She was the original Aashiqui girl. The model-turned-actress who became the nation’s heartthrob when she lip-synced to jaanam jaaneja…But she was hardly the conventional Bollywood heroine.
Indeed, for most people who grew up on the movies of the ‘90s, Anu Aggarwal was the anti-thesis of the typical Hindi film actress. Bold, progressive and honest, she was portrayed as the ultimate wild child, with the media having a field day documenting her scandalous statements, bohemian ways and care-a-damn attitude. What most people were unaware of, was that behind that façade, lay the mind of a yogini. Her glamorous career hid inclination towards seeking the higher spiritual self, which she discovered much later, through yoga.
In many ways, Anu Aggarwal’s story reads like a riveting movie script. After scaling the heights of stardom, Anu suddenly decided to retreat from it all, leaving the glitz and lights of Bollywood for a sedate, Spartan life of a yogini.
But that was just part one of her eventful life. The second came when she met with a near-fatal accident in 1999 which left her in a coma. She had a miraculous, sensational recovery and ever since, Anu has been on an even more intense path of spiritual awakening.
The former actress has now come out with an autobiography, Anusual – Memoir of a Girl Who Came Back from the Dead, that chronicles everything – from her rise as a model and actress to her stint in the movies, her lovers, the fateful accident and her yogic experiences. It makes for a fascinating read, to say the least. Ahead of the launch, Masala! spoke to Anu on her ‘anusual’ journey…
How do you look back at your near-death experience?
Two years before the Near Death Experience (NDE), I had gone through a beautiful transformation. Yoga showed me what a joke life is, and it’s so foolish of us to treat it so seriously. Laughter is what is needed.
It was a sensational part of my life. There was a sense of contentment filling me in. And all the hardships that came with a glorious star life, were fading away. I felt high-energy vibes, scaling in joy I never knew before; I was thankful to fans, friends and family.
What was Bollywood like back then?
When I look back, rather than judging other things, people and
circumstances, I look at how I was. So instead of commenting on how Bollywood was then, I want to look at how I was then. Discontentment was my own karmic calling. Bollywood showed me love and appreciation like little else had and I am truly thankful for that. But a spiritual awakening was in tow about which I didn’t know much.
You quit Bollywood before the accident. What had shifted within you to take that decision?
It seems that each and every part of creation has an inherent need to excel itself, bloom, peak, maximise its potential and then transcend, and go beyond. Something quite similar happened to me. After being draped in super success and the adulation of millions, I heard a cry inside me ‘Show me more!’ That is when I realised it would be something more than the material world I had already had a super taste of.
Do you associate yourself with the girl before the accident? Or do you feel like a completely different person?
Of course I do. I am an advanced version of who I was. I feel it is the thrashing, a piece of metal gets by an alchemist to finally shine as gold– I associate with that. Anew Anu. Anu anew. AA, Life2.
You were in a coma for 29 days and then it took three years till you recovered. How difficult was it to put yourself back together? What drove you?
My driving force was the love of the people. I seemed to be led by an invisible force in recovery; I was guided. When your body does not work on the appropriate suggestions sent by your mind, it is a very testing time. But at the time, I felt love and positivity, hope and faith like never before. I was calm. Forgiveness, and compassion were among the many things that put me back together.
What was your family’s role in your recovery?
Tremendous. Support and love are of great help especially in times like these. I could see they were devastated and somehow I just wanted to see them happy again. And I knew my recovery would cause that.
Did you ever feel like giving up?
Initially, I wanted to return to the burst of bright light I had seen in an out-of-body-experience. And if I did that, I would be ‘dead’ as it is understood in this world. I chose to stay. I knew that a decision to stay or leave for people going through similar situations is their own.
Post-recovery, how did your life change? Or, how is it changing?
Positive psychology came into my life. Happiness is our state of being. I began a research on using yoga as a therapy, linking it to Buddhist meditation, Sufism, music and writing for massive impact. This is how anuFunyoga came about. Love, compassion and forgiveness have become key players in my life. I knew I was alive to be a shining light on those who are suffering. And of course, to tell the most important fact – we can all do it! Rise above the manmade limitations of defeat. Sincerity is required to heal.
Given the trauma of your experience, how do you view life now?
Brain mapping. We can do the unthinkable. We have unlimited potential. I have come to strongly believe in the neuroplasticity of the brain. The brain is constantly changing in response to one’s experiences. Trauma and physical injury too can cause the brain to grow new neural pathways, or reorganise existing ones. These changes can fundamentally alter how information is processed. That’s why I call the ‘accident’ a near-death experience, NDE. I have worked on healing myself and then extended the research to children in low -income groups. A module of mind-body balancing came up, we called it anuFunyoga.
When did you decide to write the book?
Writing was a call I heard inside my head. It started with my feeling immense gratitude to the man on the road who prayed for me. It is because of them I am here. I wanted to share what happened and how we are all a part of the Supreme Being. We are all one. The differences are all external.
Was writing it a cathartic experience?
Yes. It certainly was. Though I needed a little distance from the book to actually thumbnail the catharsis.
What does a day in the life of Anu Aggarwal entail today?
I remind myself to treat all heaviness with a light touch. Love, live and let-go. That is the most essential in a day. Holistic living, awareness, mind balancing and positivity – these are the words that define my life.
If you had one piece of advice to share with someone going through a traumatic experience, what would it be?
Let go. Forgive yourself, forgive others. You can do it! Love is all there is.
What are your next plans?
Yoga therapy and research are ongoing. International conferences for the same are also on the anvil where I tell qualified people how we can maximise our potential and lead joyful lives. We don’t just deserve to be happy; happiness and even beyond that, the shunya or complete silence, is our natural state. I was chosen to talk about AFY, anuFunyoga, at Sytar, a U.S. based yoga therapy and research organisation, in Austin, Texas. My research module, anuFunyoga, has been chosen by ICNM International Congress of Naturopathic Medicine so I will be in Barcelona, Spain, with my topic being: Learning the right intent: karmic healing. To aid this research and healing work, I am in the process of making Anu Aggarwal Foundation. I want to spread the joy, healing and oneness among everyone. After all, we are all but one.