She looks with longing glances at the beautiful spread of vibrant flowers in front of her eyes. She sees bouquets in many hands. One she guesses is in the hands of a lover for his beloved, another bouquet being squeezed in the childish embrace of a six year old who is an ultimate epitome of grace and happiness at a moment. Then she sees a bunch of elderly men with heads hung low with garlands of white flowers in their hands, going probably to a funeral, as far as she guesses. She finds herself falling into a deep lake of reminiscence. She remembers the good old days. She can almost see vivid images of herself as a young child with a similar bouquet of flowers dancing about the streets in her mere state of oblivion. She remembers pointing to four people carrying a bed decorated with similar white garlands and bombarding her father with awkward questions. She can’t help but smile as remembers her insouciant days. But just like after every night comes a day and after every day comes night she sees images flashing in front of her eyes of her mother’s motionless body hanging from the ceiling in a state of stillness which seems to take out all motion from everyone around it. Even years later, the scene sends shrills through her spine. She remembers taking similar flowers and laying the garlands on her mother’s chest; the same chest which she had used as a pillow every time she was low and not a single line in her book of life spoke of positivity; the same chest in which she had felt her mother’s homely fragrance every time she hugged her when all happiness in life was hers.
She is woken from her daze as she hears loud triumphant proclamations by their village’s newly elected leader. She approaches the florist who wraps up his day even when she is quite a few meters away from him. She goes from one shopkeeper to another only to be rewarded with derisive glances and impertinent remarks. She cannot help but remember about how her life is no longer like what it used to be. She looks at herself. She touches the left side of her face as it unleashes the pain of an old yet still fresh wound.
She runs back to her home and sits in front of the mirror. She sees herself from the point of view of others- a girl with a half eroded face with once breathtakingly beautiful features set on a skin that has been wrinkled and folded and burnt far beyond her age. She looks at herself and understands of how most people perceive her as a horrendous creature. But then, she reminds herself of how none of this is her fault.
The book of her life had been written in gold, on a velvet paper until one day all of this was burnt as a layer of acid washed over it and in it began to be written a whole new phase of her life;now in blood.
A normal Tuesday, buying her regular stationary supplies from a roadside vendor, it was for about a second that she turned around towards the road that she felt a stinging pain of the left side of her face. She saw a black and roughly rectangular object rush past her as her whole vision blurred and she blacked out. She woke up to find herself staring at a green ceiling and figured that she was lying on a white bed in blue striped dressing gown. She could barely make out the silhouettes of her parents and another man whom she did not know. With her one good ear, she could hear them talking but couldn’t figure exactly what they were talking about except for the fact that she heard one word quite a lot of times repetitively- Tezaab.
Tezaab – acid. She couldn’t help but get hysterical as the harsh truth of her present life dawned on her. She had been an acid-attack victim and the acid had not only corroded her face, but had burnt away along with it a lot more than that- her future, her present, her respect, her EVERYTHING. She realized that people would no longer look at her as Daman- an ambitious girl from a remote village; but would instead look at her as Daman- the acid attack VICTIM. To her, her whole life looked as dark as her vision from her left eye.
The doctor rushed to her and injected some drugs to provide her temporary relief. Indeed. Temporary as it was. For now, she felt nothing positive in her life could be permanent. Even then, she learned to live with her scars and tried to forget about this one particular dark aspect of her life. She wondered about the streets in her own amnesia, forgetful of the fact that people around her no longer looked at her like before. She had become the topic of discussion in all the circles of elderly women and the point of ridicule to every young boy or girl in her village. She was looked down upon as a pest and sometimes was even ignored like air.
All the vendors- all her mamas and cha-chas (mamas and chachas are basically very affectionate terms for “uncle” in India); who had once eagerly waited for her arrival every morning, now remembered all sorts of worldly tasks when she was nearby. Every time she sat at the cash counter of her father’s shop to help with the billing she noticed that the number of customers went down drastically.
Her life which had taken up an admirable pace without any tiring now panted for breath after every hundred meter. She had now become an omen of bad luck to her family, a disgrace to herself and an object of ridicule for all her neighbors. All this ….. And none of it was her fault.
She hadn’t woken up on a bright Tuesday, hoping for a sour chemical to burn away her face, her luck, her EVERYTHING.
With her one good eye, she read articles about other acid attack survivors walking the ramps at international fashion weeks, or establishing their own business or joining politics and all she did was sit by the window in her home, weeping tears of hopelessness for being in a place as she was, there was no scope left for her. She figured amidst all this misery that never again in her life would she be looked at as a regular girl without being called out. She figured that never again would she have eternal happiness, except maybe……………….
Four months later, on yet another Tuesday, her motionless body was found hanging from the ceiling fan in such a similar way as her mother . Quite a déjà vu for every single person who had witnessed both. Now, no florist stepped back from offering her white flowers. All her neighbors gathered to lend a hand to her father to carry her cadaver to the cemetery.
She had taken her decisions, she had chosen her path to eternal happiness for underworld was the only place where she would not be differentiated form others as an acid attack victim, but just as a corpse, much alike everyone else down there.
Meanwhile, life asked death from afar, “Why did she choose you over me? As far as I know, humans like me way more than they do you.”
Death replied with a simper, “You my dear are a beautiful lie, whilst me? I am an atrocious truth whom no one wants to accept instead of being well aware of. But then there are these few who always choose the harshness of truth over the fake beauty of a lie. And my dear, Daman was one of them.”
Life couldn’t help but sigh, “ Oh I wish she understood that sometimes a thousand white lies are better than a single destructive truth.”