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My Life Outside of Pictures

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This is column for Indian newspaper DNA published April 10th, 2015

 

When you move in your forties, your past shows up. And its heavy.

I’m talking about photo albums. Boxes and boxes. All piled into a cardboard Kilimanjaro along with the sofas and paintings and crockery at our new Hong Kong apartment.

You may wonder why I haven’t ‘digitized’ all my personal memories if you’re into ‘optimization’ or you may suspect I”m a hoarder if you watch too much reality tv and you’re into armchair psychology. And if you’re born after 1999 you might be googling ‘photo album’ and smiling at the quaintness of it all. Imagine: an awkwardly sized sized book that contains a collection of photographs, which someone took the time to place on a sticky bed somewhat symmetrically and organized according to personal taste or whimsy.

What a concept.

What a treasure.

I spent days time travelling with just a flick of a page. The images stretched back, pre-dating my personal ground zero, to my mother’s free spirited childhood, running barefoot through grass, clutching a dog or at times a chicken in her arms. Then there’s my father’s more self-conscious black and whites, posing formally on the occasion of one of his achievements- a graduation- in tacit kinship with the entire family fanning out around him, my Dadu presiding over all, like the judge he was. How they came together is the greatest narrative of my life. And the story lies in these photo albums.

But not just in the images you can see.

Its in the point that lies between.

Both in my parent’s love story and my own, very humbling visual chronicle from baby to surly 80’s teen (committing appalling fashion crimes like bleached jeans and leg warmers which I can’t fortunately take personal responsibility for- blame it on the decade!) to becoming a ‘face apart’ after a serendipitous launch as a ‘model’ in India and beyond, its the times between the pictures that colour my personal story.

A serious car accident which changed the course of my life. That time I fell to pieces over a boy. When I ventured into the wild of my mind and spent a year in a monastery. When I was a woman of ‘no fixed address’ living on the currents of my fancy, an alien in Milan, Paris and London and loving the freedom in being indefinable.

My mom’s passing.

We mythologise our lives in images, but its in point that lies between them, where everything worth living and telling happens.

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Musing of an Ex Sex Symbol

By | Mind Currents, New | No Comments

2-Lisa-RayDNA Column February 2015

When I was young, and trying to find a profession which would make me into the person I wanted to be, it so happened that I posed in a scarlet swimsuit for the cover of a fashion magazine in Bombay.

Though I didn’t bargain for it, that cover turned me into an over night sensation (the early nineties equivalent of breaking the internet). I was sixteen and in a world full of question marks, it was a relief to be handed an identity.

I became a sex symbol.

What were the job requirements?

Well….to appear hot and desirable. Always. All the time.

In those days, it was easy to seduce an entire generation through a lens than go through the discomforting routine of being compulsively dressed for the pleasure of others. The red carpet was confined to banquet halls and cameras to photography studios. It was possible to play at being a temptress in the day and still relish my solitude like a divorcee at night.

And yet, even then, there was such a disconnect between myself and expectations of a sex symbol.
I didn’t know how to flirt. I still don’t.
I dislike attention. I’d rather be at home reading or baking a quiche.
I can impress a crowd through a lens but the thought of interacting with flesh and blood creatures makes me socially anxious
I remember taking a seat at a five star cafe at the height of my popularity. Ripped t-shirt, paperback tucked under my arm, as I settled into my seat, the boy at the neighbouring table swept his gaze over me.

‘Hey look at her.’ He nudged his friend.

‘She’s not bad, yaar.’ He takes a sip of thumbs up. ‘But she’s no Lisa Ray.’

Not long after that existential moment, I left India and my career in a self-defining moment. Believing it is the genetic fate of every human being to be an unique individual, to find his own path, to live his own life, I needed to search the secret silent places- both in myself and in the world.

And really- I suck as a sex symbol.

Too rebellious and my mind gravitates to conundrums.
Now that I”m back in India, its confusing to see actresses of great calibre becoming the chief sales agents for the Fashion Industry. Renegade spirits are lassoed by teams of stylists and managers. I understand the business behind it. However its become a pathology.

The pathology of perfection.

We’re teaching our girls that if you don’t appear airbrushed perfect, your accomplishments are not worthy of celebration.

