An accident left me with no memory of my movie-star past

Dropped-out-of-sight Anu ‘Aashiqui’ Aggarwal returns to the public eye with a veracious memoir ‘Anusual’ that zips between multiple personas punctured by 29 days of coma. Exclusive extracts

Exactly a year after the super-hit sequel to her super-hit debut opened in theatres, Aashiqui actress Anu Aggarwal is back in public attention. She may call the timing karmik coincidence.

She won’t meet for an interview. Her time is reserved for teaching Mumbai’s slum kids AnuFun Yoga, a healing module she developed after years of experimenting with Vipassana, Craniosacral therapy and Tantra across ashrams in Uttarakhand and Kutch. She teaches it for free. Sanyas mandates that she live frugally, rid herself of the burden of possession. Sometimes, that means shorning her waist-length hair to ear-length; at others, it is to sell off her sea-facing Worli apartment, leaving with 11 cartons — 10 of them ready to be sent to Dharavi NGO Zaroorat.

It also means she must forgive.

Following a near-fatal accident that left her in coma for 29 days, three years of determination and therapy allowed her to get back on her feet. Her doctor decided the 12-inch metal plate that held her fractured humerus together, can go. The mini-surgery turned into nightmare when he snapped her radial nerve, leaving her right hand paralysed. “So, if I closed my eyes there was no thumb. I had no first finger. No second finger. No third finger. No fourth finger. No tiny smallest finger. And I had no nails. I did not have a palm. I did not feel the skin on top of my palm. I had no skin even above the palm. My wrist was decapitated. I had no hand and no lower arm. I had no elbow. I had no upper arm,” she said. The next morning, she sent the surgeon a Dutch plate, a gift to ease his guilt. “The damage to the nerve and the arm is healing but not fast enough”. She learnt to use the fork with her left hand

The benevolence and sobriety has come after a life of satiety. She lists her lovers with the matter-of-factness of a supermarket bill.

An Anglo-American jazz musician; a Giorgio Armani supermodel; a cool-headed Wall Street financier; an Australian-Jewish landowner; a venture capitalist and sax player from Texas; a German lingerie-maker; a loaded Nigerian “who preferred the most natural sexual acts to be performed with both of us standing up straight”. And finally, Swamiglee, the guru who rechristened her Anandapriya, making her his Tantric partner. This, until she learnt to orgasm with plain breathing. After a month’s practice of extending the breath between the outgoing and incoming breaths, suddenly one day, she stopped breathing. Her shaking body felt as if she were watching it from outside.

This out-of-body experience hits her often, (possibly why, in several sections of the book, she refers to herself in the third person), especially in the time after the near-fatal accident.

Select excerpts:
The early morning was filled with a heavy deluge of untimely rain. Chowpatty, one of the busiest thoroughfares in south Mumbai, was under police security. The birth anniversary of Mahatma Gandhi was on a Saturday this time… Returning home from the US consul general’s party, Anu was lacerated by metal. Cut by broken glass. Pulped inside the grunting car that was shaken by the stormy wind. Mercilessly reduced to a bloody mass of defeated bones; crushed and cracked, Anu would still breathe, however sparingly.

The policemen were astonished when they saw the white Mercedes take three 360-degree James Bond-kind of turns before flopping down next to the turbulent sea. It was only when they saw a female body slither out of the driver’s seat that they rushed to pick up her body, which looked electrocuted. Her feet fell on the broken glass of the windscreen; blood oozed out of her soles.

And later, when the insurance guys checked the battered car, they began to look for loopholes to save money as the smashed condition of the car meant full insurance coverage…

In the Intensive Care Unit the hands of Dr Kartik were folded behind the white apron. Head bent, he examined Anu who lay there like a corpse. On a crisp white sheet she was wired down to the hospital bed.
Asleep in peace.

And even when Anu wakes up — if she does from the comatose state — her gestation period will be three years.

