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Last Updated: Monday, 28 February 2005, 10:24 GMT
Facing death in Sri Lanka and Thailand
In her latest column for the BBC News website, Bollywood star Preity Zinta describes escaping two brushes with death.

Preity Zinta
'It feels good to be alive'

They say there are some moments in our lives which change us forever. These moments change the way we think, behave and view life and death.

They have just come and gone for me. And I am lucky to have come out alive and able to tell my tale. They are far removed from the glitter and glamour of my film life.

The first incident happened on a balmy night in the Sri Lankan capital, Colombo, on 11 December.

We are five minutes away from closing a mega Bollywood song-and-dance revue at the local cricket stadium.

There are kinetic stars on the stage, with 10,000 happy people in the stands enjoying the carnival atmosphere.

Dancers disappear

Bollywood hero Shah Rukh Khan is doing his gig with dancers.

I am waiting in the left wing for my finale. The music is pulsing through the audience, and the pyrotechnics are lighting up the inky black night.

Colombo blast scene in December
They say there are some moments in our lives which change us forever

Suddenly I see a man in the front row flying to his left. Then I see Shah Rukh looking to his right and left. Then I see the dancers disappear.

What is happening?

I stepped on the stage and leaned over. I saw a pool of blood in the front rows. The security men grab us from behind and ask us to leave.

A bomb has exploded in the front rows - two people are dead, more than a dozen injured. The concert has come to a bloody end.

The next few minutes are surreal.

As I am coming down the backstage stairway, all hell is breaking lose.

I see a woman with her arm blown off, bleeding and screaming "Someone, help me please". I see panicky people running in from all sides, and in the middle of this confusion, someone gropes me.

I am running for my life now in my red sequined cat suit with a silver belt saying 'disco' and glitter on my face. I am running for the car which will take us straight to the airport, where the flight to Mumbai (Bombay) has been held up for us.

'Vulnerable and fragile'

I reach Mumbai late at night, rattled and numbed. I am thinking how even as I was creating showbiz fantasy for the thousands of fans, somebody blew up a bomb in the stands and brought us back to cruel real life.

I do not know who let off the bomb or why they did it. All I knew it just made me feel very vulnerable and fragile. From the airport, I drove to a friend's place - still with glitter on my face - and talked into the morning about what a close shave it had been.

I thought the performers were very lucky to have escaped unhurt that night.

Site of blast in Colombo
The blast in December ripped through VIP seats

But within two weeks, my busy life kicked off again.

This was the second moment - and the setting is the pretty Thai resort of Phuket.

I arrive in Thailand's largest island nestling in the Indian Ocean on 25 December. I have planned it as a perfect Christmas break, and am determined to make the most of it.

I decide to give myself all the sleep and rest I need after a frenetic year of films, commercials and shows - I have travelled to 50 cities around the world in the past year on work.

So I rented a lovely villa on stilts on the Bang Thao beach.

'Loud banging'

It is an apt setting for a quiet holiday: a crescent shaped bay, white sand, casuarina trees and a lovely breeze blowing into the bay.

On Christmas evening, I meet some friends, have dinner. I return to my villa at two in the morning, switch off my hand-phone and crash out.

I remember hearing a din in my sleep sometime later. I toss and turn in my bed, covering my ears and cursing whoever was making all that noise outside.

Then suddenly, there is someone banging on the door. Loudly.

Preity Zinta
Preity - 'I contacted my hysterical mother and told her I was safe'

I open the door sleepily to see my friend panting outside. "There's been a tidal wave. We must run!", he shouts.

I pick up my handbag and run along with him. I step outside the villa and there's water all around.

What is happening?

I have slept through the tsunami that has killed nearly 6,000 people on Thailand's coast, mostly in Phuket.

I have slept as two killer waves forced the hotel to evacuate guests from the island.

On the road to my friend's place, I see the havoc wreaked by the killer waves.

Phuket resembles a war zone. The road is full of debris. There are bodies lying everywhere.

People in surgical masks are looking for bodies. At a flooded supermarket I search for some candles to light up my friend's home - the electricity has gone off.

