Sidhartha Mallya opens up on mental health in new book If I'm Honest

He spoke to City Times about what inspired him to write the memoir.


Enid Grace Parker

Published: Sat 4 Dec 2021, 5:16 PM

Last updated: Thu 16 Dec 2021, 2:16 PM

The first time Sidhartha Mallya courted the spotlight he was the dapper twenty-something son of a wealthy industrialist, a celebrity shutterbug’s delight who was papped rubbing shoulders with socialites and Bollywood stars while trying to make a name for himself as a model and actor. He was linked to a popular Bollywood actress, and for years was spotted at numerous social and cricketing events (his father Vijay Mallya once owned IPL team Royal Challengers Bangalore).

Many would think wealth and prestige not to mention pedigree would be enough for Sidhartha to carve a name for himself in the entertainment world and live the life many can only dream of. But all was not well behind the scenes. Vijay Mallya was accused of financial crimes in the country. He currently resides in the United Kingdom and is the subject of an extradition effort by the Indian government. And there were other personal demons, it turned out, his son was battling privately.

Sidhartha Mallya now lives a relatively isolated life in the United States - a far cry from when he was almost inseparable from the celebrity scene in India. In a series of Instagram posts called Consider This, he began to open up about what his life was really like behind all the glitz and glamour and why even as someone with privilege, he couldn’t escape being plagued by mental health issues.

He has also channelled his experiences into his first book - If I’m Honest - a memoir of his mental health journey where he opens up on struggling with depression, living with OCD, the effects of his parents’ divorce and why he quit drinking. He also delves deep into what aided him in overcoming his challenges.

In a candid Zoom conversation with City Times, Sidhartha called the book published by Westland Publications “just a continuation of the mental health work that I have already been doing.”

Shining a light on mental health

Sidhartha admitted he was inspired by people who responded to his Instagram posts, saying they could relate to or were helped by what he shared.

“If I go back, it started with an Instagram post that I put up (it would have been two years ago) on the one-year anniversary of when I stopped drinking. I got tons of responses from people going ‘oh my God, we feel the same way, thank you for sharing why you stopped’ and I was like, wow, if I was able to get such a great response from just sharing that, maybe I can continue to get a good response if I talked about some of the other things I’d been through, and I’d be able to help other people.

“So that’s when I did that series Consider This last year on Instagram in which I talk about a lot of the things that I have been through. And that as well got a great feedback and I had so many people saying to me that they could relate and that they didn’t feel alone.”

The “next kind of logical step in the progression” of his journey, he said, was the book.

“At that point I was like, I just have to continue doing whatever I can to keep shining a light on mental health.”

Did putting everything out there help him deal with his issues in a way?

“I think it helped me in the sense that I knew I was able to help others. And when you know that you can help other people it makes it easier for yourself for sure.”

A complicated process

Writing a book is not everyone’s cup of tea. However, Sidhartha managed to wrap up his memoir in about six months, which is a “short period”, he was told, for a first-time writer.

He took us through the process, which it turns out wasn’t all smooth sailing.

“I was fortunate Westland Publications kind of gave me a free hand and said, do whatever you want, kind of structure it in the way that you want. So I brainstormed a few ideas, and things began to evolve organically. Then I actually started writing it, wrote probably about 10,000 words and I was like, this is really boring (laughs). This is not my kind of way of working.

“What I did instead was to structure the chapters; I did bullet points - like a skeleton structure of each chapter, outlining what I wanted to include. And then I just interviewed myself and spoke the whole thing into an audio recorder; I basically just talked and talked and talked. I transcribed the recording, went through it and took out things and put things in and rewrote it in a book format.”

Raising awareness of OCD

One of the issues he touches upon in If I’m Honest is his battle with OCD (Obsessive Compulsive Disorder), which he’s hoping to raise more awareness of.

“I don’t think OCD awareness is anything, to be honest. Even I, who struggled with it my whole life, wasn’t fully aware of it. I knew I had OCD and I thought I had an idea of what it was; I just didn’t realise how deep it went and how it can manifest itself in so many different facets. That’s why at the beginning of that chapter I actually take a little bit of time which is different to the other chapters, to kind of talk about OCD and explain a little bit about it before I get into my own story and that’s purely because I want to raise the awareness of it, and hopefully start giving it the attention that it deserves.”

