby your whole life, it did not stop you from being your bubbly, chirpy self. I have faith in you. Do you?” I was hesitant. She took me to the mirror. I turned my face away. I had never been a vain person, but what I saw made me retch, each time. A mangled monster, that was me. “Namrata, you are much, much more than what you see in this piece of glass. You are smart, savvy and kind,” said Anuradha.
“Surya News Agency is going places. It is due to your selfless work for the past three years. We are soon going to launch our own news channel, she added. “ That is wonderful news Anuradha. But I am afraid I am finished!,” I said, dejectedly.
“You are just starting my dear. I want you as my chief editor, and I am giving you 60 days to consider my offer. In the meanwhile, keep writing that diary,” said Anuradha.
I was shell shocked. This busy lady was taking time out of her schedule to come sit with me and talk to me. She had a home and business to run. So what if my face was mangled, inside I was still the same old Titli. For the first time I sat at the dinner table and ate and spoke with my family. I used to hide in my room before that. Mother bought me colourful scarves.
“Mom lets go out for a walk,” I said. “ Oh my Titli, of course, let us go”, said mom, tears in her eyes. The first time I stepped out I felt everyone was staring at me, even though I had carefully draped a scarf around my head. Infact, they were. People are like that! But I walked on. Day by day my left eye seemed to get stronger. It seemed to be taking on the work of my right eye!
I stared ahead at the future.
It looked bright. Aniket had pulled off my wings, but I had metamorphed into something bigger, something better. Granted, on first viewing my face, people would get questioning or pitying looks on their visages. My brother got t shirts with sayings such as ‘I am a survivor’ and I wore these if I visited malls, or parks or any new places. It seemed to keep the questions at bay. Very soon I didn’t need these T shirts as well.
“ Welcome back our Titli,” was the banner that was hanging gaily at my Surya office. I joined back and I was so very content as Chief Editor. I could write and edit and write and purge myself to my heart’s content. In two months time, Aniket was sentenced to 5 years in jail, and a penalty of 10 lakh rupees was imposed on him. This amount I gladly handed over to my parents.
I had found a saviour in Anuradha. She healed me like no doctor ever could. I was ready to take on the world, scarf or no scarf!
Author’s Note: In 2013, the Home Ministry,complying with the Supreme Court of India, asked all states to ban across -the -counter sale of acid in the wake of rising incidents of attacks on women.
Chappati- flat bread.
Lassi- sweet or savoury Indian drink made from a yoghurt / buttermilk base with water.
Gulab jamuns- an Indian sweet consisting of a ball of deep fried paneer, boiled in a sugar syrup.
Jalebis- an Indian sweet made of a coil of batter, fried and steeped in syrup.
This is an entry for the event #BreakFree, ArtoonsInn’s signature Short Story Writing event, #ArTales-16.
Check out event guidelines here: https://writers.artoonsinn.com/break-free-artales-16-open-event/
Check out Natasha’s space here: https://writers.artoonsinn.com/author/natashasequeira/