‘I wanted to become a journalist or a writer, but through a series of strange, comedic and tragic circumstances I ended up as a high-profile model,’ says acclaimed actor, cancer survivor and the author of Close to the Bone Lisa Ray.
An accidental actor by her own admission, Lisa was all of 17 when she entered the world of modelling, kickstarting a career under the arc lights.
A series of films, commercials and music videos later, the actor, in 2009, was diagnosed with multiple myeloma, a rare cancer of the blood, altering her life without warning. This gave birth to her blog Yellow Diaries, where she chronicled her cancer journey.
For Lisa, documenting her experience with the disease was therapy. Her honest and frank account garnered attention and soon she was approached by publishers to write her story. The result is Close to the Bone. Partly heartbreaking, partly sardonic, the book traces the story of the star of the Oscar-nominated film Water from her rise to the top of the model and acting world to how cancer turned her life upside down, and the highs and lows in between.
The actor of the upcoming A.R. Rahman film 99 songs, Lisa Ray will be speaking at the upcoming Emirates Airline Festival of Literature in Dubai. ‘I will wear my heart on my sleeve as I look forward to interacting with the audience,’ she says, in an exclusive interview with Friday.
Excerpts from the interview:
How did your writing journey begin?
Before becoming a wordsmith, I was a reader. An only child, I spent hours in my room, travelling the world through books. I started composing high-strung poetry when I was around 7 or 8 and began writing a novel when I was 10; fortunately it is long lost. I wanted to become a journalist or a writer, but ... ended up as a very high-profile model in India at 17. But I continued to write and record my impressions of my rather colourful experiences privately. When I was diagnosed with Multiple Myeloma in 2009, I began writing a blog in the middle of the night, hyped up on steroids, while trying to process this huge life transformation and the way forward. I had been advised to keep my cancer a secret. It didn’t sit well with me, this idea, even though traditionally any sort of misfortune is hidden in South Asian cultures. But I’ve always been a misfit and rebellious, and I couldn’t understand why I shouldn’t speak about it openly. When I... had an opportunity to publicly announce the fact I was going through treatment for Multiple Myeloma [I grabbed it sure that it] could benefit from attention. So, I started writing The Yellow Diaries to process what I was going through. It garnered a lot of unanticipated attention. I’m proud of the book and laboured over every sentence.
What/who kept you inspired during your treatment and recovery?
I think we live in an era of distractedness- I don’t advocate busyness for its own sake, especially when it prevents enough time of stillness or serenity in your day to reflect. Most of us carry trauma and wounds and we stay busy to avoid sitting with uncomfortable emotions. I did the same for much of my life. So, in a strange way cancer forced me to make changes [to my life]. It ended up improving the quality of my life – assuming I would survive. I turned to writing, humour and my spiritual practices, slowly learning to attend to my emotional life, and a deep and abiding belief that life is for me, not against me, and whatever the outcome, there was a deeper meaning and logic. I learned to surrender, while also maintaining a stubborn belief that I was not a date point or statistic and I had limitless reservoirs of resilience.
What does writing mean to you?
Writing is the cure.
Is a second book in the works?
Yes, and a third and a fourth.
Lisa Ray will be at the Emirates Airline Festival of Literature on February 5 at Al Amwaj II, Intercontinental, Dubai Festival City