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Tête-à-Tête with Sudha Menon


Sudha Menon is a Pune based author and writing coach, who has written four books, Leading Ladies: Women Who Inspire India, Legacy: Letters to their daughters from eminent Indian men and women, Gifted: inspirational stories of people with disabilities and the latest Devi, Diva or She-Devil, the smart career woman’s survival guide.

She is the founder of three writing initiatives, ‘Get Writing!, Writing in the Park, and Telling our Stories. She is also a motivational speaker who has conducted a number of women’s leadership sessions and inspirational workshops and for numerous educational institutions, corporates, and NGO’s across the country. She was also a speaker at TEDxPune 2013 edition.




Ananya Dhawan : Enlighten us a bit about the writing and publishing journey of your latest work,  Devi, Diva or She- Devil.


Sudha Menon: As a working woman who also raised a kid and kept home and hearth in relatively good shape, even if mine was not a picture perfect home, I went through a gamut of emotions and experiences that each of us women undergo. There was guilt that I was not around enough to send out tasty, imaginative lunch for my daughter, guilt that I was not the home maker that I was expected to be, guilt because I felt I was not doing my best at work. There were judgements galore- I was not a good enough mother because I did not organise birthday parties and play dates, I was not a good family person because I did not organise family lunches or weddings.

I have been labelled stridently feminist, bossy and ambitious as though these were crimes for a woman. For years I drove myself around the bend and spread myself thin trying to be everything to everyone and nothing for myself. Of course I failed miserably. No one can keep that many balls in the air and not drop a few.

Of course, I raised a daughter who is a wonderful, compassionate, talented young woman and I have written four books that have made a great impact and I am immensely proud of what I have achieved.

A couple of years ago I wanted to find out if there were other women like me who were driven, passionate about their work and ambitious. I wanted to know how they survived the toxic cocktail of judgement, societal expectations, years of social conditioning and continued to live their lives to the fullest. I spoke to some of the smartest, most accomplished women of our times and I asked them for the strategies they adopt to live the life they want.  Devi, Diva or She Devil is funny, real, thought-provoking, chockfull of anecdotes from the lives of these women and it has somehow evolved into a sort of survival guide for the career woman.

AD: What does literary success mean to you ?

Literary success to me means the ability to have touched the lives of people and changed it for the better. I believe I have done that with each of the books I have written. Leading Ladies, Legacy and Devi, Diva Or She Devil were written by me with the intent of somehow reaching out to the countless women in our country who have dreams and aspirations for themselves but often end up having to give up on them simply because they don’t know how to face the endless challenges.  Through my books I have tried to tell women that no matter what, we can get the life we want. It is not easy but it is completely possible.

With Gifted, my co-author, V.R.Ferose, the founder of India Inclusion Summit and I have showcased the stories of people with disability who have surmounted the cynicism of society and  their own disabilities , to become role models and inspiration for each of us.I have very little money in my bank because publishers prefer to pamper “big” authors with fat advances and royalties but in terms of impact, I think I am very, very successful. I cannot tell you how many mails I get and how many people I meet who tell me how reading my books have transformed or impacted their lives for the better. That might not be enough to pay my bills but it is fantastic food for my soul.

AD: Do you believe in what they call ‘a writer’s block’?

SM: I don’t know if it is writer’s block but there are days, sometimes months, when I have not been able to write anything or make any progress with a book project that I might be working on at any point. Thankfully, the block only applies to that project. In those periods I have been blessed with a huge surplus of creativity with writing my columns, random memories, humour and such other things that I am not otherwise known for. I wish I got a publisher who would publish that writing because they are very interesting, even if it is only me who is saying so.

I suspect writer’s block is an excuse for slacking off. It also comes from having been too lazy and not worked on a project at all till one day you are too intimidated by the prospect of going back to that project. The key is to work through all that lethargy and get down to the job at hand. You will realize that just as soon as you have put in a couple of days work, all the creativity will come rushing back.

AD: Among the ladies that you, interviewed for Devi, Diva or She Devil, whose story was the most touching/inspiring and what made you choose the ladies that you did for inclusion in the book?

