Manisha Koirala’s new life
She was just 19 when she starred in her first movie in Bollywood. As a fresh face from the mountains and with her enormous talent, Manisha Koirala shone in the Indian film industry in the 1990s, winning many prestigious awards.
At one point in her busy career, she was doing a dozen movies a year, working exhausting 18-hour days. Fast forward to 2012 through a string of unsuccessful romances and films, a failed marriage, and alcoholism, Manisha came face to face with death.
In 2012, she was diagnosed with last-stage ovarian cancer. How she dealt with the crisis and how she came out a survivor, extricating herself not just out of the clutches of the disease, but also the rut that her life had fallen into, is the dominant theme in her new book Healed.
Growing up with the egalitarian outlook of the Koirala household moulded her.
Reaching out to those in need was instilled into her young mind, and it has stayed with her: lending a helping hand, including for cancer patients, or rooting for women’s health and wellbeing as goodwill ambassador for the UN Population Fund.
And now, with Healed, she decided to open up her life and its learnings to benefit the public at large. “Now that I am healed, I wish to help others,” Manisha Koirala told Nepali Times in an interview this week ahead of the Nepal Literature Festival in Pokhara, where her parents will unveil the book on 22 December.
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Manisha was among the lucky quintile of women who have been diagnosed with stage four ovarian cancer but beaten the disease. She has now been cancer free for six years, and now follows a ‘reformed” regimen of meditation, prayer, yoga, pranayama and vegetarian diet, with a huge dollop of mindfulness. She went back to Bollywood after a five year break, and is now focused on taking on fewer, yet more meaningful films.
Manisha considers herself lucky for the unflinching support of her family (especially her parents and brother) and friends, as well as the resources and connections to battle cancer. Cancer treatment is expensive, she says, and wants the Nepal Government to do more on prevention by checking toxic contamination of air, water and food, promote healthier lifestyles, and to provide world class affordable cancer treatment for the needy. And the rest is up to individuals.
“Cancer is not a death sentence, so one should not lose hope,” she says.
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Healed is co-authored with Neelam Kumar, also a cancer survivor, in which we join Manisha in a roller-coaster ride as she struggles against the disease. Through the highs and lows of her emotions as she learns about the diagnosis in Kathmandu, the confirmation in Mumbai, the final verdict and treatment in New York, and then her slow and bumpy recovery towards being cancer free.
In the process, Manisha’s tale meanders through the darkness of her feelings of fear, panic and pain and oscillates between glimmers of hope and shadows of hopelessness. It is a book of self-discovery, where the author honestly and minutely analyses her own life, her decisions, her ‘toxic relationships’ and mistakes. It combs through events and people that shaped her, and allowed her to overcome the disease.
The fluid narrative borrows on memories of an actress who has starred in over 80 Bollywood movies, and lays bare the ordinary human being behind the trappings of the spotlight and glamour. Nothing is spared, the raw emotions are laid out in agonising detail: her post surgery ‘ruthlessly stapled’ abdomen, the time she lets out a ‘guttural cry’ in the privacy of her shower, or when she likens the agony of the first chemotherapy session to ‘…dark, wild wolves, their mouths open, fangs bared, seeking out each vein of my body, tearing forward at great speed, hell-bent on destruction.’
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It is a frank book, where the movie star has not hesitated to share even not-so-flattering photos of her post-chemo self, sans hair, eyebrows or eyelashes. And all the time as the narrative moves forward, she intersperses it with reflections from the past, detailed description of sights, sounds and smells in the world around her – the sea, sunlight, birds, flowers, forests and mountains, the scent of incense. The book even has descriptions of what her doctors in Kathmandu, Mumbai or New York were wearing.
There are tales within tales that make the reader keep turning the pages, whether it is the roles of the magic mala, the Maori healers and the redhot ovaries, the Cherokee parable, the trapped butterfly, or the references to words of wisdom and spiritualism, the mantras, and even quantum physics, that helped her in the path to being healed.
We travel along with Manisha as she turns from a ‘weak tree’ to a ‘deep-rooted banyan’ in this journey of self-discovery. We learn from the abundant tips and tricks she shares about self-healing, whether it is ‘visualisations, affirmations, and talking to the body’ or the auto-suggestion of repeating ‘I’m cured, I’m strong, I’m healthy, I’m fine.’
Manisha admits that cancer came into her life ‘as a gift, that left her with many learnings, just like a flooded river that leaves behind rich deposits of silt’. And she shares these learnings with her readers, more so her female readers.
She dissects her life choices, her habits, and directs us to pay attention to everyone’s ‘inner compass’, to embrace life and live in the moment just as she learnt to.
Healed: How cancer gave me a new life
Manisha Koirala with Neelam Kumar
Penguin Random House India, 2018
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