WATCH | 'This has not broken me': Tarina Patel on hubby's legal woes, dealing with online trolls
There is a scene in William Makepeace Thackeray’s novel Vanity Fair where the intrepid social climber and force of nature that is Becky Sharp comes face-to-face with her husband’s creditors.
It is very much like the scene where she comes face-to-face with Napoleon’s forces. And the scene where she rises from obscurity in a provincial casino where we find her licking her wounds on the wrong side of the wheel of fortune. In every scenario where doom, gloom and disaster seem like the inevitable outcome, our heroine surprises everyone.
Her moxy and sheer indifference to the court of public opinion help her rise like a phoenix from the flames. Every damn time. Lunch with Tarina Patel feels very much like one of these episodes.
There are more than 80 palaces in India and one in Morningside, Sandton, where I arrive to bear witness to the Real Housewife of Johannesburg’s now infamous but also overwhelmingly ornate and sumptuous home, which is a paean to Indian craftsmanship and artistry.
She and husband Iqbal Sharma flew in five artisans from India to create the glittering tikri mirrored ceilings and to hand-paint the murals and woodwork that are now firmly in the cross hairs of the public prosecutor’s case.
“What will they do with this? I am the only one who understands it, it is my heritage, my culture, my story,” says Patel plaintively when I ask about the legal embroilments that have befallen her household since the June arrest of her husband over the Estina dairy farm scandal. Our lunch is a subdued affair, given the well-documented parties Patel has been known to throw. Tango is definitely off the menu.
She explains that Covid-19 deprived her of her chef, who flew back to India before the lockdown. She jokes that Covid-19 has “domesticated” her, but her mother is in town and has made the roti. Patel lays on a chicken curry — even though she is a vegetarian — a red-bean rajma, a garlic relish (good for the immune system she assures me, and goodness knows we all need fortifying), and other Gujarati delicacies served on thali trays with an extra dollop of sincerity. She assures me that her husband makes excellent Thai food.
That is good, because the conditions of his R500,000 bail include sticking close to the palace and reporting to the police three times a week. I ask Patel if all of this has put a strain on her marriage. She answers by telling me how she took on the Indian state and medical establishment to fight for her father, a medical GP, to get him specialised treatment for his terminal auto-immune disease in 2016.
“After fighting for my father’s life — he was my world, my everything — everything else in life is a walk in the park.” She is writing a book about the experience, and claims the Indian government gave her a humanitarian award for her efforts on her father’s behalf and her campaign to change the law around some of the medical issues his case raised. “My father taught me to give life its best chance; most people would sit at home and wait to die.”
Similarly, “when Iqbal gets arrested and spends 45 days in prison I kicked into action mode. I don’t know lawyers, but I put a team together, meeting every day to empower myself and to find a solution.
I am very loyal. I am there for you.” But she contends she had no real knowledge of Sharma’s business dealings, as they lived parallel and hectically busy lives for the past 10 years, she with her acting and producing career (she has two Netflix shows and a film on the burner) and he with his … whatever.
She says she can understand people’s anger and the need to find scapegoats for SA’s rampant corruption. “We have got to work through the process and have faith in the legal system. Let the law take its course, the system is here to serve justice and serve us as South Africans. I have every faith in justice and the law.
But I am fighting for a loved one.” Born in SA to Indian parents, Patel moved to India for medical school and returned to the University of the Free State where she changed course and studied psychology.
People who see you on social media are removed, they might admire you for the right reasons but they don’t know you. But when you fall, those closest to you, who are invested in your story, take more pleasureTarina Patel
But the bright lights of the entertainment industry were always alluring and she followed her heart to Bollywood, with various forays into the South African soapie firmament. I wonder if she regrets living so much of her life on social media, much to the delight of trolls and, more critically, to the long arm of the law? “A lot of that [trolling] hurt, people are angry, and I understand that they need a narrative, a story, and we are the faces of the narrative.
“When I read what is actually happening and taking place in SA I don’t blame them, it upsets me too. But a lot of the trolling came from close quarters.
“People who see you on social media are removed, they might admire you for the right reasons but they don’t know you. But when you fall, those closest to you, who are invested in your story, take more pleasure.”
And then Patel musters her courage, her resolve and her ambitious Becky Sharp pluck: “This has not broken me. I have fortitude, and I will be the best version of myself, overcoming obstacles — I embrace them, and I will leave a legacy of respect, strength and admiration. As Churchill said: ‘Never let a good crisis go to waste.’”
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