In her latest book Devi, Diva or She-Devil, author Sudha Menon explores multiple ways for the contemporary working women to negotiate the professional world, writes Ketaki Latkar
Daughter, wife, mother, professional, kitchen wizard, crockery curator, linen perfectionist and whatnot — undeniably, we are still living in a world that is wired to expect the woman of the house to ace it all. How – -no one tells us, why — we never really ask; but not needed — assures Sudha Menon’s latest book Devi, Diva or She-Devil. “The book is an exploration of the complex issues faced by Indian women at the workplace, such as dealing with family pressures, gender perceptions, the glass ceiling, leadership challenges and bringing up children while also excelling in their careers,” shares Menon, speaking about the crux of what she calls “the smart career woman’s survival guide.”
Breaking the mould
We may have come quite a long way as a progressive society, or a 70-year old, independent nation; but the popular notion of the woman playing the ultimate care-giver, the underplaying ‘other’ gender and being the ‘devi’ seems to have significantly sustained, if not thrived. And the moment she wants to make her voice heard and takes a stand — she has turned the tide and becomes the infamous ‘diva.’ “And if she exhibits the exemplary courage to stop being the conformist she’s expected to be, and attains the position of power, she gets anointed as the she-devil,” says Menon, discussing her book’s title and the compartmentalised roles that women get shunted into.
Menon, a former newspaper journalist and now, a columnist and an author of three bestselling non-fiction books: Legacy, Gifted and Leading Ladies primarily writes about women and their issues. As she contentedly enjoys every sip of a couple of “kadak chai” cups, while talking to FPJ, she explains her need to write, “I think it is extremely important that women are reassured that it is completely alright and normal to be flawed, to be deficient in some aspects of life and to not be a superwoman. It is necessary to know that you’re not a victim, and that there are a plenty like you, who have beautifully embraced their shortcomings, and chosen to celebrate the little somethings.”
The wisdom shared in the book is not a mere collection of empirical recordings; it is largely a product of her personal journey, life lessons and evolution. Admits Menon, “At 24, I was a newbie mother, and at the same time, was climbing the professional ladder with a rather fulfilling career as a journalist. However, I often experienced a sense of uneasiness, guilt and incompleteness that gnawed at me, and incessantly kept whispering in my head that I was not being the perfect mother, the ideal full time care-giver.”
But if there’s that one thing that separates positive powerhouses from easy quitters, it is the exceptional quality of turning their weaknesses into their strengths. Menon is no exception, given that she tastefully chooses to embrace the pangs of the past and believes that it is absolutely okay to err, to leave a thing or two unaccomplished and to find beauty in one’s imperfections. No wonder, the book strikes that emotional chord, no matter who you are and what your story is.
Devi, Diva or She-devil is an anthology of tales of women, with a dash of events from Menon’s own life that she seems to be reflecting upon, and celebrating, with hindsight. The book puts together myriad voices. These women’s voices and their anecdotes are completely different from one another and yet share similar struggles, challenges and the burden of societal expectations, weaving them all together.
In one of the chapters of the book, Manisha Girotra, CEO of a leading global investment bank, opens up as she narrates how she once returned home holding yet another ‘power woman’ award, only to have her bubble burst when she tried baking a cake for her child and it collapsed in the centre. “You don’t know anything,” her staff told her, disdain glinting in their eyes. Cake wasn’t her piece of cake, and eventually, she made peace with it. Slowly, the acceptance blossomed into a beautiful sentiment of enhanced self-worth and mental peace.
It is anecdotes like these shared not just by regular working professionals, but also by iconic public figures, such as the boxing legend MC Mary Kom, screenwriter Honey Irani, director-producer Farah Khan, or Nisaba Godrej, executive chairman of Godrej Consumer Products that add immense heft to the book.
Putting together insights from about 15 different women was no mean task for Menon. The biggest challenge was to get the women to speak sans filters, and many women had reservations to expose their private lives and to call a spade a spade, especially because they knew it was for a book. Adds Menon, “It took me a good amount of persuasion and assuring to get them to speak. They needed to know that their stories would resonate with many others like them, and would provide them a great deal of comfort.”
Knowing what has troubled you has also troubled someone else is almost therapeutic. The book, which evokes in the reader the “you’re-not-alone’ sentiment is a hands down keeper.
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