Rinku Das stayed in the Indian city of Bhubaneswar along with her parents and kid brother, Biswadeo. Her father, Ashok, was a humble government servant while her mother was a housewife.

Rinku was very good in her studies and showed great maturity beyond her years. Recently she had completed her 12th standard and had secured admission in one of the foremost colleges in Bhubaneswar.

While most of her college mates were on Social Media, Rinku had seen some of her friends wasting their time making virtual friends and whiling away their time, ignoring their studies. She stayed away from the shallow world of Social Media and preferred to concentrate on her studies.

An awkward school going girl, Rinku had flowered into a charming, confident lady, a cynosure of the male gaze, in her college as well as her neighborhood.

Sunny, who stayed in Rinku’s neighborhood, and was two years older than her, was a part of a gang of 4 boys, always hanging out at the street corner. Though a student of the same College as Rinku, he was more outside it, than inside.

He was not much into studies since his father had already decided that Sunny would run the family business of wine shops. In fact, Sunny had secured admission to the premier College, due to the hefty donation by his influential father.

Right from the time Rinku started going to the college, Sunny had taken a shine towards her.

One day, as Rinku walked towards the bus stop to catch the bus to her college, a few motorbikes suddenly appeared out of nowhere and started circling her.

The four boys, all wearing bandana and reflector goggles, dressed in their biker jackets, were singing the Bollywood song, “Oh manchali, kahan chali…”.

This went on for a few seconds when one of the boys stopped his bike directly in front of her and removing his goggles in true filmi style, “Hi Rinku, I am Sunny Rathi. You can call me Sunny. Come I will drop you at the college”

“No thanks, I can very well manage on my own. And don’t you dare do this filmi stuff in front of me ever again”, so saying Rinku sidestepped and proceeded towards the bus stop.

The other boys had a good time pulling Sunny’s leg later on, while Sunny himself was beyond care, as he was well and truly smitten.

“It’s more fun and challenging when a girl plays hard to get. I challenge you, my friends, this Rinku will be sitting behind me, on my bike and I will drop her to the college in the next 7 days”, he boasted.

“Arre, jaa jaa…your dream will remain a dream. Nothing of that sort will happen”, his friend, Rocky, instigated him further.

“And what if it really happens? Will you treat me to a party? No, you all should buy me a bottle of beer individually, so 3 beers”, Sunny challenged his friends.

But Rocky was not so easily satisfied; “Ok done! But what if it doesn’t happen? I will tell you; if she doesn’t come with you by the end of the 7th day, we will shave your head. No half your head will be better”, Rocky had a hearty laugh at his own idea. The other friends played along and laughed at Sunny’s expense.

“Done!” exclaimed Sunny, as he was supremely confident of his own charm.

For the next 6 days, Sunny tried all tricks to make Rinku sit on his bike. But to no avail! In fact, Rinku became more and more defiant and the encounters between the two mostly ended with Rinku giving an earful to Sunny.

On the seventh day, Rocky was quite mean to Sunny, “Sunny Bhai, it won’t be possible for you. Accept defeat. Accept defeat and treat all of us to a beer, and save your head from getting shaved. Because if you don’t, you know what awaits you”

“Don’t worry, my dear Rocky, today I will make the Maharani sit behind me.” Saying so, Sunny zoomed off on his bike. But internally he was quite tensed.

As always, Rinku was on the way to the bus stop. With apprehension in her mind, and half hoping that Sunny would not turn up again today, she walked towards it.

As she heard the thumps of the motorbike, her heart started thumping. Sunny screeched to a halt in front of her and, “Rinku, sit behind me. Whether you like it or not, I am going to drop you”

As she tried to avoid him and run towards the bus stop, Sunny tripped her, making her lose her balance. He started to lift her when suddenly a tight slap across his face, brought him to his senses.

“Don’t you dare touch me, you creep”, Rinku screamed at him. “Don’t cross my path again, you loafer”

Hearing the commotion, a huge crowd gathered around them. While a few ladies in the crowd helped Rinku, a few men took the opportunity to take out their frustrations on Sunny.

Suddenly his friends arrived there and rescued Sunny from the clutches of the crowd. But that was only for the moment.

*************************************

Rocky took vicarious pleasure in shaving Sunny’s head on the left half, all the while cackling away with the others.

Though Sunny took all of this, on the inside he was seething with anger. Once his friends had had their fill, he went to the neighborhood barber to shave off his head.

By the time, the next day arrived he had made an ominous decision.

*************************************

The previous day’s episode had shaken up Rinku. But being a brave girl, she had refused her father when he offered to chaperone her to the college. Still, she was shaking as she went towards the bus stop.

But she had reached the bus stop, boarded the bus, reached her college and there was no sign of Sunny. It was the first time in so many days that she could enjoy her day in the college.

A very happy Rinku was returning home. She had so many things to tell her family. She was feeling very enthusiastic when she got down from the bus.

As soon as she descended, she felt drenched, as some liquid was thrown in her face. Very soon her eyes started burning intensely, then her whole face was paining, and wherever the liquid had fallen on her body, the pain and burns were unbearable. As she collapsed to the ground with intense pain, she heard someone utter, “That’s for refuting me. If you cannot be mine, you cannot be of anyone else…die, you…”, before she passed out.

*************************************

Rinku survived. But she had lost one of her eyes, and almost lost the other eye as well. The acid had achieved its horrific toll on her. Her face was fully burned, so was her neck. Even the upper arms and left shoulder were burned.

