Sidhartha Mallya reveals his new book 'Sad Glad' is a microcosm of his own life

There was a phase in his life when Mallya felt much like Sid in the book

65-Sidhartha-Mallya Sidhartha Mallya | Instagram / DebashreeRahul Photography

In a way, Sidhartha Mallya’s new book, Sad Glad, is a microcosm of his own life. It is about a boy called Sid who wakes up one morning feeling different. He can’t understand why. The sky outside is dark and gloomy, much like what he feels inside. Finally, his dog Duke has to talk him through what he is feeling, explain to him that some days might be bad, but other days will be better, and that “all these feelings complete our life”. In the end, the sun comes out, and Sid feels better.

I wonder if I would have been better able to deal with [my parents’] divorce if there had been proper discussions around it. ―Sidhartha Mallya

There was a phase in his life when Mallya felt much like Sid in the book. It happened after his parents’ divorce when he was nine years old, as he describes in his previous book, If I’m Honest. Before that he was an active happy child, playing Bingo with everyone in his father’s office―former liquor baron Vijay Mallya―when his father would ensure that he always won; playing pranks like locking his dad’s secretary in the office and running away with the key; pretending to be imaginary characters, his favourite being Raphael from the Ninja Turtles. “I remember being given a Raphael costume and taking a couple of forks from the kitchen (because they resembled his three-pronged weapon called a Sai) and running around the house stabbing things, particularly the ornamental pillows, pretending they were the bad guys,” he writes in If I’m Honest.

Sid proposing to fiancee Jasmine on Halloween | Courtesy Instagram@sidmallya Sid proposing to fiancee Jasmine on Halloween | Courtesy Instagram@sidmallya

All that changed with the divorce. He remembers being introduced to his dad’s new family―his stepmom, two half-sisters and stepbrother and stepsister (his stepmother’s two children from her previous marriage). It was a lot to take in for a nine-year-old boy, but having been an only child for so long, he was excited to be part of a large family. When he returned home to his mother, he felt an emptiness that he had never felt before. “I often joke that I went on that trip as an only child and came back as a lonely child,” he writes.

Once the monster of loneliness reared its head, it grew inside him well into his teens, along with a deep longing for belonging. Much like Sid in Sad Glad (which has been beautifully illustrated by Vibha Surya), he “would wake up in the mornings feeling lost and empty”. He felt like he did not have a purpose in life and was experiencing “a continuous low mood and sadness”. It all came to a head one day when he just broke down, letting out years of bottled-up pain. He shouted at the mirror, “Why are you feeling this way? You shouldn’t be feeling like this. Stop it, stop it, stop it.” And that’s when he knew he needed to seek professional help.

The beauty of If I’m Honest is, true to its name, its heart-wrenching honesty. Mallya is far from the spoilt rich brat that many assumed him to be. He does not hold anything back, from the pain of being insulted after his father’s legal troubles began (he was told that his family should die and he should go to jail); to the anger he took out on his mother; to being drunk “75 per cent of the time” in university; to compulsively calling his friends in a panic after hard nights of partying to ask whether he had done something wrong.

Good times: Sidhartha with dad Vijay on the latter’s birthday. Good times: Sidhartha with dad Vijay on the latter’s birthday.

In Sad Glad, he wants children to know what he wishes he had known when he was young: that being human means dealing with a kaleidoscope of emotions, none of which is to be rejected, but to be received with the understanding that they are all a part of life. “What I realised was that we would be better equipped to deal with a lot of things that we go through as adults if we had been taught about them from a younger age,” he tells THE WEEK over Zoom from Los Angeles, where he currently lives. “That, for me, was really the motivation for doing a kid’s book, not necessarily to teach them about the complex issues surrounding mental health, but at least to make them aware of these things, so that when they grow older, they know how to navigate them better. I think for me, such a book would certainly have been a great help [while growing up].” He relates this to his parents’ divorce. “I wonder if I would have been better able to deal with the divorce if there had been proper discussions around it,” he says.

Mallya, despite his privileged upbringing, has not had it easy in life. But much like Sid, in his life, too, the sun came out in the end. He describes working with his therapist and starting his “self-work” journey in 2016. Today, teaching acting at the Anthony Gilardi Acting Studio in LA, waiting for the release of his next film with actor Tom Welling (who essayed the role of Clark Kent in Smallville, a show that Mallya grew up watching), and promoting Sad Glad, which was ranked #1 on the Nielsen Bookscan India Chart in the children’s category, Mallya is content. But there is another reason why life looks sunny right now: a curly haired beauty called Jasmine, his fiancée (the two are tying the knot in June). They went to the same acting studio, but had not met until he returned from his shoot in Rome. “Now she is everything to me,” he says. “I feel like I have known her for multiple lifetimes. She completes me and offers me things that I did not even know I wanted.”

He says love came at a time when he was least expecting it. Before he met Jasmine, he was coming to terms with the fact that he might be alone for the rest of his life. “And that was ok,” he says. “I had become comfortable with myself and my own company. And that’s when Jasmine came into my life. It is when you don’t look for them that most good things happen.”

But he was ready for her only because he had found peace within himself. Now he wants to have lots of children, and he wants them to experience the security that he never had in his childhood.


By Sidhartha Mallya

Illustrations by Vibha Surya

Published by Puffin Books (an imprint of Penguin Random House India)

Price Rs299