It would take anybody by surprise how my life has unfolded in front of my astonished eyes. Wilder than a Bollywood blockbuster. Yes, Mahesh Bhatt was right in exclaiming “Expect the Unexpected” after he proudly had me sign Aashiqui. I was then a little lass, uninterested in the over emotional ‘ma’ wrap and the degenerate fashion, taste and style of Hindi cinema. It made me weep – in despair.
Free spirited, “bohemian”, I didn’t match any known language of colour, beauty, or perhaps even the fake idea of morality then. That believed in show it like they want to see it and not necessarily like it is. Worker for women empowerment, helping in the UNHCR expatriation of the Afghan refugees being my grounding, I was led to say it like it is. That didn’t go in my favour. They called me “bold”, “sex bomb” – well, a sex bomb is definitely better than a nuclear bomb don’t you think? Sex bomb dropped.
The fresh, long legged, tan skinned, single Anu was certainly not the false-breasted, shake the booby and booty kind of ‘heroine’ in navel-revealing dresses then in vogue. And still me, not the liposuction etc. kind of belle.
Till then, before my debut film Aashiqui, I was called one of India’s first international models – Schweppes Indian Tonic in Paris, shooting with the best fashion photographers in New York City, cat-walking on a cruise on the Norway Sea, and sashaying in fashion shows in castles in London.
Then Aashiqui. Stardom overnight. Anu Aggarwal, a household name, barely had a chance to develop vain pride. The debacle of fame was just about thrashing my solo living peaceful thus far. Uncomfortable. Stardom had hit me with the intensity of a volcano. Would leave me both dazzled, stunned, and amazed. Excessive fame. Millions of people held me in adulation. Brand endorsements and the candy called money.
Believe me – had it not been for my “care for the people” social work background, I, the “one-film wonder,” would have gone crazy.
I looked around. I saw a bizarre, warped and a weird way of looking at our own deepest instinct. In an interview I lamented: WHO WANTS A VIRGIN TODAY? It was a part of a long interview where I talked of social patterns and the changing Indian mindset. My replies were not personal, it was not about me it was about we, the people.
And before they could even say smile “Anu cheese” with ease, I had somehow managed to break every known rule in the book. Hardly a confirmed rebel, this happened in an ode to “Be Me”.
Sheltered by the umbrella of fame, I would shout slogans of safe sex. Help population control in a country bursting at its seams with people. Endorse a condom – Kamasutra, here I come. Raise awareness about “hidden” issues like sex.
We love sex, don’t we? Lets talk about sex, baby. Launch Music Television (MTV) in India, coo “Oye” instead of a “Namaste” and lo! many NRIs would confess to suddenly feeling proud of a country they hadn’t wanted to associate with so far.
Far from being shunned in the early 1990s, even a condom endorsement would promote me as a “Style Icon”. I now think it was the honesty I did it with that helped.
You’ve got to take me how I am. I am with you. I am for you. I am of you.
Suddenly everything I did was “wow”. She did it. The same people who had shunned me raised me up. Style Icon 1993 – “Inspite of her dark skin, Anu has made it”.
It was a time my love relationship ducked in a phase of gloom. Press accusations of the “thinking man’s sex symbol, Anu” and her (imagined!) sexual conduct didn’t fare well with the private delicacy of a man-woman bonding. I lost the love-game. Defeated.
“Anu makes it on her own terms,” Mid-Day would take a large page to confirm. And pass by people to become a benchmark in years to come. Erotica opened in Cannes festival, rave reviews in The New York Times and Variety, the bible of film trade in Hollywood. Holy crap! I am Big. Funnily enough this was the time – I felt done.
I found the monkey is the loneliest on top of a tree. I was the unhappiest I had been in my life. Ironically, when I had everything I felt empty within, I had nothing. The poorest time of my life was when I was the richest.
“Who am I” quest would lead me to shun the glam, glitz, the glory.
Jimmy Choo high heels left behind. Along with Victoria’s Secret lingerie and Gucci bags. Started my renunciation. Meagre needs and frugal wants, a lifestyle. Yoga. Dhyan. Sanyas. There came the thrashing needed to turn metal into gold. Mental abuse, harsh living, humiliation became a part of everyday monkhood. I wouldn’t know when the next abuse would come when I would be insulted in public – all these practices to dilute the ego, the “I”. Who are you? Surrender. If not to a God, then the hills of the forest.
Near-death experience was as unexpected as the biggest changes/challenges in life are. Merge with Source. Acute trauma, immense pain, and my body beaten till it was pulped down led me to understanding the real truth, of life – I am not the body. When nothing of “me” was left, I was Love. When I was acutely helpless is when I was full of hope. Not just for me but for Humanity. Here came the Bhagavad Gita kind of Bliss. Love is all there is. Let go. That’s what it is all about. “Serve, love, give” was a cry I heard, and as my physical condition improved, started to live by.
The only thing left for me to do now, like Zen believes, was to help another.
A do-it-yourself case, I healed myself. Forgiveness. Compassion. Acceptance. Empathy. Tools of recovery. Positive Psychology. Holistic or Wholistic healing. Yoga therapy started here.
My research metamorphosed into AnuFunYoga, laughter, joy and happiness important components of it. Neuroscience believes in it too. Maximize human potential. To see despondent slum kids spring up in joy has been immensely satisfying. Compassion-in-action. Spread it. Luckily, I got chosen to talk in an American yoga therapy and research association. In Austin, Texas other Yoga therapists heard and got inspired. In Ixtapa, Mexico, on the beach, I saw myself teach yoga Nidra to some American CEOs working for poverty alleviation. Inner poverty alleviation is what I lectured on. AAF (Anu Aggarwal Foundation) came in the process of forming. Help yourself, Help the world. Respect. Honor. Reverence.
Miracles happen. Catastrophes cut. Nobody knows why. Happened to me. We just need to be open. Let go. Each life has a suffering, mine did, yours does; how can we have anything but compassion for each other?
(Anu Aggarwal, former actor, is the author of “Anusual: Memoir of a Girl Who Came Back from the Dead“.)
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