Monday, 30th October 2017

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Close to the Bone: Lisa Ray on surviving adversity

A conversation about a book very close to Lisa Ray’s heart

  • Published 6.06.19, 9:31 PM
  • Updated 6.06.19, 9:31 PM
  • 3 mins read
Lisa Ray: “People don’t want to speak about adversity, especially in India. We are always trying to hide our true self" Rashbehari Das

The transforming moment in Lisa Ray’s life arrived much before she was diagnosed with a rare disease. She remembers the time she took her European friends for a trip to McLeod Ganj and ended up at a 10-days silent retreat, akin to Vipassana. “It was the most terrifying and horrible thing I had ever done in my life. So what did I do? I went back,” says Lisa with a chuckle. She eventually spent six months amidst the mountains, going in and out of the camp as often as her mind and body would allow.

This 47-year-old woman has had life challenge her in various ways and she has only returned stronger than ever before. In town to talk about her new book Close To The Bone, Lisa was in conversation with author, poet and artist Karuna Ezara Parikh. Delighted to be back in Calcutta and to her “favourite space” in the city, the Experimenter Gallery in Ballygunge, she said, “It is almost like a homecoming for me as well as my book because this is where it all started and that makes me emotional. I am a Shyambazar girl and quintessentially Bengali and I believe this is a city of literary arts that still upholds words.” Her book originates from the story of her parents and traces her life till she was diagnosed with cancer.

She originally wanted to be a writer or an academician — professions that require the least amount of human contact. “Well that didn’t quite work out,” she laughs. She had always been a voracious reader and a poet. Karuna talks about the time she tumbled on to an Instagram page called @protestpoet maintained by a Lisa Rani Ray and she remembers having wondered if this was the same person who has won millions of hearts in India with her glamorous appearances in Bollywood.

Close To The Bone has been in the making for 25 years. She speaks about her natural ability to observe and soak in everything around her and often, physically take notes about what she would see. The journals she maintained over the years came in handy when she finally sat down to write her book. “My way of processing my diagnosis was writing. I remember my doctor telling me that I had a rare, incurable disease with few months to live and he looked so flustered that the first thing I said to him was ‘Would you like some water?’”

It is this humour that really kept her company through her darkest hours. Being able to laugh at everything around her made her stronger. She had withdrawn the manuscript from two different publishers till Harper Collins happened. A six-month-long proof-reading of a ready manuscript turned into eight years and somehow she was just not ready with the final draft.

However, the wait was well worth it. Touching upon feminist issues like people assuming that she used a ghost writer for her book and the idea of a good-looking person being bereft of grey matter, Karuna and Lisa’s discussion managed to touch a chord with the audience. “Having my looks overshadow every other achievement has been very painful,” said Lisa. She admitted to being the kind of person who runs away from her trauma instead of facing it.

Commenting on the constant scrutiny that women have to face these days because of social media, she questions the very idea of beauty. The concept of ‘ideal’ is changing constantly and what was considered beautiful 50 years ago, is no longer considered beautiful now.

Living in a society that glorifies being busy and distracted, it was an easy thing to do. “People don’t want to speak about adversity, especially in India. We are always trying to hide our true self,” she lamented. Self-admittedly, writing about her spiritual journey was one of the most difficult portions that she had to pen. However, being truthful and open about herself and the consequences of her decisions helped immensely. “I am more comfortable inhabiting the truth than telling a lie,” she signed off.