Sudha Menon is an author, a columnist and a writing coach. She is the author of three non-fiction books, Leading Ladies: Women Who Inspire India, Legacy: Letters to their daughters from eminent Indian men and women and Gifted: inspirational stories of people with disabilities. She is also a columnist, a writing coach and an invited speaker on Diversity, Inclusion and Women’s Leadership.
Introduction: Tell us about yourself, your background and what you do currently
I grew up in the Mumbai suburb of Dombivili, in a small house by the railway tracks because my dad was a railwayman. Life was simple and sparse back then because our dad was a trade union leader with a big heart and he gave away a better part of his earnings to the poor and the needy.
Looking back, however, I don’t ever remember feeling sad or deprived even though we had so little as children. That was because what he did not give us in material things, he gave us in the form of a great love for reading. We only got two pairs of clothes each for our birthdays and Diwali, but we got books every month.
He was a voracious reader who scoured old bookstores and struck up relationships with roadside booksellers in Mumbai, so that they reserved their best books for him. Sundays and holidays for us meant sitting on the old, beaten sofa in our house, reading American or Russian classics or his collection of P.G. Wodeshouse or Sherlock Holmes.
I think at the age of 10 I had already read books like Harper Lee’s To Kill a Mockingbird, A J.Cronin’s The Citadel, Emily Brontë’s Wuthering Heights, Boris Pasternak’s Dr. Zhivago, Emile Zola’s The Dram Shop and Tolstoy’s Anna Karenina. When you grow up reading all of these, it is just a matter of time before you make your own tryst with writing.
For the longest time, I harboured this deep desire in my mind and took the first step towards it by opting for a career in journalism.
After a passionate career in journalism, spanning 23 years, I finally decided it was time to dive into the deep and gave up my job in 2009. My first book, Leading Ladies: Women Who Inspire India, debuted in 2010 and it was possibly the most joyous day in my life, after the birth of my only daughter. There is something about growing up and being able to live your dream.
When I am invited to talk at corporate houses and educational institutions, I always say that giving up on a dream should never be an option for anyone. It is only when you dare to dream that you get to be the person you are meant to be.
I grew up in a family with three other siblings and was, in fact, the middle child. From somewhere in the chaos that are Indian families, I got the message that I was just an average Joe.
I was not fair, I was not good looking and I was not a topper in class. I know thousands of second-borns will identify with it, when I felt that I was only second best, the not-good-enough and so on.
Even though I had the most loving family and siblings, there was a little thing that scraped away at my insides, telling me I was a loser.
It was only when I got through to college and discovered my calling in writing that I finally believed in myself. When I look back sometimes, I can’t believe I have come such a long way.
I have written three very popular books with one of the world’s most coveted publishing houses, have ghost-written three autobiographies and am invited to deliver inspirational and motivational talks to young people setting out on their own journeys.
I have turned entrepreneur with my writing workshop series, Get Writing and I have given wings to the writing aspirations to hundreds of people. When I am able to help a senior citizen write about his life in one of my workshops or when an 8-year-old writes alongside that senior citizen with the same self-assurance, I think I have made a difference in the lives of people. That means a lot to me.
Tell us about any current projects or initiatives you wish to promote
I have only just completed my new book on the real story behind women with careers and the great trapeze act they have to undertake every single day of their lives.
I also enjoy taking my writing workshops to large corporate houses where I have middle and senior management writing with me. For them it is like having a picnic at work and also learning to de-stress at the workplace. I also learn a great deal about leadership, when I interact with them.
What has been your biggest challenge in achieving your success?
At each stage it has been the inner struggle with my self-doubt.
By nature I am restless and need to be constantly doing something new and exciting. This streak in me is in constant conflict with the part of me that says that maybe I should not bite off more than I can chew. The truth, of course, is that every time I have dared to embark on a new thing, I have worked hard till I have made that dream a reality. We need to just trust our instinct more.
What has been your greatest achievement personally?
Raising a 24-year-old daughter who is compassionate, kind, brave and happy with her world. She is a pastry chef and some mornings I write at my desk to the aromas of the cheesecakes and other gorgeous things she is baking in our home. Writing and a piece of cheesecake baked by a loving daughter. What more can one want?
If you weren’t doing what you do now, what would you be doing?
Probably living in a tiny cottage in a hill town and learning pottery. I have this dream of someday retiring to the hills and living life at a slower pace. It is not likely to happen since any pressure I have is what I create for myself. I am born restless.
Who has been your biggest inspiration?
My mother. She was 16 when she married the handsome railway trade union leader, who she only saw once before she married him. She spent 55 years with him and was his companion till the day he breathed his last, a couple of months ago.
I am not sure I can give up my identity for love but she did it, setting aside her life and her aspirations in order to raise four kids, leaving him free to follow his calling of getting justice and fair play for the poor, exploited working class.
My father was the one who showed us that it is possible to give, even though we ourselves had barely enough to live on. He remains our guiding light even though he passed away a couple of months ago.
What does the future hold for you?
I wish I had the answer to this one. In an ideal world I would love to roam around unfettered, writing the books I dream of writing, without having to worry about paying the bills and such other mortal concerns. I have so many book ideas jostling around inside my head that I find it hard to sleep sometimes. I am scared I am growing old too fast and will have to slow down my dreams a bit.