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Mandira Bedi has always broken stereotypes, and spoke about all of that after she recently published her book Happy For No Reason, which takes an insightful look at her life.
For me, she’s ‘Shanti’ through and through. I distinctly remember that at the time when this sitcom was being aired, having a young female protagonist who was bold and fearless was something totally unheard of. At the time, when all we got to see in television were women in subservient, regressive and passive roles, Shanti was a breath of fresh air. Growing up in the ‘90’s for most girls like me, who couldn’t relate to the conventional portrayals of women, Shanti seemed real, and someone who matched the closeted rebels in us. And I grew up idolizing her.
Yes, I’m speaking of Mandira Bedi, actor, TV personality, and a fitness icon, who recently launched her book Happy For No Reason at Crossword Bookstores, Juhu on 19th February, 2020, with co-author, yoga mentor, writer, composer, musician, life coach and workshop facilitator, Satyadev Barman. It was as a result of the publication of this book that I got a chance to interview her.
Once we started talking I could easily see what a warm and affable person Mandira is, (we also connected on both of us being Potterheads and Roald Dahl fans) and the conversation started flowing effortlessly, putting the hyperventilating fangirl in me instantly at ease.
Mandira began by telling me how this book came to be, named Happy For No Reason, because that was the bio she had put up on Instagram.
So one of her Instagram followers, incidentally the commissioning editor for Penguin Random House Publications, approached her to write a book. She had been approached by other publishing houses too, earlier, but she wasn’t inclined to write a book at that point in her life. But by this time, she had started working on herself more; not just on her physical self but also towards her emotional and mental health when this offer came by to write a book, she decided that it was time to share her transformative journey with others.
Mandira says, “You know, as a fitness icon, people speculated that the book would be about fitness of course, but I wanted it to be much more than just about physical wellness alone. The title of the book too seemed to lend itself to a holistic approach towards wellness including mental and emotional health as well. So when the premise fell into place, I felt I could work better on the book with a co-author on board.”
With her husband suggesting their long term friend, philosopher and guide Satyadev Barman’s name, she knew instantly that she had found the one.
Satyadev Barman lives in Denmark, and is a yoga mentor, a life coach and a musician. While Mandira wrote about her life journey, baring her soul with brutal honesty, Satyadev took those instances and gave perspectives and deeper insights into them with a touch of philosophy and realism.
About the writing process, she says, having a co-author living outside the country was definitely a challenge. They had to make the most out of the days when he was visiting India. The first thing they did was to flush out the chapters they wanted for the book and decided on where to place those chapters. Once that was set things fell into place easily. They spoke about the chapters out-loud and recorded their conversations around the subjects and that became the core essence of their writing process.
“We wanted the book to…maintain the conversational flow throughout the book because I believe in the power of the ‘spoken word’…To have that effect, we mostly recorded our conversations and used our conversation verbatim,” she says.
While Mandira’s readers would get to know her up close and personal and see her struggles, they will also get insightful perspectives and worldly wise tips in the book. Along with all this, readers will also get her personally curated fitness regime, recipes, her personal favourite playlists, and much more.
During our discussion, she also spoke a great deal in the book about gratitude as a key player in finding happiness within. “Gratitude is the sure shot way to happiness because you can’t be grateful and unhappy at the same time,” she says, and quite rightly so. She says being ‘happy for no reason’ is an intent that she puts out every single day through her prayers.
The book is deeply personal in most parts, written with a lot of honesty. She writes candidly about her struggles with anger and how it was taking a toll on her relationships. Looking at the subject and content of the book it seemed like it would have been an emotionally draining experience for her, but she has a totally different take on that. She says it was highly uplifting and a very happy experience for her.
“I have done a lot of therapy in life, the regular sittings, hypno-therapy, spiritual therapy and all that’s available. And it helped me with a lot of unresolved issues in my life that had become a pattern. So, I wanted to talk about these issues and how I dealt with it and how it changed me for better. Anger was one such very big issue in my life,” she asserted.
She even jokes about it and laughs aloud saying, “If I had written a book a couple of years back, it would have been probably called ‘angry for no reason’ or ‘snappy for no reason’!”
“If this book can help even one person relate to my struggles,” she continues, “and if it can take them on a journey of self-awareness,…my intent of writing this book would be met.”
She has certainly broken the metaphorical glass ceiling time and again, and how! When we look back at all that, we can see the various roles she has played, and the different hats she has donned, from the time she debuted as the fierce ‘Shanti’ in the first-ever daytime sitcom, to breaking into the male-centric arena of International Cricket in the role of the first-ever-female presenter.
There she was, being unapologetically herself, surrounded by an intimidating (to most women) all-male cricket expert crew and veterans, and yet she held her ground in her own way so beautifully, so confidently and might I add, oh-so-stylishly too. Her costumes became trend-setters later but she had to survive quite a few backlashes then.
Looking back on those times she distinctly remembers that there were more brickbats in store for her costume choices than praises. But she wasn’t one to let others dictate how she chose to live her life.
Talking about the stereotypes she personally had to face in the entertainment industry, she says that the cricket episode taught her a lot about perceptions that run deep. Being in the thick of the male dominated scenario of cricket made her look at these perceptions more objectively; while she was working on those sets she didn’t get the acceptance of her male counterparts. They scoffed at her presence and she never felt welcome. But she hung in there, wading through it all.
“There will always be people who will like you and there’ll always be people who don’t like you. You can’t be a people-pleaser and you can’t please everybody. It’s better to do what you do and be true to yourself because that’s what really matters in the long run,” she said. The cricket experience taught her to ignore negativity.
Talking of breaking stereotypes, we touched upon her participation in the reality show Ice Road Truckers- India’s Deadliest Roads. In this, Mandira has driven a 14 Tonne truck on the deadliest roads, across 1200 km of rough, mountainous terrain in the Himalayas, for close to a fortnight.
That’s the spirited Mandira Bedi for you with the indomitable spirit.
In more ways than one Mandira Bedi has broken stereotypes. And by doing all this at a time when no one was even talking about it, she made the path a little easier to tread for other women to follow and claim their rightful space, especially in the unforgiving entertainment industry. And that is why it’s even more important to credit women who do things against societal norms, and small and big victories brought in by women like Mandira needs to be celebrated.
Her parting words to me were, “It’s never too late to love yourself. Self-love is very important!” True, that.
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Image source: YouTube, book cover Amazon
A mother of two amazing kids and a teacher by profession, I have varied interests.
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