Sudha Menon is a business journalist and author of 2 bestselling non-fiction books, Legacy and Leading Ladies. IndiaBookStore had a chat with her a few weeks ago, where we talked about women’s issues, writing and making a difference to society.
‘Family Matters’ featured 4 successful women authors, whose writing (mostly) revolves around issues close to women. Weren’t a few ‘Women’s Matters’ be discussed too? How much does a family revolve around the woman at its centre – the wife, the mother?
I think a woman is at the centre of the family and no matter how much we debate it , this is going to be true. One of the ladies in my debut book, Leading Ladies: Women Who Inspire India, once told me that the measure the success of a woman by the strides she makes in her career is doing injustice to her. A woman has the power to change the destiny of an entire family. SEWA founder Elaben Bhatt says that if women were to be in charge of running this world of ours, it would be world that would be more peaceful, gentle , harmonious and compassionate.
It is the woman, in her role as mother, daughter, wife, sister etc, who sets the rules for how each member of her family interacts with the rest of the community. It is a great responsibility.
How did you like the Pune fest? As a Punekari writer and reader, were your expectations fulfilled? What would you like to see the next time around?
It was a great start to what could be a very valuable item on Pune’s cultural calendar. There were teething problems but then, everything does not come out perfect the first time, does it ? There will be a learning curve but it was lovely to finally have our own literary festival. Will look forward to the next year for sure.
Your book Legacy was about parents writing to daughters. ‘Dear daughter’ letters seem more popular than ‘Dear son’ ones… from Panditji’s letters to Indira, to the recent cautionary open letter by an American mother that went viral. Does a girl child bring out a fiercer need to protect, instruct and nurture, in her parents?
Yes, the girl child does bring out a fiercer need as you say and today, more than ever, when her aspirations are soaring like never before but in a society which does not really seem to be as ready as she is, to accept her changing role in society and her new-found confidence, parents feel the need to give her a loving, helping hand to guide her towards her goal.
We’ve had a few Bollywood movies (Ishaqzaade, Raanjhana, Grand Masti) in the past months that seem to have a casual attitude towards the violent or repressive treatment of women by their men. How much do you think mass media influences public attitudes?
It influence public attitudes a lot. But then again, we need to also accept that mass media, films, are more often than not a reflection of what is happening in society. The solution lies in changing the way we treat our children at home. Teach the boy child early on in life to treat the women in his family with respect and chances are he will not go out and disrespect some other woman outside the house.
What do you think of social media as a platform to interact with fans?
I think it is a great way to interact with fans. As a writer with a busy schedule I am not able to go out and meet and interact with my readers as much as I would like to. Social media helps me to keep them updated with my projects and it is nice to have them write to you, sometimes with suggestions and pointers on my work. Their feedback is well-meant and without agenda and so it is precious.
You work with many social initiatives. Is it necessary, you think, for a writer to have a social conscience?
Not just writers, I wish each of us had a social conscience. But yes, I do work with a lot of social initiatives and that is what keeps me sane in my otherwise frantic , often chaotic world. There is always too much to do and taking a few hours off work to focus on other things keeps me fulfilled and calm.
What would your advice be, to a young Indian woman who was considering single motherhood?
It is going to be a tough journey but if you want it, go for it. At the very least you will have lived the life you want and in the bigger picture, you will have paved the way for other women who wanted to do it but never had the courage to.
Last year, Anne-Marie Slaughter, an American academic and writer, wrote that, in the current socio-economic scenario, women could not have it all. Sheryl Sandberg, ex-COO of Facebook, wrote a rebuttal whose essence was that women must try harder to have it all, if that’s what they want! What’s your take?
Women can have it all. I am convinced they can but we need to be prepared for a lot of hard work and for the fact that there are no short cuts to get to our goals. It is a tough world out there and it will take every ounce of your will, strength and confidence to be able to get to that cherished goal. But it will be well worth all the trouble. Believe me, I am talking from experience. For every woman I have one thing to say; Dream big dreams and then go after that dream as though it is the only thing you have in this world…
A more prosaic question to end: Which book on the Booker 2013 shortlist are you rooting for?
Jhumpa Lahiri’s book, of course. I think she is one of the most talented writers of our times and each time I read her work, I cannot help but be moved by the sheer beauty and lyricism in it.
Thank you very much, Ms. Menon, for taking time out from your busy schedule for this interview with Indiabookstore! We wish you all the best for your future endeavors!