After the devastation, it is a beautiful quiet full moon night in Phuket.

But it is the peace of the graveyard: all the parties are off, and the dead are being counted.

'Dreaded water'

I made contact with my hysterical mother and told her I was safe. I said that as soon as I get a seat on a flight, I will be back home.

I decided to stay on.

I ended up spending eight more days on the devastated island, and saw survivors picking up the pieces.

I saw rescue work picking up speed. I find a German kick boxer in the neighbourhood, and I begin taking lessons.

The beauty of the sea restored Preity's zest for life

Then I do the unthinkable - for me, at least.

I go out into the deep sea off the Thai coast and spend four nights in a yacht near Similan island close to Burma.

All my life I have dreaded water.

I almost drowned twice when I was younger. I tried to take swimming lessons, but I barely swim now.

The tsunami should have made me stay away from the water forever. But I have I decided to try and overcome this fear.

The voyage is a reaffirmation of life.

I dived into the ocean with my life vest and swam. The sea is calm and blue. I am humbler, smaller and feel as vulnerable after two near escapes from death.

It feels good to be alive.

To read Preity Zinta's future columns, bookmark bbcnews.com/southasia

Here is a selection of readers' views on this column.

So what if Preity reacted the way she did? She sure wasn't reacting in front of a camera at that time and her behavior would not have been pre-meditated or directed by someone else. People are different and they behave differently, her case is not unique. Anyone's celeb status doesn't impose any particular standard of comportment upon them. They are not mandated, unlike our politicians and world leaders, to work for the greater good of their constituencies...
Parveen Kumar, Australia

It's an average article, good to see that Preity survived two incidents. She could have done more for people around but preferred to compose herself, which as well good. I feel some of comments here are worse, people criticising others should say to themselves what they have done for relief of people in trouble. They are more selfish than anyone, just living their live in comfortable home, driving good car and earning money, doing nothing for other people. I think Preity should have mentioned how much money she has donated for the relief efforts, it is a large amount which anyone criticising this article cannot imagine...
Yogesh Vaspate, Uk

Preity's story is pure reality and the fact that she admits being scared is a brave thing to do. She is happy to be alive and why shouldn't she be? I think that nobody can't judge a situation or people unless you experience it yourself...
Karishma Bhoendie, The Netherlands

How many of us actually did something about the Tsunami except for watching it on TV? You have to admit and applaud the honesty in the article, something most of us would not even admit to ourselves. In saying what she did, Preity did the most courageous act of being honest and true to herself and extending the same courtesy to us.
Sujeev, Sri Lanka

This woman sounds to me as if she was in a state of shock from twice almost losing her life. She said it looked surreal - that's shock. She's not a medic - she doesn't have that sort of nerve - she is an actress. What do you expect from people? If she were a regular reporter and not a star would you be so judgemental? Most people's typical reaction to trauma and disaster is to go either hysterical or sort of numb and distance themselves. They feel the shock more slowly. It's a coping mechanism.
Dianne, Canada

I'm not writing this to have it published on the Preity Zinta page but rather to let you know how disappointed I am that you would give "talk time" to someone as disconnected as this Bollywood star. Her apparent apathy towards the situation in Indonesia is appalling and I honestly believe you could find a more intellectual "star" to spend time sharing their thoughts and emotions with us out here in internet BBC-land. Michael , Japan

I don't understand why people are taking it as granted that Preity did not do anything for the Tsunami victims. I agree that 'kickboxing' was a weird thing to do at that moment. But, saying that wouldn't it be better to stick to life in any way (even if it is kickboxing) rather being fearful against handling life after such a devastation? She did a great job by going back to deep sea and in a way wins the mighty trepidation of water. It seems people have forgotten how to appreciate famous peoples' action. They too are normal human beings who sometimes do not know how to react in dreadful condition but being honest and saying it loud in front of thousands of readers through BBC needs great courage.
Kuasha, Bangladesh

