THE title of the book is very apt because not only it is a patchwork of life of the protagonist but a patchwork in the way it is narrated. It reads like a most disjointed effort to piece together different kinds of fragments to make a fabric. Some of the pieces are interesting, some very mediocre and some pedestrian.
An interesting incident is narrated when Leela as a child goes to meet her aunt Sarojini Naidu, the ‘nightingale of India’. Leela is handed a box of chocolates and a bunch of gladioli from vase by the aunt and told, “Now go out to the outhouse and see Mickey Mouse.” Presuming it to be her marching orders, Leela goes out and knocks on the door of the outhouse, expecting to meet the Disney character; instead sitting on the bed is Mahatma Gandhi. She tells him, “Your ears are big but though not big enough.”
Leela talks of her school days abroad when she is kicked by children for being coloured. She is sent to L’Ecole Rossiand in Geneva by her parents but here too she is made fun of by Catholic girls.
What is particularly strange is that Leela makes only a passing reference to her first marriage to Tilak Raj Oberoi, son of the owner of Oberoi Hotels, her giving birth to twin daughters, going through a divorce, and losing her daughters to her husband, “thanks to the regressive stance of the Hindu Marriage Act.”
Leela talks of her career in Bollywood when she is barely 20-years old and of the time when Hrishikesh Mukherjee takes one look at her and says, “She is my Anuradha”. Film actor Raj Kapoor offers her a contract for four films with him but she turns him down.
Leela had been listed as one of the five most beautiful women in the world by Vogue magazine. She was fine boned with a haunting face. Jean Renoir taught her acting and surrealist painter Salvador Dali used her as a model for Madonna.
On reading the book one feels none the wiser about Leela Naidu.
(Penguin Books India Pvt Ltd, 11 Community Centre, Panchsheel Park, New Delhi-110 017.)