Here is the full transcript of actress Manisha Koirala’s TEDx Talk on How to Find Meaning When Reality Hits You at TEDxJaipur conference. To learn more about the speaker, read the full bio here.
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Manisha Koirala – Actress
There’s a well-known quote which says “Life is what happens to us while we are busy making other plans.”
It’s this unpredictability, hence unpreparedness, is what makes life so fragile, yet so beautiful. Friends, some 20-25 years ago, I lived a life that many would only dream of. I always wanted to be an acclaimed artist and be at the top of my game. I came from Nepal and actually managed to be a popular and successful actress in Indian film industry: about 80 odd films in 5 different languages, multiple awards, to be honest some quality and a lot of quantity.
Everything that I had dreamed of — in fact, more than what I had dreamed of was happening to me. What I didn’t know that while I was in this most heady, most enjoyable ride ever, life had planned something else for me, that I would be thrown into a whirlwind of things where slowly I’d start to lose it all.
Initially, it started subtly, like I signed a bad film which flopped, and I got a bad review. And then there was another, and another, and another. But I didn’t care, because even then I had some good directors wanting me in their film, so I thought, well I can always bounce back. But that didn’t really happen.
I had developed an unhealthy lifestyle which was attracting wrong company. Restlessly I was moving from one bad relationship to another one. I was in a mess. And I was in denial. I fell flat on my face when my marriage broke. And soon after I was diagnosed with aggressive form of cancer.
Even my cancer was of an extreme kind. Let me give you a tip of the iceberg of how gruesome my treatment was, my chemotherapy was, that it was not of balding of the hair, losing eyelashes and eyebrows and looking sick and sad, that’s how we cancer patients look, from that glamorous diva to this. It was not looks, it was actually when I had to sign waivers for a permanent heart damage, a permanent ear damage, a permanent neuropathy problem that my hand would be shaking for the rest of my life. It’s then I got scared, really scared.
I started to worry that maybe these were my last days, maybe I was facing the D-word, the unimaginable, unbelievable, unfathomable death. And then I started to think if this was the end of my life, what did I do with my life so far? Did I live well? Was I proud of it? Of course not. I had messed it. I was living carelessly ignoring my health, my career, people who cared for me and loved me.
Friends, it’s been four and a half years I’m cancer-free now. God has been kind, life has been kind. Not a single day that goes by that I forget the promise I made to myself and I thought I was dying. I have prioritized all the three things, I call them gift my health. I realize the importance of health when I was down with cancer. So I nurture it now, I look after it, I read, I inquire and do whatever it takes for me to have a good health. My relationship with my family is much more filled with respect and trust because they were the only people who were with me through — from the beginning till the end.
My friendship. I used to have a barrage of friends, huge circle of friends but today I have handful with whom I share a deeper bond, more meaningful friendship.
My work. I realized I’m an artist in my heart and my spirit, so I need to be challenged for me to grow as an artist, to be satisfied. So I pick and choose films carefully, not carelessly the way I was doing before.
I also got fourth gift, and that is realization of value of service of contribution. I would like to share a story. When not too many people were visiting me in hospital, there was this lady who would come and be with me on Sundays. She’s a doctor, a pathologist in Cornell Hospital in New York. Her name is Dr. Navneet Narula and she would come, sit in that uncomfortable chair of hospital, you know, and spent the entire day with me. I was very intrigued, because she was very busy.
So I asked her: “Why are you doing this? You’re not my friend from the past and you’re not my fan for sure.”
You know what she replied, she said, “Manishaji, with the hope that you will do this to somebody else.”
How simple yet so profound; isn’t it? That’s when I made a promise that if I get a second chance to life, I will pay attention and be of service in whatever capacity I can. It can be anything big or small; it really doesn’t matter.
So when earthquake hit Nepal, I had gone to — I had gone there and with the help of UNFPA we did a campaign called Dignity First. And I’m hoping to go to remote areas and talk about the importance to educate our girls, our daughters and talk against child marriages as there are many multiple complication of that. So that I do, or you know anything as a cancer survivor, I go around giving hopes to people telling that cancer is not a death sentence, that there is a life beyond cancer. Or it could be anybody and it could be a friend who’s reached out to me and needs my patient hearing, anything. So I do that now.
A large part of my story, this gambit of experiences, the highs and the lows, this name, fame, glamour and the depth of despair of cancer, traumatic chemotherapy, facing death is not actually about the incidences, it is about finding sense behind it, finding meaning of it all. I had to make sense of things that had happened to me and the things that was happening to me.
I found few such basic simple principles and because they are simple we tend to take it for granted and don’t apply them.
I found number one: that this life is a gift. I know it’s a cliche but it is a gift. And everything that comes with this life is a gift. This body is a gift. We need to nurture it, look after it, be grateful, we need to embrace that. People who cross our path, they are gift.
Number two: the importance of introspection. We need to dive into depth of our being, of our self to discover our truth and live our truth. As our time is limited, so we must make the most of it. We cannot be living somebody else’s life, right? We cannot be living somebody else’s idea of life what is good and what is bad. We need to find for ourselves, we need to introspect, we need to discover what it is that motivates us, compels to live a great life. So every day we can live with clarity and passion.
Number three: no matter, no matter, no matter, no matter how we want to be prepared, there will always be a surprise. Life will throw some challenge from somewhere that we are not really fully prepared. But we have a choice. We can either be consumed by it, become victim and make that larger than us and get defined by that problem, or we can turn it around into a platform for our growth, because there is a message, there is a lesson underneath every problem that we face. We can make a worse situation of our life into a narrative of triumph. The wisdom, and the courage is all within us.