I find your account of your near death experience as most shallow, empty and far from insightful. I do admit that your reaction to the upheaval around you is probably human, but why do you concentrate on describing your attire when that ought to have been the last thing on any feeling person's mind? I fail to note any sympathy in your voice and find it appalling that you are not aware of how silly you make yourself appear to be. Shame on you for being in the position to write meaningful responses and for choosing instead to reveal your lack of compassion!
Sheba , Canada

You people are tough. I suppose you would also jump on her for 'running' if she were to have gotten on the next flight to India after the Tsunami. Face it, a lot of people were scared to get near the water after this disaster. I think Ms. Zinta was trying to show that it's alright to go back to the way things were. She did make a point about being scared of the waters and being able to conquer it. Perhaps, she could've held off some of these things she's done, a while longer. Its always comforting to know someone else (even famous) are there to 'share' in the pain. That said, I still think she should be commended for her composure. Thanks for the columns! It's refreshing to see what the famous people think of things... right or wrong. Cheers.
Anil Jangity, California, USA

While I commend Ms Zinta's courage and determination, I am disturbed by the fact that she chose to overcome her fears at a time when courage and determination could have been put to better use.
Iwana Faq, Egypt

I think the Indian actress is very honest. She may not have done the most appropriate thing but I guess all humans are troubled by dilemmas. I hope this experience shall lead her to more learning.
Impule Kwalegobe, Botswana

As superficial as Bollywood itself. Sorry but this story showed my only how shallow you really are. Kick boxing lessons in the midst of chaos and destruction....say no more. I too narrowly escaped the Tsunami and was very lucky to survive. It was definitely another reminder to me how fragile life is. We should be thankful for what we have in this life and not take it for granted. You are blessed with beauty fame and fortune. But what is that without wisdom?
Ishara, USA

If there was a delete button at the end of this article, this article too would have gone into the thrash bin. It's a disgusting piece of story writing where perhaps all thought went into ensuring punctuation marks were put in the right places rather than thinking and reflecting on the effect of her words on those who have lost so much..... a life which lacks empathy for the suffering of others is a very selfish and lonely life indeed. A Tsunami Aid Worker in Sri Lanka.
Hussain, Sri Lanka

It was nice to see this article and how Preity has described her fear and feelings of that tragic incident of the world. After reading this I only want to say this that those who see death very closely and escape luckily can better understand how precious life is!
Sara, Pakistan

Two dreadful situations in a short time, I am sure that they have an impact on you. One was totally avoidable and the other is purely Nature. I am sure you are also involved in Tsumani relief activities. You being a victim yourself probably you could have made a difference for those victims who were suffering. You are a celebrity and your voice reach faster and better then many. It is sad that you did not utilize your position in relief activity, however I am glad that after seeing two worst situations you gathered courage to overcome the shock.
Prakash Bharatam, India

Preity, I think your articles are very self-centered. It is shameful that it took 300,000 lives for you to feel more "humbler & smaller." To feel humbler, all you could have done was walk outside your mansion and look at the living conditions of the millions of people in your country.
Hari, U.S.A.

In today's world, it's a case of every man for himself. Her story is a clear example of that. She did what she had to in order to survive.
Amy Miranda, Malaysia

While I can understand the bitterness in some responses here, I wonder why they expect Preity to go and help out physically... Is physical help what we expect of celebrities? We should be glad if celebrities put in some effort to raise funds for the rebuilding effort. Don't worry, physical help is aplenty in South-Asia - we just need the monetary resources to put them to use. Preity, I hope some of the comments here make you go out for concerts that raise funds for tsunami victims. That will be all your fans expect of you. And don't worry about being honest - that's the best path.
Kumar Sivaraman, USA

A captivating read for sure. But the "kickboxing" amidst the debris is a little weird to understand. Since you had the luck which saved you from the wave that killed countless around you while you were sleeping...maybe you could share some of it by contributing in some way. I do hope, and actually believe that you must have made your contribution, if not physically, monetarily - especially after having seen the place where you could make a difference. It was however brave of you to take that dive into the same sea, which at that moment still carried the bodies of many.
Riddhima, France

