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Manisha Koirala. A known name and face in India. She had a turning point in life when she was diagnosed and treated for cancer. A look at her inspiring TED Talk.
For most of us that grew up in the 90s, Manisha Koirala is a name that evokes memories of our most watched films of childhood. 1942: A Love Story, Criminal, Bombay, Akele Hum Akele Tum, Khamoshi, Gupt, Dil Se, Lajja to the recent Dear Maya are just a few of her best performances in movies.
I recently met her in another country while at the immigration counter at the airport and was surprised to see her looking and behaving absolutely ‘normal’. She was standing in line just like everyone else (which yes, one does at international airports anyhow) but without attracting any attention to herself or her celebrity status.
When I interacted with her the thing that struck me most was how humble and unpretentious she was. Something that came about in the simplest action by her – she introduced herself, ‘I am Manisha.’ Not that she needs an introduction, but the fact that she did not take it for granted that people / all Indians would know her, spoke volumes about her.
I proceeded to gush about how much I had loved her Tedx Talk and how honest it was to me as a viewer. Her face lit up at the mention of this. For me, Manisha Koirala is a woman that needs to be spoken of for this Tedx Talk and changes in her life over the last few years, more than for just the actor that she is.
In 2012 it was reported that she had been diagnosed with cancer. She later flew to USA for treatment. She has now been cancer free for about 5 years. In 2017 she delivered a Tedx Talk which was titled ‘How To Find Meaning When Reality Hits You’. That is exactly what Manisha set out to do in her life. She opens her talk with a well-known quote – “Life is what hits you when you are busy making other plans!” Something that held so true for her. And for so many of us too in our respective lives. A life that is so unpredictable and delicate and yet has so much to offer if only we embrace it.
She spoke of how about 20-25 years ago she was living a life which many dreamt of. She had wanted to be at the top of her game. All the way from Nepal she worked hard to become one of the most successful and popular actresses. With 80 films in 5 languages and many awards she certainly did so. She admits that her work consisted of some quality and a lot of quantity. What resonated in that sentence to me as a viewer was ‘How many of us are actually living lives that are measured more in quantity than quality?’
She spoke of having more than she had ever thought of and then slowly started to lose it all. Subtle changes like signing a bad film, which flopped, a bad review and it went on. However she spoke of being unfazed by this feeling she could bounce back but in her own words ‘that didn’t really happen’.
An unhealthy lifestyle which attracted wrong company led her from one bad relationship to another all the while being in denial. Soon after her marriage broke, she was diagnosed with an aggressive form of cancer.
Her cancer experiences were not just about losing of hair and looking sick (as most people think about celebrities) but of the nature where she had to sign waivers that she may suffer permanent heart damage or that her hand would shake for the rest of her life. She admitted that was the moment when she got really scared that she may die. At that point she thought – if she had lived well and was proud of it, and the answer to that was ‘Of course NOT’.
That’s when she made a promise to herself about how she would live her life and spoke of 4 gifts –
How important it is to look after one’s health and nurture it, to inquire and read and do whatever it takes to have good health. A realization that came to her while in bed with cancer.
Working on the relationship with family, and ensuring it’s filled with trust and respect as they were the only people, she said, that stuck by her from beginning to end. Also ensuring that the friends we have in our lives add to it in substance and not mere number. She mentioned having an entourage of friends earlier, to a handful now, with whom she shares a deeper bond.
One needs to grow as the person they are, and choose the work they do carefully and from the heart. After all, it has to add to one’s sense of being, not take away from it.
She spoke of an incident: while she was in the hospital and not too many people were visiting her, a lady doctor from Cornell Hospital in New York, Dr. Navneet Narula, would spend her days with her on Sundays.
Manisha was curious as to why the lady was spending time sitting in her room when she was clearly busy. She said that you are not my friend from the past or my fan for sure so why would you sit here? To which the doctor replied, “With the hope that you will do this for somebody else.”
Something that seems so simple yet has such an impact and a lasting effect. Which it truly did for Manisha Koirala. As that is the moment, she says, she made a promise to herself that if she were to get a second chance at life she would be of service in any capacity that she could.
When the Earthquake hit Nepal, with the help of UNFPA, she did a campaign called Dignity First.
She is today actively involved in social work, specifically working with organisations to promote women’s rights, prevention of violence against women, and also towards prevention of human trafficking of Nepali girls for prostitution. She also gives motivational talks on various topics at various schools, hospitals and multinational organisations and is truly using her celebrity status to do good.
Making sense of why things happen to us is crucial for making necessary changes in our life and being happy with who we are and the life we made. She spoke of realising simple yet important truths about a life well lived.
But we do have a choice. We can either be consumed by it, let it get bigger than us and be defined by it or we can turn it around into a platform for our growth. For there is a message under every problem we face.
“We can take the worst situation of our lives and turn it into a narrative of triumph. The wisdom and courage is all within us.” We have a lot of celebrities that deliver talks but rarely do you hear one from more of a human standpoint than a celebrity one.
Header image is a screenshot from the TED Talk
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