Story of the Indian cultural icon | Sunday Observer

Story of the Indian cultural icon

5 June, 2021

Title: Unfinished
Author: Priyanka Chopra Jonas
Publisher: Penguin Random House

Popular Bollywood and Hollywood actress–producer Priyanka Chopra Jonas turned author recently with the release of her first book, ‘Unfinished: A Memoir’, which she describes as “honest, raw and vulnerable”.

‘Unfinished’ takes readers from author’s childhood in India, where she was raised by her grandparents and her parents - two army doctors committed not only to their children but to their careers and to philanthropy - before being sent away to boarding school at an early age; through her formative teenage years in the US living with extended family in the Midwest (Cedar Rapids and Indianapolis), Queens, and suburban Boston, where she endured bouts of racism; to her return to India, where she unexpectedly won the national and global beauty pageants (Miss India and Miss World) that launched her acting career.

Who is Priyanka Chopra?

According to foreign media, to say Priyanka Chopra Jonas has achieved a lot in her 38 years is an understatement. The Indian actress, producer and mogul has over 60 international and Hollywood film and television credits to her name already, on top of a Miss World title, her own production company, a hair-care brand, a bewildering number of magazine covers, a husband to the envy of Jonas Brothers fans, over 60 million followers on social media and a UNICEF Goodwill Ambassadorship, among a host of awards and accolades including prestigious Danny Kaye Humanitarian award.

She is a National Film Award winner who made her American TV acting debut on the ABC-TV hit drama Quantico, where she made history as the first Indian-born actor to star as the lead of a TV drama series. And she was featured on the cover of Time magazine’s coveted Time 100 issue, named as one of the “Most Influential People” in the world, and recognized as one of Forbes’s Most Powerful Women. She is also involved in a number of efforts to protect children’s rights and to promote the education of girls around the world, including her namesake charity, The Priyanka Chopra Foundation for Health and Education.

How the book came about

The book was written by Chopra Jonas as an homage to a personal anniversary which marks 20 years of being in the entertainment business. At first she wanted to write something like letters to her younger self, but couldn’t engross for long because of her very busy life. However, things suddenly changed when the coronavirus pandemic hit, which resulted in times of reflection, and she found the experience of working on the book to be cathartic.

To track and write down milestones and memories, she enlisted help from friends and family to fill in the blanks. After she got her outline, writing the book felt like writing a journal as she said. “I don’t know what happened, but it just came out of me. I didn’t even think that I had so much that I hadn’t dealt with or thought about in my 38 years of existence,” she said in an interview to ‘The Hollywood Reporter’.

“I’ve taken out a few things that were really, really personal, but it still shocked me how I’ve dug in so deep. There are things in this book I’ve spoken about that I have never spoken about and that I probably will never speak about again. But I think I was feeling very introspective and also very secure in where I am as a woman, as a person, that I felt like it was OK to deal with my baggage,” she said.

Anyway, it took about two years to finish the book, and predominantly she wrote it during the six months lockdown when she was at home last year.

Indian ways

At the beginning of the book she reveals her busy life with hectic schedules:

“…. My overbooked schedule glares at me with seventeen emails that are marked Urgent! Requires Immediate Attention! And my phone is buzzing like a bumblebee on ecstasy. I am running on IST (Indian Stretchable Time)—I’m late—and I am in no frame of mind to make sense of my day, let alone my life.”

But next, she seeks answers from her own Indian tradition to improve her mental status:

“How is this possible when I come from mystical India, the land of yoga, meditation, the Bhagavad Gita, and one of the most learned civilizations of the world? Why am I unable to invoke the infinite wisdom of my ancestors to calm my raging mind when so many people around the world have embraced the teachings of my great country and managed to incorporate its lessons of peace, love, and happiness quite effectively into their lives?”

Cultural mash-up

Then the book unfolds her upbringing:

“…. I am a product of traditional India and its ancient wisdom, and modern India and its urban bustle. My upbringing was always an amalgamation of the two Indias, and, just as much, of East and West. My mom was a fan of Elvis and the Doors; my dad listened to Mohammed Rafi and Lata Mangeshkar. My mom loves London, theatre, art, and nightlife; my dad loved taking road trips through our subcontinent and sampling the street food at every opportunity. I lived in small towns in northern India for much of my childhood, and I also lived in the United States for three years in my teens.”

By these details reader can understand the things that shaped the future actress’ life. She further says, “Traditional and modern. East and West. There wasn’t necessarily a plan to raise me as a blend of those influences, but here I am, someone who calls both Mumbai and Los Angeles home, who works comfortably in India, America, and plenty of countries in between, and whose style and passion reflect that global mindset. The cultural mash-up invigorates me, is important to me, because I believe we can all learn from one another. We all need to learn from one another.”

Humanistic voice

As an artist, she has a wide vision on life, and because of that, always emerges humanistic voice from her texts:

“I have always felt that life is a solitary journey, that we are each on a train, riding through our hours, our days, our years. We get on alone, we leave alone, and the decisions we make as we travel on the train are our responsibility alone. Along the way, different people — the family we are born to and the family we choose, the friends we meet, those we come to love and who come to love us — get on and off the cars of our train. We are travellers, always moving, always in flux, and so are our fellow passengers. Our time riding together is fleeting, but it’s everything — because the time together is what brings us love, joy, connection.

“Which is why I’m so grateful to be right here, right now, reflecting with you on my unfinished journey. I hope that whatever I have learned along the way, from fellow passengers, from my efforts and my own mistakes, can contribute to your journey, too. Because as I have discovered, if you’re willing to be a student of life, the possibilities are endless.”

However, the real importance of Priyanka Chopra’s story lies in the fact that it inspires a generation around the world to gather courage, embrace ambition, and commit to the hard work of following their dreams, because she could reach highest level in the world stage just coming out from a middle class family in Uttar Pradesh, India. And also, it implies that one should not forget one’s identity, one’s cultural inheritance, one’s roots whichever heights he reaches in his life.