Father’s Day Special: A father plays a pivotal role: Sudha Menon

Author and journalist Sudha Menon’s book Legacy: Letters from Eminent Parents to their Daughters, has been creating waves after a clutch of letters from it – by Infosys founder, Narayana Murthy, ICICI Bank chief Chanda Kochhar and former badminton champ Prakash Padukone to their daughters went viral.

The author brings forth a rare collection of personal and evocative letters from parents to their daughters. Through their fearless approach to life, love and overcoming obstacles,these icons from the world of business, arts, films, food and sports share with readers their experiences and wisdom as they pass them on to their daughters.

As we head towards Father’s Day tomorrow (Sunday, June 19), we bring you an interview with Sudha Menon and a few letters from the book with permission from her. 

How did this book come about? Did you ask these personalities to write a letter to their daughter or had they already written them?

The genesis of this book came about when my daughter turned 21. It then hit me that these days we don’t have that kind of intimacy we had in the earlier generations. I cannot see myself sitting my daughter down and telling her that these are the things I want you to do because it will probably seem like a lecture. And all of us are so preoccupied with all our gadgets, so where is the time to talk?

Dearest Pooja: Pradeep Bhargava’s letter to his daughter

Dear Karuna: Ganesh Natarajan’s letter to his daughter

The book itself came about because I wanted to write a letter to my daughter but I didn’t want to make it sound like another lecture. So why couldn’t I just get the collective wisdom of well-respected people? But, you know, all of these people, when I asked them to write a letter to their daughter, they didn’t really have the time. They did have the time to talk to me. And although some said they could give me only 20 minutes, the conversations would go on for hours. That is the beauty of a relationship with a daughter or with a child. You don’t look at your watch when you’re talking about your child. I remember I had met Narayana Murthy in Bengaluru and he said that he could only give me about half an hour but when we met, we spoke for hours. It was like any ordinary father who lights up while talking about his child. We think that these big entrepreneurs don’t have the time but they’re just like any other parent. It is such a special bond, especially the relationship between a father and a daughter or even a mother and her daughter.

I had that kind of a bond with my father. He passed away two months ago and for me it was as if the world had ceased to be what it is. Without him, I don’t know who to turn to. He was the centre of my universe. You grow up and you get married, you get busy but I knew that my father was always there for me. He was not the kind of person who would lecture, he would just listen to you and I think that many of us just want that. We want someone to listen to us. He would always show me the bigger perspective. I never realised his value till he went away. I learnt everything from him. I learnt to be brave, forward-thinking and compassionate. He filled idealism in me and that’s the reason I became a journalist. He was an inspiration to me till the last day of his life.

We think that parents are always going to be there. But one day they aren’t. We tend to take them for granted.  Coming back to your question, for the people who could not write a letter, I drafted one on the basis of our conversation and sent it back to them for an approval.

Do you think the relationships these busy people have with their children are any different from a normal parent’s?

I found it exactly the same. I went in thinking that they don’t have that kind of time. But being a parent for anyone is no different. No matter what social strata that person belongs to. So Narayana Murthy spoke the same way about his granddaughter the way my mother gurgles over my daughter. He is no different. He might be the founder of one of India’s largest tech companies but when he was talking about his grandchild, he was like any other doting grandfather. And that’s what I wanted to show. We all have the same concerns, the well being of our children and it doesn’t change no matter where you are.

Mr Murthy spoke to me about how his daughter was brought up with her paternal grandmother in a village in Karnataka as both he and his wife were working. He said that he would take an overnight train every weekend and spend a whole day with his daughter because he couldn’t bear to stay away from her.

So I think it’s the same everywhere. If anything, I think these parents are more concerned because they don’t get to spend enough time with their kids.

Are these letters a way for these parents to compensate for the lost time with their children?

Many years ago, I was cleaning out my wardrobe and I found my daughter’s drawing of us as stick figures with a ‘Happy Birthday to the Best Mumma in the World’. It just took me back to the time when she was a baby. That’s the power of a letter; you open it and instantly feel connected to the person writing it.

So I don’t think these letters are for that purpose. In fact, I’d like to think that the letter gave them an opportunity to say what they wanted to.

What have these letters taught you about parenting?

It taught me about the virtue of not controlling your children. I realised that many of these letters were about letting the child forge their own path and create his or her own niche. It is important to have faith in your own child. I must confess that very often I am tempted to tell my child what to do or what not to do.

Occasionally, I go back to the book because it’s like a guide for me. We can’t control our child’s destiny.

How important a role does a father play in his daughter’s life?

A father plays a pivotal role in his daughter’s life. All the relationships a woman has with men can be determined by the one she has with her father. The way a man treats his wife at home has a deep impact on his daughter. He sets the example for her. Not once did I see my father disrespect my mother because she decided to be a homemaker and take care of her children. It is that stay-at-home mother who can make or break a child’s life.

What are you working on next?

I am fascinated by real-life stories of women. It’s non-fiction. I have a love-hate relationship with fiction because real life has so many more layers to it. I can’t disclose what the book is about exactly but it isn’t like my debut book Leading Ladies. For this book, I have spoken to some of the country’s most interesting women and I think it’s going to be a rocking book!

Vijayta Lalwani

Vijayta Lalwani

The young lady from Lagos has always been keen on a career in journalism. Pune365 was hence the right stop. We agree. vijayta@pune365.com
Vijayta Lalwani