The alarm kept ringing unremittingly but Reeti woke up from her deep slumber only after her mother’s squawk reached her ears. She shot a hasty glance at the clock while she dived towards the bathroom to freshen up. She was late for office again and she knew she would have to face her mother’s wrath as this had become a routine off late. It had been almost 3 months since 23-year-old Reeti began having prolonged midnight conversations with Ritul who lived in Pune. Ritul and Reeti had connected on Facebook through a common close friend. What started as a casual Facebook messenger chat had now turned into a clandestine affair, though there were no talks of commitment from either of them yet.
Reeti gaped at the mirror and felt crestfallen. She was almost in tears looking at the malevolent, outsized pimple that had popped up right at the tip of her nose. All the efforts she had been putting in since the last few days to ensure a scrupulously clear and radiant face had gown down the drain. Ritul was in Mumbai for a customer visit and it was a special day for her – their first date! But she did not want to meet him now. He would also mock at her skin just like some of her friends and relatives did during her growing years. From medical treatments to her grandmother’s hacks, she had tried it all in the past but the pimples kept coming back with a vengeance. There was a time when Reeti was extremely miserable and down in the dumps because apparently no boy had a crush on her ever, even though she was considered to be a benevolent, affable and intelligent girl. But, once she began working for a leading MNC, her self-confidence increased and the thoughts about her physical appearance started taking a backseat. Though she had never met Ritul, she felt a connection with him and was keen to take this relationship forward. He seemed to be a sensitive and level-headed man but Reeti was too scared to lose her worth in his eyes. She did not want him to think of her as an unappealing woman and wanted to look beautiful for him. But, the bulky bump on her face had shattered her desire. With a heavy heart and moist eyes, she sent him a text message.
“Sorry Ritul, I cannot meet you this time. Something very urgent has come up at office and I will have to work late hours. Hope you understand. Hugs!”
Reeti found it difficult to focus on her work that day, so she decided to get a piping hot cup of her favourite coffee to her desk. The warm sips of caffeine worked as a balm for her aching soul and she was already feeling invigorated. She had not yet received a reply from Ritul so she logged in to Facebook to check if there were any messages from him on messenger instead, but there were none. As she skimmed through her newsfeed, a viral story caught her attention. It was about the journey of the brave heart Laxmi Agarwal, an acid attack survivor who defied all odds and shot the regressive mindset and standards of our society in the face. The picture used in the article was of Laxmi walking the ramp during London Fashion Week, exuding elegance and poise. Reeti was mesmerized by her beauty and it was the first time since morning, she actually had a peaceful smile on her face. Then a thought struck her! She wondered why she found Laxmi to be gorgeous in spite of her face being tarnished by acid, whereas she could not consider herself to be fine-looking ever because of her skin condition. She was inquisitive to know more about Laxmi and researched about her online, and what she discovered answered her question.
Laxmi was only 16 when she was attacked by the man whose advances she had rejected. Her family ended up losing all their capital and resources on her treatment and their battle for justice. The attackers were imprisoned for their heinous crime but Laxmi’s life had changed forever. Of course the throbbing injuries must have caused her much agony, but the pain inflicted on her after the incident by people’s jibes and stares must have been excruciating to bear. However, she chose to take her life in her own hands and stand tall against the apathy of the society towards acid attack victims. Instead of wallowing in self pity, she fought for the cause of curbing acid sales and her petition led the Supreme Court to order the Central and State Governments to regulate the sale of acid, and the Parliament to make prosecutions of acid attacks easier to pursue.
The man who threw acid on her scalded her face but not her essence and spirit. She went on to achieve greater heights by sheer hard work and resilience. She is the director of Chhanv Foundation, an NGO committed to help the survivors of acid attacks in India. Laxmi has been the recipient of numerous coveted awards for her valour and contribution to society, a noted one among them being International Women of Courage award by US First Lady Michelle Obama. Today, Laxmi has become the voice of the survivors of acid attacks across the globe.
In a society where “fair and beautiful” is the first criteria while looking for a life partner, where a person’s exterior repels or attracts us more than their persona, Laxmi has challenged the norms of our beauty standards by globally representing women who have been the targets of gender violence during the London Fashion Week. Not just this, but she chose to valiantly enter into a live-in relationship with her partner without succumbing to the pressures of matrimony from people around and is mother to an adorable baby girl who is the epicenter of her world. In a world where women have to combat patriarchy at every step of the way, Laxmi is a warrior woman in every sense of the word who we all can take inspiration from!
Engrossed in Laxmi’s world, Reeti didn’t even realize that it was lunch time. Something had stirred inside her. She was in awe of Laxmi because that picture reflected Laxmi’s innate strength, cheerfulness and self-belief. The scars on the face were completely overshadowed by who Laxmi was. And this was her answer! Reeti understood that beauty does not lie in the eyes of the beholder, rather it lies within us. It lies in our soul and our thoughts. If we feel beautiful, it doesn’t matter what any beholder sees or doesn’t see.
In spite of being a food connoisseur, Reeti just gobbled up her lunch in the office canteen without relishing it as her mind kept wandering elsewhere. She pondered for a while and after much deliberation and soul-searching, she sent Ritul another text message.
“Hey! You must be busy I guess. My urgent work has got postponed now due to a change in situation from client’s side. So we are meeting today as planned. Call me once you are free.”
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