It was 1:30 pm. The Howrah- Delhi Express had just entered the Howrah Station. We had two AC 3 tier tickets. Surya had already kept our luggage near our seats and called me.
—32 and 46.
I had just kept my foot on the first step when a middle aged lady pushed me aside to board the train first. She gave a quick look and moaned.
– Oh my God!
I was disturbed but soon overcame those unwelcoming and irritating feelings.
My berth was near the window. A family of a father, a mother and a five-year-old boy sat on the other seats. They just pretended not to notice me. The little boy saw my face and shrunk into his mother’s arms immediately.
As time passed it was increasingly becoming difficult for me to remain quiet. I was totally secluded. But why? I too loved to talk and to make new friends.
I walked towards the washroom. The vendors screamed ‘Chai, chai’ and shrieked each time they saw me. But I was accustomed to such odd looks and uneasy glances.
I came out of the washroom and washed my face. My bindi had moved from its usual place. I stared at the mirror thinking of a secluded train journey when suddenly Surya came up and fixed my bindi. I was happy to see him.
— Didn’t find you in your seat. What’s up?
— It was awkward o’er there.
There was a sudden jerk. I saw that little boy, who cuddled in his mother’s arms when he first met me, had fallen near my feet. I picked him up and held in my arms. He was a bit afraid. I kissed on his cheeks and Surya brushed off the dust on his limbs.
— What’s your name?
Behind was Suman’s mother who nearly snatched him from my arms and headed towards the washroom. It was too much for me. Surya too was upset.
— Am I so ugly?
— No, not at all.
— Nilofar, you are beautiful from your heart. All cannot see a blue lotus. Your face may be scarred by acid but your heart isn’t. It is still as beautiful as the blue lotus.
I smiled at him. His words were so soothing. Back in my seat, I saw Suman sitting near the window. He was no longer afraid of me. In spite of his mother’s repeated yells, he did not move from the window side.
I offered him a chocolate. He readily accepted. I was happy that at least this little boy could understand that I was not so ugly as my scarred face looked.
We had reached Delhi the next day. As time passed, I was worried.
— What’s up?
Surya tried to read my eyes.
— It is indeed going to be the most memorable moment of my life but….
— I’m afraid of talking to the press.
But I could not calm down.
Receiving an award from the President of the country is not everyone could get or even imagine in his life. It was honor at the highest level.
My heart was beating fast at the press conference.
Reporter 1: Ma’am, please share your feelings.
— It’s an honor to me. It will give confidence to the victims of acid attack to come out from their dark seclusion and to lead a normal life as before. Only then the acid attackers would understand that they cannot deprive us of the elixir called life.
Reporter 2: Ma’am, please tell us your story … Please share it with us.
I lost my words but soon regained it. The voice that came out the next few minutes were probably not my own but the words were as if my soul had become free to voice out all my grief and my comeback to the game of Life.
“I was born in a Muslim family residing in a village in Bangladesh near to the Ichamati River that marks the boundary of India and Bangladesh. On the day of Dusshera, every year people of both India and Bangladesh flock together for the immersion of the idols under strict military vigilance. On one such Dusshera, my uncle took me to see the gathering on the heart of the river. When the boats were too close, he placed me in one the boats hailing from India. I was unnoticed and I could draw the attention of the people with my cry only when the boat was already within the Indian territory. To avoid problems, a couple decided to adopt me as their daughter. Soon I bowed down to their love.
My new life was simple, always lively and cheerful. My friends, my parents, and my parrot were my world. This happy life started getting interrupted with the entry of some unknown people when I was in class nine. My parents were of the notion that I was already of marriageable age. I tried to make them understand that I wasn’t eighteen then. When all my efforts to stop my early marriage failed, I took resort to my teachers and the local police station. Finally, my parents were bound to stop thinking of my marriage.
But these happy days of my school did not last long. I was in college. Soon I was married off to a government clerk. Though he was in a government service he did all the illegal things. Often I was beaten up to force me to bring money from my parents. My stubbornness about not asking for money led to the most fatal incident of my life. My husband attacked me with acid. In a fit of rage, he threw the bottle of acid on me. When he realized what he had done, he fled with the rest of the family.
I was blind and unconscious with the burns. The neighbors admitted me to a state hospital but my injuries needed immediate treatment. It was a blessing from the Almighty when the NGO Anjali came forward to bear all the expenses of my treatment. At this time Anjali helped me to come in touch with Dr. Surya Bose who too was a part of Anjali. Since then Surya had become my companion and friend. Not only did he help me to cure but also gave mental support to recover from the sorrow of life. Without him and Anjali, my comeback to life wouldn’t have been possible.
And now Anjali has helped me to continue my education. In return, I have incorporated myself in Anjali to extend forward my little hand to those unfortunate girls who are becoming victims of acid attack.”
We were returning to Kolkata by the Purba Express where we met a group of school children. This time I was no longer lonely and secluded, instead, I was playing Antakshari with them. And as a grace of friendship, I gave them all red, yellow and white roses which I had, to make them understand that their hearts were truly made of the roses.
This story was originally published under “It’s My story” in my facebook page Scribbled Sagas.