It was a Wednesday in early December, of about a decade ago. We had just come out of Mocambo a well-known restaurant off Park Street in Calcutta, after dinner, at about 1030pm. On our way to our car parked at a distance, my friend and I stopped at one of the tiny cubbyhole shops for him to buy a packet of cigarettes, before we proceed to a discotheque on Camac Street. I like to have a paan sometimes from these shops, after an Indian meal that is, but I did not on that day, as I had just had a continental one that Mocambo specialises in. I stood a few steps behind my friend on the pavement, looking around. As I soaked in the delightful weather, with the after taste of tutti-frutti ice-cream, the smug feeling in my stomach of a meal of baked fish over a bed of spinach and white sauce with garlic bread, and headiness of the two Bloody Mary’s I had started the meal with.
My friend was taking longer than I expected, as the shopkeeper was preparing a series of paans, before attending to him. I began to feel self-conscious, of being overdressed for the roadside, in a chocolate brown, full-sleeve ankle-length dress, my waist length hair then that I usually wore open – flying all over my well made up face. I stepped forward to ask the shop keeper to hurry up, when I felt a sudden hot flush hit the right side of my face with such force that I froze to the ground, one feet ahead of the other. Instinctively, I took my hand up and touched my right cheek, to feel a hot liquid, just as hot as the sting on my cheek. I looked at my hand and it was blood red, I looked up to see my friend staring at me, the fear written large on his face. The red was now dripping all over my hair, my dress, even as the hot sting now shifted to a hammering beating of my heart from the fear of now no longer having a face from the acid bulb thrown at me. With every drip of the liquid from my face, I felt my face charring, melting away, of losing my face forever.
It was only when my friend started to run behind the bike that had climbed over the pavement, with two riders who committed this dastardly act, did I react. I called out to him ‘please don’t go…don’t leave me here’…in fear, like I’ve never felt before or since. If he left to go after them, the rest of a gang might take me away into a car or somewhere now that I was absolutely mentally disarmed. My friend stopped right there on his run, from the desperate sound of my voice. His face, as he turned around, was of one caught between raging anger – to go get the hooligans versus the need of the moment – to save me from further abuse. He ran back to me and then scrutinized my face. The look he had was one scared to view what had become of the face he had always complimented right to the colors it wore. My face was intact, he realized, even though red all over with a thick fluid still dripping all over, which might have been as we deduced chewed paan residue. He got a mineral water bottle, poured it all over my face, before we walked to the car. By now I was calm, really calm. I didn’t care whether I had a face, I was just happy to be alive and safe. On the drive back home, our plans spoiled due to the muck I was in, I went over the incident in my head.
All I could recall accurately was how I felt the moments when I thought I had lost my face forever. This was an invaluable lesson, to know how it feels to lose my face, even if only for a few moments, without actually having lost it. The first thing that would happen perhaps, I had thought then, is I would lose my job with the airline I worked for, with no marriage prospects ever. After this experience, how could I ever take my looks seriously, if ever I had done so before? I was determined thereon, that I had to have an identity far superior than what my face would ever give me, marry someone who liked me over and above my physical looks, so if ever I really lost my face, I would survive – as I would still not be Faceless.
PS: This post is elicited by the article “14-yr-old writes to man who attacked her with acid” that I read a day before in the link below: