Skip to main content

Magnetic, stunning, Protima Bedi 'exposed' malice of sexual repression in society

By Harsh Thakor* 

Protima Bedi was born to a baniya businessman and a Bengali mother as Protima Gupta in Delhi in 1949. Her father was a small-time trader, who was thrown out of his family for marrying a dark Bengali women. The theme of her early life was to rebel against traditional bondage. It was extraordinary how Protima underwent a metamorphosis from a conventional convent-educated girl into a freak. On October 12th was her 75th birthday; earlier this year, on August 18th it was her 25th death anniversary.
Few women, however scandalous or controversial, so openly and boldly expressed their feelings or honestly disclosed facts about their lives, and daringly spoke out. Protima was a mascot against conventional social norms. She exposed the malice or plague of sexual repression in society, symbolising defiance against it. In her time, few more openly portrayed the sheer narcasm of the soul in day-to-day life.
Late Khushwant Singh selected Protima Bedi amongst his list of ‘Extraordinary Indians.’ Indeed, she may not be classified as a progressive person or a role model for women, considering for a considerable part of her career she projected image of a sex symbol, of a person who literally sold her body in seeking glamour.
Also, she split apart her marriage and had no idea of the hurt she caused people. She loved her men, liquor and drugs. She did not engage in progressive social causes, as many feminists have done. She went out of the way to hunt for publicity in media. She was a deep devotee of Lord Shiva, and professed loyalty to Hindu traditions, refusing to promote radical beliefs.
However, the fact is, Protima projected the image of female sex symbol as a rebel in the 1970s setting. Her sex appeal was magnetic and stunning, turning her into a cynosure in the eyes of the public. Few women broke all past conventions or norms so boldly or forthrightly, be it in the way she carried western attire or herself.
Her open streaking in 1974 no doubt was to pull crowd, but was also manifestation of the suppression or bondage of women, and their desire to rebel against it. This incident created a sensational uproar in the public.
Barely four years later, Protima reinvented herself as an accomplished classical dancer, a devotee of Goddess Kali, and chose sari over slit skirts and halter-necks. In her later youth, in the thirties, she frequently dazzled in ghagra cholis when posing for photos in glossy magazines like ‘Society’ and ‘Savvy.’
Protima was endowed with great talent as a kathakali dancer. She ventured into building her own dance school, Nityagram, in Orissa. It was truly remarkable the manner in which she blossomed into a highly artistic Odissi dancer. She put in painstaking work of over 12 hours per day, being tutored by her guruji.
Shortly before her death, she shaved her head and embarked on a monk's life. She died in August 1998 in a landslide in the Himalayas while on a pilgrimage to Kailash Mansarovar, leaving behind a monument -- a flourishing dance village, Nrityagram -- where students continue to learn classical dance styles of India. She sought to reveal her endeavours in liberating herself from the shackles of the material world and transcending the spiritual realms.


In her memoirs, ‘Timepass’, Protima’s revelations project the sheer hypocrisy, nascent bondage or suppression or what lies beneath the surface in marriages or conventional norms of society. One gets a deep insight into what is camouflaged in the world of glamour or crass nature and superficiality that lies under it. Ironically, however, she ended her life on the road of liberation of bondage from the material world in the quest of spiritual path.
In ‘Timepass’ Protima recounts with pinpoint boldness the events that turned her life: the humiliation she underwent as a child at being branded the ugly duckling, repeated rape by a cousin when she was barely ten, the failure of her open marriage with Kabir Bedi, her numerous sexual encounters, and the romantic relationships she engaged in with prominent politicians and artistes.
She also recounts her blossoming into an Odissi dancer, her relationship with her guruji and fellow dancers, the challenging mission of establishing Nrityagram, and the suicide of her son -- a tragedy from which she never fully recovered. In a heart-touching afterword to the book, her daughter, Pooja Bedi, dwells on how she set off for her heavenly abode.
Her memoirs reveal her controversial love affairs and the ups and downs of her marriage and then live-in relationships with frustration and despair a regular feature. Her revelations include her relationship with Kabir Bedi, describing the ebb and flow or fluctuations; her animosity towards Parveen Babi and Susan; and disillusionment with the marriage – all of which give a deep insight into the harsh realities of relationships in the glamour world.
Protima reveals how she was having an affair with a young German man living next door as a mother of eight-month-old Pooja, when Kabir was away shooting. She gives sensitive portrayal of how her children were affected by her conflict with Kabir, and how she paid heart and soul attention to their welfare. She portrays her metamorphosis into a dancer at Nityagram, being a departure from the previous world of glamour, where the soul was corroded. Her writing literally gives the effect of two different persons existing in one.
Protima sensitively touches upon how people like Jasraj and Rajni Patel penetrated her life and the effect and deterioration of her relationship with Mario. In depth she touches upon what she adored in Rajni Patel and Jasraj, and the touching moments in hospital before they passed away.
She describes how even after obtaining a divorce, she still loved her ex-husband Kabir Bedi, and they still had great fondness for each other. Fascinatingly, Kabir Bedi in his autobiography expresses high admiration for her. Says Kabir Bedi in ‘Stories I Must Tell’:
“I remember her dazzling smile, the large red bindi and her ever dancing eyes. We grew up with joy and laughter, pain and tears. He was my girlfriend, my wife, the mother of my children, my partner in an unconventional marriage, my yarr long after marriage ended. I thank her for the beautiful children she gave me, Pooja and Siddharth, being a good mother too. Her zest for life, bubbling humour and waves of infectious laughter always remain in my memories.”
In her book, Protima despises humbugs and hypocrites. She writes:
“Every woman I knew secretly longed to have many lovers but suppressed the desire for several reasons. I had the capacity to love many at a time and for this had been called shallow and wayward and a good-time girl.”
What is missing in the book is how at the end she bid farewell to her dance school to become a sanyasin, before being killed in A landslide while on a pilgrimage in Kailash-Manasarovar on 19th August 1998. It would have been heart-touching in reading about what made Protima embark upon abandoning the endeavour of glamour and transcend to the heavenly abode.
It took daunting courage of daughter Pooja Bedi, who edited and published her mother’s memoirs. She asserts that ‘passion, compassion and laughter’ summed up her mother’s character. To quote Pooja Bedi, “It is a book for every woman who endeavours to live life to the full... Timepass is a brutally honest book... It is just her being her.”
And according to Khushwant Singh, “'No one will be able to put down Timepass once he or she starts reading it”.
*Freelance journalist



