Deepti Menon is a Chennai based distinguished author. She has penned several short stories which have gone on to be parts of celebrated anthologies. She has a novel to her name and is currently working on her second novel. She is humble, She kind, She is brilliant, She is an INCREDIBLE WOMAN. She gives a candid interview online to Incredible Women Of India about her life as a writer, her work and herself. Excerpts.
Who are you? What are you like? What are your dreams, aspirations? What defines you?
I remember I had this pat introduction which I used when I had to talk in front of a crowd. As you know, ‘Deepti’ in Sanskrit means ‘light’. So I would go, “Hi, friends, my name is Deepti. One day God said “Let there be light, and I was born!”
Talking about oneself is the most difficult task ever! I would call myself a typical Sagittarian, whose favourite pose is the foot in mouth one, as described by Linda Goodman. I enjoy my space and freedom, and the idea of creativity excites me.
I was born an Army brat who grew into an Army wife. Hence, much of my persona was honed by that wonderful organization that taught me much of camaraderie and bonhomie. I can safely say that some of my happiest years were spent travelling to different parts of India, making friends for a lifetime and learning to enjoy little joys that went a long way.
Tell us something about your childhood and growing up years.
When I was a little girl, I wanted to be a writer when I grew up, especially after I was bitten by the green eyed monster. There was a friend of mine who used to write poems and my mother was very impressed by her. Then and there I decided that I too needed to write.
My childhood was an idyllic one, and I had friends always with whom I could play outdoor games. We would run, fall, graze our knees, but our parents never scolded us for getting ourselves dirty. I remember whole days spent in the sun. Where we would climb trees, eat green mangoes with salt and chilli powder with a dash of oil. My mouth waters when I think of that still!
Growing up was magical. Different cities, new friends and wonderful hobbies kept life exciting. My parents loved reading, and they had a collection of books. From a young age, I was used to seeing books everywhere, and it wasn’t long before I too began to lose myself in the world of books.
When I decided to take English Literature for my graduation and Post graduation, I found sceptical looks thrown my way. “What on earth are you going to do with Literature?” they seemed to ask.
About your college days
College was where I made enduring friendships with friends who are with me on Facebook today. We have vowed to remain young even when we are ninety, so that we can paint the town red when we meet then! J College was when I discovered many talents which I didn’t know were innate in me – apart from literary competitions, I threw myself into the fields of music, theatre, film and even politics. In a co ed college, where there were more boys than girls, I found myself playing the role of a 14 year old boy who gets strangled in the end of the play!
Then some friends decided to take a film, and there we were, acting away to glory, with shots of my driving my moped in style. Unfortunately, on the last day of the shoot, one of the boys fell into a pool and took the film reel along with him. He never did live that down ever, and our film was lost in oblivion.
First years of working
Teaching was in my blood as my grandfather was the Headmaster of a boys’ school and my mother, who had taught English and History in many schools across the country, founded an exemplary ICSE-ISC school that is doing very well. She is the Director of a number of schools as well.
Given that background, I should have taken to teaching like a duck does to water, but I preferred to ‘duck’ my first teaching job in a Kendriya Vidyalaya, where I was asked to handle the third standard. Never had I seen such a wild group of boys and girls running around, throwing paper missiles at one another, and screaming at the top of their voices. I went home with a splitting headache and vowed that I would never, ever follow in my mother’s footsteps!
Two years later, I took another chance, and walked into the eighth standard in a convent, and by the end of two days, I realized that this was what I was meant to do. From then on, I taught wherever my Army husband was posted, and I loved being with children, talking and laughing along with them. I had found my metier, my true calling. I even did a Principal’s tenure for a year, which I enjoyed to the hilt.
Any special achievements? Any memorable moments or incidents?
I consider life a very special gift, made up of myriad moments, memorable in different ways. When I wrote my first poem at the age of ten, it was the beginning of a lifelong romance with words. You cannot even imagine my excitement the first time I received a letter from Woman’s Era saying that my first short story was being published. In 2002, when Rupa Publishers, Delhi, published my first book titled ‘Arms and the Woman’, which took a light hearted look at the life of an Army officer’s life, that was a huge milestone. The next incredible moment came when my mother, who had hoarded away all the poems I had written, put them together and brought out a little book that she called ‘Deeparadhana Of Poems’.
2014 was a memorable year, a year that saw almost eight anthologies in which my short stories found a niche. The year began with ’21 Tales to Tell’, followed by ‘Mango Chutney’, ‘Upper Cut’, ‘Chronicles of Urban Nomads’ and ‘The Second Life’.
The spree continued in 2015, where around three more anthologies are being launched. But the one defining moment was when I finished my solo novel, which is now in the editing stage.
The past year has been incredible in that I have made many friends, all writers and readers, who have drawn me into their hearts and made me feel special.
Any painful happenings which made you stronger as a person?
The most painful phase I have gone through in life was in January, 1979, when my beloved father passed away and left us all bereaved. His passing was so unexpected that his wife and his three daughters were not prepared for the grievous blow. I was seventeen, while my sisters were much younger. Hence, I felt that I needed to be there for my mother, who had lost the love of her life. This tragedy definitely made me a stronger person, and the presence of Death which I had always viewed from a distance, now literally came home to me. I wrote poems on Death, and on my father, wanting to keep him alive in my mind. I think my writing matured around that stage.
Any personal ups and downs you would like to share.
Despite the personal tragedy that we had gone through, my mother, who is a naturally resilient person, ensured that we continue to see the world through rose coloured spectacles. Optimism is her second name, and she cast the magic powder over her daughters as well. Hence, we tend to view the ‘downs’ in life as steps to moving on. One of the favourite quotes within our family is, “When one door closes, another one opens”, and that has always worked in our favour.
What are you doing now?
All my married life I have been an English teacher, and my association with my students has kept me young, or so I believe. However, when my husband took premature retirement from the Army and settled down in Chennai, the writing bug took hold of me tenaciously, and I decided that I would freelance as a journalist. Luckily, he has always been the wind beneath my wings, urging me on to soar. I have been part of many print magazines in Chennai, as well as had my pieces published in the New Indian Express and the Hindu. From a person who was terrified of using a computer, I have metamorphosed into a laptop buff, and write online articles and blog posts almost every day.
How do you see yourself in the future?
I allow myself the luxury to dream! I would love to visualize myself as a bestselling novelist, writing books that are read by people around the world. I would also love to see myself living in a country that has turned the corner, a country that is free and secure for men, women and children alike, a country in which honour, respect, and secularism flourish, a country in which mindsets are tolerant and the laws strong enough to deter all kinds of criminal activities. With apologies to Rabindranath Tagore, into that country, let my mind awake!
Message for the readers of our blogazine.
I feel that writers need to be readers first. Read all you can. When you write, do not copy anyone’s style. Write simply and straight from the heart. As Willaim Faulkner put it, “If a story is in you, it has got to come out.” I believe there is a story in every one of us! Some of us write, others sing, and yet others narrate it. Recognize what you want to do, and do it!
To keep in touch with her and know more about her work please visit her author page on Facebook. Click here for the link. https://www.facebook.com/deepti.menon.98?fref=ts&ref=br_tf#!/pages/Deepti-Menon/836947306325477?fref=ts
And to visit her blog click on the link here. http://www.deepties.blogspot.com/
Interview arranged for Incredible Women Of India: Rhiti Bose