I'm amazed to hear people complaining about the fact Preity got on with her life, even in the face of these challenging situations. How many of you stopped your Boxing day celebrations or your daily routine to help? Im sure like most people, we donated what we could afford and got on with life. Just because she has acheived something in life, doesn't mean she has to put on sack cloths !
Francis Anderson, UK

What a facinating story - but for all the wrong reasons. Zinta showes complete and absolute lack of judgement taking the nature of the two incidents into account. Ignorance is bliss, and the self obsessed actions described by Zinta is truely out of place at the BCC website. Spare us any more news from 'The Bollywood Oracle'.
Ken, Copenhagen Denmark

Preity, your honesty confounds me, yet I appreciate it. Nevertheless, I still find it shocking how you took the unnecessary risk of spending 8 days on a yacht in the middle of the tempestuous sea. If, you had to risk your life you could have done it by helping all those people around you who were in dire in need and at the brink of death.
Maeesha, Philadelphia, US

It is good for your to escape but really you must have worked at Phuket to help the people and to know the pain of the orphan. I hope in such cases you must help at the time of event
IA Siddique, Oman

Well it is her luck. When God saves someone's life no one else can maybe she had done some thing high-quality job, Which god has given her a safe life from such deadly situation ,I wish her more success and protection Hope form such events she never forgets god.
Shekib, Kabul City, Afghanistan

I'm appalled at the article you wrote. Mostly because all you do is list off all the fun things you managed to do whilst others are suffering! I'm glad you had fun in Thailand taking kickboxing lessons and going on a cruise for 4 days while over 300,000 people were in the midst of dying. Rather than pitch in and lend a hand with your "celebrity" status, it's good you got to have a nice diving experience and a moment of reflection on the fragility of life whilst diving. Maybe you should have tried to be like Bono and raise some money for the million+ people left without homes and businesses. Or maybe you should be like most people and keep your moments of reflections to yourself and consider the real pain and suffering those people in Indonesia and Sumatra are still experiencing whilst you were writing this article in your mansion on your computer. Glad you feel good to be alive because guess what? 300,000+ people don't...
Mike , USA

I think that you have experienced something, a person of your fame/status may or may not experience ever. Its good that you shared the incident with us, now see if you could spend some time with people for whom this has become a part of life.
Shekhar, Mumbai, India

I think Preity has a good point in her story. Why all this time we're became a vain and egoistic person until something admonished us? Captivation, affluence and power always make us blind until.....bang!!! a short moment realized us who we really are. We're nothing, when our creator doesn't allow us to see this beautiful world anymore than we're dead!!! just like that, We're vanished.
Yovan Effendi, Indonesia

I understand why this article may seem self-serving to some, but Ms. Zinta followed the exact steps any good crisis counsellor would suggest in the aftermath of such life-threatening experiences. The longer you sit and think about all the things that didn't happen, the harder it is to move on. She kept her routine and instead of dwelling on the past that never happened, appreciated her life and moved on. Good for her!
S.B., New Jersey, US

I think it's important after a near death experience to take care of oneself. It is good to help others as well, but sometimes one gets in the way, if one is just trying help others without first making sure that one is okay. I think it's important to enjoy the pleasures of life, when death comes pounding at one's door. That's why so many people make babies after a disaster. This idea of only living in the suffering of others does not fully honour life.
Muriel, USA

This is the most pathetic story I've ever read. It only shows how selfish and unsympathetic man can be. people have died everywhere with thousands missing, while others go on with their luxuries, not displaying any care for the deceased and injured. If Preity would place herself in the position of the poor fishermen who lost their families and houses on that day, she wouldn't be writing what she wrote.
Mariam, Saudi Arabia

How can anyone empathise with her, when she did not do anything, except run away from the troubles around! I guess star power can make people do or say anything!
Aureshi, Zambia

Her comments show how uncaring and self centred some people can be. Does not matter if the rest of the world is suffering!
Ayesha, Kerala, India

