Zohra Sehgal is an example of a life well lived – in the 102 years of her life, she’s done pretty much everything from dance to theatre to television to films. She’s also, through it all, retained her zest for life and lived with an energy that would put people much, much younger to shame. You don’t get to 102 without learning – and teaching! – a bunch of lessons along the way, so to celebrate this great lady and her great life, we’re listing down 7 life lessons everyone should learn from her.
1. Age is just a number. You’ve heard it so many times before, but who better to drive home the point than Zohra Sehgal? She worked until the age of 95; did stunt sequences at the age of 90; and at the age of 97, made the comment that, “Sex is very important for life to get going; I still want it!”
2. Never lose your sense of humour. When asked what kept her going, Zohra Sehgal listed humour as one of the things (yes, sex was the other thing!). According to her, humour makes you see the funny side of tragedy. Not only that, but in interviews as well, she’s always maintained her sharp wit. When she was approached many years ago to do an interview, she told the journalist that she would charge a fee because: “It’s fine for fellows like you to ask, but I’m 85 and have to start saving for my funeral.”
3. Don’t quit. Zohra Sehgal battled cancer, lived through her husband’s suicide, and even went through unemployment. After starting her career in a ballet company and then moving on to theatre, she hit a rough patch when, for ten years, she worked as a dress/tailor for 10 years. Still, in the 1970s, she began working again in British television and films, starting the second phase of her career. Sehgal herself said that, “There’s an energy that drives me; a voice that tells me every morning ‘You must go on’.”
4. Gratitude is everything. Despite the troubles of her life, Zohra Sehgal remained grateful for what she had received. When asked what she thinks when she looks back at her life, she said, “Immense gratitude, I can still hear you, I can still taste my food and walk on my own feet.” She has also said, some years previously, “I’ve lived to the fullest – I’ve squeezed the best out of life. A good husband, children, family and most importantly my work – I am close to 100 and even with such a shriveled up face and figure I can boast that I’ve still got work, fame and money! I’ve not gone into oblivion.”
5. Be in love with your work. According to Zohra Sehgal, she’s done all that she has because of an “inner fire” that kept her going. She also remarked that her “inner beauty” is nothing but contentment with what she’s doing. “What actually brings out your beauty is the radiance of being content and you can only be content when you are employed in something you love. When admirers praise me for raising the paradigm for women in acting, I say b***s. What have I done for them consciously? Whatever I’ve done, I’ve done it for love of acting, fame and power. The love for life and work probably radiates as my inner beauty!”
6. Love trumps everything. Sehgal’s husband was eight years younger than her and of a different religion, but that was of no consequence: “When you fall in love, nothing matters. No religion, no age. Nothing matters.”
7. Be flexible. Zohra Sehgal, it seems, was open to different perspectives and gave herself the flexibility to change her beliefs as she went through life depending on circumstances. “Living with Uday Shankar’s troupe for 8 years, my outlook had changed quite a bit. By the time I met my husband, my views were quite different.” Originally, too, she never intended on getting married (“I mean, having an affair was okay”) and didn’t want children either. But eventually, she changed her mind and got married (“I said theek hai, I’ve tried everything in life, let me try this also“). Another humourous instance was when she told an interviewer, “I pooh-poohed girls in bare nothings taking bath in water fountains, thinking they are girls from economically challenged families. Alas, I realised that those ‘teeny-weeny things’ were actually called bikinis and were hot fashion items. I immediately discarded my Victorian bloomers (which I thought were quite aristocratic), and got into my first bikini.”
What have you learned from this inspiring lady?