A young reality show winner is found sexually assaulted, wounded, drugged on Mumbai streets
I can’t leave her alone in this condition.
Why did this happen to her? Who did this to her?
I compel Bhaskar to get me an all-day access pass. It’s for family members only, the hospital authorities say, but I’m the closest thing she has to a family. Bhaskar backs me up.
I’m not allowed to go inside the room.
‘Please allow her to settle down. You see, she gets very agitated, so she needs to be sedated most of the time,’ the attending doctor tells me when I request repeatedly.
I’ve started visiting the hospital every morning. I wait outside the glass panel, watching her. Sometimes, I stand at the door with my ear pressed against it to try and hear what’s happening inside. There are times when she starts mumbling. Sometimes I hear her scream.
Last night, she began screaming because she was worried that someone was at the door. She yelled for Monty. Who is Monty? And why did she scream when the nurse turned off the lights in the room? Asavri always liked the room pitch-black while sleeping.
The hospital is now my home. I’m here all day, often well into the night. I try to snatch away a few hours as and when to work on the BBC documentary, but Kay is taking care of it for the most part. I need to be at the hospital. I want to be here. I try to get information out of the doctors and nurses.
‘How is she? Is she a bit better today? Can I go in?’
The answer is always the same: ‘The doctor will speak with you when it’s time. No, you can’t go in.’
My breath forms a hazy circle on the glass panel; it is dotted with my fingerprints. I feel like pounding my fists on it. Who did this to you, Asavri? Who would hurt you like this?
Kamini and Tanya also make frequent visits. The latter peers distraught as she peers through the glass panel. She asks the doctor a lot of questions but gets no answers either.
‘Why is she in so much pain, doctor? And why do you need to strap her to the bed like that? Let me at least go in and talk to her, please.’ Tanya is trying to hold back her tears as Dheeraj leads her away.
I can understand Tanya’s reason for visiting. She got the victor’s crown, music contracts and fame, all of which was rightfully Asavri’s. They were close during the contest, perhaps even friends. And Asavri had saved her from the fire. But why is Kamini here? She never does anything without a reason. I wonder what it is this time …
My head hurts with all these thoughts running amok. I’m worried about the documentary, to which I’m unable to give a sufficient amount of time and attention. There are just too many tangled knots that need to be untied, but I need to set them aside for now.
It’s been five days since the press conference. Five straight days of standing outside her room, watching her through the glass panel and not knowing what the hell happened to her.
Finally, the CMO calls me to his room.
The room has a spectacular view of the bay, with the Sea Link clearly visible in all its glory. It’s a beautiful iron bridge with suspensions holding it in place. The office is on the seventh floor – the administrative floor – and is as plush as one would imagine. The carpet is so soft that the soles of my shoes practically sink in it. Healthy, leafy plants lining the corridor gleam in the light. Expensive paintings adorn the walls.
But today, I neither see nor admire any of it. I can’t; I’m barely sleeping. My days are spent in the hospital, outside Asavri’s room, and at night I’m usually editing the documentary. Trying to edit; I can barely focus. My mind returns to the dark, scarred face with eyes in sunken hollows, arms riddled with scratches and needle marks and the incoherent mumbles that often turn into piercing screams.
I wish the doctor would just hurry and not keep me waiting. I hear the door open and turn around to greet the CMO.
‘Hello ... doc –’ I stop. It’s Bhaskar.
I give him a cold hello and don’t bother to get up as he drops himself on the chair beside me. He looks like he hasn’t slept since the whole ordeal started. I look in the opposite direction. I’m in no mood to forgive. He should have called rather than let me find out about it from the news.
‘I know, Avniel ... I know you are upset. I should have called. But you can now see—’
‘You bloody well should have,’ I cut him off and glare at him.
‘It’s a fucking bloodbath outside, in case you haven’t noticed.’ He lowers his voice and whispers, ‘The company board is tightening the noose around my neck. Do you know … can you imagine how this reflects on the channel? The winner who had the nation in a frenzy dies within days of her victory and then turns up alive, that too in this condition, after two years! You have no idea what’s happening. The questions that are being asked. Our reality shows are taking a major hit, our sponsors are exiting. Not to mention the onslaught of the media. We are being crucified.’
‘How comforting to know that what worries you the most about it all are the optics!’ I don’t bother to edit the venom in my retort.
‘Oh! So your moral and ethical compass just suddenly started working then! How convenient, Avniel. Let me remind you that it was you who wrote the fucking book on Asavri, exploiting her entire life for public consumption,’ he throws it right back at me, exactly where it hurts the most.
We both fall silent and look in the opposite direction.
Thankfully, the CMO arrives before we bludgeon each other.
‘Good morning, gentlemen.’ He sounds and looks cheerful; more cheerful than he should, but then again, he heads a hospital, where death and disease are commonplace. A catastrophe means business for them. Still, I wish he didn’t sound so ... normal. I’m pretty sure he doesn’t have good news. Nothing about Asavri seems to be good news at the moment. Even my non-med eyes can tell that.
He opens a big folder that he walked in carrying. Her name is written on it with a thick, bold red pen, underlined thrice. It would stand out when stacked with other folders. I guess she is an important patient. I wonder who is responsible for determining something like that. Kamini? Bhaskar? Or is it her condition?
I decide to stop thinking and look at the CMO for answers.
‘I am afraid I don’t have good news. She has been abused. Severely. Drugged and raped repeatedly. She has been severely traumatized and is delusional. She is afraid of everyone and drifts in and out of awareness. She will take months to recover. Even if the drugs are flushed out and the medicines heal her, the mental trauma can take months, maybe a year ... or more.’
‘So then the rehabilitation process must begin immediately,’ I try to suppress the tremor in my voice. Bhaskar has his head in his palms. I know what he is thinking.
‘Of course it will, but it’s not that simple. There’s more to her condition,’ the doctor replies, adding to my confusion. ‘Yes, she has been sexually assaulted, but not recently. The wounds in her vagina are more than a year old. They seem serious but have healed. She hasn’t been sexually active in the recent months. The drug abuse stopped sometime back, about a year ago. But someone was giving her a dose every now and then.’
‘What does this mean, doc? What are you trying to say?’ I get the feeling the doctor is trying to make a point.
‘It’s a very strange case, Avniel. It seems like she was in captivity, where she was assaulted severely for a while but then it stopped. Maybe someone decided to step in and protect her. So the assault stopped. The drug dosage also reduced considerably but a small dose was still administered about once a week.’
My blank look tells the doctor that I don’t quite follow what he is trying to imply.
‘Someone has been taking care of her but still wanted her to be incapable of being totally drug-free. He was protecting her but wanted to keep her prisoner and have control over her.’
‘How do you know it’s a he?’
‘I don’t, Avniel. It is a manner of speech. All I know is that she needs a lot of care. More than medicine, she needs care and rehabilitation. She needs to be in a safe environment and needs to understand and realize that she is no longer in any danger.’
‘I hate to be the one to ask you this, doctor,’ Bhaskar clears his throat as if removing the phlegm of hesitation, ‘but when do you think Asavri will be able to sing and perform again?’
The doctor doesn’t seem surprised by the question. ‘She will need therapy sessions before she goes back to being normal. Normal is far away right now. I don’t see her doing any public performances soon. She’s in no state to even talk to anyone she is unfamiliar with. It took us a few days to assure her that we don’t mean any harm. We have the same doctor and nurses attending to her every day to ensure a sense of familiarity for her.’
I’m trying to process everything I just heard. It feels like a bad nightmare.
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