Superstar. Sex-symbol. Sanyasin. Car-crash survivor. Aashiqui (1990) girl Anu Aggarwal’s life’s graph has scaled incredible extremes… between life and death…
Everything about her was unusual. While children are hung up on fairy tales, she devoured books on Lord Krishna. As a star, she re-sketched the stencil of the Hindi film heroine. Dusky and desirous, she celebrated her sexuality full throttle. Yet even as the cameras wooed her, the Aashiqui star was aware of the shadows growing within.
On impulse, she just ‘packed up’ and left for the tranquil banks of the Ganga.
Other Tragic Tales:
A rendezvous with sex and spirituality later, she met with a horrific accident that left her battered physically and emotionally. But what being comatose could not silence was the soul, the spirit. After three and a half years of repair, she came back to help and heal others… with yoga, with meditation, with her book Anusual: Memoir Of A Girl Who Came Back From The Dead.
Hers truly is a tragic tale but with a difference. The destruction was grim. The resurrection glorious.
Anu’s spiritual introduction began early. Her maternal grandmother, Krishna, was mystically inclined. Her father accepted the ‘guru mantra’ from a revered swami of the Krishna consciousness.
Her paternal grandmother, a social worker, regularly read out the Bhagvad Gita to young Anu. While, she lost herself in the Hare Rama Hare Krishna booklets that came home. As a teen, it was the Autobiography Of A Yogi that became her reference point.
In the ’80s, Anu left Delhi for Mumbai. The bronze beauty was splashed on glossies as India’s first supermodel. She was to leave for Paris for an assignment when Mahesh Bhatt’s Aashiqui (1990) happened.
“The morning after Aashiqui released, I woke up to a surprise party waiting for me. People had gathered in every window, every balcony and on the roof of every surrounding building and looking into my house. They were screaming ‘Anu, Anu!’ Overnight my life changed,” she once recalled the euphoria of the Nadeem-Shravan musical
Sadly, the first casualty of her stardom was her relationship with her boyfriend, Anglo-Indian jazz musician Rick. Rumours of link-ups sabotaged the romance that was to culminate in marriage.
Those days Anu featured in a condom ad that invited censure. But it was not done to titillate. As a youngster, she had done social work in a government hospital in Delhi, where women queued up for abortions.
She had witnessed them break down with trauma. As a public figure, she wanted to address those concerns.
Stardom is a tightrope walk and living on the edge was taking a toll on the sensitive Anu. “It’s so easy to believe you’re the big thing. Everywhere you go people are begging for autographs… Stardom drove me insane,” once shared Anu, who dubbed excessive fame as ‘a mother f****r’ in her book.
Finally, in 1997, she enrolled in a yoga ashram in Uttarakhand in a bid to reclaim herself. Her stay in Bollywood was short (1990-96) but eventful. Her films include Ghazab Tamasha, Mani Ratnam’s Thiruda Thiruda, King Uncle, Khalnayika, The Cloud Door and Return Of Jewel Thief.
SEX & SPIRITUALITY
The ashram was a new world, with new rubrics. She was given a new name – Shantipriya. “In the ashram, they thrash the ego. You are made to forget your identity. I was given the name Anandpriya by Swamiglee (the head swami),” she revealed in an interview.
She found the purification practices like ‘no smoking, no telephone and no interaction with the outside world’ and yoga, help her understand the mind and its machinations.
“According to Tantra, the oldest philosophy, sex can be used to reach high dimensions. Tantric sex with Swamiglee did take me to another level. My whole life changed after that. Your consciousness changes, the breathing changes,” she reportedly said.
Her spiritual sojourn was abruptly cut short one night when female inmates, covetous of her popularity at the ashram, bundled her on a truck and sent her away.
COMA AND BEYOND
Circa 1999. One night in Mumbai, her hi-end vehicle capsized and Anu was thrown into a 29-day long coma. Battered bones, a palsy-ridden face and an erased memory… the beautiful Aphrodite-like Anu was broken beyond recognition.
But what remained uncrushable was her spirit. She’d developed post-traumatic amnesia as a consequence of which she lost her memory. She began anew as a child, relearning language, reacquainting herself with people, ‘the sun, the moon, the stars…’, the world.
After this ‘near fatal’ accident came the Near-Death Experience (NDE) during the surgery and three-year long recovery period. The NDE, she claims, deepened her understanding of the material and the spiritual realms.
Dubbing her recovery as a ‘miracle’, she shaved off her head as a symbol of awakening. To mark her ‘sanyas’, she sold off her apartment and other belongings. “My vulnerability, my submission is my strength,” she explained.
The biggest lesson she learnt from the drastic upheavals was acceptance – of both the bizarre and the beautiful. Meditation and music today are her navigation tools. She dedicatedly teaches AnuFun Yoga, a healing module, to slum children.
She was even invited by the Yoga Research Therapy Association in the United States, which ranked it as an alternative yoga therapy.
“Yoga can be used as therapy in children with low self-confidence. The deepest poverty is inner poverty, which comes with low self-worth,” she explains adding, “When you embrace yoga, life embraces you…”