The petite Komala looks like an ordinary young woman who’s come to the big city from the suburbs to make a living. Dressed in a white salwar-kameez, hair neatly braided, she’s initially cautious about every word she tells us. But beneath that feeble voice and bashful presence, is a steely character that was born out of the terrible mistake she made a few years ago and the lessons she learned from it. C Komala is a burns survivor. She’s working at Higginbothams’ Writer’s Cafe in Royapettah, that employs seven burns victims. The 22-year-old B.Com graduate opens up gradually on her life story...
It’s at the café that I ate pizza for the first time. I really like it and it’s among the best dishes that I make. I’ve learned to bake a variety of breads... I enjoy my job. I feel like I’m doing something worthwhile; something that earns me respect. But I wanted to become a Tamil teacher when I was in school. It all changed after what happened that day.
You know, my life can be defined in two parts: after the incident and before it. It was around 8 am and I was at home in Kilnathur village, Thiruvallur. I was about to start a new life; college was to begin in a week and I’d shopped for new churidars in T Nagar only the previous evening. My paati was with me. She started abusing me verbally. This was nothing new; she made it a habit to scold me whenever possible. But that day, I couldn’t take it any more. Without thinking, I set myself on fire. My brother broke the door and rescued me. I was rushed to Kilpauk Medical College.
It took six months of excruciating pain and humiliation to somewhat recover. Pain because I suffered major burns; I couldn’t even move my hands. I will never forget those days at the burns ward. Humiliation because the moment the hospital staff see a suicide victim, they ask, “Did she do this for a failed love affair?” My father was beyond humiliated. He said that I was better off dead than be subjected to such insults. But my mother was patient. She was the one who nursed me back to health.
I didn’t think I would survive. Most people who attempt suicide through self-immolation think it is the end. But to survive, and the days leading to recovery, are unimaginable. The way my family treated me didn’t change much after I went back to my village. For one year, I didn’t look at my face in the mirror.
It was PCVC that helped me rebuild my life. They identified and trained me. I’m earning a good salary now and lead an independent life.
I go home during holidays, and when I do, I’m treated with respect; they consult me when important decisions are to be taken. I’ve learned to move on. I know it was a rash and impulsive thing to have done, but I feel adults should be taught how to talk to teenagers. It’s a sensitive age and things can go very wrong if they are not dealt with consideration.
I want to help people like me; tell them to learn from my mistake.
One day, I want to open my own café at PCVC and employ burns survivors; show them that there’s hope.