On hitting the golden jubilee
23 November 2018
Sudha Menon is the author of five non-fiction books including Feisty at Fifty, Legacy, Gifted and Devi, Diva or She-Devil. A former journalist, she is now a columnist and founder of writing workshop series Get Writing and Writing with Women. Menon is also a motivational speaker and is often invited to speak on women and leadership, gender, diversity and inclusion issues at corporate houses and educational campuses. She has been a speaker on prestigious platforms such as TEDx, TiECon, CII and at BITS, Pilani.
In this interview with Swetha Amit, she talks about the inspiration behind her new book, her bucket list and her writing on humour.
Feisty at Fifty is an interesting compilation of personal experiences articulated in a humorous fashion. What was the inspiration behind this book?
My decades as a journalist and later, as an author has trained me to be a keen observer of things around me. As I entered my late 40s I watched in fascination the changes that my own body and my emotions were undergoing — I was in the thick of the dreaded years of pre-menopause, the sense of losing control over myself self and of thing around me. It was one hell of a roller coaster ride till I gradually trained myself to look at the funny side of being 50 plus. The 50s might be the end of perky and the beginning of a free fall with everything, including the morale drooping but the scramble to make the best we can out of what we have can be adventurous, challenging and exhilarating.
At almost 50 I could not identify with all the things I had heard about women of that age. I did not believe I was over the hill and I certainly was not ready to hang up my boots and disappear. Two years since I hit the 'Big Five-Oh', I am having the time of my life with work and my many projects. I have rediscovered long-lost friends, I am bonding with my amma (mother), my sisters, my family and cooking up plans for the rest of my life. I feel a sense of liberation and exhilaration because I no longer care to fit into any boxes that societal norms expect me, nor do I care what judgements are passed on labels fixed on me. I want to tell everyone that the 50s and the rest of our lives can be the most fabulous part of our life.
You have mentioned how at the age of 50, most of us have ‘I-wish-I –had moments to last a lifetime'. What do you wish you could have done and still yearn to do?
I wish I had not been that girl who was largely never present when her family celebrated milestones and special occasions because she was so busy chasing her career or getting overwhelmed by motherhood. I wish I had spent more time bonding with my sisters, my daughter, my nieces and nephews. I wish I had spent more time with my father who went away two years ago without my having ever told him how precious he was to me and how he was the reason a shy, reclusive girl with a chip on her shoulder found her wings and soared for the moon. I wish I had spent more time travelling and watching tennis matches with him, as I used to do when I was a kid. I remember watching so many badminton matches sitting beside him and admiring Prakash Padukone spin his magic on the court. I wish I had taken more time off from marriage, motherhood and career to follow up on my other dreams of being a stage actor, of learning to dance and paint and to be a rockstar singer.
I sometimes yearn to be the young girl who I was. I yearn for the simpler, more innocent world we used to have where people actually had real friends, real conversations and fell in and out of love without declaring it on social media. I yearn for time with my fledgeling who is a young girl now with a life of her own. She makes me incredibly proud with her passion and dedication for her chosen profession but I yearn for the time when I used to pick her up from school and she would chatter all the way back home, sitting in the back seat of the car and telling me about her day.
You have addressed the issue of body shaming in one of your chapters. Considering the fact that this is a problem faced by many people today, how do you propose one deals with it?
If there is one thing I have learnt in 52 years, it is to look for solutions within to problems that we face. Developing a strong sense of self worth, loving our body and ourselves before looking out at the world for validation is the key. We could, of course, all of us do well if we learn to be a bit more sensitive to the realities in the lives of others.
'Fear of missing out' is another aspect addressed in your book. Considering how social media is causing people to feel inadequate, how do you think one can overcome this issue?
Even though I should be the last person doling out this advice considering I am almost completely in the thrall of social media, I would say that moderation is the key when it comes to using social media. Spending hours on social media looking at loved-up couples and gorgeous people on exotic holidays abroad is surely not going to help you solve your 'fear of missing out', or FOMO , situation. Instead, if we learn to take that time to bond with your significant other, kids or friends, that is sure to be a better experience. And, instead of envying people’s holidays, maybe it is better to go off on your own!
Also, a strong sense of self-worth and self-belief is a strong tool to protect yourselves from FOMO.
Publisher: Pan Macmillan Price: Rs 350
You have addressed many issues that people face in their lives in this book and have used a humorous style, which is different from your earlier books like Gifted and Legacy. Which writing style was more challenging for you?
I never knew I had a funny bone in me or that I would, one day, write a book that would have people across all ages and gender in splits. Writing Feisty at Fifty was a breeze for me and I was sad when I had to end the book after 30 plus chapters. I had discovered my comfort zone writing inspirational / motivational books but with Feisty Aft Fifty I discovered there is a lot of other kind of writing waiting to be discovered within me. This book is a book of humour, auto fiction, whatever you might want to call it. But I have several more of these already rattling around in my head. I like humour and I laughed endlessly while writing this book.
Clearly there is nothing more you enjoy than writing as you have stated in your book. Considering there seems to be a series of unconventional career choices these days, would you say writing has become more lucrative as a profession today?
Writing is not a lucrative profession by any stretch of imagination. In fact, it is a profession where you put 200 per cent of yourself and get paid a fraction of what you really should be paid. Writing is for those who choose to follow the dictates of their heart and don’t care about money in the bank. Only a handful of celebrity authors get paid the bulk of the money that publishers budget for authors. The rest of us get the crumbs. I keep myself fed and clothed by doing a lot of other things including my writing workshops and my speaking assignments but I do think it is time authors get paid their due. I write because if I don’t, I will go crazy and drive everyone around me mad too. I write to indulge my fancy but I could not do it if I did not have the safety net of my husband’s pay cheque and my own assignments.
Any more books in the pipeline?
Yes. Two. One is a book co-authored by my dear friend V R Ferose and the other is a book of stories woven around food and memories. Both are in the works just now.