I HAVE so many memories associated with Dattapur. It was a place where my childhood and early adult years were spent while taking treatment for leprosy.
At that time, I didn't appreciate the historical importance of the colony, nor did I think about the tragic circumstances that brought most of the patients through the institution's gates during the 74 years of its existence. I left Dattapur in 1999 and from then remained involved in developing Start and later Women In Need with Leah. So our recent involvement with the colony after a gap of 10 years has brought back so many memories and mixed emotions. The early stages of my treatment for leprosy, for example, were physically and emotionally very painful and I hadn't explored those feelings in a long time. The buildings that Women In Need now rent from Dattapur, are the very same buildings where I spent my youth continuing treatment, and cycling to and from the local schools and colleges to continue my education. Then it was called Tsubo Saka Dera and catered for 20 girls, who also had an association with leprosy. Some like me were taking treatment. Others faced discrimination within their local communities because a member of their family had the disease - such was the stigma at that time. We all however were fortunate to be given the opportunity to join Dera where we received not only a good education, but also learnt discipline, manners and tolerance. Growing up for most teenagers is fraught with insecurities, especially regarding appearance. Due to lepromatous leprosy and repeated lepra reactions I suffered damage to my skin, especially on my face. I have memories of feeling different from the other girls in my college who were reveling in their newfound sense of beauty. The boys however treated me with kindness, accepted me for who and how I was. I still keep in touch with many of my male friends today. Plastic surgery was eventually arranged by Dr Desikan, an expert in leprosy and a trustee of Dattapur, and this helped to give me the confidence to face my future beyond the colony. Looking back I not only marvel at the journey I have made but at the historical significance of Dattapur. I feel blessed to have suffered and to have been fashioned into the person I am today as a consequence of that suffering. I feel blessed and privileged to have lived in India's oldest leprosy colony.