Close to the Bone: Actress-turned-author Lisa Ray’s travelogue of the soul

Close to the Bone: Actress-turned-author Lisa Ray’s travelogue of the soul
Vishal Bhatnagar/NurPhoto via Getty Images

Lisa Ray is a philanthropist, social activist and actress, best known for her roles in critically films such as ‘Water’ and, most recently, for her unconventional role in the Amazon Prime Indian hit series ‘Four More Shots Please’.

The 48-year-old Indian Canadian mother of two, who battled a rare cancer, has added yet another talent to her repertoire as she turns author with her book ‘Close to the Bone: A Memoir’ – set for release this week.

The book is pegged as a raw, soul-baring, and unapologetic account as Ray leaves no page of her eventful life unturned, with each chapter an unflinching and candid trip down memory lane.

The actress-turned-writer describes ‘Close to the Bone’ as a travelogue of the soul, through which she traces her childhood in Canada as the bi-racial daughter of an Indian father and a Polish mother, her rise to the top as a model and a Bollywood actress, to her diagnosis in 2009 with rare blood cancer multiple myeloma and her spiritual journey thereafter.

“I don’t consider the book, strictly speaking, to be a memoir. I call it a ’travelogue of the soul’ and I’ve tried to take the reader on both an internal and external journey – the places I’ve been have played a starring role as much as my internal metamorphosis,” she explains.

Here are some excerpts from her recent interaction with ‘iGlobal’:

Q: What motivated you to share your personal journey?

A: For many years, I created a story around my independence, my strength, and what that looks like. These stories isolated me from others and prevented me from reaching out to others.

However, in 2009 after getting diagnosed with multiple myeloma, I experienced a great reckoning – how would I access help if I don’t ask for it. Also, the process of chronicling my cancer journey, which I did in a blog called ‘The Yellow Diaries’, married this idea of writing and vulnerability.

I have only ever aspired to becoming a writer my whole life. My career in front of the camera is an accident. I was approached by publishers after I announced my diagnosis from the red carpet at the Toronto International Film Festival in 2009 and I’ve never looked back.

Q: Can you describe the experience of writing your memoir?

A: I can’t actually. It’s been a very internal process and a long process. The first draft which was submitted to a publisher in Canada bears no resemblance to the final book.

I wrote feverishly and then stepped back and sat on the manuscript for a few years. The version of the book which my initial publisher wanted didn’t sit well with me – it didn’t feel authentic and fell into the category of what I call ‘tragedy porn’.

I’m not a victim and I needed to seize my own narrative. I was also particular about side stepping this notion of ‘celebrity’ memoir. I see ‘Close to the Bone’ as my writing debut, which will be followed up shortly with other books. It was not meant to be a one-off or to exploit a particular profile of the moment.

Also, after having been mercilessly labelled and categorised in India by the media, it was important for me as a woman to take control of my stories. No one else would be able to tell my story the way I wanted it told.

Q: How does your spiritual outlook inform your writing?

A: I think one’s beliefs inform everything we do. I’ve written about my spiritual journey in detail in ‘Close to the Bone’. One of my spiritual mentors, a Buddhist nun called Tenzin Palmo, once told me, every choice, everything you do should rise from awareness and compassion. Then you are truly practicing your spirituality in the world.

Q: How would you describe ‘Close to the Bone’; and what’s the thought process behind the title?

A: It’s simply not a cancer memoir. My diagnosis only comes in the last quarter of the book.

I like to say I’ve lived a life of emotions ‘close to the bone’. It’s obviously also a play on my blood cancer, multiple myeloma.

Q: How did you feel once you had finished writing and it was ready for publication?

A: I submitted my manuscript the day before my daughters were born via surrogacy in Tbilisi, Georgia. The momentum of my life, living and working in Hong Kong, Mumbai, Singapore, and now on sabbatical in Nelson, British Columbia (Canada), has not given me space to reflect on the experiences of publishing my first book.

But I am living in a warm afterglow from readers’ reactions all over the world.

I’m working on my next book, so I have to put aside ‘Close to the Bone’ in order to clear creative space for the next.

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