What is worse than living in obscurity? To be moderately famous, perhaps. It is an almost precarious position where you are neither living the dream you had foreseen for yourself nor can you complain that you are not living your dream at all. It is this ambiguous space and its perils that actor Soha Ali Khan explores in her debut book. She does that, however, with no solemnity or staidness that describing perils generally demands. Instead, she infuses her novel, The Perils of Being Moderately Famous with an effortless charm, hilarity and irreverence that Bollywood actors are not quite known for.
With unmistakeable pride, she reveals the daily routine of her paternal grandmother, Sajida Sultan — horse riding and fighting; and, in the very next page, she details her own routine — making the “impossible choice whether to eat breakfast or simply wait an hour for lunch” at 11:30 in the morning. Later in the novel, she cites the example of Flemish cartographer Gerardaus Mercator to explain why movie stars think they are the centre of the world. This bathetic tone is assiduously maintained throughout the novel.
At 39, Khan’s life has not been blindingly eventful. But as the book reveals, she did have her share of adventures, and the privilege that she has been born into does percolate in her writing: while talking about the frugality of her father, she writes how he had just one imported Jaguar. But, she also provides some rare anecdotes about her parents and about her own life. Like when her mother sat her down and spoke to her about sex before she was going to Oxford to study or when a long distance relationship she thought would work, did not. There is some refreshing amount of honesty of these and they help in humanising her, making her seem more relatable.
Khan documents her life as it has been and does an impressive, candid job at that. Perhaps we do need more of such “moderately famous people” to write about their lives to know that some experiences, like heartbreaks and binging on television shows, among other things, are universal.