The Humbling Faces.
The Face of Beauty.
Her blood curdled as Ria stood outside the Women’s Ward of Burns Department.The tortured, heart piercing screams and the stench of burning human skin overpowered her senses. All the beds of the ward were full as was the floor. The moans of torturous pain showed no respite. Many of the girls were unconscious for their brain could not process that intensity of acute ache. The burnt out eyes that did not see the minute by minute degeneration of their once delicate face. Ria’s guide was another victim, blind, badly burnt, dexterous, kind and able. She gently held Ria’s shivering hands. Together they entered the ward and her heart sank when the ward door was locked ominously behind her. There was no going back. She was all of 21.
Reshma’s tiny house in the poor parts of a monstrous metro was the ground of her sister’s tormenting by her husband. One such night, the husband bought potent acid for Rs.30 from the next door shop and hurled it at the sister content in the knowledge that life in every form – smile, friends, love, bravery, pride – would burn away from her life along with butcherly burning her delicate face. Only that was not to be. A fiercely protective Reshma stepped in between. When acid comes in contact with the skin, the skin fumes and melts – ever so excruciatingly that death seems like a relief – minute by minute, hour by hour scarring the face to that point where nothing remains – no face, no identity, no joy, time stands still at an aching point. Forever. Reshma was all of 17.
In that burns ward Ria, who belongs to an affluent family and was meandering through life with irrelevant insecurities and petty self obsessions – which have become a hallmark of our collective ethos really – found her calling. In a paradigm altering moment for India, Ria decided to extend her loving hand towards these wronged souls. Today she runs an organization ‘Make love not scars’ to intervene at every level of these barbaric acts.
The challenges are many. Acid is sold unchecked and openly at pittance in spite of the alarming fact that India has an official statistic of one acid attack per day. The real picture is even more somber than that. The girls who are the casualty of these barbaric attacks often lack money to sustain their surgeries and treatments. The wounds penetrate the very core, shake the very foundation of their being and relegate them to dungeon inmate like desolate existence, fearing revulsion in looks and actions of their community. They have to be gently and empathetically brought out to face the reality. They have to encouraged to rise like a Phoenix from the ashes.
In a blessed synergy, Ria is finding constant respite from her own anxiety and inconsequential coming of age issues in the company of these 45 girls and the girls are finding in her a sister, a friend, an advocate, a nurse and a face in the society who gives them courage. That courage is so needed to face pity in onlooker’s eyes in place of envy, to sense quick averting eyes of cute boys who in the past sighed at their beauty, to always be invisible in celebrations or family reunions lest someone gets offended, to face the camera instead of hiding in someone’s shadow, unshackle the face from tightly worn mask-like scarf and feel the breeze, to find fleeting beauty in their cruelly altered universe.
On this auspicious occasion of Dussehra, we share with you these faces of beauty that shine with courage and compassion, with empathy and love, generosity and forgiveness. We share with you our very own Laxmis – Ria and Reshma, who give face to many of their creed, who confer encouragement on us to be a teeny bit more aware and a tiny bit more humane.
My most heartfelt thanks go to Ria and Reshma for finding time and to Vinit for introductions and photography, to lovely and kind Piyu for the makeup and sweet Jyothi for the hair.
Many thanks to Rina Singh for these beautiful Eka saris in which the girls were preening like fairies.
On the day of the shoot, within 2 minutes of introductions, we were all reduced to giggling girls, eating pizza, gossiping, drinking chai and taking selfies. In the end, nothing like the enduring joys and firm strength of sisterhood. And yes, gender is no bar to be a part of it.