Woman who fled arranged marriage in India returns as self-made millionaire

Nadine Kalinauskas
Good News

Chanda Zaveri, 49, fled from Calcutta to the United States three decades ago to flee an arranged marriage. She returns every year, now a proud self-made millionaire.

At the age of 15, Zaveri befriended a couple, David and Karen, from Boston on Park Street in Calcutta.

When her parents tried to marry her off two years later, Zaveri contacted the couple, asking for their help. A recent undergraduate, she wanted to pursue a master's degree. They agreed to send the teen a sponsor letter.

"My parents arranged my wedding and I ran away! I had no money, just a pair of diamond earrings. I sold it, got myself tickets on British Airways and landed in Boston," she told the Telegraph India.

"I just wanted to be my own person," she said in her company bio. "I used to dream about receiving the Nobel Prize because it meant I had helped the world."

Determined to get an education, Zaveri worked as a maid for a few elderly clients, until one of them, a 98-year-old woman named Mrs. Leslie, gave her $30,000 with one simple instruction: "I want you to go to Harvard."

So she did. When Zaveri completed the credits she needed to pursue her master's degree, she moved west to to California Institute of Technology where she began biochemistry research under Nobel Prize-winning chemist Linus Pauling.

Her work with peptides led to the creation of Zaveri's Los Angeles-based skin care company Actiogen.

"We create scientific peptide-based skincare products on anti-ageing, acne, cleansers, toners, day and night creams, sunscreens and stretch-mark removers. They are functional cosmetics, which aren’t just feel-good and smell-good. We sell online and through info-commercials. In fact, I have just got the FDA approval for an acne patch that we are launching soon. We are hoping for a $100 million turnover with this new product. I also want to bring these acne patches to India," she told the Telegraph India.

Zaveri, who received an honorary doctorate from Harvard University for her discoveries in skin pigment formation, returns to Calcutta every year.

"I am happy to see more Marwari girls pursuing higher studies, but the priority of finding a good groom still remains. Having gone through that and having worked as a maid, I hope for a day in India when people, irrespective of their status and gender, will treat each other as equal," she said.

"I think I had a destiny that I asked for. I believe in the law of attraction. If you want something and you don’t have ifs or buts, you will get it. No matter what."