Bedridden, the vegetable case will need to be taught the alphabet again. Death, in those three critical years, is almost inevitable…

A CT scan detected many multiple fractures in the body:

Clavicle — multiple fracture of the right collarbone; Humerus bone in the upper right arm — multiple fracture; Unstable pelvic fracture; Bladder rupture; Jaw—multiple fracture, dislocated; Basilar skull fracture; Temporal bone fracture of the ear; Ribs, mandible — hairline fracture; Sinuses smashed; Forehead fracture suspected; In the orbital region that holds the eye, fracture suspected; Nasal bone fracture suspected; Inner ear fracture, causing labyrinthitis, a disorder of the inner ear. Head injury: damage caused to the underlying blood vessels; Brain bleed.

With damages so disastrous I lay painlessly asleep in the hospital’s fresh linen. It was suspected I would cop it any second, it was a question of when…

A 12-inch-long silver metal plate is implanted in me to support the broken humerus. There are eight steel screws around the incision, to hold it. Then the skin is needled, sutured and stitched up — twenty-eight horizontal stitches are visible — from shoulder down to elbow.

Apparently, in the next quick surgery, they gashed the skin, prodded all internal organs to check for internal damage, stitched up a ruptured bladder. A vertical mark resulted that looked like a serpent — with its head just below the breast, it stretched all the way down and ended with its tail just above the vagina.

‘Lucky you. Your daughter has no internal breakages…the spinal cord is intact,’ Dr Shekhar informed my father, polishing his glasses. Pa heaved a sigh of relief: she will not be a Christopher Reeve-kind of a case — the actor who played Superman and who, as a result of a fall in an equestrian competition, had to have the base of his skull reattached to the spinal column with wire, titanium, and bone grafted from his hip.

‘Only her bladder ruptured, but we surgically enclosed it. Don’t worry, your daughter can bear a child, have babies,’ Dr Shekhar assures.

In the current situation that is the least of Ma’s concerns. She wants to see her bubbly daughter alive again.

I wake up.

Dr Kartik exclaims in glee:
—You are alive! This is a miracle.

Was I not alive when, during the first surgery, I scanned my own body from the outside?

9 a.m. Light changes, that’s all. They call it ‘morning’. You exist regardless. You are a part of eternity. My eyes flash open to intense activity — three attendants in white uniform hurriedly wheel a stretcher into the room. Methodically, they adjust the stretcher parallel to the bed. There is an absence of sound. Everything is distant, far away. ‘My’ body, which I have no association with, is lifted. I curiously watch it being raised above the bed, and then placed on the sharp green of the stretcher.

The stretcher moves fast down the corridor, then is stationary inside the lift.

I am motionless.

Delicate, like a newborn.

Filled with childlike wonder.

The earth a mystery.

We are in the Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI) room. The MRI is a type of scan that uses strong magnetic fields and radio waves to produce detailed images of the inside of the body.
The radiologist, Dr Anirudha, points to the image and continues:

A Computerized Tomography, of the base of skull, is performed; there is fluid in both mastoid air cells, right mastoid fracture is noted, right sphenoidal polyp is noted.

The conclusion: there is fluid in both mastoid air cells, there is a right mastoid undisplaced fracture.


The radiologist is exuberant…

A pale smile accompanies his voice:
— Apart from the skull, there was a crack on your forehead, in the orbital region that houses the eye. We needed to recheck it for a fracture but we could not do it as too many other parts of your body required immediate attention…

That is why that area is shrunken, like a hollow cave, benumbed. Half the forehead is paralysed and is smeared with black ash. And I cannot understand what they say — I have difficulty hearing.
The Bell’s Palsy-ridden face does not show the inward smile. I live out of the body more than I do in it…

You go out for dinner one drizzly night but do not return; you disappear from your home instead. Return only a month and some odd days later and not know your house is ‘yours’. And since you do not know you left it, you are not returning either. You are here as for the first time — you feel only a vague acquaintance with it. Amnesia skirts the film star, now worn-out, depersonalized.
A special medically advised bed is what I lie on.

Dr Kartik visits, tells Ma: She had hysterical post-traumatic amnesia. Damaged hippocampus in the brain means she will not be able to imagine a future, because when a normal human being imagines the future, they use their past experiences to construct a possible scenario.

Anu lives in the now, in the present moment.

Extracted with permission of HarperCollins Publishers India from Anusual by Anu Aggarwal

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