‘Divorce is a trauma for everyone involved’

Another personal topic he brings up in If I’m Honest is his parents’ divorce and how it affected him (Vijay Mallya and Sidhartha’s mother Samira Tyabjee married in 1986 and divorced a year later).

With everything that he has experienced in this regard, does he feel there can be a better process for all involved to move on?

“I think today the world is a little bit different. Something popped up on my Instagram feed the other day - the profile of a woman who is a ‘divorce coach’. She guides parents and children through the process of divorce from a mental and psychological point of view. That shows, I guess, that more things like that exist today than perhaps when my parents got divorced 25 years ago. But I definitely think that divorce is one of those things that tends to get swept under the rug because it’s become so common, which is why people think it’s just a way of life.

“No one gets married with the intention of getting divorced. When it happens it’s definitely a shock right? It’s a traumatic event not just to the child but to the parent as well and I think that obviously every good parent wants to look after the wellbeing of their child. And during a divorce a lot of the time parents will go out of their way to make sure the child is taken care of which is great and it’s amazing but a parent shouldn’t neglect themselves and their own feelings and what they are going through during the divorce as well. Because it is a trauma for everyone involved and I think that we need to remember that - it’s an unnatural occurrence.”

In the book he is very candid about his relationship with his father. What did Vijay Mallya think of this book and Sidhartha’s decision to publish it?

“I don’t know if he’s read it yet - I know he’s bought it, he sent me a picture of himself holding it. But I didn’t really discuss it with him. I don’t really discuss what I do with anyone, really. I just told people I am writing a book and that was really it! My mum’s read it and she’s very proud of it. So we’ll see.”

Cathartic and painful

Writing can often be a cathartic experience, but that’s not always the case. Sidhartha admitted “it hurt a lot to write the book.”

He shared, “Writing wasn’t actually as cathartic as people seem to think. Because I think we should also remember that I didn’t just wake up one fine morning and decide to write this book. This is a culmination of years’ worth of self work. I’d already talked about a lot of the issues with my therapist so I guess the cathartic aspect of this had already happened in those initial conversations.

“I go into a lot of depth in the book and that does bring up old emotions and putting them down on paper has a different effect, so it definitely was hard but I guess what kept me going through the whole thing was that knowledge that you know what, I might be able to help at least just one other person out. I believe the book has already been able to do that so I’m happy.”

‘We all have a part to play’

A lot more celebrities are coming out now to discuss mental health and create awareness. Does he feel it’s important for those in the spotlight to make an impact in this way?

“I think it’s not just about mental health awareness it’s about any sort of awareness. I think that anyone who has a platform should really be using it for good. Good in whatever way they feel comfortable to do, but when it comes to mental health it’s nice to see so many celebrities using the platforms that they have to spread awareness.

"The only way that we are going to end the stigma around mental health is to show people that it’s okay and the only way we can do that is to continue the conversation and keep talking about it; obviously why the celebrity angle is great is because they have a lot of reach. But I think we all (not just celebs) have a part to play to end that stigma.”

Reflections during Covid

Sidhartha also spoke about his takeaway from the Covid pandemic and why he hopes the subject of mental health, which came more sharply into focus during this time, continues to get the attention it deserves.

“I was speaking to someone in the field. They said, look, the real pandemic is not going to be coronavirus. Eventually we are going to be able to get that under control, right? Whether it’s vaccinations or whatever. The real pandemic is going to be the mental health questions that stem off the back of Covid and continue to last long after this virus is gone or is at least under control. Because there’s no vaccination for mental health!

"It’s sad that it took something like the coronavirus for people to start taking notice of mental health but if you want to look at anything that’s a silver lining, at least now people are starting to give it a bit more seriousness and importance.”

For him Covid was “a real time of reflection” having spent an entire year on his own.

“I live on my own in Los Angeles. I’m not really one to go out, I am not the most social person in the world so really it wasn’t too bad for me - that kind of being isolated. I used it as a time to really get to know and connect with myself. Obviously I did those Consider This videos during Covid and the book came out of it. So I feel like it was a year where there was a lot of introspection and I used that kind of enforced time on my own to spend it with myself. I know it sounds cliched to say that but I’ve really learned things about me in different ways.”

In parting Sidhartha joked the world would have to “wait a bit” for another book, but he would definitely write it if “I feel like it can add value and help people.”

“Whether it’s a book or not I’ll still continue to be a huge advocate for mental health and do whatever I can to shine a light on it.”

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