BIRD IN A BANYAN TREE MY STORY: Bina Ramani (From The Filly's Mouth)
(Rupa Publications, Dec 1 2013, Paperback, 320 pp, CDN$ 26.)
We were in Chennai when a Delhi-based editor/publisher had started a monthly contest magazine around 1990s and Bina Ramani (socialite, fashion designer) was one of the sponsors. As I was hooked on to magazine, I won quite a few kitchen items participating in contests courtesy appliance companies. There was a curiosity value in Bina. Later the magazine folded-up and so did my curiosity. I was a geek pursuing education to land a 9-5 job without an inkling to the world of elites. I was content in my own set-up.
And on the fateful night of April 29 1999, she came visiting again but this time it was all mired-up in murder. Bina the socialite's cafe Tamarind Court (in south Delhi's Hauz Khas Village) was the real-life setting for the murder of hostess Jessica Lal by Manu Sharma, the son of an influential politico. Like most middle-class people, I sided up with the victim, who lay murdered cold-bloodedly. I was shocked beyond belief at what was being reported in the media and I wanted the law to take its own course since I didn't care for people, who made 2+2=44. I only knew 2+2=4.
Bina had entered our bad books. The society has a way of siding-up with the victims and rest everything else eclipses. Either you are good or bad. There are no shades of grey. At least many among us didn't know grey or digression. There was a norm and one didn't deviate from that. And Bina had jumped to the other side. She was sent to Tihar jail whereas Manu was even granted parole courtesy Sheila Dixit!
I had least sympathy for breakers of social norms and Bina disappeared from my horizon. I had no idea of media stories that portrayed her as beast and beyond. The difference between the real and reel broadened and most of us believed the newspaper stories. What else was there to believe? I could never sympathize, forget empathize with high-flying Bina.
After 15 years, much water has flown under the bridge. Bina has released her autobiography BIRD IN A BANYAN TREE MY STORY. And I am in a maturer frame of mind where I am not judgmental. I can overlook mistakes and admire a strong woman. I can empathize with another human being that I could never earlier as I lived in my own small world full of dreams that had no connectivity with the real world.
Most of us have had an unexpected jolt from nowhere and inadvertently seen the other side of the law. Good, well-to-do people suddenly find themselves in the grip of law, courtesy others' actions. And then their world changes or comes crumbling down. 'Friends' disappear, solace is hard to come by and what one has is only one's self to depend upon. It requires a stronger self to carry on instead of taking permanent refuge in death.
Bina's family was a post-Partition refugee in Delhi. No one can forget that life-changing event on both sides of the border. And if one could survive that, one could fight life. Bina did that. She saw the ups and downs of life but slowly built herself and preferred the highs of life. She graduated from socialite, entrepreneur to fashion designer and became a prominent part of Delhi's who's who. She had high contacts and could make things happen that mere mortals could not even dream of.
And one fine night her house came crumbling down like a pack of cards. From being a woman of all possibilities to being an occupant in a cell in Tihar jail was the stuff movies were made of. Everyone sided with Jessica Lal and rightly so. She shouldn't have lost her life. Even Manu Sharma enjoyed life on both sides of the bar (no pun intended) but no one knew what happened to Bina. No one cared. Least of all us mortals. No one knew her agony as a woman or as a human being. She was consigned to her fate.
From Shammi Kapoor to Andy Ramani to Chaudhry to what not, she had seen her family life snatched away from her. But she had the strength to pick it all up and move on. She knew she could make it all happen again. She could do it. And she did it. There is more to Bina beyond Jessica Lal. She has learnt much from this living hell experience and moved on to helping others. She is no more a socialite but a human being helping many others come up in life. Life has come around a full circle from being a refugee to writing an autobiography.
The kid in me has grown up. I can now see both sides of life and be neutral with all concerned. Bina's life has taught me something and I too am moving on - from being judgmental to being a spectator that can appreciate everything presented on the stage of life. There is no good or bad. There is only life and one has to live it in one's own way and circumstances. We have not lived in her shoes. How can we criticize what she went through. We can only read her version with rapt attention. There are no pauses or full stop. But there is a new found admiration. Indian women sure can weave magic in their life. This time it is with words - from the pen of Bina Ramani. Whether she is a demoness or a devi is for you to decide. Bina learnt her lesson. Readers too will learn something here - lessons for both living and dead. This bird has become a canary. And the canary sings. She weaves a life of words perched on a banyan tree. There is knowledge being imparted under the shade of banyan tree.
I like truth in both forms - be it bitter or sweet or otherwise. I appreciate the forthrightness of Bina's account. She does stand for her moment of truth. If I was judgmental earlier, I am appreciative today. She must have gone through a lot and ALONE. For the soul has its own verdict that has to be tolerated and live each moment. The final justice rests with the Almighty. We can but read and learn. Read her autobiography for what an individual can go through and come out to tell it all to the entire world. It is another world, another time. Encore.