She has an unconventional story, unlike the Bollywood thrillers and romantic scripts that have a predictable end. Meet Barkha Madan, who has been a well-known face and name in the world of fashion and films and is now a Buddhist nun. She travels around the world and is exploring herself and life. Here is a beautiful conversation with her- on spirituality and life.
Transformation- Evolved as a person
How does she define herself? “I am still asking myself that question. Who am I and I believe this question led me to be an explorer and also led me to where I am today. What’s my purpose and what’s anybody’s purpose in this human life. Besides making a name for ourselves and spending millions to buy a house or own a car. I can say that I am Buddhist nun or a female monk- a seeker of Boddhi.
Does Spirituality Bring Change in Personality too?
What is a Spiritual Life? It is about being fully and deeply human. A life of simplicity rooted in compassion and ethical conduct. The basic human nature is kind and loving. So when we devote our life to any form of spiritual discipline it enhances our intrinsic nature bringing about an organic change in our personality, behaviour and so forth. It is not about becoming someone different or going somewhere else. We are basically good, as well as confused as we may be. We do not recognise this basic goodness. The thing is we cannot identify, solidify or conceptualise it in anyway. By recognising our suffering we have a starting place and inspiration to the spiritual path.
Those who have been in the sublime presence of His Holiness the Dalai Lama would resonate with this feeling of sheer bliss and tranquility. His presence itself can move you to tears of ecstasy. The simplicity and warmth has the unique quality of triggering a transformation in a subtle way. As I watched the kind master warmly greeting an old lady from Tibet, I wondered how it is possible for someone who has lost his country to smile so kindly. Where does he get the courage and hope to go on?
Another, was Mother Teresa. Such an exemplary of selfless giving and love.
Gender Wasn’t a Challenge in Her Mind
I kept asking myself these questions- what is my true purpose of life and why am I here? What is freedom in true sense? I remember thinking that freedom means being able to do what I wanted on my terms. This is what we all think of it! Especially as a teenage girl coming from the social, cultural background to be able to do what you want. Doing things on your own was a big deal- with many do’s and don’ts of a patriarchal society. So I would always ask, why can’t I ‘not do something I want to do’?
I don’t even want to say it was challenging! I’ve never given it a thought like that. I never had gender discrimination in my own head. They way my brother looks at things and explores so I should be allowed to do the same- I was clear on this, in my head! Also I never thought that I was anything less. It’s all a social projection of female having limitations and there is no logical reasoning for such thoughts and ideas.
First Experience in Bollywood & the Disassociation from the Glamour Industry
Initially I thought that maybe making a lot of money will get me freedom. Since everyone wants you to have a financial sound system so I thought that is what I should do. You can do your own thing if you are self sufficient. There is a common line one hears in conventional homes- that as long as you live in this house, you have to follow the rules. Perhaps that led me to travel, to move out of my parents house and I eventually moved to Bombay. Modeling happened early in college, and honestly it was not my burning ambition to be a model or an actor. I enjoyed doing that stuff and it got me good money, but it was more about being independent and this just happened to be a profession that came my way! What I didn’t enjoy in the process was over objectifying and setting up unrealistic trends that younger women would follow. I did not enjoy such practices when I was associated with the film fraternity. There is never an equal pay and treatment for women. The conditions for women were not very respectful. Things have changed for better now but when I joined the industry it wasn’t as good. Roles were given to us for being a glamour doll and nothing substantial. All of this made me ask- What am I doing here? Why does the system have to be in a way which prompts you to compromise on your value system?
Having said this, I certainly enjoyed being an actor. I liked my craft and I spend a great deal of time cultivating it as I had no formal training of acting. So those aspects were interesting, to be able to play new characters and understanding the nuances.
In search of peace and tranquility
My friends would tell me that I am a rebel of sorts but they also said that we don’t understand your cause. I don’t always flow with the convention of the system.
Everyone thinks it was a sudden transformation but for me it was all happening deep inside since the age of 10. My first visit to a Buddhist Monastery at Rumtek, Sikkim left a deep impression on me. I did take the decision of taking ordination overnight but the preparation was subconsciously going on for years. I would ask questions that were beyond the mundane life.
I thought there was a deeper purpose of life, so when I got in contact with the Buddhist philosophy, especially His Holiness the Dalai Lama, it kind of started giving me answers that I was seeking deeply inside, about what truly freedom is? Despite having money, name and fame. It doesn’t prevent me from being unhappy. In this entire quest of becoming who you are, we lose touch with our true purpose and we don’t connect with people anymore. We’re redoing everything for this self-cherishing; everything is for my ego, for my own satisfaction. It was interesting because actors are people who put themselves in other people’s skin and if we spent even a fraction of that time truly putting ourselves in other people’s shoes, perhaps this world would be a lot different.
Encounter with people
I do come across a lot of curious glances when I’m walking. Like what’s going on? A funny incident happened in the USA recently. I was at a grocery store and this kid was playing along with the cart. He accidentally hit me so his mom said this is not how you behave, be nice to people who are going through cancer. She assumed because I have a bald head that I am a cancer patient! It’s perfectly ok for me! It’s not just about people who look at me, but even for me to break the monotony of their stare is a different experience. Earlier as a celebrity I wasn’t so welcoming when people stared at me or gave me undue attention, but now I look at them back with a smile to dissolve any discomfort! Earlier I would just walk past with my sunglasses on.