As author, columnist, journalist, writing coach and feminist, Sudha Menon finds inspiration in everything that she breathes. Having written books such as Gifted: Inspiring Stories of People with Disabilities, Leading Ladies: Women Who Inspire India, Devi, Diva or She-Devil: The smart career woman’s survival guide, Menon feels that there is an unaddressed magic hidden in the most unlikely of places that have immense potential to inspire one.
Born in Mumbai, Sudha invested nearly two decades in journalism having worked with big names like The Independent, Hindu Business Line, and Mint. She then decided to follow her dream of authoring a book. However, it would not be wrong to say that her transition to a writer has been seamless because of her journalistic background. “To begin with, I did not find the process of putting down thoughts as intimidating as first-time writers do. Also, the journalist in me is quick to find the most important and interesting part of a story in the conversations I have with people. I spend less time worrying about whether my story is interesting enough. The flip side is that long form writing is sometimes a challenge because by training we journalists are taught to write crisp, concise copies,” says Sudha.
Does the empirical knowledge fuel her to articulate so finely through words? “Absolutely. I find inspiration in everyday things. I am inspired by the ordinary folk around me who soldier on bravely despite the huge challenges they face at every step. For example, my maid Sarla, who is raising three children all by herself because her drunkard husband abandoned her, works 16 hours a day and makes sure her kids go to school. I am inspired by the 70-year-old gentleman in my neighbourhood who braves scorching heat and the elements of nature every day to stand at a busy intersection to mind the chaotic traffic. He is volunteering and yet, people sneer at him, tease him for being naive and willfully break traffic signals even as he tries to educate them about the need for being good civic citizens. Their journeys intrigue me,” she says.
From highlighting the relationship between Indian parents and their children to sharing empowering stories of people with disabilities, Menon has repeatedly drawn light on issues, which are often subdued by everyday hustle.
Her first book, Leading Ladies: Women Who Inspire India, which was launched towards the end of 2010, showcased the trajectory of India’s most admired women achievers, whose stories infused with some personal anecdotes have the potential to stir your heart. Her latest book, Devi, Diva or She-Devil: The Smart Career Woman’s Survival Guide, is a treasure trove of survival tips for career women, straight from the mouths of some of India’s famous women.
Menon, when asked about conflicting roles of professional women said, “There is great pressure on women to be perfect in all the roles she plays. She has to be the best mother, wife, daughter, and homemaker while also delivering 100% at work. It is a tightrope walk that most women play through their lives. It is important that women understand that they don’t have to be perfect in everything. They should stop feeling guilty if they are not able to fulfil all of the expectations of all the people in her life. She should know it is perfectly ok for her to choose the things she wants to do and do that to her best ability. The rest she can delegate and outsource. It is important that women are given the support of their partners and their family, as she moves forward with her life.”
While embarking on the journey of meeting and recording their life stories, what is more, intriguing about Menon’s expressions is the ease with which she picks on topics that are so taken for granted for generations. In her way of resuscitating the lost stories of ordinary men and women, Menon also runs workshops namely ‘Get Writing’ and ‘Writing With Women’, for those who are yet unsure about how to express. On this, she says, “Through my workshop, Get Writing, I lead participants through the process of shedding their inhibitions and fear for memories that they can then convert into great story ideas. I teach them the process of putting down these thoughts clearly, in a way that will make riveting reading. I teach them how to write everyday and how to make stories out of everyday stuff that happens around us. Last year, I started ‘Writing With Women’, my absolute favourite initiative to bring women from diverse backgrounds and age groups together to share their experiences and write about them. Imagine what the world will lose if PV Sindhu, Sakshi Malik and Deepa Karmakar don’t write their stories. Or their mothers’ did not get the chance to document the leap of faith they had to make so their daughters could go find their spot in the sun.”
Besides being an inspiration to other women, she is also a motivational speaker who has conducted numerous inspirational workshops and women’s leadership sessions for various corporates, educational institutions and NGOs across the country. Sudha who has been actively eradicating patriarchy says, “We women need to stand up together to be counted and to be given our rightful due. If we don’t, we lose collectively.”
(Sudha Menon is a speaker at the Dehradun Community Literature Festival (DCLF) to be held from April 19-April 22 in Dehradun. Newsd is digital media partner for DCLF 2017)