When I was diagnosed with Multiple Myeloma, I made the announcement from the red carpet at the Toronto International Film Festival. Bloated on steroids, with a classic ‘moonface’ I felt the least self-conscious I had ever felt. There were powerful currents running through my veins and my belly was on display, but I stood there not for the pleasure of others- but for myself.
This year, Oscar nominees like Reese Witherspoon joined the twitter campaign #Askhermore to discourage red carpet reporters from solely focusing on fashion. Its not wrong to ask about gowns at arguably, the world’s most glamourous event. But these women’s careers and accomplishments should not take a backseat to the dress.

Rebellion on the red carpet. In India we are ripe for doing it differently.

You can call me a dreamer. But I believe a woman can be beautiful and allow her layers to show.WD9T8765

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Homeless

By | Elsewhere, Mind Currents, New | No Comments

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DNA Column February 2015

I am officially homeless. I’ve decided to believe that the best game I’ve ever played involves living out of suitcases, but then I’ve always had a home to return to. Now with one house under renovation, and the lease on another starting in mid-March, it seems a good moment to practise this ‘At Home in the World’ concept without having to rush back to calm a sullen cat pressing the poop everywhere panic button in protest.

Delhi airport: I’m in the corner of Starbucks puzzling over why the air hostess always offers me a Cineblitz or Society not ‘Outlook’ or ‘India Today’ when a man plonks down beside me. I really want to brush my teeth as I’ve been in transit for a while, but this man obviously doesn’t have the same pretensions to hygiene and his clothes have not seen an iron in days. He’s unshaven. His nails are dirty. I fix him with a look I imagine is practised by lion tamers.

You are Lisa Ray. It’s not a question.
You were on my wall. uh oh.
You are very important to my wife. Okaay…
She died of cancer.

My mouth is frozen in an ‘o’. I don’t know what to say. In the background, orders for ‘mochacinnos’ continue to ring out. There really is nothing to say in this place of transit, but to share a moment of quiet communion. After the man leaves, I make my way to the bathroom. While washing my face, I look into the mirror and reflect on how happy I was to critique a stranger when my own sweater is inside out and there’s chicken salad stuck in my teeth.

Kolkata: I’m sitting on the balcony of The Grand Hotel, pretending to be a foreign correspondent. It truly is my favourite game. I roll up my sleeves, take out a notebook, and breath in novelty. I watch a man and his son emerge opposite me. The boy comes straight to the wrought iron railing and instead of looking down on the magnificent grounds, he looks up. He stretches his small arms towards the sky and in that moment I see what it really is to be at home in the world.

Later: My father and I make a nostalgic visit to the Indian Coffee house. We have just walked past the stalls loaded with text books. I enjoy walking behind my Pappy as I call him, following his measured steps and watching when he leans over to take a closer look at something. There is an energy field in Calcutta which is intimately mine. I spent a lot of my childhood here and the suitcases of my mind are flying open. I take a picture of my dad in front of a huge portrait of a young Tagore and we eavesdrop on an athletic conversation amongst white haired men with slight frames and shirt sleeves extending beyond their knuckles like my father.

The next day, something happens in Kolkata airport which has never happened before in my entire travel career. I am prevented from boarding a flight to Siem Reap. Something about my passport expiry date. I call a friend to make arrangements for a new hotel room. Driving there, the shock wears off. I travel to break routine. To notice more. And to recognise that even in the unfamiliar there is a sense of home. I begin laughing because there it is, finally.
That feeling… of feeling at home in the world.
And WITH the world!

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My Date

By | Closer | No Comments

DNA Column April 2015

My hubby came to Mumbai last weekend. To talk about dates.

Unfortunately not of the romantic variety.

I’m the first to admit it, but I’m just vague with numbers and dates and anything which falls under that category of deliberate quantification. Counting in particular disturbs me no end. I simply don’t do the counting thing. I refuse to count leg press reps in the gym, and I’d rather paddle through the fjords of Norway dressed as a Viking than buy a fitbit- that evil device that counts the number of steps you take in a day.

Naturally this extends to schedules and the like. There is just something in me that resists talking about concrete plans, even when tickets have been booked and paid for and airport drop offs have been programmed into my iphone calendar.