I was thrilled to read Preity Zinta's article. She proves her sanity by showing both sides of the picture. I totally reject those 'moan and groan' critics who bad-mouth Preity, for not focusing more on the misery. Wisdom comes with age but Preity seems to have gotten a head start in her youth. Keep up the good work Preity. Pradip
Pradip Tara, usa

Being a huge fan of this incredibly talented actress, I too, like many others, became lost in her glamour and neglected to grasp the thought that she too is a human being. Though her story seemed slightly self-centred, it conveyed her knowledge and acceptance of fear, teaching us to acknowledge and overcome our own fears. Her writing appreciated life and the thousands who lost their lives these past dismal months. This piece of writing remains me that life is short and our time is scarce.
Mashoka, Canada

Ok, so she had pretty traumatic experiences and got out of them probably because she had people looking out for her. But what's the point of this and future columns? A voice from South Asia? Not very representative. A column of wisdom? Not really. A literary piece? Not at all. I suppose by putting a celebrity on paper the BBC wants to reach out to South Asians worldwide in much the same way that 'Hello' or 'OK' magazines might do. Disappointing.
rabi, UK

As someone that works in the Emergency Medical Services field, I find it horrendous to see that Preity Zinta has the gall to admit her apparent lack of compassion for the lives lost and displaced, while she jaunts through the area taking kickboxing lessons. If she really thinks she has the worst lifestyle among everyone else, she needs to stop, drop and take a long, hard look at what really matters in life. Giving her the benefit of doubt, maybe she did. If so, she needs to mention it, but if not, she should get out of the public eye before those affected on Dec 26th hear about this.
Haresh, New Jersey, USA

The lady's article may sound a little self centred but in reality it demonstrates the idea of life's continuity after facing upheavals by an individual. Nevertheless , this does not imply that she acted as an alien to the pain and suffering of the affected in the tsunami case rather the article tells of how she came victorious out of her own traumatized state and defeated her fear. I believe that this is not selfishness , her decision to stay when she could have left is a very valid reason to explain her affiliation towards the whole scenario.
Ali Hammad Raza, Netherlands

Was there anything better to do at that time rather then learning boxing and cruising? Something better like helping people, I know a lot of people from Australia and all over south east Asia left for devastated countries to help out. While you decided to take lessons and cruise around. May be you thought you had the toughest moments at that time and not the women who lost both arms in front of you and not the people who were looking for their loved ones in the debris while you were cruising and/or finding next flight home. I wonder why!
Sangraiz, Australia

i really feel for Preity as she went through a lot in both phuket & Colombo. the circumstances were totally different but the results were the same. I think Preity should thank her lucky stars for being able to stay alive and in a way learn from this very valuable lesson
Bhushan, Singapore

Instead of focussing on yourself to overcome fear, you should have been helping others less fortunate than you. How could one think of spending more time holidaying when there were thousands dying and LIVING IN FEAR.
Christine, Dubai

it just goes to show despite her fame and fortune piety seems to be in touch with pain and suffering that the average person feels shes a brave person, and knows how to keep a balance.
preeti r gour, Czech republic

I have been a great fan of Preity Zinta and wait eagerly for her articles on BBC. I also felt that she was different compared to her Bollywood counterparts. She seems very humane with much intellectual capability. But the fact that she indulged herself when so many were struck with immense tragedy is making me re-consider my opinion about her. I wonder, if she is any different from the rest.
Raheel Nabi, Senegal

Preity's writings are really a brave attempt to share her incidents openly in the public. This is a rare opportunity, as very few people have made such an attempt. Also, if she had added some of her friends experiences-it could had been more better.
Hemraj Bhandari, Nepal

What made you decide to stay for 8 more days? What made you go on a boat? Is it because of what you saw happening around you and you realized that you can overcome your fears? Most people would return home immediately after such disaster, but I think that you learned that life is too short and we should all overcome our fears and enjoy what life has to offer for each of us...
Jay, USA

This comment is a reaction to MATT, UK's comment. Matt, Matt; be a MAN. Life goes on. Millions died in so many disasters - natural as well as man made - since the evaluation of mankind. You can't just halt your life. Can you ? I think, Priety did right thing to bring herself back to reality.
Rahul Shukla, USA

