“A Father’s Daughter”, in conversation with Manju Ramanan – Group Editor of Saffron Media Corp By Zareen Khan

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Manju Ramanan

“I have kept my Father’s Name, his name will always be attached with mine, I carry him with me, wherever I go”. Manju Ramanan

I first got a glimpse of Manju Ramanan, a couple of years ago at an event where she was a guest speaker on “The Evolution of Sarees”, she looked stunning in her electrifying peacock blue silk saree draped eloquently around her, it was an unforgettable sight.

She went on to share a very personal poem with the audience that she herself had penned. I was so touched by the experience, that after the event, I bought my very own first Saree. As the years progressed, we kept criss crossing eachothers paths and then one fine day, I got the pleasure to work with her on an event and since then, she has been a constant mentor and friend who, I’ve come to adore and be is awe of all at the same time.

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The more I got to know Manju, the more I was confused. I cant explain it in words, I mean she is just different I guess, you know, one minute she would be in an interview with Amitabh Bachan Sahib and the next instant, she will be with Shahrurkh Khan, sometimes, Rithik Roshan is posting a selfie with her and at times Salman Khan is sitting next to her for a chat. She is someone, who celebrities line up to meet, and here she is, taking time out for me, a mere writer– who wants to write about people that are simply inspiring. I find this quality of being grounded the most attractive in Manju and it keeps me on my toes as well.

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The Birth of a writer

(Nov 2000) Manju’s writing career began, after getting her M – Phil in literature, she was looking for a job to start off her writing career and she found her calling in India’s leading News Paper.

Mr. Ramanan - Manju's Father

The loss

There is a sincere sense of sadness when Maju mentions her father, who she lost just when she was about to start her writing career and with his passing, being the only child; the financial pressure also bore heavy on her shoulders. Her father was one who had a great influence on Manju; eventhough he travelled extensively through his life; their bond was strong and their connection till today is alive. There is something Manju said which only a father’s daughter could say; “I have kept my father’s name, his name will always be attached with mine, I carry him with me, wherever I go”.

Manju Ramanan

Journalism calls on Manju

Her getting the Job in one of India’s most reputable News papers & continuing to work in UAE’s top media firm is a huge feat, however when you speak to Manju, she humbly credits most of her success to destiny and to her mentor Mr. Kingshuknag; who she praises for his ethics in Journalism and for being a guiding force throughout her career.

Not many of us are fortunate enough to follow our passions, I am glad that Manju followed hers; She believed in herself, and pursued journalism unapologetically. Manju’s ability to become a medium to tell stories; to be unbiased and without prejudices, is what sets her apart from the crowd.

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The skyscrapers of Dubai

I often bring up Dubai in my interviews, write ups, and chats, mainly because, I was born here and eventhough have lived here for almost all my life, still cant find the right words to describe it. I guess I try to find answers of my own questions; and Manju probably gave me the most unique answer of all, how the sharp edges of the “Sky Scrapers” poked her; as an artist, I could empathize; where most people are drawn to the city for the high rises and high end brands it offers, there are a handful who gravitate towards Arts & Culture. Her answer was not surprising; since her upbringing was in India’s most cultural hub of Baroda; she attended a university that was built in the colonial 1800’s. On exploring deeper, she discovered, in hidden corners of Shindigah, Deira Souqs, Ahmediya, Bur Dubai Creek & Bastakiya is bustling with History and Culture; where the soul of the city comes alive with smells from the spice market and chitter chatter in 100 different languages at the shops; where no matter where you come from, you are embraced as Dubaite.

Love for the eternal Poet

Manju has interviewed dozens of Celebrities, so when I asked her to choose one that she absolutely loves, with a heartbeat she mentions his name; her eyes glistened that she adores him for two reasons, First he shares a Birthday with her Father (18th August) and second, he writes from his heart; his words have inspired generations of love stories; he has penned emotions that have overwhelmed millions; her favorite celebrity is none other than “Gulzar Sahib” – The eternal Poet.

A Glimpse of the most important people in Manju’s world – Her Family (Manju’s Mother, Sunder Iyer – Manju’s Husband, Shashvat – Manju’s Son)

Manju's Mother

Sunder Iyer- Manju's Husband

 

Shashvat - Manju's Son

The Independent Woman

In Manju there are many facets, there is a strong Group Editor of Saffron Media who runs 3 leading Magazines (Filmfare; Femina & Salt n Peppa) in the region working with Madhu Arora MD and Vikram Arora CEO of Saffron Media Corp who are the wind beneath her wings; a caring wife to Sunder Iyer, who is her better half in every sense of the word, offering her the support & encouragment which allows her to soar high, a multi tasking mother to  Shashvat who is her biggest inspiration, a beautiful daughter to her ma, her mother let her father take all the credit for shaping Manju’s life, eventhough she herself played a huge part in Manju’s life, she gave support and love unconditionaly becoming Manju’s pillar of strength; A poet who speaks volumes through her words, a loyal & supportive friend to many & lastly one of the most inspiring woman who speaks her mind and drapes the most stunning Sarees.

Manju Poetry Reading

Manju the Poet

This is how I would like to leave you- with Manju’s poem that I heard years ago at an event and it touched my heart.

Six Yards of Beauty

Paati wore it years ago

Her slender frame

Wrapped itself in voluminous folds

She was a widow and

didn’t wear red or a bindi

I never saw her

In a six yards saree.

When you get married

Wait, you’ll wear a 9 yards sari

She smiled……..( did I see a hint of wickedness there!)

