“Can we first just sit and talk before we start recording?” M asks, wiping the sweat drops from her upper lip with her handkerchief. Her fingers are chubby and the gold rings are tight, pushing the flesh up. She wipes her palms with the handkerchief as well. While sitting on the green wooden chair, she asks, “On this? It’s too small for me,” giggling, almost proud of her big build. It is 45 degrees Celsius and the AC in the room is not working. She drinks two glasses of water.

I ask her if she wants to splash some water on her face. “No, my makeup will get spoilt,” she says, smiling. She has done elaborate makeup with metallic green eyeshadow and dark blue eyeliner.I ask her if she would like to have a cold drink. “I’ll have some tea please, heat kills heat you know,” she says. I get her tea in a glass, which she holds with her handkerchief.

“I wake up from my sleep every night at 2-2.30 am. It has been 17 years. Not a single night has gone by when I haven’t woken up at this hour with a start. Earlier my husband used to console me, put me back to sleep, now he continues sleeping. My children sometimes wake up,” she says.

“I have two children. Wait, I’ll show you their pictures.” she takes out a phone from her purse and shows pictures of her family. Standing in a mall, two children, both boys, holding their parents’ hands. Everyone is smiling. Another one with her in a pink shirt and blue jeans with her sons on her either side. The pictures tell you that they are like any other family in a happy moment. What it doesn’t tell you is that this is a family that is nuclear in all possible ways.

It doesn’t tell you that the woman in the picture was raped by more than 10 men during a riot in the city. She was barely 17 then and it was two days before her wedding. It doesn’t tell you that she never got justice — that her family also abandoned her because, according to them, she was now “impure” and was bringing “shame” to the family. It also doesn’t tell you that after a long fight with the system and with her family, she decided to cut off from everything and everyone she once knew. It doesn’t tell you that she buried her past and changed her identity.

No, it doesn’t tell you any of that.

That lanky 17-year-old girl is not there anywhere. Maybe she vanished somewhere, maybe she just got up and left. The woman in metallic green eyeshadow has come to narrate that young girl’s story one last time.

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