MUMBAI: Two days ago, at the new year feast of Poila Boishakh, Bengali households prepared a festive menu that traditionally begins with bitter gourd, wends its way through sour and salty recipes and ends with a dessert. Each flavour symbolizes the bittersweet experiences that life holds, and finishes with a prayer for a happy future.
This age-old tradition lived out its truth for Jharkhand-based acid attack victim Sonali Mukherjee. The 30-year-old woman from Bokaro married her “wellwisher friend” Chittaranjan Tewary on the auspicious day on Wednesday.
Media had reported Sonali’s story on August 8, 2012. An Andheri-based NGO named Beti, run by Anu Ranjan, had raised Rs 22 lakh for her treatment. Of this, Rs 12.5 lakh was gathered within 72 hours, thanks to contributions from actor Juhi Chawla, diamond jeweller Mehul Choksi and producer Ramesh Taurani. Anu’s husband, actor-film maker Shashi Ranjan, had helped as well.
Speaking to TOI from Bokaro on Friday, Sonali laughed and said, “Yes, life has come full circle indeed. My husband Chittaranjan is an electrical engineer from Jamshedpur who works at the Busan steel plant in Orissa. He saw me in a crime feature on television and was intrigued by my story. Nine months ago he contacted me through social media and we began speaking over the telephone. He part-funded my treatment from his salary as well. We met for the first time five months ago and he later proposed marriage.”
Accustomed to living in the limelight, Sonali did manage to keep their courtship discreet. “My parents were very happy and gave their blessings readily, so we performed a court marriage on April 15. His relatives are partly supportive. I hope to win them over with love and humility,” she said.
Over the years, Sonali has undergone multiple facial reconstruction surgeries to regain her eyesight, speech and auditory faculties. Her ordeal began on the night of April 22, 2003, when a gang of miscreants led by a spurned suitor mutilated her as she lay sleeping on the terrace with her family. She suffered 70% burns and her sister was injured as well. It angered her to see her attackers secure bail quickly. They now roam free.
In Mumbai, meanwhile, Anu Ranjan tweeted her happiness on Friday. She told TOI: “I was overjoyed when Sonali called to say she was married. We are inviting her to an all-expenses paid honeymoon at Hotel J W Marriott and will organize a reception where people can present the couple gifts like household items.”
Sonali was Beti’s first success story. Since then, the NGO is funding the treatment of three more acid attack victims, Lalita, Mubiya and Reshma at D Y Patil Hospital and Bombay Hospital. Anu said, “We are taking up four more cases shortly.”
Donor Mehul Choksi was also pleased to receive the good news. “This is India. There is anger and violence but there is compassion as well,” he said.
Sonali’s struggle is yet to end, though. She says another Rs 8.5 lakh must be raised before the next round of surgeries can progress.