Kasmar, 8.30pm on Sunday. All eyes were glued to the idiot box broadcasting one of India's most popular quiz ' Kaun Banega Crorepati, aka KBC.
But, the audience magnet was neither living screen legend Amitabh Bachchan, nor former Miss Universe Lara Dutta. The star of KBC 6 was an ordinary girl with extraordinary grit ' acid attack victim Sonali Mukherjee whose prolonged struggle for justice has put the law to shame. She won Rs 25 lakh at the show.
Sharing the dais with Big B in the KBC special episode titled Dusra Mauka (second chance), the 28-year-old aspiring social worker called the moment the best balm for her wounded existence.
"Never in my wildest dreams did I see myself beside Amitabhji. I thank god for granting me this opportunity," Sonali, a resident of Bokaro's Kasmar block, said from Delhi before her show went on air late in the evening.
"He was like a father. He consoled me and encouraged me to take life's miseries in my stride. He promised to support me," Sonali, who greeted Bachchan and Lara with Rabindranath Tagore's books and Ramananda Bandopadhyay's paintings, said.
Sonali underwent her second reconstructive surgery at BL Kapoor Super Speciality Hospital in Delhi on November 21. Her first surgery had taken place on October 20 at the same hospital, just 11 days before she appeared on the sets of KBC to shoot. Her tragedy was also re-enacted on the programme.
Completely bowled over by her quizmaster's personality, she said that the best thing about Big B was his bigger heart. "He is a very simple man and an emotional one too. He was touched by my ordeal and wept on the sets."
Sonali read the celebrated actor right. After the shooting, Bachchan had blogged: "It has been the most disturbing evening on the sets of KBC... Sonali Mukherjee, a pretty young girl was harassed by three men and when she repelled their unwanted advances, they threw acid on her face and destroyed her life."
"Denied justice, she pleaded publicly to end her life... Denied that too because euthanasia is illegal in the country, she decided not to remain silent and suffer… Her story is one of immense courage... The nation salutes her as do all of us, but simultaneously hangs its head in shame for this dastardly act," the actor wrote about "superfighter" Sonali.
While Sonali's tormentors are out on bail after barely four months in prison, the young woman ' blinded and disfigured by the acid attack on April 22, 2003 ' has been fighting for a life of dignity for nine long years. She has had 22 surgeries on her face and still has a long way to go.
"Doctors in Delhi say it will take at least two years. I take time to recover after every surgery. My third OT is scheduled after two months," said the girl who is indeed courage personified.
On what she planned to do after she recovered, Sonali said she wanted to be an activist against violence.
"Nari shakti ka rup hai (Woman is power). I will work with NGOs to ensure that what happened to me doesn't happen to anyone. The chief minister too has promised me a job," said the former NCC cadet.