Vision in hindsight is always 20-20. It’s a lot easier to connect the dots when they have contributed to the grander picture. The decisions that at one point in time seemed impulsive, actually make sense when they lead you on to your passion…
Monideepa Sahu – author of Going Home in the Rain and Other Stories, Riddle of the Seventh Stone and Rabindranath Tagore: The Renaissance Man, among various others, delves into the journey of discovering her passion, how one thing inadvertently led to the other – be it her childhood exposure to reading which kindled an interest in writing, necessity to devote time to her child compelling her to quit a plum job in a Public Sector Bank leading to writing, an infection-inducing Central AC forcing her to quit her full-time job in a newspaper, and ultimately allowing her to get down to doing what she loves the most – writing fiction – slowly, one page at a time, treating her art like a gemstone – cutting it, cutting it, cutting it – till every facet shows up! Here is Monideepa talking about her journey to discovering and persisting with her passion.
Monideepa Sahu, Author and Columnist, Bangalore
Interviewed by Chirantan Shah
Why did you decide to give us an interview on passion?
I have always been a very passionate person. Whatever I do, be it writing or anything else, I like to give it my heart and soul. For me being passionate is making a commitment and being fully dedicated to it.
Has writing always been your passion? Or have your passions changed, evolved with time?
They have evolved a lot over time.
Can you take us through the journey of your passions – as a child what were you passionate about, and how did that change over time?
As a child I was always interested in reading – because of the way my parents brought me up. My parents were avid readers and we had a lot of books in the house.
In fact, my father used to get me books even when I was a toddler and couldn’t speak. Obviously, kids are rough and some of the books would get torn. But my father was unperturbed and insisted that I handle the books. He used to tell my mother, “Let her see the pictures and tear up the books, if that’s how it is. That’s how she will come to love them.” As I grew up, my parents would take turns to read out the stories in the books to me.
When I was a small kid – all of 4-5 years, we had a neighborhood children’s library, managed by kids. I was the youngest, and yet I got to be the librarian. At that age, when I was not even going to school, I was a librarian because I was the one who settled disputes and soothed ruffled tempers among our group.
All of us would collect our old books, the books we were done reading, and give them to the library. So 7-8 of us put together a bookshelf of all kinds of books in several languages. And this children’s library was maintained in my house – in a little corner, a storage area behind the book-case. That was our secret library. After school hours, children would come and pick books from the library and I as a librarian would note down the exchange. This is how I got to read a large variety of books even before I started school.
Reading then led to writing and that’s how my passion evolved.
You’d said that you started off as a banker, and worked as one for several years. What was your career path?
I was born in Delhi, and after we returned from the US in my 8th Grade, I finished my schooling in Delhi, and did my BA Hons in English Lit. and MA from Lady Shri Ram College. In those days, all of us used to sit for competitive exams – Civil Services Exams, Bank Officers Exams, etc. I was selected by the State Bank of India as a direct Probationary Officer. This was just after finishing my MA, when I was all of 22.
They asked me my location preference. I selected places like Bangalore, Mysore, places to which I had never been, just for the thrill.
After many rounds of interviews, I finally got my appointment letter which said I had been posted to Bangalore. It was scary, going alone to Bangalore which seemed a world away from my home in New Delhi. This happened in 1979.
Till when did you work with the bank?
I worked with State Bank of Mysore, for eight years. By that time I was married, and had a kid and didn’t have anyone to help. With time, responsibilities at work also increased. I felt that I was unable to give my wholehearted attention to both my job and my child. I chose to devote my attention completely to my child, and left my job.
How did writing happen?
I used to write for my school magazine even in the US, and later in my school, Lady Irwin, in Delhi. At Lady Shri Ram, every year I’d put something in the magazine. Beyond that nothing. I studied Literature for my MA. I loved the subject of English Literature.
I first got published in 1997-98. At that time I was in Bangalore. Once Deccan Herald put a notice inviting contributions. I just sent something across. In those days, people hardly used emails, and mine was a typed manuscript delivered to the newspaper’s front office.
It was accepted, but I was unaware. I was not even in town, and a friend saw it. She told my family members about it. Later, when I went for a consultation, my doctor told me that they were looking for me. I had not mentioned my phone number along with my submission, since they hadn’t asked for it. It was only fortuitous that the News Editor also happened to be a patient of my doctor.
I went to the newspaper office and the News Editor said, “Yes we are looking for interesting stuff. What’s going on in town?” He was asking me! That’s how we started bouncing off ideas. I started writing for their Saturday magazine regularly.
The books happened a little later. After several years as a contributor, it seemed a good idea to work for DH full-time. But when I joined, the Central AC made me fall ill. Everybody at office used to wear mufflers and jerkins. At times the office was as chilly as a refrigerator. When we told the engineers to reduce the temperature, they often ended up making it even colder. The only cure for my lingering illness was to opt out and stay at home. I would continue to write, and decided to try out other things. The Internet was a new frontier, and I sought places where writers meet.
How much time do you spend on writing now?
I try to spend as much time as I can. I still write for Deccan Herald. That has deadlines. Writing fiction, which is what I prefer to write, and it takes time. I have to let an idea settle. I can’t say that I have three months in which I will write a book. I don’t want to do that, though I know some writers manage it. This short story collection in my hand, Going Home in the Rain, took much more writing than its present 100 odd pages. I have written and thrown away more than 200 more ages of writing to get the stories to where I wanted them to be.
It’s like having a rough gemstone which looks like a dull rock. Keep cutting it, polishing it, and cutting it again, till you get the facets as sparkling as you can. That’s how I like to write. It is not some hastily written thing that doesn’t hold. My kind of art takes time.
The last question has nothing to do with your interview topic. But we ask everyone we interview – what does love mean to you?
Love is thinking beyond yourself. It is no longer about me, but about ‘us’, you and the person who you love. Even spiritual love, if you believe in a Higher Power, is something much more than what appears on the surface. It is going beyond yourself and empathizing with someone else, like the love between Radha and Krishna. Love is the desire to do your best for the person you love, and not setting any expectations.
No doubt you do expect, hope that that person would love you back. We are after all human. But for me it’s not some business transaction; that I would give this much and you give this much, and only then I would go to the next level. You just give your heart and soul.