Thursday, July 21, 2011


I picked up the book because it was co-authored by the brilliant Jerry Pinto. For that, and for the pretty face on the cover.

The pretty face belonged to Leela Naidu, once described by Vogue as one of the most beautiful women in the world. I did not really know anything about this woman but Jerry's writing is always insightful and humorous and we would see who this Leela was.

I soon figured that Leela had already touched my life on various occasions.

She had played the role of Dona Maria Souza-Soares in Trikaal, one of those movies that have haunted and puzzled me since childhood.

She had played Anuradha in the black and white film of the same name that stole my heart, one late night while I watched television on my own.

She was also the wife in The Householder. I always meant to check who the actress was when I went through a Merchant-Ivory phase, watching everything that they had made. Somehow I forgot to do it. The lapse may have been because the gorgeous Shashi Kapoor played the lead.

Leela: A Patchwork Life is the story of a woman with a sometimes charmed, often chequered life. She was born to a leading Indian scientist and a French journalist. She travelled and lived all over the world with them. She married Tikki Oberoi, yes, of the Oberoi hotels. She also married Dom Moraes, the poet. She spoke French and English and Hindi and read poetry and played the piano and loved Chopin and had twins and experienced firsthand racism of the worst kind while she was still a child and made documentaries for JRD Tata and met Mahatma Gandhi when she expected to meet Mickey Mouse and more. Much more. Hers was a life full of experiences and people and wonder.

It is difficult not to admire her. It is more difficult not to envy her. All that beauty, elegance, enigma, spirit and courage seemed to be too much to be fitted into one slim frame. It seems to be a strange coincidence that she died a day apart from Gayatri Devi, that other blend of the Indian and European.

The book drew me in completely and I was often tempted to check or re-check the various literary and cinematic references contained within. When I finished the book, I was saddened, feeling as though I had witnessed the sorrow that she had experienced in the loss of her children, of her parents. There is a quality of the unattainable about the story too, almost as if she was flowing with the flow but hoped to find salvation along the way. Perhaps she was too sensitive to this world but she also did something about things that affected her. It is ironic that she did not want the narrative to be one of female pain and yet, the strains of melancholy are almost palpable, in spite of the numerous funny anecdotes that the book is peppered with, including one with a naked Russian Count.

I am planning to watch and re-watch some of her films next. I may have found my next obsession. Specially since I am done with Woody Allen, having watched every single movie the man ever made over the last few weeks.

This is not a review, not by a long shot. There's something to be said about Jerry Pinto that he was able to move away completely from the book and make it Leela's story by Leela. By the time I turned the last page, I had forgotten why I had picked up the book in the first place.


Aneela Z said...

I have always suspected that under the kilos and kilos of Aneela lurks a Leela. Tell me it is so?!!!

dipali said...

She was lovely. I'd read something about her long ago, I've forgotten what, and by who, but this book sounds most tempting. I've loved her in The Householder- such a tender, sweet story!
Trikaal was haunting.

Bhavna said...

Welcome to the Woody Allen phase! I am going through it right now and trying desperately to get hold of his latest - Midnight in didn't get released in India, did it?

I still get goose bumps thinking of Trikaal..