Sabira Merchant. I can attribute all my love for spoken English to her. More specifically her popular 70s television show - What’s the good word? - which ran for over a decade and half on the public broadcaster Doordarshan. Unlike the Sunday movies and the Chhayageets, this was the only time my parents did not mind me sitting engrossed in front of the television.
Variously called the empress of etiquette, sophistication and good taste this trendsetter, she brought sparkle and panache to Bombay’s performing arts scene with her presence. 'A Full Life' chronicles the person behind the panache. Sabira talks abut her life trajectory, its triumphs, challenges, setbacks, joys, fears and hopes with amazing candour.
A hat-doff to Mitali Parekh too who has helped put the autobiography together in a way that it juxtaposes Sabira’s journey against Bombay’s glorious past and its journey to becoming Mumbai. As an ex-colleague who writes on popular culture, food, fashion, animal rights and welfare, gender issues, lifestyle and travel, I have known her to personify joie de vivre, which she brings to this book too.
From her ushering in a new era in Mumbai’s nightlife nightclub Studio 29 which led to a mad frenzy among the city’s partying crowd in the ’80s, to training Priyanka Chopra and Lara Dutta before they went on to win their crowns in international pageants, Sabira’s legacy is quite unlike anyone’s.
The renowned thespian and etiquette trainer’s style and Mitali’s are quite complimentary one discovers as she tells us about how Sabira coached beauty queens such as Priyanka Chopra, Lara Dutta, Yukta Mookhey and Diana Hayden for international beauty pageants. The book also goes into considerable detail outlining Sabira’s work with corporate India to train their workforce in social behaviour, corporate finesse and etiquette. One is befuddled to think how this suburban Muslim girl who got married in her teens to the love of her life and is a mother to three balanced her personal life and work to achieve so many feats, including iconic work in acting.
This is an important book for many struggling to juggle multiple jobs and roles and trying to hang in there. Because Sabira Merchant and the exemplary life she has led is an inspiration to all. Lara Dutta is right when she says: “Very simply, there is no one in this country quite like Sabira Merchant. She is irreplaceable.”