On November 4, 2012, actress Barkha Madan renounced the world.
The decision wasn’t prompted by financial lows, professional woes or heartbreak. Barkha, who now goes by the name Gyalten Samsen, was a Miss India finalist in 1994, the year that Sushmita Sen and Aishwarya Rai won big at the beauty pageant and went on to conquer the universe and the world.
After a successful stint as a model, Barkha herself stormed into Bollywood with Khiladiyon Ka Khiladi in 1996. She has fond memories of shopping with Rekha, watching Akshay Kumar rehearse his stunts for hours and smiling at a handsome 7-foot giant who turned out to be The Undertaker, the WWF champion Akshay knocks out.
The same year, she starred in the Indo-Dutch production, Driving Miss Palmen, before vanishing from the screen for seven years. She returning to spook in and as Ram Gopal Varma’s Bhoot, and followed up with 20-odd TV shows. To the world, she’d found her calling. She herself admits that despite the highs and lows, the occasional proposition she was never desperate enough to accept, she enjoyed being an actress and was fascinated by the world of make-believe reality.
But there was a nagging restlessness, niggling questions about whether this was her life’s purpose.
As a sixth grader she’d visited a monastery in Sikkim where her army officer father was posted and had felt at home. In 2002, the feeling of home-coming returned while she was listening to the Dalai Lama in Dharamsala. Drawn by the happiness on his face, she asked Lama Zopa Rinpoche if she could make her a nun too.
Rinpoche laughed, “Why ? You fought with your boyfriend? Joining the monastic order isn’t about escapism. You need to embrace Buddhist philosophy and reflect on why you want to walk the path of Divination.”
Over the next decade, Barkha set up a production company and made two films, Soch Lo (2010) and Surkhaab (2012). “Everything was going well but I felt something was missing,” she reminisces, explaining her reasons for going to a monastery in Kathmandu and asking to join the Buddhist monastic order. Lama Zopa Rimpoche went for divination and returned to inform her that she would be ordained at 9 am the next day.
“I made a call to my parents. They offered me their support. And borrowing a robe, I embraced my new life,” says Barkha.
Today, the 41 year old’s wardrobe is down to two sets of robes, some woollens to ward off the chill and a pair of flipflops. “My only worldly possessions are my cell phone and laptop. I live off my savings but I’m blissfully happy,” says Barkha who claims to be first Indian nun from the non-Himalayan region.
Barkha herself wants to start a nunnery in India. “If you want to make movies you go to a film school. If you want to become a doctor, you go to a medical school. But where does an aspiring nun go to?” she asks.