Women of Substance


successful women pen their thoughts and aspirations in the form of books

The Indian women today have made a place for themselves in society. Be it art, culture or any other creative medium. At the occassion of upcoming Women’s Day on March 8. Smita Dwivedi delves into the lives of three of India’s most recognised women celebrities who have expressed themselves in written word as well. Meet Dr Sonal Mansingh, an eminent Indian classical dancer and choreographer of Odissi dancing; Sushma Seth, renowned Indian film, television & stage performer; and Shahnaz Hussain, CEO of Shahnaz Herbals Inc and a prominent Indian female entrepreneur; who discuss their lives and unveil the writer within.

Great dancer Dr Sonal Mansingh
Her book – ‘Incredible India: Classical Dances’

Dr Sonal MansinghFor those who just know Dr Sonal Mansingh to be a great dancer, would be surprised to learn that she is a writer too! She was always asked to write stories, articles and many other things in her childhood. “I am not a writer as such, but I always wrote my diaries, experiences and notes, all through my years of growing up,” says Dr Sonal.

Recently, she has written a book Incredible India: Classical Dances published by Wisdom Tree, and there are a couple of other books, which are still in pipeline. “The core that we call Indianness distinguishes us from the Japanese, Chinese, Pakistanis, and everyone else, and is still intact. Just like the kernel, even while the exterior shell keeps changing shape and colour, the base remains unchanged. So, nothing is lost in India. The entity called India is still within us. The elements, the remnants, and hidden streams of consciousness of thoughts, traditions, and belief are all here, not lost,” said Dr Sonal. Disclosing more on her writing style/passions, she said, “I still write long hand, so it takes me six to eight months to write a book, and maximum a year. Notes are there, all the details are there in mind. The hardest part is to self edit. When one is writing a diary, it’s fine. But while writing a book one has to keep readers in mind.”

Talking about her reading habits, she disclosed, “I’ve read memoirs, travelogues, history, philosophy and so much. There’s one little book by Ramesh Menon – Blue Lotus, which is a wonderful combination of Bhagwat Gita and Shrimad Bhagwat. It is so amazing that I have read it more than 10 times. Another book I picked up from a street shop in New York was Crazy Wisdom. In fact, I sat on heaps of books to find it.”

Versatile actor Sushma Seth
Her book – ‘Stageplay: The Journey of an Actor’

Sushma SethHaving a career that spans around five decades is indeed an achievement for an artist. And so the knowledge, experience and learning should not be just left dormant. And the best way is to compile all the inner waves of apprehensions into an ocean of knowledge, i.e. penning a book.

So how did it started, to which Sushma replied, “When my own children were aged 6, 7, and 8 years, I needed to involve them in interesting and creative activities. As my field was theatre and drama, the natural choice was to organize a drama workshop for students. Thirty children joined in the eight-week workshop. And the experience for all of us was wonderful and satisfying!”

Over the years, she has been associated closely with the activities involving children and all these experiences and involvement in the field of creative dynamics, drama in schools, and theatre-in-education has been communicated well to the readers through her book. “When children’s creative theatre was born…we held summer and winter workshops for the next 6-7 years. Every workshop ended up in two plays, Hindi and English. During these sessions, I jotted down the daily voice and speech exercises, the improvisations and my experience,” elaborated Sushma.

She expressed her gratitude for Sanjana Roy Choudhry of Amaryllis, who read the manuscript and named her book Stageplay: The Journey of an Actor, and published it with great enthusiasm. Brimming with joy she revealed, “My book is an account of my own childhood influences, besides my experience as a drama teacher and director of school/college plays.” “The initial notes were of the years 1973-1980, but assembled and given shape in 2009, and the book was released in August 2010 by eminent film personality Shyam Benegal, and my contemporary theatre friends of 1960s,” she shared.

The second part of the book is a ready reckoner for all teachers of drama as it details material for drama workshops and the finer aspects of play production. This includes movement of the body, moving on stage, voice and speech exercises, improvisations and guidelines, and other aids for the director or teacher of drama, along with a 10-day drama workshop module.

Poised with panache, Sushma is a true reader as well. “I have been most overwhelmed by the ‘Holy Vedas’, a beautiful poetic adoration of the elements, and an account of the treasure of knowledge of our heritage; the ‘Vedanta Treatise’ by Swami Parthasarthi, an account of the Vedic philosophy for contemporary application; Sage Patanjali’s Yoga Sutra, which I have adopted as the blueprint for life; Swami Vishnudevnand’s book on mantras and their power,” disclosed Sushma. Besides, books on self-improvement and inspiring biographies are the ones she likes to read.

Beauty business tycoon Shahnaz Haussain
Her books – ‘Forever Beautiful’, ‘Beauty Book’,
& ‘The Book of Absolute Beauty’

Shahnaz HussainIt all started almost four decades ago when Shahnaz was in Tehran, where her husband was posted as the head of foreign trade with the State Trading Corporation. Although she was not a college graduate, but she loved to write. And so she began writing articles for the Iran Tribune. Contributing 1,000 words per week, she was offered to handle all the features in English and soon she was running the entire English magazine – cover to cover. “It was due to my writing that I could work my way to leading institutions like Helena Rubinstein, Christine Valmy, Swarzkopf, Lancome and Lean of Copenhagen,” said Shahnaz.

Shahnaz has written three books. First, Forever Beautiful is a comprehensive book on beauty and contains personal accounts and case histories of skin and hair treatments at her herbal salon. Second, Beauty Book, published in 1985 followed with several editions, has also been translated in Hindi, Arabic, Russian and other languages. Third, The Book of Absolute Beauty deals with every aspect of beauty besides treatment of problems through her products. It’s a detailed book on skin, hair and body care, nutrition, exercise, make-up, etc.

She did not go to a regular publisher for her first book instead got it printed at the Statesman House press. So the artwork, proofreading, photograph, layout, etc, had to be done in-house, which was quite challenging for her. “The fact that I loved writing was the main inspiration. I had already written so many articles, I thought it could be compiled into a book and I could also add to it. Since I had adopted a totally new, path-breaking concept of beauty care, I thought of detailing the same into a book and talk about the practical aspects and my experiences. At the same time, it was also a comprehensive beauty book, telling readers about the beauty and health of skin and hair,” revealed Shahnaz.

Interestingly, it took her just one year to complete her first book, which was not that difficult for her as well. According to her, the title ‘Forever Beautiful’ was apt, as she believes that every woman with fitness and good health, as well as the right kind of external care, can preserve and protect natural beauty and be…Forever Beautiful!

In her regular columns, she provides home remedies as solutions for beauty problems. “My philosophy and faith in nature have not only influenced markets and minds, but have become an integral part of my brand’s image,” says Shahnaz.

Presently she’s reading a book titled The Wrinkle Cure by Dr. Nicholas Perricone. Amongst her favorite authors is Kahlil Gibran, whom she likes a lot. “I have read both fiction and non-fiction books and many of them have impressed me. Kahlil Gibran’s The Prophet is a book that impacted me deeply and I still read it from time to time. I find it very soothing and it never fails to uplift my spirits. It contains some of the best advice on living life. Indira Gandhi’s book My Truth had quite an impact on me and taught me so much about the strength of the lady I admired so much. Former president Abdul Kalam’s book Wings of Fire was very inspirational. I have also read many books in my own field, especially on age control.”

Shahnaz is soon coming out with a book entitled My Life in Pictures, a biographical element and should be of interest to all. She is also planning to come up with more books on beauty. “For me, sky is the limit. For others, a good life may be living for a hundred years, but I live a lifetime between the rising and setting of the sun,” concluded Shahnaz.

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