Sabira Merchant’s Memoir ‘A Full Life’ Is A Class In Itself

by | March 23, 2022, 13:45 IST

Sabira Merchant

Growing up in the ’80s, our parents often goaded us to sit in front of the TV set and watch a particular programme for one reason and one reason only. The hostess of the show was impeccable with her English language skills, and we were asked to pay close attention to grasp the phonetics skill from her.

The show was What’s The Good Word on Doordarshan, and, the hostess, none other than the glamourous, poised and brilliant Sabira Merchant. She was way ahead of her times when it came to her social, people and communication skills, it is no wonder that she was the chosen one to train beauty queens later.

With only that much to go by, I approached A Full Life, her autobiography with author Mitali Parekh, with the gusto of that very young girl in her early teens who learned the art of pronunciation by watching her. And boy was I in for a treat! There is as much to learn from Merchant’s life, and more, as there was to learn from observing her on TV. Let’s admit it, she is not only a class apart, but also a class unto her own when it comes to learning.

This easy read takes us back to Merchant’s birth and her subsequent adoption by her aunt and uncle, and how, growing up, she had the best of both worlds – the needed traditional and the much anticipated contemporary. It was her experiences as a child and teenager that moulded her into the successful woman she blossomed into.

The short chapters open to an easy and adventurous read. Along with a snapshot of Merchant’s life, they also offer the reader a glimpse into old-world Bombay, what rocked it, the art scene, the importance of Disco and the kind of possibilities that the city threw up for those who were willing to seize them. Merchant was one of them.

Whether it was learning the ropes of navigating society from her adoptive father, or soaking in the experiences of being in Europe, whether it was taking up the opportunity of “trying out on radio” at the suggestion of a friend, or putting together a show for Doordarshan, Merchant took it all up as and when the opportunities struck. It was a balance she wanted to strike, after being married to the love of her life very early on (in her teens!) and having three children almost soon after, by the time she was 21. She knew well, that although being a mother and a homemaker would have been sufficient for women in the ’60s, it was not the only thing she wanted in life.

With that idea and attitude, she navigated her long public life with seeming ease. It included radio, television, theatre, a short stint with the movies, dance and training. Through it all, she kept an open mind, a learner’s spirit and tried to walk the talk – as the mentor, guide and inspiration to all the women who were crowned Miss India and went on to represent the country on the international stage.

Merchant’s experiences take the reader through various emotions, but not long enough to dwell or mope, since the new experience is awaiting her at the turn of the page. The amalgamation on it all makes this book a must read. Theatre veteran and ad guru the late Alyque Padamsee in his foreword for A Full Life begins, “Sabira is a true drama queen.” The book (and her life) shows that she is a true queen, whatever she decides to take up.

A Full Life


237 pages

Ebook available

Also read: Shatrujeet Nath’s Warlord of Ayodhya: A Rich Tapestry Of An Alternate Verse

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