3 years

Transfiguration

Always the Dancer

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An acid attack victim tries to get her face back

It has been eight years since the acid attack one December evening.

Anu Mukherjee, now 33, was beautiful once. She cannot see what the acid has done. She can only run her fingers through her face and feel the damage in its scars, and a half-reconstructed nose, and above what were once her eyes, she can now feel little hair sprouting in the shape of eyebrows. She can feel her stitched-up skin. Her eyes were so badly destroyed in the attack that she could not even shed tears for the next few months.

She plays the disc. It’s her story. She is wearing an orange kurta, the same that she wears in a photo that hangs in her living room. She is laughing in it. The small apartment she shares with her brother and a friend, and her dog Frooty, is windowless.

In a tight space between the refrigerator and a wrought iron bed, she swayed to the music of Jism. Her hands slithered over her frame, lingering on the curves, and her lips quivered as her hair fell all over her face. She scooped it up, and let it fall again.

“I felt the embroidery and liked this.” Her blouse, with strings at the back, is inspired by Bollywood. Her bangles were bought in a market near Hanuman Mandir, near CP.

On her birthday, Anu was all dolled up. Glossy lips and ironed hair. She even had matching nail paint with little golden hearts. She wore heels after eight years.

Once she gave up on the rest of her guests, Raju lit the candles and helped her blow them out and cut the cake. He doesn't reveal what he does to run the household. “I am not into bad dealings,” is all he says, laughing, “But I have had to do certain things. Otherwise, how would I be able to take care of her?”

She had sat on the edge of the bed at her party, her legs dangling, holding her glass of whisky. Her lover hadn't come.

For her face, skin has been peeled off her thighs and sides, and they will soon take some more skin from her arms.

She hopes to get multiple surgeries done, but she may never reclaim her lost face.Perhaps she could get what's close to a human face, with features in place, but not what she owned and was proud of.

In her earlier life, men used to shower money on her, some of them even love. She had many admirers. She was young and full-bodied. She laughed easily. She drove a Honda City, had the arrogance of a woman who knew she could get it all.

The flames dance around her, imbuing her with a certain surreal grandeur. Here, in this old church, Anu has come to ask. For she believes it will be given. And all she wants is a face.

In the unbearable heat of the small church, she murmurs a silent prayer. “Deliver me from evil,” she says.

She was once in hospital after having jumped from her fourth floor apartment in Garhi. Ended up with a broken leg. It happened. “You know, I just stood up and I walked,” she says, “Since then, I have come here regularly. When all doors are closed, God opens his arms.

“You say 'Come to me, I will give you rest’,” the voice continues.

A man in a wheelchair leans forward.

“Fear not, I am with you.”

“Hallelujah.”

Hands go up in the air, invoking the messiah. Anu's hands sway faster than anyone else’s

Frooty is her two year old daughter, a pampered dog with silver anklets and birthday cakes.

“But let's not talk about such things. Let's not talk about things that hurt. Too many surgeries are pending. Maybe I won't survive. It is my birthday. Let us celebrate.”

Text by Chinki Sinha