Anupama Ravindran Menon, a talented writer who has taken inspiration from the life of a young diarist, Anne Frank. Through her humble yet powerful words, Anupama resonated with Anne on a deep level, sparking a passion for storytelling that has lasted a lifetime. But balancing a writing career with other aspects of life, such as family and work obligations, is no easy feat.
Anupama Ravindran Menon was recently chosen as the Winner of Maharishi Valmiki Bharatiya Gaurav Samman 2023.
In this exclusive interview, with Pooja S for Pink Stories, we will explore how Anupama manages to stay grounded and authentic, all while juggling various responsibilities. And let’s not forget the inevitable criticism and negative reviews that come with putting your work out there.
We will also explore how Anupama takes these roadblocks and turns them into opportunities for growth and improvement. Despite the challenges, Anupama’s love for writing has never faltered.
Read more to discover how a childhood filled with books, stories, and art laid the foundation for a lifelong passion.
1) Can you share an example of a woman who has inspired your writing, and why she resonated with you?
I know many call her a diarist, but I humbly differ & one of my all-time favorites would be Anne Frank. The resonation of her young thoughts through those humbling jots in her diary has spoken volumes about her strength & courage amidst life-endangering adversities faced daily. Her words had the power to bring us back to the era & give us the experience of living life 6 decades ago through the lens of an innocent 16 year old. If that is not magic, I don’t know what is…
2) How do you balance writing with other aspects of your life, such as family or work obligations?
I’m not sure if I’d be the best person to answer this but I just put in my humble two cents. As my dad always quoted “Being grounded & humble is the only way to stay true to yourself.” It was one of the ground values he insistently drove into us.. It took me years to understand this pearl of wisdom & now I think I am somewhere there. I believe that having a good depth of self-understanding that all these aspects only constitute a small part of you & do not define you as a whole, provides a good sense of clarity of yourself. It prevents you from getting too much into your own head, only to be entangled in the self-woven webs. Never forget that the only constant about this impermanent force of life is impermanence itself, embrace it. Your up today maybe my downfall tomorrow & my right today might as well be your wrong another day. This enables you to clearly demarcate a boundary between different components of life. Furthermore, a good touch of authenticity with a large amount of passion, an abundance of love from loved ones, and a decent ability of time management helps maintain an equilibrium in the dynamics of life.
3) How do you handle criticism or negative reviews of your work, and what steps do you take to improve as a writer?
Critics & feedbacks are quintessential elements that decide the improvement & betterment of every individual. In the process of growing up, I think we have all received them from a lot of people throughout our journey. Being a writer makes it no different. Taking life with a pinch of salt always helps us to reflect back on what we can do better. I think the ability to use those roadblocks as building blocks to further improve our craft makes the difference. Rather than ostracising, I personally prefer to work my way around and into the roots of the issue. If it is genuine & worth a shot, why not try? But of course, I won’t deny, getting positive reviews & credits is the cherry topping the cake & makes the day much brighter. Hahahaha
4) What inspired you to become a writer, and how did you get your start in the industry?
Well, I’ve always been in awe of art in its every form. As much as I am passionate about practicing medicine, I love experimenting with writing, painting & photography as well. Traveling down memory lane, I remember strutting in the hallway whilst basking in the ambience of the vintage aroma of old hardback books that filled bookshelves of my dad’s library, watching my mom cut out articles from good old News Straits Times to pin up on our reading board & observing my Amumma & Apuppa turn the crisp cut pages of their monthly subscribed Reader’s Digest as they read & narrate stories to us eagerly excited grandchildren. I think these are some snippets of my many fond memories of childhood. They sowed early seeds of fascination towards reading & writing for me. Hence, my writing gears kickstarted quite early in life. After obtaining a Distinction award in the University of New South Wales English Assessment at the age of 13, I began exploring into the writing part of myself. I was apart of multiple national essay writing competitions and was privileged to be shortlisted for the Prestigious Dublin Literature Writing competition in 2004. However, I never took writing as a serious career pathway. Things took a little turn afterwards. After winning the first prize in the International Notion Press Short Stories competition 2017, I was fortunately published as a joint author alongside 19 other writers in Plotpourri, an anthology of short stories. By then, with years of working in the medical fraternity & wisdom kicking in (poetically saying age & grey hair flourishing… haha), I realized that life was getting a bit too mundane in this era of modernity. It was disheartening to watch the silent extinction of love & human emotions under the rampant currents of modernisation & materialism. Being apart of this vicious cycle, I wanted liberation from this preordained dogmas & societal defined success & achievements. I started writing as an outlet of fresh air, to voice this out loud & clear. And that started my writing journey to “Dear Manusha”.
