After a diagnosis and fight against one of the rarest of cancers, ex-supermodel Lisa Ray has published a book Close to the Bone, about her journey back to herself. A chat with her on the occasion.
“I would like to take the reader on a journey and show them what all I have experienced,” says former supermodel Lisa Ray about her book Close to the Bone.
Lisa Ray has been a supermodel, an actress, a survivor of a rare form of cancer, a cancer champion, a social activist, and recently made her writing debut.
I still so fondly remember the desert-themed song Afreen Afreen (1996) and how stunningly beautiful Lisa looked in it. Her convincing portrayal of Kalyani in Deepa Mehta’s much-acclaimed movie Water (2005) remains etched on millions of hearts till today. And then came her fight with a rarest of rare cancer Multiple Myeloma.
More than a decade and here is the unstoppable and invincible Lisa Ray who has just come up with her honest, heart-warming and riveting memoir Close to the Bone.
“Cancer is not the end of the road. It’s a cryptic restart… I spend a lot of time enjoying the company of friends now. And I’ve got the shrinks! The curves of my collarbones are back. My body looks pleasing to me again. I can’t take it with me to the next life, this bag of bones, but I can take care of it in this life. And my bones. I listen to the deepest part of me. That’s why I can’t just go back to my old life. I found a new predisposition. It flares up so strong these days, and I have to obey. I will write. A book. Soon.”
Recently, I had the opportunity to meet her as part of the conversations around the launch of her book. We spoke about the inspiration behind her book, her rendezvous with a life-altering experience, where and how she derives her strength from, embracing motherhood, and much more.
Here is a sneak peek into a straight from the heart conversation –
“Writing a book has always been my ambition,” she said. “I have always been a passionate reader, and I always wanted to be a writer. For me, it was obvious. At 6, 16, 26 and 36, if someone had asked me what would I like to be, I would always say writer. People get surprised when I say this, but they can’t see inside my heart and mind. And that’s why I wrote the book.”
“I think what happens is that we become innocent victims of our image. Even when I was writing, people didn’t believe it; it ran, like, contradictory to a perception of me; they didn’t want to accept it. So finally now I have written a 400-page book. And I want to say that this is who I am, and not what you think who I am!” she smiles.
Lisa shares that her book is not a cancer memoir; it is an attempt by her to take her readers on a journey of her experiences. Shares Lisa, ”Close to the Bone is not cancer memoir. Cancer shows up in the last 40 pages or so. My book is about my journey of ridding myself of an inherited narrative. I want to take the reader on a journey. I hope what I can do with my reader is to extend a hand and say, come let’s go on a walk together, let me show you where I have been and what all I have experienced.”
But this narrative which is constantly fed to us makes us feel very insecure about standing up against others’ wishes and owning one’s choices. Add to it the role of social media and things get difficult with respect to image issues. I ask Lisa, what is her advice for today’s youth?
“Resisting the voices telling you how to live your life is very tough, but it is the only way to honour ourselves and our time in this world. Challenge mainstream notions of how life should be. I have often been rebellious and have questioned. And ultimately that’s the meaning of life. It is a journey from darkness to light. Light is seeing things with clarity and owning yourself. Isn’t that what is central to the reason we are here?”
Something like cancer, which is a brush with mortality, can cause a profound churning as a human being, can be a life-altering experience, and can either make or break a person. I am curious to know about the inner strength that Lisa called upon to deal this – physically, emotionally, spiritually?
“Even before cancer, I had done a fair amount of self-development. I always had a questioning soul, wanted to understand the deeper meaning of life. I found my spiritual journey. I met interesting people who became mentors, guides and teachers. So I think all of that work developed a bank of resilience in me. That until I was in this kind of health crisis, I didn’t understand how powerful it would be,” says Lisa.
“One thing about life is that it is unpredictable; you cannot control everything in life, but you can control how you react to it,” she continued. “A lot of my Buddhist studies helped me become much more peaceful about that notion. I know that helped me in cancer journey but also becoming an empowered patient, being stubborn, wilfully believing that I would survive despite the statistics. So it is a great combination of things. The fact that I am here today means that there is a purpose. And that purpose is speaking up, and connecting, and using my voice. That’s why now I don’t hesitate to share. Writing a book was my dream and cancer has pushed me in the direction of my dreams.”
Ten years back, being diagnosed with cancer wasn’t spoken about openly, not much. There was still a lot of stigma and shame attached to it. I ask Lisa if sharing something deeply personal in public was difficult for her.
“No,” she replied. “It was a great relief because it is easier for me to be honest than to hide. I was getting a lot of advice from the people to hide my diagnosis, but I never felt it right. I have written extensively about the genesis of this decision to share it publicly. I would urge readers to read it.”
Last year Lisa embraced motherhood when she and her husband Jason Dephnie became parents to two beautiful daughters Soleil and Sufi through surrogacy. I ask her about this whole experience of being a mother and deciding to bring up her children in India.
“I love it. My daughters are everything to me. But I also like saying that I am not just defined by motherhood; I continued working. I am fortunate to have an extremely supportive partner who is here with me, have incredible friends who are my circle of support. A big shout out to my girl tribe. My friend Deepika Aggarwal, Nikki Sanyal, Colleen Khan, Preeta Sutankar, and my nannies too. All the women who have gathered around me and make up support system, I am grateful to them all.”
She continues, “I want my daughters to be proud Indians, learn Hindi better than me.” (She laughs) “I still see India from the outside. I was brought up in the West, but I chose to bring my daughters back here. I like how we learn greater problem solving, and being comfortable with the ambivalence here.”
I ask her what would be one advice which she would like to share with young women based, on her rendezvous with an array of experiences in life. Lisa pauses for a moment and shares something very compelling. “Look beyond appearances, dig deeper and ask questions, challenge the status quo and find your voice!”
On the topic of of making one’s voice heard, I ask her the last question, about her favourites amongst the women writers. “There are many but Jhumpa Lahiri, Tishani Doshi, and Alice Munro are a few I would like to mention.”
On an ending note, here are a few beautiful words from her about her book, “I see Close to the Bone as an offering. I truly hope that, in sharing the harrowing journey back to myself, I will come out stronger and that the book will make others stronger. It is honest, raw, and an attempt to remove the mask we all hide behind. It’s a way to rise in truth and love. It’s my attempt to take back my story and voice – as a woman – and a way to connect with all the wounds and tender aches that make us human. There is humour. And tragedy. And celebration. Just like life.”
Image source: HarperCollins
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