I met Mona Sengupta in Kolkata during an event that IWI was trying to conduct. She is the founder of AHAVA COMMUNICATIONS who curated the IWI event brilliantly.
We had spoken over the phone and chatted over facebook about our work, but nothing had prepared me for meeting this INCREDIBLE WOMAN in person. I was blown away by her knowledge, her humility, her passion for her work. What amazed me most was how grounded she was even after achieving so much in life! I knew the moment I met her, I had to interview her, I needed to know what made her so Incredible, so dear readers, here it is, the interview of a truly Incredible Woman in her own words. Excerpts.
Hello Mona, Welcome to IWI, so tell us what defines you? What are you like?
This is a tough one! Let me be candid! I am essentially a books’ person, intellect stimulates me, goads me on and I am over awed most of the times by out of the box, funky and unconventional innovations in any form of creativity- this could mean music, fine arts, performing arts, fashion, jewellery, artefacts, dance, furniture and of course Literature!
I am quite a non-conformist, impulsive, erratic with my thoughts at times and could drive my colleagues up the wall with my eye for detail! Nature moves me, specially the hills and the seas and noise pollution gets me paralytic often! I am in love with modernism, culture and rock n roll of the seventies and the eighties! Travel is a great passion, Europe being my ideal destination! Collecting artifacts (mostly tribal and ethnic), tribal masks, paintings and silver jewellery is my passion after literature! I abhor brands and am a totally street person!
Finally meeting people from different corners of the world is over a hot cup of tea is something that I have always enjoyed!
Tell us something about your childhood and growing up years, college days.
My childhood was a fairytale despite losing my mother (to cancer) at a very tender age. My brother, much older and brilliant academically (he finished his MBA from the IIM Kolkata at 19!!!), left for Mumbai to join the Tata Administrative Service (TAS) when I was in Nursery!
Dad, a renowned Gynaecologist, became my best friend. Dad and I shared a lot, especially Literature and poetry and he was the one who inculcated deep love for reading in me! As a teenager we travelled across the world and summer holidays would be mostly dedicated to my brother in Mumbai!
Sports, Bharatnatyam, piano, frequent trips to the British Council Library and Oxford Bookstore took a lot of my time besides school and regular course work. Furthermore, I was blessed to have a great set of family friends and school friends, most of whom I am in touch with even today!
College was a lot of fun- that’s when I was regularly participating in College fests, and our annual college play would excite me a lot- I would be involved as an actor, as a costumes person etc. The college clubs would be a great source of joy, especially Literature and Dramatics; I was also pursuing my dancing with Ranjabati Sircar and the Dancers’ Guild. I dabbled in a bit of French but essentially this was the time, when I was also expanding my friends’ circle with students from many other colleges in the city!
Any special achievements? Any memorable moments or incidents?
Well I don’t know about achievements, bagged prizes in school and college but I think surviving a Double Masters in Leicester University and the University of Birmingham were achievements! More than the degrees, the rigorous academic discipline that I had to practise was tough- you had all the freedom but responsibilities were immense to manage your finance, your coursework, cooking, washing, cleaning and what have you!
Well, representing my universities in London, Manchester, Bristol, Glasgow and a few other universities and reading academic papers was quire fulfilling- specially as an Indian from India!!!
Any painful incidents/experiences which made you stronger as a person?
My Dad’s demise on July 14, 2015 – no matter what, life will never be the same again! I don’t know whether I am stronger now, but I definitely perceive life more realistically!
Tell us how AHAVA Communications was conceived.
Like my Education, my career has seen a few shades- following a 10-year stint with print journalism in Kolkata and Singapore, I headed marketing & events for Apeejay Oxford Bookstores for five years which was a dream assignment- In 2006 I moved to Gurgaon to become an entrepreneur and start a brand communication company where we worked with 17 multi-national companies.
I returned to Kolkata after a few years for personal reasons and AHAVA Communications was born in April 2012 when my partner, Sushroota Sarkar and I decided to do some innovative and engaging work with different age groups in our city!
Tell us about the challenges you face at your work now.
There are far too many! Where do I start?! Well our work is creative and ideas based- be it a festival, a panel discussion on a controversial subject, a school reading programme, a book launch or our Book Club meet! We are curators not managers so everything is a matter of perception, research and getting the right people for the right target audience. Of course, to get sponsors is another hurdle at times and building and sustaining a team thats loyal, quick, enthusiastic is not too easy either! Nevertheless, being our own time managers, working at our own pace, following our own work methodology have all been quite gratifying so far!
What do your next five years look like?
I am short sighted! I take one day at a time! The time machine is a bit scary so have stopped making long term plans! However, I have a book or two in mind!
Any message you would like to share for the readers of our e-zine?
Believe in yourself, keep pessimists out of the way, listen to constructive criticism but do what your heart says! Keep fear at bay and go out in the world and do something that you believe is kickass!
Please Note: The Interview was conducted online
Interview coordinated for IWI: Rhiti Bose