As an avid reader of the Bombay Times, all I knew about Kabir Bedi was his forever-flourishing love life. While his filmography in bollywood boasts about over seventy films, only a handful garnered fame, appreciation (and as he himself admits, money). Frankly, I wondered what an actor like him, who had had rather a brief successful run in the films, would have to contribute, so much so to write an entire three hundred page autobiography. I must confess, I was pleasantly surprised. “Stories I Must Tell: The Emotional Journey of an Actor” is an honest account of the actor’s tumultuous personal and professional life, his “fallibilities”, spiritual learnings and “mistakes that readers will do well to avoid”.
It seems as though Bedi not only writes his stories to stimulate readers to introspect into their own lives, but also seeks to reflect upon his own actions, regretting a few decisions made in haste, expressing gratitude for some and just wondering how things would have unfurled, had he changed a few pages of his life. He begins his memoir with an anecdote describing his interaction with The Beatles and how that one meeting changed the course of his entire life. It forced him to leave his job at the All India Radio and shift to Mumbai. At that point, he looked past stability to face the world of drama and celluloid.
Kabir was a well learned man who came from a family that boasted of rich experiences which surely had a huge role to play in his own encounters. The ones who fish for Bollywood gossip would be delighted with this book, as Bedi hides none of his sexual or romantic adventures. He talks immensely of Protima Bedi and Parveen Babi, his chief lovers, both were relationships that were passionate and loving, but also diametrically opposite in the sense that they rose from completely different mindsets. Bedi and Protima’s relationship was that of young, impulsive love, a fire that couldn’t have dimmed by any force, and as Bedi claims, her fierce independence and rebellion only fuelled it.
On the other hand, his affair with Parveen blossomed due to his need of “love and fidelity” and she “symbolised that”. I would say that only a few who have seen stardom would be brave enough to write of all their extravagant relationships with no blame-games and with such immense honesty, as Bedi has, especially for an Indian audience.
However, the book is much more than a clarification of his personal past. It tells of his parents’ spiritual journeys, his “auburn-haired English mother Freda” who became an influential Buddhist nun and his father Baba who became a philosopher in Italy. Their influence in his life is clear as he often resorts to their notes, letters and conversations, almost as they have a healing effect. Along with their relationship that began at Oxford, Kabir speaks of their contributions to the independence movement, offers glimpses of the politics at the time like the partition of India, his father’s struggles and his mother’s bravery.
While these are all stories that are engaging in their own rights, it is his son’s Siddharth’s story that truly strikes a chord. Here, Kabir’s massive success in Italy as “Sandokan”, his claim to fame as “Tughlaq”, his villainous role in “Khoon Bhari Maang”, his interactions with the Padamsees, Bhatts, Bachchans, Sinhas, Godrej’s, the bohemian “Juhu Gang” and the fulfillness (or the lack of it?) of his love life, all take a backseat. He isn’t a popular actor, but a father, a man vulnerable to the core as he sees his bright, young son, getting consumed by an illness he has no control over. He is a man who knows nothing but sorrow when he writes, “I climbed the steps to his room to wish him goodnight in the falling light of dusk. I knew he was dead the instant I saw him… He must have felt cold in his final moments. The floral quilt that partly covered him seemed an afterthought. In his final gesture he had reached for an “ooroo”, the comfort blanket that trailed him as a child…” It is this paragraph where we sympathise with Bedi, forgetting his past deeds, as goosebumps rise, feeling the trauma a father would have suffered.
If I have to critically analyse certain incidents, there would be a few natural flaws. He speaks of his supposed “middle class upbringing” but goes on to talk about his schooling in Sherwood and St Stephens, that too in the 1960s, and his close friendship with Rajiv and Sanjay Gandhi, how they played with toy trains together and how he sat next to “Aunty Indu” (Indira Gandhi) to watch the Republic parade. These mistakes seem amusing and rather vain but can be ignored. The stories he chooses to tell are intertwined and often swing back and forth, keeping the readers engaged along with his poetic style of writing. He resorts to several anecdotes and conversations which succeed in presenting the audience a sense of honesty. The pictures printed in the book are stories within themselves, symbolising times of joy, fame, dreams, love but also immense sorrow.
Bedi writes his memoir to discourage readers from making the mistakes he made, to prevent them from suffering trauma he had to face, but it seems like a foolish attempt as we all have our destinies already planned. However, if there was one lesson I had to pick, it would be to live a life that was humble. All of Kabir’s decisions, both personal and professional, are Olympian, way beyond his real longings. He too regrets that he should’ve spent more time with his parents, cared more for his children and given more time to his relationships. However, his zest for life, and his rise every time he falls is something we should learn from. I would surely recommend this book to anyone who appreciates brutal honesty and would want to learn from a man who has known both immense love and deep sorrow, fame and bankruptcy, struggle and reward and who continues to live with a spirit for life that is unfazed.
By Shambhavi Sharma