A photograph of Aisha Chaudhary, taken in 2013, depicts a young woman in the style of Johannes Vermeer's Girl With A Pearl Earring. A cobalt, block-print scarf and a buttercup dupatta envelope her face, and her not pearl-but-kundan earring glints beneath her cheek. The photo was taken two years before Aisha's death, though you'd never know that by looking at it.
A photograph of Aisha Chaudhary, taken in 2013, depicts a young woman in the style of Johannes Vermeer's Girl With A Pearl Earring. A cobalt, block-print scarf and a buttercup dupatta envelope her face, and her not pearl-but-kundan earring glints beneath her cheek. The photo was taken two years before Aisha's death, though you'd never know that by looking at it. She asked a friend from her Delhi high school to take the shot as the basis for her self-portrait, on which she scrawled this Bukowski quote: "We are here to laugh at the odds and live our lives so well that Death will tremble to take us." That she chose to invoke Charles Bukowski speaks of her fearlessness and candour. The photograph is, according to her mother, Aditi Chaudhary,"so perfectly Aisha." And like Vermeer's Girl, you suspect Aisha knows something you don't. And she sure did.
Real to reel
Aisha Chaudhary (1996-2015)
This fall, director Shonali Bose will release her highly-anticipated film, The Sky Is Pink, a tribute to Aisha, her family and the extraordinary life they lived together. It's the movie Priyanka Chopra flew back to Mumbai to co-produce and act in, though she'd never seen any of Bose's films before being cast as Aisha's mother. "I was looking for a Hindi movie to do because I hadn't done one since Bajirao Mastani (2015) and Jai Gangaajal (2016). I was craving to speak in Hindi, and Shonali came to New York and narrated the film to me. The beauty of this film is that it is the celebration of life instead of the sorrow of death. I knew I had to be a part of this film," says Chopra.
Beginning with the love story of her parents, the film traces the arc of Aisha's life: how she wasn't expected to live beyond her first year; how she underwent a bone-marrow transplant at six months old; and how she developed pulmonary fibrosis, a hardening of the lungs, as a result of the chemotherapy that followed. More importantly, the film underscores how Aisha infused her life with meaning after learning that she wouldn't live beyond her teen years; how she managed to change the lives of others through her TED Talks, lectures and published writings on the idea of excavating happiness no matter the odds; and how her parents taught her to seize every moment, even if she didn't have the years. A year after Aisha's death, in 2016, Aditi commissioned Bose to pen the script of her daughter's life in the hope that one day something could be done with it. Aisha wanted to see Bose's Margarita With A Straw (2014) but passed away a few months before its release. Bose became a natural collaborator, a direct link to Aisha. Bose had also lost a child who happened to share a name with Aditi's son, Ishaan. The two mothers grew close, an inherent understanding blossomed between them. "Shonali makes hard-hitting films and she was the perfect choice to tell this story," Aditi says. "The person telling the story will always tell it from their perspective and hers is to shake mindsets."
Aisha at home with her mother Aditi and dog Kobe
Aisha with her brother Ishaan at her high school graduation
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"It's incredible that Aisha's movie is complete and the world will know that she lived. Her story will, hopefully, reach so many people," she says. In many ways, it already has: Aisha's most-viewed talks on YouTube have garnered nearly three million hits collectively. "Aisha believed that if you can't change your own life, change someone else's," Aditi says. In her last year, Aisha trained daily to speak publicly without her oxygen vest, proving her strength to the world and herself. "For her, that was like climbing Mount Everest," Aditi shares. "But Aisha didn't want to be pitied." Her last gift to the world was a book of poetry, titled My Little Epiphanies (Bloomsbury India) - a devastatingly beautiful collection of her explorations of joy, sorrow and the maxims that anchored her purpose after having lived a full emotional life by the time she reached her teen years. "Having lost something so big as life has taught me to appreciate the littlest things," Aisha muses in the pages. "I must remember that I am blessed."
Aditi hopes that the film will spread its gospel to other families who are suffering, or those looking for hope and purpose when things feel particularly bleak. "In telling this story... I realised how much we did for Aisha. It helped me get away from the blame game I'd been playing, which is something that happens to a majority of parents who lose a child," she says. As for the film's premiere, Aditi is nervously looking forward to conversations she hopes it will inspire. "I will never be ready for this film," she admits. "But I've seen every cut and I think Priyanka, Farhan [Akhtar], Rohit [Suresh Saraaf], and Zaira [Wasim]-who plays my Aisha-have acted very well. Shonali has exacted brilliance from each of them. I want everyone to go see it in the theatre-to take their children with them, then go out for dinner and talk about their relationships and dreams. It's the best thing you can do; it's the best gift you can give yourselves."