The last time I expressed my outrage publicly against drunken driving by a celeb, I was trolled, sent death and rape threats and my Facebook blocked by the fanatical fans of actor Salman Khan, who has since walked away smiling, as the highest court of this country pronounced him not guilty.
Cut to the present: I am back to the city of my birth, Kolkata after a hiatus of 18 years, primarily as my parents are relocating in what I see as the final move of their autumn years — and here I am, doing the same thing.
Talking about how a state that worships the Mother Goddess in all her glory and has a woman chief minister at the helm displays spinelessness and lack of political and administrative will in bringing to book actor Vikram Chatterjee, who probably never got as much publicity because of his acting skills as he has now, as the man in whose twisted-out-of-shape Toyota Corolla, Kolkata-based model-turned-anchor Sonika Chauhan was found dead on April 29 in a chilling accident, when the two were returning after a night of frenzied partying.
My association with Sonika dates back to the time I approached her mother, a family friend of a childhood bestie, to ask if Sonika would appear on the cover of my debut novel Faraway Music.
When was the toxicology test conducted on Vikram Chatterjee as the blood samples have to be taken within 24 hours? Photo: IndiaToday.in
I was looking for a face that matched with my protagonist, and having seen Sonika’s latest photo shoot on social media, I felt she fit the bill perfectly.Sonika was travelling back then, but dutifully connected with me and was a thorough professional who organised the entire shoot single-handedly, even as I shared that publishers rarely had a big budget.
In her eagerness to be a part of the project, I sensed a compelling need to be seen and noticed on the national level.
Sonika even arranged for the photographer, her own hair and make-up person, and wore her favourite blue dress for the shoot that soon ensued. In many ways, becoming my first muse.
Sonika’s untimely and gruesome death at the age of 27, just when her career was picking steam, naturally shocked and saddened me. But at a deeper level, it represented the fallacy of the fashion and glamour industry to which she belonged, revealed just how incompetent the state machinery was in solving an open and shut case of culpable homicide.
Her funeral mass made a splash in all the local papers — but more for the number of celebs in attendance, and who said what and wore what and how her beau of five years, actor Saheb Bhattacharya who also made his beginnings on the small screen, cried holding a handwritten note in her memory, how Mamata Banerjee’s right-hand man Derek O’Brien — known to be close to Sonika's bereaved parents — was the master of ceremonies. Yet, there seems to be a shroud of impenetrable silence among the city’s hoi polloi and not a single statement was made by the CM, despite recently launching a star-studded campaign that declares, "Safe Drive. Save Lives."
Chilling how a city that organises a bandh or a michil disrupting the lives of ordinary citizens and building our reputation as a state that lacks industry at the drop of a hat, failed to organise a single candlelight vigil, a public outcry, a media movement or even outrage for Sonika’s death due to Vikram’s drunken driving at 120km per hour.
How outside the Church in which her mass was held, small-time models, makeup artists, actors from film and TV, many of whom regularly partied with Sonika, hugged each other, cried and adjusted their fancy glares, but shied from saying anything other than a tearful obituary.
As a Bengali who has lived outside West Bengal most of her adult life, and I am not in awe of my roots or nurse any special regret that I couldn’t vote, but I did fly to Kolkata to vote for the TMC in 2011, feeling a rush of happiness when the defunct and corrupt CPM was displaced by Didi.
I wanted change so badly. I wanted something to be corrected. I wanted jobs for the youth. Bigger retail brands so that I could shop in my city. Better roads. Safer neighbourhoods for women. I wanted to stop comparing my birthplace to the bigger and better cities I lived and worked in — perhaps wishing I could resettle someday, like my parents.
And yet, today, with Sonika's death, I can’t help but feel despondent with certain glaring inadequacies in the case:
1. Where is the toxicology report for both the deceased and the survivor that indicates the level of alcohol in the blood?
When was the toxicology test conducted on Vikram Chatterjee as the blood samples have to be taken within 24 hours?
2. “He (Vikram) cannot deny that he was drunk. He was drinking. I am the proof. He was also mixing his drinks that night,” a witness, who did not wish to be identified, reportedly told TIMES NOW.
Why did the police not call upon eye-witnesses and seek their version of events?
3. How was Vikram Chatterjee allowed to leave the hospital after being grievously injured in an accident case and then conveniently admit himself in a few hours, with a battery of lawyers at his side?
4. Footage aired by Times Now last evening shows Vikram holding a glass, dancing at the night club, but does that alone prove he was drunk enough to slam a car and kill a co-passenger?
5. What was TMC leader Arup Biswas doing at the hospital? Or actors Locket Chatterjee, Ankush and Dev and producer-director Raj Chakravarthy? Is there a nexus that is not being probed?
6. How was Vikram allowed to hold a press conference in a club, immediately after he got bail?
7. Saheb, who claims to be Sonika's partner, who is giving interviews about his deep love and dedication, can surely hold a candlelight vigil and mobilise celebrity contacts for a march to the CM's office?
If he was at the same party as Sonika, as he claims, did he not see whether or not Vikram was drinking?
8. O' Brien, a family friend — who has written an emotional piece on Sonika and her loss — what is he doing to ensure the investigation takes place in a proper manner in the time of glaring loopholes?
Why isn’t the CM or he saying anything on the case for a change? Is a eulogy in a news portal enough?
In a Facebook post, Sonika Chauhan's mother Sharon Singh has pointedly said it was negligence that snatched her daughter away.
Popular singer Kalikaprasad’s driver, who drove him to his death recently in another ghastly car accident, is now behind bars. One can't help but wonder, are there two sets of laws — or are the poor easier to punish?
Sonika’s innate moral goodness and how her death is tragic have become the centre of attention. But when will we begin asking serious questions about the investigation that will ensure that if Sonika died in an act of culpable homicide, her killer would be punished?
"Why aren’t you guys creating a stir… surely this case can be escalated nationally?" I call up a friend who works for a national news channel.
"Chaap aache (there is pressure)," he hung up.
West Bengal remains a state of political shams and ugly skeletons. Nothing has changed, nothing will.