Deepika Padukone has been in the news for Chhapak which releases on 10 January. The movie is based on the life of Laxmi Agarwal who is an acid attack survivor and how she rebuilds her life post the horrific incidence.
It was almost twenty years ago that I first heard of an acid attack when the corrosive liquid was thrown at a family friend’s face. I am sure it wasn’t the first case but unless something comes knocking at close corners, we seldom take notice. It was a period of great ordeal for him and his family- one that stretched beyond months into years and finally his death at the young age of twenty.
For me, it was a different kind of realization. These attacks were more common than I had anticipated and statistics extended way beyond South Asia with the UK, US, Africa, Middle East, Russia and East Asia- all dealing with acid throwing.
However, during my readings, I learnt that although acid violence doesn’t know any gender (as was also apparent in the case of my own close circle), the same is not true about a country like India where the majority of victims are women.
Recently, my mind went back to this form of violent assault when I picked up my copy of You Beneath Your Skin by debut writer Damyanti Biswas which is a fiction inextricably intertwined with facts. The book brings to the fore the struggles of the victims and induces empathy in the reader.
The story unfolds the world of psychologist and social worker Anjali Morgan, who happens to be half-Indian and half-American. Besides her work, Anjali must balance the various layers of her life which include her autistic son Nikhil, her married-lover Jatin and her own mother-wound that haunts her from time to time.
Jatin Bhatt is the special commissioner of crime whose life goal is to go up the professional ladder. Jatin doesn’t mind over-indulging in his seventeen-year-old son Varun, who he prides himself with. As his equation with Drishti, his wife, takes a nosedive, Jatin looks to fill up the hole with support from Anjali.
He must also crack an important case to speed things up at the professional front. That is when the tale of a gruesome rape and murder of a woman finds its way into the plot; her face disfigured by acid. Jatin ropes in Anjali and Maya, his younger sister and her assistant Pawan to help him on the case. Things turn awry from here and take an ugly turn for the worse. The multiple characters must fight their own inner demons before they can unravel a riveting and confusing murder mystery.
The events take their own time to unfold and have an interflow of monologues and knitting of personal lives of the characters which lend authenticity to the story. Flawed as they all are, they come across as real and believable. The environs of Delhi are aptly captured in words and so are the ordeals of an acid attack survivor, right from the physical description of the pain to the stigma attached. The writer ensures that the reader is duly unsettled as the story progresses.
By the end of the book I had just one problem, which I guess most readers might face, but which is not for me to reveal. However, I think, that is probably how close the book gets to reality. And maybe, that is what the writer intends to do. Shake you up, pull you out of your comfort zone and show you the hard-hitting reality of acid attacks- that Scars Remain.
The book, in simple words, is a thriller on a sensitization mission. And it makes sure that you get up, take note and question.
Damyanti Biswas has been associated with Project WHY and Stop Acid Attacks, both non-profit organizations working for and with acid attack survivors. Her sensitive portrayal of the issue coupled with a gripping story is definitely the best read before Padukone’s movie takes on the theatres.