However old you are, whatever you've experienced in life, it's never enough to teach you to cope with grief. A father, a year ago; a close friend, 50 days ago; or, seven days ago, a young woman, the world her oyster, her parents among my oldest friends, died in a car accident in Kolkata. Sonika Chauhan was all of 27.
She was a rising television star, a model and a show host of great promise. For me, she was the little girl I could remember from virtually the day she was born. Sonika was brimming with energy and with talent. She had anchored four shows on three television channels. She had done this without any godfathers and without once seeking help or calling in a favour. Growing up, the only person she knew with a television background was "Uncle Derek". But each time she got a contract, I only found out after she had been selected and she excitedly phoned me to tell me she'd signed on. In her little way, she was a proud, self-made achiever.
Sonika died in a horrific car accident that some of you may have read about. The ironies of life - her first television show was one on cars and automobiles for NDTV. She became better known later for covering the Kabaddi League, becoming its glamorous face. Her parents were so happy for her. Her father, Vijay, is in the equine business and is one of India's best horse trainers. His father Jagdish (Sonika's grandfather) was perhaps India's greatest jockey.
Vijay and Sharon have kept a lovely home and brought up their one child, their darling Sonika, with thought and care. It was a house full of laughter. Like my daughter, Sonika was a "Chindu", born into an inter-community marriage. The prayer corner in their house was touching and so telling of India's diversity - Ganesh and Christ sharing space, Mother Mary and Ma Kali next to each other.
Speaking at the memorial service for Sonika was about the most difficult thing I've ever done. "Though she died at only 27," I said, "she has left behind a beautiful legacy...She has joined the '27 Club', which has members like Jimi Hendrix, Jim Morrison and Amy Winehouse. Vijay and Sharon have decided to set up the Sonika 27 Foundation to touch lives of boys and girls in different ways."
The "27 Club" is a melancholic name that music fans have coined for great singers who coincidentally passed away at that age. Vijay and Sharon plan to take forward their daughter's legacy by setting up a Foundation in her name to help young people as they can. They have given their precious daughter the most moving and meaningful farewell possible. As a family friend said at the "simple and beautiful" memorial meet at a city church, "This was the wedding Sonika never had." I write this with tears in my eyes; it is a fate no parent should suffer.
The car accident hit headlines in Kolkata and shook the city. No doubt the law will take its course. The police will find answers to Sharon's and Vijay's questions through their investigation. Yet the menace of road accidents and fatalities is a shaming national epidemic that we need to curb. As per the latest National Crime Records Bureau (NCRB), in 2015, 464,764 individual road accidents were reported across the country, killing 148,707 people. The number killed more or less equalled the population that died in Hiroshima in 1945, following the first atom bomb attack.
Put another way, there are 53 road accidents each hour in India, killing 17 people. Worldwide, 1.25 million people are killed in road accidents every year. Somewhere in that welter of statistics is Sonika's tragedy. Somewhere in those numbers lie the broken but still warm hearts of Sharon and Vijay.
There is so much I would want to write about...the sense of responsibility behind the wheel, the care that young people (or any of us) must take while partying into the night, the importance of a designated driver. These are conversations we all need to have with our children, our families and ourselves. These are conversations that the Sonika 27 Foundation will take ahead in her name.
Goodbye my child. Till we meet again on the other side.Derek O'Brien is leader, parliamentary party Trinamool Congress (RS), and Chief National spokesperson of the party.Disclaimer: The opinions expressed within this article are the personal opinions of the author. The facts and opinions appearing in the article do not reflect the views of NDTV and NDTV does not assume any responsibility or liability for the same.
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