Feisty@Fifty by Sudha Menon #3: Why we need to write about our lives

As children we rarely went to the doctor for common colds, stomach upsets or fever because amma and her three spinster aunts who lived with us on and off had a potsfull of home remedies for these ailments. A stomach upset meant the peel of pomegranate ground to a fine paste that we licked off a spoon with jaggery. Or fresh nutmeg shavings with a lashing of honey. My father thrived on amma’s spicy tomato pepper rasam when he caught a cold. When my daughter falls ill, I promptly march her to the doctor because I never paid attention when my mother practised her homegrown cures on us to miraculously have us back on our feet in no time at all. I wish I had written down those remedies.

There are other reasons we women need to write down the stories of our life. One of my spinster great aunts left the security of her ancestral home in Kerala and travelled to Mumbai in the pre-Independence years in search of a job so she could take care of her orphaned siblings. I often wonder how the 20-year-old girl, who had led a protected life back home, found her footing in a strange new city where she neither spoke its language nor knew anybody. I want to know about the journey she embarked on that eventually led to her buying a house and assets in Mumbai and finding jobs for dozens of people from her village. Unfortunately, my spinster great aunt never wrote anything down and so her story has to be pieced together from the anecdotes I get from my mother and her siblings.

My own mother led an unusual life, married off at 16 to my father, an honest trade union leader who was completely consumed by his need to get justice for the workers of the world. My father worked tirelessly for them, oblivious to the fact that his wife had to systematically pawn or sell her jewellery to put her kids through school. I wish I knew how she found the courage or first found her way to the pawn brokers shop. Did she cringe with embarrassment? Did her hands shake, her heart break when she parted with her precious jewellery? Amma was the first granddaughter in the family to get married and her aunts showered her with jewellery and blessings.  All of that jewellery is gone now, possibly sitting in a pawn broker’s shop somewhere but my mother has the satisfaction that she did her best for her kids. Amma is slowly losing her memory, but to our great joy, she has recently taken to jotting down anecdotes from her life. I can’t wait to read them.

Imagine what the world will lose if P V Sindhu, Sakshi Malik and Deepa Karmakar don’t write their stories. Or their mothers did not get the chance to document the leap of faith they had to make so their daughters could go find their spot in the sun.

For long, I have wanted to start a project where I can get women from diverse backgrounds to come together, share their experiences and write down their stories. On August 27, I finally fulfil that dream with WWW (Writing With Women), a writing retreat where I hope to get women from diverse backgrounds together to embark on a shared journey of listening to our experiences and writing about our lives. It is one of the most exciting things I will have done in the recent past.


Sudha Menon

Sudha Menon

Sudha Menon is an Author, a Writing Coach and a Speaker on Gender and Diversity.

You can reach her on sudhamenon2006@gmail.com or her twitter handle@sudhamenon2006
Sudha Menon