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'Sunny Leone was in tears when she saw me'

By Anita Aikara and Hitesh Harisinghani
Last updated on: October 18, 2016 19:00 IST
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'There was a day when I didn't want to live.'
'And there is today, when I want to live long and enjoy my life.'

Reshma Qureshi

IMAGE: Reshma Qureshi Photograph: Shannon Stapleton/Reuters

It's been a few weeks since Reshma Qureshi returned to her home in Kurla, north-east Mumbai, after walking the ramp at the New York Fashion Week.

She was the first Indian acid attack survivor to do something of this kind.

Close on her heels, a week later, another Indian acid attack survivor Lakshmi Aggarwal took to the catwalk at the London Fashion Week.

"But it feels just like yesterday," Reshma says, brimming with stories to share.

It was the first time she boarded an international flight! "It was also my first experience at Mumbai's international airport," the 20 year old adds revealing that she took the journey to New York airport all alone.

"I was so scared that I stayed hungry throughout the journey."

But things are different for her after the ramp walk. On her way back to Mumbai, Reshma had a 12-hour stopover in London. As she waited for her flight to Mumbai, she did something extremely brave.

"I decided not to cover my face with my dupatta. Now that the world has seen me like this, there was nothing to hide."

And voila, passengers at the airport stopped by to congratulate her. The staff at the airline counter recognised her as the acid attack survivor who walked at NYFW.

"I felt like a celebrity," she says, remembering that moment. She still feels like one!

Reshma tells's Anita Aikara what it's like returning home after walking the ramp in New York.

Reshma at the airport

IMAGE: Reshma with her friends and nieces at the airport before leaving for New York.
Photograph: Kind Courtesy Reshma Qureshi

Travelling for the first time on an international flight...

I was nervous as I was travelling alone.

I went to the airport and for the first time saw such huge flights ready to take off!

The people sitting by my side were extremely friendly. They asked me if I was comfortable and wanted to know my story.

I told them that I was headed to New York to walk the ramp at the fashion week there.

They congratulated me and wished me good luck. My stopover was London and I was all alone. I have travelled to Delhi by flight, but never travelled in a flight so far.

The air-hostess was really sweet; she ensured that somebody would help me board the connecting flight.

Initially when I used to travel by air, I would freak out when it was ready for take-off. But now I have got used to it.

I just couldn't eat anything during the flight. My co-passengers kept persuading me to eat. They reminded me that it was a 12-hour flight and that I should not stay hungry.

I was so scared and wondered how I would get to New York all alone.

WATCH: Reshma on boarding her first-ever international flight

All videos by Hitesh Harisinghani/

The first thing she did after getting out of the airport...

When I got in New York it was two in the morning there.

I stepped out of the airport and said to myself, 'Ya Allah, mein kabhi socha nahi ki mein yeh seher mein aa sakhti hu (Ya Allah, I had never imagined I would come to this city).'

I was worried, but suddenly I heard my name being announced on the airport speakers.

I then met Ria ma'am (founder of the NGO Make Love, Not Scars), who was there to receive me.

The minute I stepped out, she ran towards me and hugged me.

She was starving when she landed...

I tasted a US specialty made with chicken and rice.

Then I went and stuffed myself with French fries and burgers at McDonalds.

As soon as I reached the hotel, I went to sleep and didn't wake up until 9 in the morning.

As I was new to the place, I didn't develop a liking for most of their food. I used to eat only at McDonalds.

We also went to a dhaba to have Indian biryani. I was so happy as I ate Indian food after a long time.

Reshma and Ria

IMAGE: Reshma with Ria Sharma, founder of the NGO Make Love Not Scars.
Kind Courtesy Reshma Qureshi

What she did on the day before the show...

The next day Ria ma'am woke me up and said I'd have at least 15 interviews to give.

We did some sightseeing and then I headed to FTL Moda.

I ended up giving around 20 interviews. I sat patiently through all of them.

By the end of it, I was drained. I headed back and had a quick dinner before going to bed.

How the other models reacted when they saw her...

So many models came up to me and asked, "So you'd be doing the show with us today."

That was such a proud feeling.

Reshma getting ready

IMAGE: Make-up artists help Reshma get ready for the show.
Photograph: Lucas Jackson/Reuters

Did she decide the outfit she wore at Archana Kochhar's show at NYFW?

Before the show started, two of Archana's assistants came up to me with two outfits.

One was to be worn with palazzos and the other was a gown.

I chose the gown without blinking an eyelid. I loved the dress as it looked really beautiful. It was designed really well.

How long her hair-do and make-up took...

The make-up took one hour to put. But once I got back to the hotel room, I quickly removed it.

It was so difficult to undo my hair.

In the evening (after the show), when I was untying my hair, I managed to remove around 50 clips.

My hair looked very frizzy and I was worried it would get damaged. But Ria ma'am told me to relax.

