When the spotlight is turned on them, some artistes turn shy while others deal with it with a smile, but my mother was her own act — she would soak up all the attention and let it rip. She enjoyed people noticing her. As her daughter, I often forgot this. Once, we went out and met a lot of my friends. When we came back, I said, “What a lovely time we had” and she shot back, “What was lovely about it? Mera toh kisi ne notice hi nahi liya (nobody took any notice of me)”. This was in the 1990s, when she had just come back from England and nobody recognised her on the streets. She was Kiran Segal’s mother and, knowing her, I am absolutely sure that she did not like it at all. She was happiest at the centre of attention.
I was the eldest child of Kameshwar and Zohra Segal. She was a Muslim and he, a Hindu. She was adventurous and he was eight years younger to her. What mattered was that they both had a great sense of humour that I got as a gift. Everybody knows that Zohra was great fun; what is less known is
that she was also a strict disciplinarian. She was a working mum; she didn’t have time to stay at home and cook for us. So, my brother (Pavan Sehgal) and I were disciplined from an early age, be it about sleeping in the afternoon chahey neend aaye ya na aaye (whether you were sleepy or not) or toilet training, though she wasn’t very concerned about studies. Looking back, I realise that my mother hit my brother when he was naughty but never raised a finger on me.
Ma’s work and my life were divided between Bombay, where we grew up, and England, when she was trying to break into theatre and films when I was around 18 or 19. In Bombay, Prithvi Theatre was second home. My mother had trained in eurythmics in Dresden, Germany, and had worked extensively with Uday Shankar’s dance troupe before becoming director of dance at Prithvi. My childhood was filled with singing and dancing. This was the time Ma started getting small acting roles and then main roles, though it was her sister Uzra Butt who was the lead actor at Prithvi. We travelled through the country with performances and I have acted in more than 100 productions as a child artiste, never realising that there was anything extraordinary about acting and dancing in front of people.
In England, we lived in a small apartment and Ma took up various odd jobs to see us through till — as actors say — the Big Break happened. She would repair curtains at a small shop, work as a manager at India Tea Centre on Oxford Street, choreograph small pieces and go on lecture-demonstrations. Many other Indian actors were doing the same, working backstage in theatre and washing dishes, among other things, and they would get together to share experiences and gossip. Never mind, how hard the times, Ma always looked continued…