Surrounded by people she trusts, Reshma is not shy. And as her brother points out, half her face, the right side, is still beautiful.
Oh, but the other half.
A horizontal scar below her nose slides to the left and opens up a web of scars, a book of pain that relates her attack and more than a year’s worth of surgery with more to come.
The sulphuric acid her brother-in-law — along with a small pack of cousins and goons — threw on her face, she said, felt like boiling water that just kept cooking away at her skin. Reshma says the burning seemed to go on forever. The doctors she saw right after the attack in Allahabad sent her away.
“It’s not a medical matter,” they said, “it’s a police matter.”
Learn more about this organization helping acid attack survivors in India.
Had she been attended to more quickly, her left eye might have been saved. That was May 2014.
Right now, I’ve climbed up a set of 10 stairs, each tread so steep it feels like I’m going into a treehouse. I’m in her family’s cramped apartment in a warren of shops and apartments in the Mumbai neighborhood of Chembur. It’s a slum.
I want to hear how she’s dealt with this tragedy, how her brother-in-law made her suffer unbearably, how she thinks of him in his jail cell, awaiting trial, and how she’d like to do to him what he did to her. How she’d like him to suffer. And she also thinks of her life and the beauty she once had.
Reshma is more confident now, her brother Azaiz tells me. I hear that renewed confidence when she explains to me that it’s the heart that counts; the body is simply a vessel to transport that heart through life.
As she speaks, I can’t help being drawn to her left eye, which is no longer there. That socket is red and raw, a shallow pit that goes nowhere.
I notice something else: The one thing that eye can still do is cry.
She knows I am distracted, but she wants me to hear her stories. Slowly, over the course of a sweaty- and tear-filled hour, I manage to stop tacking between her good eye and the one that isn’t there. When I manage to settle down, we make eye contact, we communicate.
She seems resigned to awkward interaction, so long as people don’t just stare. She tells me she doesn’t like leaving the house, going out socially, and I understand. She does occasionally go out though, when Azaiz coaxes her. A few nights ago, he took her to the movies. She put on lipstick, wrapped a veil around her face, and wore sunglasses.
When our interview is over, it’s late afternoon, and the muezzin at a nearby mosque has started his verses. As I say goodbye, Reshma has a rolled-up prayer mat under her arm gently covers her head with a veil. Just the top of her head though. She makes no attempt to cover the left side of her face. For her god, she has nothing to hide.
From PRI's The World ©2015 Public Radio International