Close to the bone and back

Lisa Ray talks about her new book, bouncing back from trauma and her plans to continue writing, in an exclusive interview with Ishaan Mital

Lisa Ray has been in the news for her battle with Multiple Myeloma, a rare cancer, the odds of curing which are remote. Close To The Bone, her first book, is not a cancer memoir. It talks about the events that brought this introvert half-Indian, half-Polish girl to Mumbai at 16; her relationships; and her foray into acting, which included auditioning for a Bond film. This is a pacy and layered memoir about the life of this celebrated model and actress who wants to be identified as a writer next.

Q & A

Do you regret not pursuing a conventional career despite being a bright student?

Not at all. I believe bright people end up challenging the status quo. There was no way I could be satisfied following the usual script. I don't judge others for doing it. But it was not for me.

You wanted to pursue academics to avoid peopleto- people contact...

I always wanted to be a writer. I am fulfilling my dream. This is bigger than a film releasing. I love words. I was a strong writer. I wanted to show the education system is flawed. I wrote essays for university kids when I was in high school. That was my education. I didn't need the diploma for validation. I didn't want to be trapped by society's tropes.

Were you eyeing an academic career?

My family knew nothing else. They had no background in entertainment.

You didn't like attention...

I am an introvert. I don't like attention. Even today, I can't be around people all the time. I need to withdraw into the mountains and I like my solitary time. I am unsuitable for the business I found myself in.

What would you prefer as your mainstay: Hindi cinema, Tollywood, Hollywood?

Writing *laughs*.

Not cinema at all?

I like cinema. It has given me a lot. Let me not say that. I enjoy it. Today, I am doing interesting projects. I have AR Rahman's film called 99 Songs. I did a great series called Four More Shots Please! recently which I loved being part of. This is probably the most interesting time to be working in India as a woman. I enjoy acting for the cameras. I am socially anxious otherwise.

You've described auditioning for a Bond film with humour. Was it catharsis for losing out on the role?

I had never even anticipated... I never watch Bond films. This was not part of my aspiration. Often, I would start feeling like a fraud when I was put in these situations that this is something so many people aspire to do but how come I am not attracted to it. Having said that I had quite a ball. I write about it with a sense of humour. I enjoyed being put in that situation. I like being put in these surreal juxtapositions.

A lot of the narrative in the book talks about situations preparing you for things to come later in life. Do you believe that? You rewrote the manuscript.

I rewrote it to reflect who I am today on my belief system. So, yes I believe it.

Have you reconciled to your mother's accident being the starting point of your career?

I never reconciled to it. It has been a trauma that has remained with me. I have spent a lot of time trying to make my peace with it. I can never reconcile with it. There cannot be any definitive answers in life. That's why I am very ambivalent
about my career. It began on the edge of a blade. On one side there was fame and fortune, while on the other side there was this deep trauma. I have healed at the soul level. There can be no reconciliation at the intellectual level.

Do you credit economic independence at an early age for the decisions you made in life?

Yeah, I think so. That, but also my sheer fearlessness and independence. The independence of mind is sometimes more important than financial independence. The boundaries and a lot of our obstacles begin in the mind.

What made you study acting?

It opened me up to human behaviour. It is more about understanding psychological motives. It was more like therapy than anything else. That's what attracted me to it.

You've done a frank audit of your relationships in the book. Each one turned out differently. But you own each of them. How important is it for us to own our story?
As a writer?

It is fundamental in life. Maybe it is one of the true reasons to go from a place of external influences. You have to be strong enough to protect your internal world from the external. By that I mean you don't need validation. Once you don't need it you can own everything about your experience. Otherwise, we are just labelling things. Have your own internal GPS to know what's right for you.

It couldn't have been easy.

That's why I wrote 400 pages on it!

How can a celebrity be struck with body-image issues and food problems? It's difficult to reconcile to that contradiction.

That's the point. It's an important theme in my life. The outside world believes that fame and privilege cushion you from trauma and unhappiness and give you a fantastic life. I'm not you. A certain amount of money absolutely does. But it doesn't solve anything [neither] your basic unhappiness, [nor] mental illness. It is really important in today's world to remove that mask, the perceived perfection on social media and say that I am a human being. Sure, you might aspire to be like this but it doesn't solve anything for you.

You are so immersive in everything you do...

Yes, I go all in. It's just the way that I am built for better or for worse. For me that's the point of life. I set a goal for myself. It was to live life fully. To suck the juice out of life.

How would your mum react to this memoir?

She would have loved it. She was the original rebel and the original truth teller.

How do you define your relationship with your father?

The portrayal of who my father is, I am glad it comes through. He has been a cotraveller. He hasn't imposed anything on me. And been very accepting and accessible. Won't you think that's how he is? (asks her husband Jason)
Jason: A 100 per cent.

Why do you believe so much in serendipity?

I believe serendipity is a force that has exerted a great power in my life. I am not a hustler for opportunities. Serendipity brought them to me. Of course then you have to act on it. But serendipity also implies surrender and a kind of a faith that everything is going to work out.

Are you glad that people are talking about sexism in everyday life?

It's a positive change. Having a conversation about sexism in the room is important. The hope is always from the next generation it's from the kids.

Why did you look at the girl who played Chuiya in Water and see your troubled relationship with food in her? Were you overthinking?

You have to allow me a bit of lyrical and creative freedom. It's not just the story, it's how the story is told. That's how my mind works. It sees the world in these terms. That's the writer in me. I see these connections while writing. I uncover certain patterns.

Was this form of writing more attuned to your style?

I want to keep writing books and eventually go on to write fiction.