A Hindu alternative to Valentine's Day? 'Shiv-Parvati was first love marriage in Universe'

By Rajiv Shah*   The other day, I was searching on Google a quote on Maha Shivratri which I wanted to send to someone, a confirmed Shiv Bhakt, quite close to me -- with an underlying message to act positively instead of being negative. On top of the search, I chanced upon an article in, imagine!, a Nashik Corporation site which offered me something very unusual. 

'Anti-poor stand': Even British wouldn't reduce Railways' sleeper and general coaches

By Anandi Pandey, Sandeep Pandey*  Probably even the British, who introduced railways in India, would not have done what the Bhartiya Janata Party government is doing. The number of Sleeper and General class coaches in various trains are surreptitiously and ominously disappearing accompanied by a simultaneous increase in Air Conditioned coaches. In the characteristic style of BJP government there was no discussion or debate on this move by the Indian Railways either in the Parliament or outside of it. 

Swami Vivekananda's views on caste and sexuality were 'painfully' regressive

By Bhaskar Sur* Swami Vivekananda now belongs more to the modern Hindu mythology than reality. It makes a daunting job to discover the real human being who knew unemployment, humiliation of losing a teaching job for 'incompetence', longed in vain for the bliss of a happy conjugal life only to suffer the consequent frustration.

Why convert growing badminton popularity into an 'inclusive sports opportunity'

By Sudhansu R Das  Over the years badminton has become the second most popular game in the world after soccer.  Today, nearly 220 million people across the world play badminton.  The game has become very popular in urban India after India won medals in various international badminton tournaments.  One will come across a badminton court in every one kilometer radius of Hyderabad.  

Faith leaders agree: All religious places should display ‘anti-child marriage’ messages

By Jitendra Parmar*  As many as 17 faith leaders, together for an interfaith dialogue on child marriage in New Delhi, unanimously have agreed that no faith allows or endorses child marriage. The faith leaders advocated that all religious places should display information on child marriage.

How embracing diversity enriched my life, brought profound sense of joy

By Mike Ghouse*  If you can shed the bias towards others, you'll love the connections with every human that God or his systems have created. This gives a sense of freedom and brings meaning and joy to life. Embracing and respecting how people dress, eat, and practice their beliefs becomes an enriching experience.

'28% rise in sedition cases': Top global NGO alliance rates India's civil space 'repressed'

By Rajiv Shah Rating India's civic space as repressed , Civicus, a global civil society alliance, in its new report submitted to the UN Human Rights Committee (UNHRC) on the state of civic space in the country has said that the use of sedition law against the Modi government’s critics continues. "Under the government of Prime Minister Narendra Modi, sedition cases have increased by 28 per cent with over 500 cases against more than 7,000 people", it says.

Ayurveda, Sidda, and knowledge: Three-day workshop begins in Pala town

By Rosamma Thomas*  Pala town in Kottayam district of Kerala is about 25 km from the district headquarters. St Thomas College in Pala is currently hosting a three-day workshop on knowledge systems, and gathered together are philosophers, sociologists, medical practitioners in homeopathy and Ayurveda, one of them from Nepal, and a few guests from Europe. The discussions on the first day focused on knowledge systems, power structures, and epistemic diversity. French researcher Jacquiline Descarpentries, who represents a unique cooperative of researchers, some of whom have no formal institutional affiliation, laid the ground, addressing the audience over the Internet.

Post-poll mob lynching spree, bulldozer justice: NAPM seeks united resistance

Counterview Desk  Condemning what it calls "the horrific spree of mob lynchings across the country after the Lok Sabha election results", India's premier civil society network, National Alliance of People’s Movements (NAPM), has called for "united resistance" against "hateful communal politics, mob lynching of religious minorities and caste-based oppression".