Her family could not bear to look at their beautiful daughter in this condition. Her father was broken whereas her mother tried hard to control herself from breaking down.

Sunny had been nabbed by the crowd and there had been instant mob justice. Tied to a tree, he had been brutally thrashed till death saved him from further agony.

But his death was no justice to the state of their darling daughter. She had survived, but her survival was painful.

Though she started recovering, a mirror or any surface which could act as a mirror was kept away from her.

But she could feel the scars on her face with her fingers and she lost the will to live. More than the physical pain, it was the mental pain which broke Rinku.

Why me, she thought. “I never troubled anyone nor was I mean to anyone. Why has God punished me so, mummy? I had heard about going to hell if one does some crime in this life….but God sent hell to me, here on earth?”, tears streaming down from one eye, as she clutched her mother closely.

Her mother had no words to speak; no words were needed. She knew the fragile state of her daughter and knew that her daughter needed her support more than any words. She just held her daughter closer.

*************************************

The first surgery performed on her gave her partial eyesight. Rinku was prone to long periods of silence and many negative thoughts crossed her mind.

But as she recovered her eyesight partially, she asked for a mirror. After a lot of resistance, her mother finally handed over a mirror to her.

Though she was expecting the worse, when she finally saw her own face, she broke down violently. The comforting words of her mother and father went in vain; she could not sleep that night.

*************************************

Girish was a regular visitor to the same hospital where Rinku was admitted. His mother was undergoing Chemotherapy sessions at the same hospital to treat her cancer. He observed the daily struggle which a daughter and her mother were putting up and their frequent breakdowns.

One day, he saw Rinku’s mother crying alone in the sitting area. He approached her, “Aunty, I know what you must be going through. Please let me know if you require any help”

She broke down, surprised but grateful for his kind gesture. Initially, he never talked to Rinku, but always extended his helping hand to her mother, buying medicines whenever required, and taking care of other small errands for her. He became her support system in the hospital.

One day he heard her parents ask the doctors about any improvement in Rinku’s condition. The reply wasn’t positive as the doctors said that it would be at least 5 years.

Girish consoled her parents and assured them that he would do everything to make their daughter’s recovery faster.

Girish started visiting Rinku almost every day. Rinku had seen him earlier talking to her mother many times and she became quite comfortable in his presence.

“Don’t worry, Rinku. Please take this one day at a time. Don’t look too far into the future. Whatever care advised by the doctor, please do as the doctor says”

“I know it’s difficult but keep your mind occupied with positive thoughts. I assure you, you will have my full support”, Girish said.

Girish would talk to her for hours on end on a variety of subjects. Sometimes he would tell her about the latest videos on the Discovery Channel, sometimes about the latest film he had seen but many times, about the minor adventures he had while reaching the hospital.

Slowly Rinku started looking forward to these meetings with Girish and her days were filled with new hope.

He was extremely caring and looked after her needs. The long resting periods on the hospital bed had made it difficult for her to walk. Her legs muscles had atrophied due to non-use. Girish made it a point to regularly make her walk, few steps at a time.

“Rinku, I have left my job. I have decided to spend more time here with you”, he announced one day to her astonishment.

“Why? Don’t you need the job? Are you so well off, that you can just kick the job goodbye. It’s nothing but foolishness”, admonished Rinku.

Girish though was calm. “Relax Rinku. I will be taking up another job, but with different timing. So don’t worry at all”, and with that, he held her hands re-assuredly.

He started coming to the hospital two times every day, from 8 to 12 in the morning and from 5 to 8 in the evening. Soon it became a routine and Rinku looked forward to his visits daily.

Gradually the wounds started healing through 4 surgeries that were performed on her. But the good treatment given by the doctors, the daily physiotherapy sessions and last but not the least, the help and support of Girish acted as a tonic, leading to her faster recovery.

Their friendship grew deeper and stronger as the days went by.

“Rinku, I am highly impressed by the strength which you have shown in such a difficult situation. I value this friendship…this relationship which has developed between the two of us”

“I want this relationship to last our lifetime,” Girish said haltingly, gently taking her hands in his.

As the enormity of his words sank in, tears started streaming down from her eye. But she was unsure…

“Girish, yes…our friendship is now very special. I like you too…nay, love you a lot. After all, you have been my Rock of Gibraltar”

“I don’t know where I would be today if you had not entered my life. But a lifetime relationship is out of the question; I am not able to support myself, how can I build a family. No, forget it”, but as she said this, her grip on his hands tightened, not wanting to let go of him.

But Girish was very encouraging, “My dear Rinku. Not only will you recover but you will recover well. You will be able to earn your own livelihood, you will not be dependent even on me, and you will surely make others happy”

Rinku was overcome with varied emotions and embraced Girish; her pent-up emotions bursting forth and found peace in his arms.

Rinku’s parents were so happy with this development; they readily accepted Girish as a part of their family.

Today, after 4 reconstructive surgeries and a quiet court marriage later, Rinku and Girish, both work with a Support Foundation which helps girls like her, who are an acid attack or burn victims, by arranging funds for their long drawn out treatment but more crucially, provide emotional support and counseling.

*************************************

P.S. – inspired by a real-life story.

 

Yatindra Tawde

Written by Yatindra Tawde

In my daily office grind, I make it a point to find time for writing. It is my good fortune to have found discerning readers like you who appreciate my amateur attempts.