SM: My interaction with Mary Kom was the most interesting and inspiring part of writing this book. I met her in Pune where she was training for the Rio Olympics and our conversations would be wonderfully complicated and yet very simple because she spoke about simple stuff such as the challenges of cutting through the cynicism of a society which even now believes a woman can’t do what she dreams of doing. She spoke to me about working in the fields with her father and other villagers so that she could help him feed the family. She spoke to me of the unwanted male attention that a single woman gets even in this day and age. She spoke of being scared that marriage would mean the end of her dream and of her joy about the fact that her husband and her late father- in- law were the two men who made sure at each stage that she went after her dreams. “Giving up on a dream was never an option for me,” she told me and she added that she firmly believes that every woman can have exactly the life she wants, if she is willing to work very hard for it.


AD: To what extent did writing this book contribute to your personal growth?

SM: Writing this book hugely contributed to my own personal growth because each woman I met and interviewed gave me tips and survival strategies for the challenges that we women come across at every stage of our life. The meetings also gave me the reassurance that I am not the only one facing these challenges and that there are countless women out there, everywhere in the world, who wake up to these challenges everyday of their lives. And I was happy to know that slowly, but surely, our voice is being heard and taken cognizance of. Things will change and someday soon, we will have an equitable world for all of us. And above all, I benefitted from the many tips and strategies that they have adopted to make their life richer and more fulfilling.

AD: What motivates you to write mostly non-fiction?

SM: I am so fascinated by the stories of real life and by the people who I meet who have extraordinary stories that I don’t want to distract myself or spend my time creating imaginary, fictional worlds in my head. But fiction is very much on my to-do list and I have already started the journey, writing a series of humorous articles around the adventures of a middle-aged career woman. It is part fiction and part dramatized real life experiences. Mine.

AD: How far do you think that we as a society have evolved, when it comes to gender equality and role-reversal?

SM: Gender equality is a distant dream even today even though we can see really small changes in urban pockets of society. But things will not really change till we stop celebrating or gushing about men who help out with the chores at home or get the kids to do their homework or take the kids to their play dates. When did we last celebrate a woman who cooks, cleans, procures for the family, looks after ailing seniors, plans family get togethers, children’s birthday parties and has a career that she is immensely proud of?  Gender equality will come when there is equal pay for equal work, equal sharing of responsibility at home and when societal perceptions of how a woman should dress, eat or behave in public goes away for good.

AD: Any tips on being emotionally strong and resilient?

SM: The only way a woman can get to be in a position of influence or effect change in whatever space she is in, is by being emotionally strong and resilient. I think we women have these qualities in abundance. What we need is to become physically strong. We need to build up our physical strength so that we are able to work through all the things that we are expected to do in our daily life. We need to build up our self confidence, our timidity and boost our self-worth so that nothing negative penetrates our sense of self. I believe that these things can be worked on and what really helps is to sit down for a few minutes every day and pray or meditate. It is important to sit still and listen to our inner voice.

AD: What is your take on ebooks vs. print books and alternative vs. conventional publishing?

SM: I am a book lover through and through. I love turning the pages of a book and even today, despite the advent of kindle and e-books, my go-to comfort thing is to sit on my sofa with a cup of tea and one of my favorite books. It instantly peps me up and has the ability to pick me up from the bluest funk.

Having published four fairly successful with a very reputed publisher, I can safely say that conventional publishing is completely exploitative with the odds heavily stacked against authors. I spend between 12-18 months to write a book and spend so much money on travelling for the interviews and what I get paid is barely enough to cover that cost. And as for royalty, the less said the better. Only a handful of heavy weight authors get the bulk of the publishing industry’s money. I write merely to indulge myself. For a living I do commissioned biographies and other projects. If I depended on publishers for a living, I would probably have to live on fresh air and the occasional cup of chai and biscuits.

Which is the reason why so many new age authors are looking at self-publishing or going on platforms such as Amazon to publish their books and to get the bulk of the money for themselves. The person who does the hard work deserves a better deal and it is time publishing woke up to this.

AD: Finally, any words of wisdom for the ‘divas’ of today, and for the society as a whole!

SM: For the women of the world I would merely like to say that it is important to never let fear of failure keep us from doing the things that we really want to do. Make every failure your best friend, learn from it and keep moving forward. Don’t let anyone tell you that you cannot do something because you are a woman. Keep the company of strong, positive people and every day, give yourself moments where you can actually visualize all the wonderful things that you want to make happen in your life. And above all, listen to your own heart and to your instincts and dance to an inner music of your own.