I've spent my life watching, taking notes: Lisa Ray

Picture credit: Lisa Ray

Words don't stumble when Lisa Ray tells her story -- neither in 2009 when she announced her Multiple Myeloma diagnosis from the red carpet of the Toronto International Film Festival nor in 2019 when she narrates her story through 'Close to the Bone', her writing debut published by Harper Collins India.

In a language that is honest and free-wheeling – sprinkled with generous doses of humour -- the actor, writer and cancer activist explores herself while on an odyssey called 'Close to the Bone' that spans the world. 

In an interview with Anupama Ramakrishnan, Lisa Ray talks about the many experiences that moulded her into what she is, her 'graduation' from cancer and why she decided to pen her experiences.

When did you realise the need to chronicle your memoir?
I have always been a writer. So, while this is a memoir, 'Close to the Bone' also represents my writing debut. I’m an observer and chronicler of the human condition, I have spent my life


Picture credit: Lisa Ray

watching and taking notes, writing in diaries my impression along the way of my unusual experiences and life. I was approached to write about my life after I publicly announced my cancer diagnosis in 2009 but I realised I could not write about my disease in isolation from the rest-of-my-life experiences. So, it became a combination memoir, travelogue, and writing debut. I don’t want to mislead anyone: this is not a cancer memoir. It includes but does not centre around my diagnosis.

There is another book in me which I’d like to write and it begins where 'Close to the Bone' ends. But I have poured a lot of myself into 'Close to the Bone', cut open some veins metaphorically in order to share what lies beneath. I have been labelled and perceived in a certain way in India and it was time to take back the narrative into my own hands. I never wanted to be an actress or a personality in front of the camera, but my personal journey and becoming comfortable with myself, my flaws and wounds and the journey is what 'Close to the Bone' is about.

How was it reliving your life while writing your memoir?
Writing in itself is a harrowing endeavour. But I don’t have a problem reliving my life in any form -- I own all my experiences. I’ve never had any goal other than to live a full and colourful life.

Has your understanding of life changed after your 'graduation' from cancer and how?
There is nothing like a serious disease to clarify what is important in your life. Today, I only spend my energy on projects that matter to me personally. The fact is I always wanted to write. Here I am on the eve of the release of my book, 'Close to the Bone'. This is a special moment for me.

As a person who does cancer advocacy, how do you think can cancer treatment be made affordable for the economically-weaker sections since it is expensive?
Firstly, preventative action in India is the need of the hour -- and it’s not expensive. Prevention, education and outreach are essential. There is still so much misinformation and fear around cancer. Like anything in life, when you are equipped with information and advocate for yourself, your chances of success are far greater. I do my bit by travelling extensively across India to meet other cancer survivors, give talks and see interesting programmes like mobile vans who bring diagnostic technology to villages.

All cancer treatment is not expensive -- you can’t lump all cancers together. And there are programmes to support cancer patients through economic hardships. Planning for eventualities and getting insurance is also now an option. But India is complex and it depends on which strata of society you are talking about. I don’t pretend to have the answers but I know that speaking out about the disease, bringing it out of the shadows, partnering with reputed medical professionals and supporting education and outreach is key.

How do you detox yourself?
Aside from a regular Ayurvedic detox programme, I need to detox myself from the constant sound bath of the world. Shutting off social media and all devices is essential. Solitary time is essential to write and create anything fresh and original in the world today. I’m also a natural introvert so I need a detox from people.

Tell us about your experience working for 'Four More Shots'. What made you choose the role?
I think Rangita Nandy, who is an old friend, convinced me to be part of the series and I’m so glad she did. It’s produced, written, directed, performed and lensed by women I admire. 'Four More Shots’ and this brand of content is paving the way to tell brave, real, entertaining stories in India. I’m proud to be a part of it.

What have your travels taught you -- jet setting between Hong Kong, India and Canada?
This merits a long answer. I have written about how I am a born nomad and the reasons why I believe this is so in my book 'Close to the Bone'. In fact, a few early readers have described the book as a travelogue of sorts -- of both the inner and outer world if you will. I don’t see myself as a jet setter since it’s a foreign concept for me to live in one city. But Mumbai is home and India holds my strings. It's the land I always return to and have the deepest connections with. I trace these connections in my book.

Your philosophy of life...
'Padma pasram evam bhasa' -- 'Live your life like the lotus flower. Live in the world untouched by the muddy water'.

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