I am very very disappointed that BBC would give attention to such a "personal account" while people less fortunate as Miss Zinta have lost homes, families and even their lives. Miss Zinta, why did you not join the rest of the world during those atrocities and assist your fellow brothers and sisters, instead of taking kickboxing lessons??? I will keep you in my prayers tonight that the importance of selfless service is revealed to you.
Sonja, India

I felt a strong sense of reality coupled with humility in the way she describes her state of mind immediately after the blast... something so uncommon amongst most of us. May her tribe increase.
vivek pathak, INDIA

How callous for a pretty star to feel so indifferent to the carnage around her, and continuing to be so self obsessed. No response to somebody help me, no feeling when surrounded by dead bodies. I am sorry but I wish you changed for the better Preity.
Joel Mona, Malawi

Your story is very interesting. The life is very pretty and wonderful. History teaches to us to value the life..
Jaime Christian Maza Raymundo, Peru

Its really very good that Ms. Zinta has shared her experiences with us. Although the situations that she were in are very dramatic and tragic, her honesty throws light on her character and the way she faces a situation.
Adil Kohiar, INDIA

With devil and the deep sea on either side, Preity has still survived with a dimpled smiles. That was an episodic moment for her to be remembered, while its a great surprise for all the readers. Bravo! Tashi Dorjee Bhutan (Currently in Tokyo)
Tashi Dorjee, Bhutan

How can someone go and take a vacation when people are dying all over! I think you should have helped the rescue teams or stayed with the survivors instead of going away on a luxurious boat... I would have preferred to read a REAL story..
Zeynep Alp, Turkey

I think it is very nice of Preity to share her stories about feeling alive and vulnerable in the face of these dangerous experiences. In the first case of the bombing, it seems intuitive that one would panic and run for one's life immediately. In the second case, among death, destruction, and desperation, I wonder why Preity stayed on to spend time on a yacht and take up kickboxing rather than utilising her energy and financial resources to actually help those most affected by this tragedy
Ambika, US

Preity Zinta is really cool even though she has faced two near death experiences - the story tells of a brave girl who has brushed aside death to live on
Abdul Mahbub, Australia

I read your column and it reminded me how precious life is. I had brushes with death. One was in a post office in Spain where a bomb exploded as I was leaving. Thinking about my family... helped me maintain my sanity and appreciate life. Even one of Preity Zinta's films [shown in the hospital] helped me feel better. Lesson to be learned: life is fragile, it should be enjoyed because in one moment, it could disappear.
Roberto , Miami Florida

I enjoyed this article... it was nice to see a star act so "human" and be willing to share that side. I think you should continue these articles with other famous folk who can write as well as Ms Zinta
Nilesh Patel, USA

Hmmm...People get blown up and Preity does an immediate runner without looking back... thousands of people dying everywhere due to the tsunami yet Preity finds the time to take kickboxing lessons and go on a cruise... I'm sorry but I don't have much empathy for Preity's life-changing experiences.
Matt, UK

I'm touched by her experiences and more touched by her act of identifying with the victims of the tsunami after her lucky escape. Very few people, especially those we regard as stars care about others the way she has demonstrated.
Jerry Attah, Nigeria

That's one hell of a story. I've had similarly dreadful experiences myself, and back to back at that. One involved drowning and the other was a terrorist attack in the centre of Karachi. I did similarly life affirming things later on and became, as I am today, a humbler man.
Faizan Haq, Pakistan

A very real human experience with lots of feeling. Very good that she knows now how to overcome fear
Irfan Mohsin, Saudi Arabia

I don't see how she can claim to appreciate life when she indulges in so many luxuries while surrounded by so much suffering.
Rayad Khan, New York, USA

Your story tells that you are only focused on yourself. You should learn to feel the pain of others. Rather than being brave or relaxing for those eight days there, I would prefer to stand up and help others out of their painful condition.
Tariq, Germany



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