She said, "Once you shampoo your hair, it will be okay."

After the show, I was so tired that I slept off without eating. Ria ma'am had to wake me up to have dinner.

WATCH: Reshma walks the ramp at the New York Fashion Week.

Getting groomed to walk the ramp...

I had never walked the ramp before.

There were people there who gave me a few tips on how to walk. I was also offered a pair of heels to wear.

I have never worn heels in my life. So I told them that I wouldn't be able to walk in them.

I said, "Mein nahi chal paogi, mein gir jaoogi. Mein apne aap ko thod-phod doogi, par mein nahi chal paogi (I won't be able to walk in heels. I will fall)."

Ria ma'am told me it was okay, I could walk barefoot.

So I ditched the heels and walked barefoot. I was not conscious that people would judge me for walking barefoot.

After the first show I ended up giving more interviews.

Thoughts that crossed her mind minutes before she stepped on stage...

I was not sure how to walk on the ramp. I was nervous too.

Then I thought to myself, only a few lucky people get to walk at the New York Fashion Week, and I'm one of them.

I had to make the best of this opportunity.

I had to send a strong message to other victims of acid attacks.

So I stayed strong and decided to give it my best shot.

There was a male usher, who held my hand and led me to the stage. He had tears in his eyes.

In the past he had led many models and celebs on the stage, but this moment was special.

My photograph flashed on the screen and that was the cue for me to step on stage.

The minute I got on the stage, people began clapping. They started yelling 'Reshma, Reshma..." as they cheered loudly for me.

That moment was so precious; it made me feel special and beautiful.

WATCH: When Reshma got a surprise!

The surprise after the show...

The FTL Moda team organised an after-party for me.

When I walked in, they made me stand in the centre and surrounded me. I was so shocked.

I didn't realise that I was so special. I felt so good and respected.

Making friends in New York...

I met Sunny Leone at Archana Kochhar's show.

Before the show started, she just kept staring at me. I looked at her too, and we exchanged glances.

Neither of us spoke. We wondered who will make the first move.

She then requested someone from my team to introduce her to me. Sunny told me she was excited to walk with me on the ramp.

I felt really good meeting her. She had such good things to say about me.

WATCH: Reshma talks about the friend she made in the US.

How she spent the two weeks in the US...

I was shooting for a film there. So I visited plenty of locations for the shoot.

I did a lot of shopping and sight-seeing too.

The journey back home...

My return flight was from New York to London and then from London to Mumbai. I reached London at nine in the morning.

My flight to Mumbai wasn't until nine in the evening.

I didn't know how to spend my time. So I waited at the airport.

I had not covered my face at the airport this time too. So a few people walked up to me and said, "Didn't you walk the ramp at New York Fashion Week?" They hugged me.

The staff at the ticket counter also recognised me. Even before I entered the flight, two people came up to me and said, "We read about you in the newspaper."


IMAGE: Reshma in New York.
Photograph: Kind Courtesy Reshma Qureshi

Back in Mumbai...

My parents and brother came to the airport to receive me.

I was meeting them after two weeks. When my brother saw me, he hugged me. I came home and feasted on really good home-cooked biryani.

Ghar ka khanna toh ghar ka khanna ki hota hain (Home food is home food).

How the neighbours reacted...

My neighbours watched me on television. When I returned home, they were all praises for me. I had got chocolates for everyone.

So whenever someone came to meet me, I distributed chocolates.

My neighbours used to watch television closely. They would land up at my home every time they spotted me. It was a proud feeling.

Nowadays, whenever I step out, people come up to me and ask me questions. It feels strange.

I feel like a celebrity overnight. I am not used to this. It feels awkward answering so many questions, so sometimes when I see someone approaching me, I turn around and disappear.

Reshma at NYFW

IMAGE: Reshma also walked for designer Vaishali S at the fashion week.
Photograph: Paresh Gandhi

After the acid attack, several people said nasty things about her. Have their opinion of her changed?

Yes! Now when they meet me, they tell me that I looked good at NYFW. They have good things to tell me.

After the acid attack she were scared to face people. Is she still scared?

Back then, I used to cover my face. I couldn't face people.

I used to wonder what I have done to deserve this fate. I wanted to walk around without covering my face.

People used to stare at me, and I felt awkward.

Now I don't cover my face when I step out. I'm more confident to face people.

I want to live and realise my dreams. I feel that my face is still beautiful. I love myself and my face.

People will keep talking, that is how they are.

Her message to other acid attack survivors...

I'd like to tell them: Don't lose strength.

We have every right to live our lives.

It's time we send a message to the culprits that even today our lives are worth living.

Just because someone tried to ruin our faces doesn't mean that we stop living.

Don't hide. There are plenty of people willing to help.

There was a day when I didn't want to live. And there is today, when I want to live long and enjoy my life.

WATCH: Reshma's message for acid attack survivors.


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Anita Aikara and Hitesh Harisinghani