Sapna straightened the pleats of the saree and looked up at the gorgeous woman standing above her. The model smiled back at her. Sapna went on with tucking and putting the ensemble in place. Helping her straighten out the creases and then adding the finishing touches of her makeup. The dressing room was in a mad chaos with models all around in various stages of dress and undress. There were mists of hair spray and setting powders mixed in the air. Shoes with taped soles were lying on table with numbered labels on them and long racks of clothes kept whizzing around the floor barely missing to hit someone or something. Several make up artists and hair dressers were standing around makeshift tables, working calmly amid this random chaos. Their dexterous fingers working their magic, turning each face and hair do into an exquisite piece of art. The fashion show was just about to start in a few minutes, the auditorium outside was already filled and the hosts of the evening could be heard regaling the crowds with their funny one liners. Backstage it seemed like they will not have the show up and running on time, the last few minutes was a whirl of flying bandanas, hot rolling irons, lost shoes, and highlighter palettes. Sapna was helping putting on the setting spray on another model now. Glasses of wine, unfinished mostly, were left standing on the tables everywhere. Finally the moment arrived and the models moved in synchronized succession from backstage to the runway. As they returned back stage there was another rush of outfit changes, each change done in barely 2 mins. Sapna was adept at handling this super charged environment and went around assisting and helping out in an expert manner. She had been doing this since the past 5 years now.
The show finished as quickly as it had started, it was over within minutes. Some of the people moved out quickly and went mingling in the crowd outside while few of the models crashed backstage lazily, removing the remains of the their caked faces, getting out of the exquisite clothes and into more comfortable ones. Sapna sat around helping, she was an assistant to one of the best make up artists in the industry, one who was in the A-list for such shows. She was learning the trade under her, and though she was exceptionally good at what she did, she knew it will be a long time before she could dream of making it on her own. There were very few people who will give her the chance to do so. She was thankful to Ahana Ahuliwalia, her boss, for giving her the opportunity to work alongside her, she was a good woman.
There was another woman Sapna was very thankful to, Ayesha Nambiar, the woman who was walking towards her now. Sapna still remembered the first day she had met Ayesha, 8 years ago, Sapna was 20 years old then. That was the first time she had travelled outside from her small city of Kasauli to come to the big, bad Mumbai city. Ayesha came to her, “Hi Sapna, how is it going? I haven’t seen you in a long time. How is the work going? Come to the office some day, have a lot to discuss with you, I hope you are working on the plan of opening up your own salon soon.” Ayesha hugged her and moved on with greeting other people, she was the coordinator of the show.
Sapna started packing up for the day. Rhea one of the models whom she was helping earlier, spoke up, “Sapna is it true? You are planning to open your own salon? That is marvelous dear, I wish you good luck.” A couple of the other girls also chimed in congratulating her, Sapna shrugged her head, “Not really girls, I don’t think it is a possibility anytime soon, I mean who will come to my salon, I will not be able to appoint anyone either. And forget about getting customers, who will come to me to make them beautiful.” The girls all went silent. Rhea spoke up again, “Are you kidding me, You are one of the best Make up artists there is, Ahana doesn’t let just anybody assist her personally, you are practically her right hand. I am confident you can do this.” The other girls all nodded agreement. “Sapna, if you don’t mind, I wanted to ask, how did this happen. What happened?” Sapna turned around to face the 3 beautiful girls sitting in front of her, looking at her with empathy in their eyes. She knew it was empathy, she was able to recognize it, she had once seen admiration in eyes, she had also seen disgust in eyes, many a times pity was there, and very rarely empathy; her face broke into a sad smile. “I trusted.”
Sapna had spent her entire life in Kasauli, the elder daughter of her parents, she had inherited her mother’s sharp features and her father’s tall and lean figure. Being quite pleasing to the eye, she was used to being the receiver of unwanted attentions ever so often, but was used to avoiding them with ease. She was good at her studies and in her heart she dreamt to one day be part of the glamour industry. She had always thought of it as a distant dream only until one day she received a call back for an audition in reply to one of the applications she had sent to an agency. Overjoyed with it she had quickly been able to convince her parents to let her go and try out her chance. Skeptical at first, her parents had been convinced once they saw that the call was from a reputable agency. Sapna had travelled to Mumbai for the auditions and there she had met Ayesha for the first time. She had worn her best saree and a simple necklace adorned her slender neck when she went in. She was selected and asked to join for a training next week. Back at Kasauli, the family had been busy preparing for her departure when she had the fight with a friend of hers, a guy named Raghav from her college, who had professed his love for her. Sapna had never taken him seriously and always kept him at arm’s length. Raghav had cornered her one day and told her flatly that she was not supposed to go and should think about marrying him instead. Sapna had outright refused and left after a huge fight with him. He had threatened that he will teach her a lesson for being so proud and rejecting him. Two days later she had met him again with a common friend and they tried explaining to him that she did not love him and it was wrong of him to expect her to get married to him. They had left on cordial terms wishing each other luck.
The acid attack happened next day while she was waiting to board her train. At first she had felt like cold water was splashed on her face which quickly turned into a burning sensation she could not bear, while her skin, her nose and her eyes melted away. It was like a thousand handfuls of chilli powder were being rubbed on her bare skin while burning it with a torch light from within. She had fainted while screaming.
It was 5 months later that she saw her disfigured, partly bandaged face for the first time. 15 corrective surgeries later she was left with loss of vision in one of her eyes and had trouble breathing due to disfigured nostrils. Her face was beyond recognition and was burned completely with charred black marks all over her neck and face. She had screamed in more agony then, than the day of the attack.
The trail of her case still continued 8 years later, and getting the paltry compensation amount from the government had proved to be another challenge. Her parents had spent all their money in the first year of her treatment, going through various corrective surgeries. It was hard enough to afford the basic surgeries required for correction only and to keep infection at bay. Removing the disfigurement was highly impossible and will entail too many plastic surgeries which were out of the question. For more than a year she was almost confined to various hospitals. Once home, the pain was always there, she could not study anymore and was shunned by everyone around her. It was then that Ayesha had called her and got her a job with Ahana’s team. Sapna had moved to Mumbai permanently then and had been working there since. Assisting people back stage where once she had dreamt being on the stage.
The 3 girls sat in stunned silence as Sapna narrated her story. Tears were rolling down their perfectly made up eyes. Veronica, the one with the pixie cut hair and fleeks on her forehead said, “You are so brave Sapna, I am so sorry this happened, and look at you. A victim of such a heinous crime and still you have come so far. I tell you, go for it dear, if you open a salon, people will come to it, to meet the beautiful woman that you are.” Sapna smiled, a crooked smile, which ended in her lopsided upturned lip’s corners. “Thank you,” she said while straightening the pleats of her saree, the same saree she was wearing that day, her favourite one; the saree which bore the same burnt marks as her face, which she still would wear. “I am hoping I will be able to do it, because you see, I am not a victim actually, I am a Survivor.”
A short story by Smita Pal Sinha
I am participating in the #AtoZchallenge 2017 AtoZchallenge with Blogchatter wherein, I will be blogging on 26 topics from A to Z. My theme is short stories which revolve around social issues and the stories are weaved around a word which starts with the same alphabet. Here in the story above it is S for Saree; the story of a Survivor
If you like this story please like, and leave your feedback and kindly share it on any social media of your choice 😊 and keep watching this space for my next stories. You can read my other stories in this under the category AtoZ challenge on my blog.