Just finished reading Protima Bedi’s memoirs, ‘Timespass’, edited and collated posthumously by her daughter Pooja Bedi. It offers an intimate and no-holds-barred peep into Protima’s personal, professional, sexual and spiritual life. She also lays bare the world of film stars, socialites, the hippies and a few politicians in the 70s and 80s. Before reading this book, I only knew that Protima was the mother of the famous film star and that she died in a landslide. I now realise that she was in fact a subject of more sensationalism, gossip, and titillation than her daughter.
Imagine being able to have parallel sexual relations and affairs with more than one man, even as you are married to the ‘man of your dreams’, and making absolutely no bones about it to anyone including your own husband! That’s exactly what she professes to have done. Well, eventually, the universal rule of marriage wins over Protima’s freewheeling spirit and Kabir Bedi manages to get a divorce. It is another story that while Protima was romping around with her endless ‘soul mates’, Kabir Bedi was sneaking away from his wife into Parveen Babi’s arms. Sigh. It is also interesting to know about Kabir's budding film career.
Till her last breath, she hops, skips and jumps from one lover to another, including a French man (who once sexually abuses her daughter) who leaves his wife and children for the Indian beauty; and Pandit Jasraj, the master exponent of Hindustani classic music.
Fiercely independent and daringly experimental, Protima is proud to have lived life on her own terms. She and Kabir Bedi began their love life as hippies relishing the rave and booze parties. She claims to have instilled the same spirit in her daughter and son, Sidharth.
Unable to adhere to the conservative orthodox values and rules set by her Marvadi father, Protima broke ties with her family and landed in the glamourous modelling industry, making quite a splash with her sexy looks and bold decisions. Her stark nude photo, which she claims to have been taken on a nude-beach in Goa, made big news in the 70s. Her kids were the butt of jokes in school as the media had published that Protima had streaked on the busy roads of Bombay. On one hand she is proud to have been a different, friendly, loving and liberal mother, she also regrets not having spent enough time with her daughter and son, especially after her divorce with their father, Kabir Bedi. I also find it strange that she had to depend on Kabir’s alimony for taking care of her children.
While she loved being a free bird not bound by social norms, Protima had her share of tragedies. Her brilliant son, who was diagnosed with Schizophrenia, committed suicide at a young age, leaving her shattered. She also lost a couple of her lovers to cancer and other illness.
While Protima’s reckless life left her without any anchor, she regained confidence through her unending quest for learning and mastering Odissi, the dance form which she started learning in her late-30s. She was so soaked up in the spirit of Odissi, that she gave up her western clothes for the sari and the big red bindhi which was to become her trademark, classic look.
In spite of all the seeming decadence in her life, Protima is credited to have strived and struggled with an endearing passion to establish ‘Nityagram’, a gurukul-style dance school dedicated to all the Indian dance forms, in Hessaraghatta, Karnataka. It is here that she changed her name to Protima Gauri, because bedi in Kannada meant ‘loose motion’! She then took to being a sanyasin, exploring spiritualism and the pristine beauty of the Himalayas, where she was finally killed in a landslide during a trek to a shrine. Her body was never recovered. A free spirit she perhaps became one with nature, says her daughter.
Protima believed in not taking life seriously. For her life was a ‘timepass’ where one had fun and learned and experienced as much as possible.