The exemplary life lesson of label empress Sabira Merchant

Merchant Sabira. I can credit all my love for spoken English to him. Specifically, his popular 70s TV show – What’s the Good Word? – which ran for over a decade and a half on public broadcaster Doordarshan. Unlike Sunday Movies and Chhayageets, this was the one time my parents didn’t object to me being absorbed in front of the TV.

Variously referred to as the empress of etiquette, sophistication and good taste, this trailblazer, she brought sparkle and panache to the Bombay performing arts scene with her presence. ‘A Full Life’ is about the person behind the plume. Sabira talks about her life trajectory, her triumphs, challenges, setbacks, joys, fears and hopes with astonishing candor.

Hats off also to Mitali Parekh who helped put together the autobiography in such a way as to juxtapose Sabira’s journey with Bombay’s glorious past and her journey to become Mumbai. As an ex-colleague who writes about popular culture, food, fashion, animal rights and welfare, gender issues, lifestyle and travel, I came to know her as the personification joie de vivre, which she also brings to this book.

From her ushering in a new era at Mumbai’s Studio 29 nightclub, which sent the city’s revelers into a wild frenzy in the ’80s, to training Priyanka Chopra and Lara Dutta before they won their crowns in international competitions, Sabira’s legacy is unlike anyone else.

The famous actress and tag trainer’s style and that of Mitali are quite complementary, we discover it as she tells us how Sabira trained beauty queens such as Priyanka Chopra, Lara Dutta, Yukta Mookhey and Diana Hayden for international beauty pageants. The book also details Sabira’s work with Indian companies to train their workforce in social behavior, corporate acumen and etiquette. It’s confusing to think how this suburban Muslim girl who married as a teenager to the love of her life and is a mother of three balanced her personal life and her work to achieve so many feats, including including iconic acting work.

This is an important book for many who struggle to juggle multiple jobs and roles and try to hold on. Because Sabira Merchant and the exemplary life she led is an inspiration to all. Lara Dutta is right when she says, “Very simply, there’s no one in this country like Sabira Merchant. She is irreplaceable.

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Posted: Tuesday, March 22, 2022, 5:36 PM IST

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