The first name that popped in my head for the ‘Author of the Month’ for March was Sudha Menon. Being Women’s Month, there was no other author that fit the bill more than her.
Sudha Menon is the perfect embodiment of style meeting substance. She makes ambition, a quality seen as unwomanly, look bloody good. Her life is a testimony to that fact.
My tryst with Sudha Menon
I was fortunate to receive my very first award in writing from Sudha Menon in December 2017 at Mumbai. I listened to her in awe as she took center stage, elegantly draped in a sober orange saree and red blouse. She was charm, wit, and elegance personified. She sportingly took every question that came her way with a smile on her face. There was Nancy Katyal in the crowd too who asked a question that day.
Backstage, when I went over to Sudha Menon to greet her lest she exit, I pleasantly surprised me was pleasantly at how social and gracious she was for her stature. She readily agreed for a picture as we exchanged pleasant courtesies. In fact, she extended the same lending ear and beatific smile to everyone who came by to talk to her, or click a snap with her. She’s a people person no doubt. I made a mental note of how one ought to behave when fame sits prettily on your shoulders – ‘Be like Sudha Menon!’
I went back home and googled about her. Soon, I read her book ‘Devi, Diva or She-devil: The smart career woman’s survival guide’, an unapologetic take on the career woman and her ambitions. This book inspired me to the core, as I headed back to the corporate world after a long sabbatical. The book also made me note Sudha’s impeccable writing skills from her vocabulary, to analytical skills to voice, and distinct style. I bought two of her books, ‘Gifted’ and ‘Feisty at Fifty’ consequently. Watch out for my review of both those books in the coming days.
About Sudha Menon
Sudha Menon dons so many hats with panache. She’s ex-journalist, bestselling author, columnist, speaker, writing coach, actor, and model.
She started her career pursuing her childhood dream of becoming a journalist. She worked for over 20 years as a journalist at The Independent (Bennet Coleman), The Hindu Business Line (Kasturi & Sons Lt) and Mint ( HT Media), before deciding to follow her other dream of authoring a book. She went on to write five non-fiction bestsellers – Devi, Diva or She-Devil -The Smart Carer Woman’s Survival Guide, 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 Feisty at Fifty. Sudha’s books have been translated into several Indian languages including Hindi, Marathi, Malayalam, Bengali, Kannada, and Tamil.
She is the founder of “Telling Our Stories’, ‘Get Writing’ and WWW (Writing with Women). Sudha is a motivational speaker who has conducted numerous inspirational workshops and women’s leadership sessions for various corporate houses (Capgemini India, Persistent Systems, BMC Software, and SAP India), educational institutions, and NGOs across the country. She was a speaker at TEDxPune 2013 edition, CII, IiECON, and BITS, Pilani.
SBI Life Insurance ad – ‘Apno ki #HimmatWaliSeeti’ campaign
Sudha Menon lives in Pune with her very supportive husband Prashant, who’s an IT professional and daughter, Nayantara, a renowned pastry chef from the prestigious Le Cirdon Bleu culinary school. Nayantara is the co-founder of Parisserie India, Mumbai.
Let’s hear from Sudha Menon herself all about writing.
Did you always want to become an author? Tell us about your author journey.
A. I never imagined my life would take a turn like that. I was just a painfully shy girl with no friends, and the more lonely and forgotten I felt, the more I retreated into the pages of my books. My father was a book lover, and our house was always full of books of varied genres. Somehow, somewhere, lost in the imaginary worlds I discovered inside books, I dreamed of someday having a book with my name on the jacket. I never told anyone about the dream for fear I would be laughed at because it was too audacious a dream for a girl like me. But look at the miracle that is life: I went on to become a journalist-a good one at that- and after 23 years in that profession, I took the leap of faith ten years ago. It was a huge risk, but then, the dream that I nurtured in secret could wait no longer inside me, and I can safely say that writing the five books that I have written since 2010 has given me more joy than anything else in this period.
Do you think writing non-fiction is easier or tougher than writing fiction? Why?
A. I am not sure about this one, honestly. Bringing to life the boring, warts, and moles parts of my life and making it interesting, gripping, and empathetic was a huge, huge challenge when I wrote about myself and my life as a woman of fifty-plus in Feisty At Fifty. I played with facts a bit there, stretched it to make it relatable, and yet struggled to make it universal so that everyone who read it got something from it. In every book that I have written- be it Legacy, Leading Ladies, Gifted or Devi, Diva or She Devil, the challenge has always been to take real life people, imperfect and flawed like all of us and make them into characters who we all will empathize with. But I love non-fiction, nothing gives me more pleasure than listening to the stories of real-life people and taking their stories to the rest of the world.
But having said that, I have immense admiration for fiction writers. I dream of someday writing a novel or a collection of short stories, but I am too restless and undisciplined to get down to the task with focus and determination.
Which book of yours would you suggest to a reader who has recently discovered you and why?
A. Legacy because it is a beautiful collection of letters from men and women that we all admire to their daughters. I spend almost a year tracking and interviewing Mr. Narayan Murthy, Prakash Padukone, Zia Mody, Renuka Ramnath, among others, and based on their letters; I wrote letters to their daughters. The book is bursting with the wisdom of modern-day leaders and is a beautiful, inspiring read.
Devi, Diva, or She-Devil if you are a working woman who is trying to survive the home and work outside the home circus.
Gifted because the stories of the people with disabilities who I have written about in this book are an excellent lesson in grit, determination, passion, and just plain refusal to take the life dished out to them.
What are some of the common stereotypes that you have encountered as a woman writer?
A. Most people, when they meet you at events, social gatherings, or even on a flight, will automatically assume that a woman writer will write romance and Mills & Boons kind of stuff. I spent 23 years as a business journalist, and a couple of my books are about women in business. Leading Ladies: Women Who Inspire Us is about 20 Indian women who are trendsetters and pioneers. It makes me mad when people make such presumptions about women authors. I know many who write killer thrillers, suspense, sci-fi, comedy, and they do it better than many male authors I know!
Also, when a woman says she is a writer, the first assumption is that she is a blogger who writes stuff for only her family to read. Women bloggers are very influential people, and those who snub them do so at their own risk—time to bust those myths.
According to you, what are the essential traits of a good writer?
A. Discipline, discipline discipline. Write every day, pay attention to details because God is, indeed, in the details. Good writers read good books, and they do it consistently. For a good writer, every meeting, every interaction is a rich raw material to work on or use in a piece of writing someday.