5) Can you share any particular challenges you have faced as a writer, and how you overcame them?
I think time constraints & consistency were amongst the major hurdles I faced. Having my very own round of first hand experience, it taught me that genuineness & passion opens up avenues we never knew existed. I actually learnt more about myself in this entirety & it was an eye opener. Tweaking & refining routine habits made it possible. Furthering, I have only grown to further respect fellow writers & authors for their resilience to sit through & get it done everytime. Kudos to you all.
6) How do you balance incorporating feedback from editors, while still staying true to your original vision for a story?
Having expertise & experience in this field, editors usually have a good point when they suggest amendments. Their perspective is usually to enhance the story, and never try to taint the authenticity of the author’s craft. So, I think it is important that these corrections are considered wisely & acted upon, whilst keeping the originality of the manuscript and striking the balance between the author & editor’s collaboration. Personally, I was also advised to edit here & there, I worked my way around it at my best but nothing changed the vision of my narrative.
7) What’s the best advice you received in your life?
Hahahaha…. I’d have to go for what my dad quoted earlier on , which would be, being grounded & humble is the only way to stay true to one’s self. The fluidity of these words are so amazing that I’ve applied it for almost everything I do. It helps me steer clear on my path & wade my way through strides in composure. So, I love u Dad & thank you for nagging us with it!!!
8) What drives you to keep going in your field of work?
I’m an ardent believer of live, love & laugh. That being said, I think the essence of life, love & loved ones will be my literary cornucopia. Without a shadow of doubt, this is my driving force in every endeavour I pursue. I’d like to say my biggest inspiration is my beloved family & loved ones, namely my rock, hero, best friend, love of my life & confidante, my Dad, Mr Ravindran Menon, followed by mom, Madam Prema Nair, grandparents Mr V Krishnan Kutty Menon & Madam Sankari Menon (Apuppa & Amumma) , aunt Mrs Sugunna Krishnan (Cheru), amma Mrs Sujatha Ravi Menon, uncle Mr Sateesh Menon(Wawa) & Mr Nesa , sisters & best friend Anitha Menon, Anisha & Ashwani Nesarajah & many more loved ones, Uncle John Arulrajah, Daniel Benjamin, Gautham Raj,Visa Kutty mom, Saras Veliama, Valsa Aunty,Uncle Shun, Easwari Veliama, Sathi Veliama, Vithya Nair, Shailaja Cheriamma, Shailaja Sukumaran Ammaiyi and many more. For all those of you I bumped into my decades of living off the face of earth, be it known or unknown, friends or acquaintances, starting from my preschool bus driver aunty, cafeteria grandma, cleaner aunties & janitor uncles, teachers etc. I am a reflection of everyone of you & thank you for inspiring & aspiring me always.
RAPID FIRE :
1)What’s your favorite book of all time?
When Breath Becomes Air by Paul Kalanithi
2)What’s your favorite way to unwind after a long writing session?
Good music & a long drive
3) Do you prefer writing in silence or with background noise?
I love to turn on the music
4) Your favorite writing spot or location?
Anywhere out in nature. Barren earth & a ton of sunlight with shades from surrounding greens will be heaven made on earth for me.
5) If you could co-write a book with any author (living or dead), who would it be?