Chanda Zaveri speaks at an interactive session organised by the Women’s Forum of St. Xavier’s College Calcutta Alumni Association at St. Xavier’s College on Monday. Picture by Bhubaneswarananda Halder
Chanda Zaveri, the Calcutta girl who chose a life of challenges instead of a trousseau at 17 and became a millionaire American entrepreneur, will help St. Xavier’s College raise “half-a-million dollars” for its upcoming university campus at Rajarhat.
Chanda is not a Xaverian but got drawn to the 154-year-old college when a friend persuaded her to meet the principal, Father Felix Raj, the last time she was in Calcutta in March.
“And I was like, ‘why, why would Father suddenly want to meet me?’ So I went and found this man who had given every second of his life for humanity while we don’t even have 10 minutes for someone. I was so impressed and inspired by Father that I wanted to be involved in his efforts in some way. I asked what I could do to help when he told me about his big plan about the university and I was very excited. Since he was coming to the US, I said I would try to arrange a forum and a fundraising fair for those interested in the cause,” she said.
She hosted Father Felix Raj and several members of the St. Xavier’s College Calcutta Alumni Association (SXCCA) at her Los Angeles home in May.
Chanda soon learnt that “people in the US don’t want to make a donation unless you have a non-profit organisation” and so the St. Xavier’s College Calcutta Foundation in California was born with the entrepreneur in her late-40s as its director.
“It takes 90 days and once the formalities are complete I’m planning to invite around 500 people for a dinner-dance-and-auction in November or January,” she said.
Tickets for the charity ball will be $250 per person and Chanda is looking forward to “doing the (Argentinean) tango at the ball”.
“The objective is to raise half-a-million dollars for the university and get one person to adopt one student every year for fellowship programmes.”
Chanda, who did her research in biochemistry under two-time Nobel-winning chemist Linus Pauling at the California Institute of Technology, has been speaking to teachers at “my alma mater if they would like to join St. Xavier’s as visiting professors”.
“I see education as the only way to freedom. That’s how I found my way and that’s what I want for others, especially women who should have their autonomy. Anywhere that girls and boys can study and learn, I will support. And I’m glad that I could begin this with Calcutta,” Chanda told Metro before breezing into a room full of men, women and students eager to listen to her at a session of the SXCCA’s Women’s Forum on Monday.
“Desperate people do desperate things and I was desperate,” she began while narrating her incredible journey.
Chanda had fled her Kankurgachhi home and an arranged marriage at 17 to land in Boston “cold and penniless” in 1984. The runaway girl worked as a maid and an impressed employer gave her $30,000, a gift that took her to Harvard. The rest, as they say, is history.
Soon after her meeting with Father Felix Raj, a business proposal came her way and she “merged” with chocolate brand MXI to launch XO Lifestyle Worldwide, offering a range of healthcare, skincare, nutraceutical, cosmoceutical and pharmaceutical products.
Chanda described the venture as a stroke of luck. “Father Felix is such a holy man, he blessed me and my house and my business turned around. Whatever I make from this, I want to give five per cent of it to the university until it’s complete.”
“These days, morning and night, I am thinking of how to make St. Xavier’s on a par with Harvard,” said the world’s leading molecular biologist.
Firdausul Hasan, the honorary secretary of SXCCA, has no hang-ups about a non-Xaverian steering the university’s cause.
“She may not be a Xaverian but in spirit she is. Xavier’s has a US chapter but America is a big place… everyone is scattered. We were finding it difficult to restructure it. After collaborating with Chanda and the time she has been putting in we are hopeful… our purpose is to bring together not just Xaverians but Calcuttans and think about doing something for the college,” he said.