And I blushed and ran away

 

Amma only wore saris

She woke up in a faded cotton

Crumpled by sleep

That climbed an inch high

Showing her ankles

Wore a crisper one

As she wrapped her long wet hair

And cooked in the kitchen

Before changing into

One of her breath-taking ones

When she left for work

She usually wore all kinds

 

Dad worked

In an an acrylic fibre plant

And like the man of his times

Believed that synthetic saris were a new invention and should be worn

Because they imitate real fabric

In a world of natural cottons and silks

He went to Japan when I was three

And among many things

Bought us three Lady Hamilton saris

While he handed it over to ma

He told her

Keep the multicoloured one

For her wedding (mine)

I was three and

My wedding trousseau was being planned

 

As a child, I was a tomboy

Scraping my knees and wearing my cousin’s clothes

Never for a moment waiting to be a girl

But the saris were around me

My bua, a dreamer also, only wore saris

She had this beautiful purple sari

A shade, I still cannot find anywhere

 

But my family had one peculiarity

Every once in a while

They would air out the costly saris

Usually the wedding saris

So, out came the expensive kanjeevarams

That is a Rama green, and the border is pure gold, ma would say

My sari was the best in the lot my athai or bua would boast

About her vaira usshi ( diamond  needle) sari

It was an orange and green and glittery but sober

Like a thousand needle like sparks

Flashing across the fabric

 

One day

I was returning from a flower plucking session

And my family was laughing at something

A European family had bought some expensive saris

From Kanchipuram and

Cut them up and used them as curtains in the house

My people found that funny……

I laughed too

For, we never saw a sari any other way

Than it being draped around us

Or cut up as a dress or an odhni

Half saris happened, so did short saris

For dance practice and programmes

Never curtains….

  

By the time I was in Std 10

My wedding sari collection

Was spilling over

It was the Garden Vareli phase

And you fascinate me

Fascinated all of us

 

But ma knew more

Than synthetic saris

For teacher s day

She bought me my first  Mysore silk

A Rama green with  pink border and a blue blouse

She would hold it close to her cheek

And tell me, to touch it

She would know instantly

If a sari was fake( synthetic) or real ( woven or natural)

I wore it and fell in love with it ever since

 

In college, saris happened once in a while

But by then both my parents

Had abandoned synthetic saris shopping

And got into the world of handlooms and handcrafted saris

Shops in old town in Baroda

Where we sat on white gaddis

Where the owner spread out his saris for you

At times draping it around himself too

That would make you smile

 

Literature class and some professors

Made me sensitive to the sari

Especially the arty ones

Seminars and conferences

Made them dress up in what looked like intellectual saris

Kala Niketan salesmen used to call them

Widow saris

Because they were somber and not fun and colourful

 

You should have a sari from every part of India

Said my dad

Handing me over a motra from Rajashtan

Or a Jodhpuri bandhni

We also bought the Jamnagri bandhni and leheriya

The Rajput part of Gujarat

Or the Pochampalli of the South

But we couldn’t ever afford its expensive cousin

The Patola of Patan

The saree also inspires several garbas

And weddings in Gujarat

I grew fascinated by the white red and green panetars

Maharastrian neighbours

Introduced me to the Pooneris and the Jija Mata

Named after Shivaji s mother

Then came the world of saris named after towns and villages

The Chanderis, Lucknowis, ichalkaranjis, Barmeri etc

The Chanderis

Especially fascinated because

Out of the 27 paintings commissioned to Raja Ravi Verma

By the royalty of Baroda

All the royal women he painted

Wore a chanderi

Its gossamer folds

Falling elegantly around the diamond kadas and bracelets

 

Saree sighting was a common occurrence

When friends started getting married

The family would call us all

And in the bedroom, spread over the sheets

Came out one beauty after another

Navratris also became an occasion to see the spread

Kutchi handwork, mirror work, wool work and the works

 

Sarees got irritating

When the family forced me to wear them

For studio photos for circulation

In the marriage market

I deliberately chose cottons with greys and reds

Not any eye catching colours

Needless to say, to my delight

The photos were ignored

 

Sarees came handy

When as a young lecturer

And in a bid to look older than the rest of the class

I draped myself in one

 

For my wedding

I couldn’t buy any of my saris, not even choose them

It was the year 2002 and Gujarat was burning with the riots

My masi asked me my colours over the phone

And got them woven at Kanchipuram

When I got to see them

I had no complaints

Each of it is like a poem filled with love and affection

For the bride who couldn’t shop for her clothes

 

Saris in my home are associated with memory

Like most homes in India

That tusser that Poulomi s mother gave you

Or that Kantha that Ashok uncle got made for you

Each sari has a memory and that makes it special

 

Today as my son digs his head into my lap

Or wipes his wet hands in the pallu

I feel as part of a  continuum, a chain

Of what I

Felt as a child, when I cuddled up my ma

And wrapped myself in her pallu or

Wiped my tears as a teenager

Not telling her about a friend’s biting insult

 

The garment has a sense of dignity and pride

Of being Indian

Yet not too jingoistic

It keeps people in place

Their body language behaves

Because the aura of the saree

Protects you

And gives out a signal of grace, dignity and pride

Isn’t that all we need as women………….

(By Manju Ramanan) 

 – End –

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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2 responses »

  1. Great write up on someone who seems to be an inspirational figure for anyone in the media industry. Good selection of personalities to feature in your blog and even better writing :). Keep up the good work!

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