“They will see you now.” The lady led Maheera to the room where the interviewers were sitting.
Maheera entered the room with a smile. “Good morning.” she wished them.
The interviewers’ smiles turned into concerned looks. One of them suddenly took interest in her glass of water, not making eye contact Maheera. Maheera was expecting exactly this reaction.
“Good morning Maheera. Have a seat.” said the man sitting in the middle. She complied.
“We don’t want to sound nosy and I know that you probably get this question a lot but before we start…” he hesitated to say the rest, “what happened to your face?”
Maheera was no stranger to such questions. She got them all the time. She was a victim of an acid attack.
Maheera used to be a young and bright girl at school in a small village in UP despite being from an underprivileged background. Her school had no proper facilities, had broken furniture and second hand books from which it was nearly impossible to study. However, Maheera loved studying and wanted to do something big in her life. Her determination led her to score 92% in her class 12 exams. Despite having never seen a real computer in her life, she wanted to become a computer engineer and teach other children of her village. Her parents got her married at the age of 17 against her will. Her husband was a few years older to her and was unemployed. He was cruel and did not let her pursue her dreams. His family treated her as a slave. She yearned to study, to become an engineer but her goals seemed impossible to reach under such conditions.
Two years passed slowly. Now Maheera was 19. She spent most of her days doing household chores and living in her fantasy world, imagining what life would have been like if she wasn’t married. Her husband’s 15 year old brother, Saleem, was now preparing for his Engineering Entrance Exam. Saleem was the only member of the family who treated Maheera with respect. He did not know about the love she had for studies, especially computers.
One day Maheera was watching Saleem study for his computer exam.
“The parenthesis is missing.” she said as Saleem had trouble solving an error finding question, “That’s the most common mistake people make.”
Saleem looked at her with awe. “You know computers?”
“Yes, I wanted to do engineering…but I got married.” She said sadly.
“You should give the engineering exam with me. Then we can go to the same college and become engineers.” He said excitedly.
“But your parents would never agree.”
“We don’t have to let them know. You can do it secretly.” Saleem suggested. Though the situation was risky, Maheera agreed to give the exams.
Saleem would bring her different books to study every week which she hid in her cupboard, between her clothes. Soon, she became thorough with Physics, Chemistry, Math and Computer concepts. A year later her husband was searching for something in the cupboard when he came across her books.
“What are these?”
“These are Saleem’s books. He did not have a place to keep his them so he gave them to me to keep.” Maheera replied, now panicking.
“Then why have you hid them?” Saleem looked at her suspiciously. He knew about how much she loved studying.
“I didn’t hide them. They just got buried under my clothes.”
Her husband opened her books, “This is your handwriting.” He said glaring.
Maheera cursed under her breath. This man who was usually too drunk to even remember his name could now recognise her handwriting. “Th-theyre not mine.”
He was taking the books with himself.
“Going to give them to Saleem?”
“No. Going to burn them. Don’t ever touch books again. Girls belong in the kitchen. You have completed your studies till 12th. That is enough. Anything beyond that is beyond the capabilities of women.” He angrily walked out of the house.
Maheera cried the whole day and promised herself that she would never give up. This incident did not faze Maheera and she attempted the exams next year.
Saleem and Maheera were standing outside the examination venue discussing their math paper when suddenly Saleem froze. Maheera turned around to look at what disturbed Saleem. Her husband and his friends were arriving on their bikes. Her husband took a bottle out and threw its contents on Maheera’s face. It was acid. It was too much pain for her to handle. She could faintly make out Saleem fighting with him but he was dragged away by his friends. Maheera’s face was burning, vision was distorted, and hair smelt like acid. She slowly lost her consciousness.
The next morning gained consciousness in the hospital. Some kind passersby had taken her there. She did not know what had happened to her husband and Saleem. She hoped Saleem wasn’t punished for knowing about this. She lightly touched her face. It hurt. There was no mirror in the room but she grabbed a spoon from the coffee tray kept besides her bed. She could not believe what she saw. I am a monster, she thought, my life is over. She threw the spoon away. She was once considered to be the most beautiful girl at school. But now she looked… she could not even describe what she looked like. She wanted to cry but her eyes burned. Her nurse applied cream to her face. “We will take good care of you. We get plenty of cases like this here.” Her nurse said with sympathy.
“I should have not survived the attack.” Maheera said bitterly. “I should have died instead of facing this lifelong disability.”
“Don’t say that. Don’t you have any dreams?” the nurse said, not stopping her work.
“I do… I did before this happened. I dreamt of becoming an engineer.”
“Then why not? You have as much of a chance as the others do. What does your face have to do with your brain? You are lucky you survived these burns. Most acid attack victims die. You still have a chance of dying but luckily the acid did not fall on your major organs.”
“Thanks. That was comforting.” Maheera grumbled but thought about it.
A couple of weeks later the press came to interview her. Apparently her story had gone viral. She told them all about the incident and about how it broke her dreams. To her surprise she started receiving offer letters from some of the most prestigious colleges of India. People had also crowd funded to help Maheera get free surgery to treat her face. This boosted her confidence. Because of the attack Maheera was unable to give all her exams but she planned to attempt them again next year despite getting offers.
The next year Maheera performed excellently in her exams. She was awarded various bravery titles by the government. She also got admission in one of India’s top engineering colleges.
The interviewers who visited her campus were very impressed by her and gave her a place in their company. They admired her confidence and speaking skills. She got a job on her own merit rather than as sympathy vote. She worked 20 years in the company and after earning enough she left her job to open computer classes for the underprivileged in her village where Saleem also taught. He had left his home when his brother got too abusive and disclosed his brother’s location to the police. Saleem had found out which hospital she was in after reading it in the news. He served and supported Maheera in her difficult years and now both of them had left their successful lives to lead a meaningful and wholesome life, making sure other children don’t have to go through what they had to. Maheera and Saleem started a charity to aid acid attack victims and they receive donations from both the rich and poor alike.
Thus Maheera, a young victim of a heinous crime that destroyed her face and self confidence, rose from the ashes to make the world a better place for not only herself but also others.