My husband knows this. He is also a very patient and astute man. And so he has made a date with me and flown down from Hong Kong for the weekend as I’m plunging into some new film projects and he wants to discuss….dates.

‘So, when do you start filming. Are you excited?’IMG_7536

‘Yes. Very.’ I am smiling winningly and while licking latte foam off my lips to distract him from the fact I’ve only addressed half of his question, I nervously bite down and draw blood.

He hands me a tissue.

‘So…when do you finish filming?’

‘Soon.’ I’m pressing the tissue to my mouth. My leg is jiggling beneath the table.

The truth is I work in a business where the ground beneath my feet is never solid and dates change- and that’s the only consistency. My husband on the other hand is my bridge to wholeness, solidity and…some might say, sanity. And he most definitely does not occupy a world where ‘mood’ or ‘vibe’ or ‘last minute date change’ play any role.

He has gently coaxed me into booking vacations months in advance and then not cancelling last minute either. Which is a quantum leap for me personally. Now if he can only get a handle on my work/travel plans. And when we will see each other next.

In my defence, this date phobia does not solely lie with me. An indie film producer recently shared, ‘my friends joked that my marriage is a miracle, as its the one and only time I committed to a date’

See, in my mind, the answer is: ‘as soon as possible my love, I will get on a plane and be by your side where I long to remain, but I am scared to articulate all this to you, as I know the very nature of the universe to be ever changing and full of emptiness…this is the ultimate lesson I have drawn from working in the entertainment industry in Mumbai and around the world.’

But of course I don’t say it.

Instead I lean forward and remove the bloody tissue.

‘Baby, what’s the longest journey you can take?’

If he is startled by this sudden turn in the conversation he doesn’t show it.

‘I don’t know…from here to Capetown?’ The not-so-veiled reference to my upcoming trip is delivered with a wry smile while picking bloody bits of tissue off my lip.

I lean back.

‘No baby.’ I draw an imaginary line from my head to the space of my heart. ‘From your mind to your heart. It’s the most important journey we can take as human beings…’

He smiles and while leaning forward to caress my cheek grabs my iphone with his other hand and scrolls through my calendar.

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My Message in a Bottle

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This is my column for DNA published March, 2015

 

My bone marrow began sending me messages long before I learned to listen. I was exhausted, pale, and tired all of the time. And busy. It was a badge I wore with pride. Eventually I landed myself in the emergency room, and was handed a full membership to the cancer club. I was diagnosed with multiple myeloma, an incurable blood cancer.

That was June 23rd 2009.

I was very fortunate. And I refused to become a statistic. After four months of chemo and steroids, I was able to use my own stem cells in what is called an autologous stell cell transplant.

My stem cell transplant was a journey to my very core. It’s like witnessing a rebirth. Visualizing those ‘yellow’ cells stream their way back into my bone marrow opened my eyes to the deepest, most intimate parts of myself. The ultimate reboot.

But I was also reminded of Michael Pinto the undertaker in Bombay.

‘Grave Problems Resurrected here’

That’s so not gonna happen. Not on my resurrection.

Sometimes I gloss over my past cancer club membership–my treatment, my illness—but then I am remember the darkest crises are moments of great opportunity; an event that shocks you into seeing with your heart. It is a place that combines survival with celebration.

I have so much more to do with this second chance. I need to create and express and travel and work and learn. I need to make surviving cancer matter. To take the miracle, the promise, the hope, out into the streets.
And then there are times when the work is to be be still.

To replenish and allow my body to take the lead, as happened when I fell ill with a virus two weeks ago. So many flights, a too packed schedule took a toll. I felt the first tickle in the back of my throat after I landed in Hong Kong. But now when my body sends a message, I pay close attention.

My body was saying ‘Remember: Grave problems are NOT resurrected here.’

There are other things far more important which you can only understand from stillness.

And from illness.

I was so grateful for that message.

When the noise inside and outside ourselves is dialed down, we have a shot at moving back to a place where you can trust your own inner compass. ‘To be yourself in a world that is constantly trying to make you something else is the greatest accomplishment.’ said Ralph Waldo Emerson.

That’s a message worth listening for

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