By Nimmy Kuttappan:
It was 2005 and she had just turned 19 the previous month. She was chirpy, energetic and a statuesque girl, who often made heads turn around, leaving behind a trail of sighs and admiration. Her gorgeously curled hair revealed a pristine face…that of a strong young woman who ownedÂ manyÂ fascinating dreams, ambitions and renditions. Yes, she definitely was an epitome of beauty and brains who hardly had the slightest idea of what destiny had in store for her.
She is Monica Singh, an acid attack survivor and fighter for life.
In a perfect world, it was a polite rejection of a teenage love proposal. But for Monica, it turned her fanciful world of happiness topsy-turvy. Bliss just vanished in the blink of an eye when her ‘ditched’ friend threw a bucket of acid on her to avenge his pain of being rejected. The fair velvety softness no more lasted on her skin as it befriended 75% burns.
Monica had received immediate medical attention and the doctor did his best to keep her alive. The treatment was nothing less than a tormenting ordeal that she was subjected to without anaesthesia. Monica recounts the horror as tears stroll down the contours of her cheeks, “Imagine you are alive and wide awake and your skin is being peeled off inch by inch. I was screaming inside, ‘Please don’t operate. Just kill me now!’” At that time of need, her relatives, acquaintances and friends had abandoned her family. But as the saying goes, ‘if it doesn’t kill you it makes you stronger’ and so was this family of four.
With the unconditional love and support of her parents and brother, Monica decided to stand alone and fight back. Neither she was nor does she want to be a ‘poor, misery-stricken girl in a dark room’. Rather whining aloud “Why me?” she chose to shove away the social stigma that she got tagged with. Monica, with her family, adopted hospitals as her second home and pain became her new friend. She resolved to take the best medical treatment and invested abundant faith is her doctors and surgeons only to bounce back in life. Her family strongly backed her decision and all finances and assets owned were spent on her surgeries. Once her father, late Mr Singh, had confessed that he would render his support even if she chose a life of confinement within the protective walls of her home. Monica instantly cross questioned back, “Why should I be at home for the rest of my life?” That was the answer Mr Singh yearned to hear from his brave daughter for she believed then, and does even now, that the world is her stage.
Monica managed to pursue her medical treatments as well her studies simultaneously. She attended college on weekdays and her surgeries were scheduled during holidays and vacations. All she desired was to look as presentable as the other girls of her age and pursue her education with flying colours. Her life may have seemed to be devastated but not her soul, as Monica Singh did not settle for second bests in life. “I do own a scarred body but I also own a healthy brain. So why not study and be something in life?” She also reprimanded herself from wooing the media with her story as she wanted to script a tale of struggle and survival which would not vanish with the due course of time. More than being good, Monica believes in being great.
Her strong will power assisted her in her surgeries and recovery. The doctors and hospital staff catered to her with the best care and treatment. But what emotionally dissects her is the immense sacrifice her service class family had made all these years. Monica recalls, “Every time I go through a surgery my family goes through an emotional surgery of their own. I want to bring an end to that”. Her father, who passed away 2013, was her role model and her best friend. It was her father who taught her to believe in herself and chase her dreams. Thus she decided to work hard and not let her 5 year old degree go down the drain.
Today in 2014, after a decade of trauma, Monica has survived 45 extensive surgeries with a Bachelors Degree in Fashion Design from NIFT. Although it has been a bumpy journey of painful experiences and sacrifices, the road does not end here for Monica as she has now set her eyes on the associate program in Fashion Marketing at Parsons New School of Design, New York City. She says, “For me fashion is just not about designing clothes. Fashion has designed my life”. Alexander McQueen, Manish Arora and Giambattista Valli are few of the many designers whose works she ardently follows. Besides her inclination towards fashion, this talented girl has also been a ramp model and theatre artist for various banners and studios. She loves contemporary dance and was in the lead in swimming and lawn tennis in school. At present she has been restricted by the doctors to keep such activities at bay and misses them very much. When asked whether she would be interested to be a showstopper if given a chance, she responds enthusiastically, “Hell yes! That would be such an honour! Also I would not want to disappoint anyone by saying no”.
After overcoming such gruesome challenges, does she still hold angst against that man who bestowed this cruelty to her? “You mean forgive him? No. But I did avenge him by channelizing all the negative emotions in a positive and constructive way. Today, I have survived and I am very much alive. That’s my answer to him”. Monica is fighting for justice against the accused and wants justice to be served well.
Amidst her dreams and ambitions, she does hope deep inside, to meeting the man of her dreams; a strong and sensible man who would be willing to accept her for what she is; a man who would have the courage to hold her hand and introduce her to the world as his better half despite her scars and injuries. “I like the idea of romance. If I would have a partner like that I would be shouting it out from the rooftop!” More importantly, she is keenly building a formidable self, eventually resurrecting her career and life and wants to earn the bread and butter for her family. Nevertheless Monica also owes a debt of gratitude to all those who have supported her in the long run.
Monica blindly believes in one thing — every dark cloud has a silver lining. She also believes in the mystic positive reverberations of the word ‘Om’. She considers the universe as her family and believes in communicating with its energies too. Through her experiences and lessons, she intends to motivate and inspire people, especially victims of gender based violence. “Forget the past and focus on your future. Whatever your present circumstances may be, try to create value and live beautiful lives. I know it is easier said than done but it is definitely not impossible.” Monica is an active volunteer of a youth initiative organisation Make Love Not Scars (MLNS) that aids victims of gender based violence and the good will ambassador for Acid Attack Survivors Foundation. She is also in the pursuit of penning down her story in a book. Monica sums up her message in one line. “If you believe in doing the right thing and are fighting for it, then I am definitely with you”.
MLNS has been working hard day and night to raise funds up to $ 50,000 for the campaign ‘GoMonica’. The money is to assist Monica Singh with her tuition fees at Parson New School of Design, New York City, United States. Those who wish to contribute and help Monica can log on to bit.ly/GoMonica.