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In Legacy, some prominent personalities in India share their experiences, insights and learnings through inspiring letters to their respective daughters.
Review by Aparna Vedapuri Singh
It becomes a challenge to review any kind of anthology or collection of writing, if the quality of writing varies significantly from one entry in the book to another. When I started reading Legacy: Letters from eminent parents to their daughters, it occurred to me that I might be in for such trouble, especially since I disliked the very first letter by noted industrialist Ajay Piramal (more on why, later on in this review).
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Thankfully, that was not the case with this collection, and as I read through the rest of the letters, I found almost all of them interesting and enlightening in some fashion or the other, except for a very few which fell into the ‘generic advice’ category. The collection has been put together by Sudha Menon, Author of Leading Ladies: Women who inspire India.
Legacy is in one sense an artificially constructed set of ostensibly personal notes; while reading the book, the reader is always aware that these letters, while written in the context of an intensely private relationship (parent – child) have nevertheless been written for the public gaze. Artist Jatin Das, who writes to his daughter, the actor Nandita Das points this out when he says, “My dear Nitu, I know you will be surprised to see a typed note by me, one being printed and read by others even though it is meant only for you.”
Artificial in that sense it may be, yet Legacy is a valuable project. In a country where many well-heeled and educated families have little compunction about aborting a foetus purely because of its gender, it is necessary to scream from the rooftops that there are families where daughters are wanted, cherished, loved and encouraged to fulfill their potential. This is also why I was disappointed that the very first letter by Ajay Piramal to his daughter Nandini stresses the value of sacrifice, especially for a woman.
He says, “Both you and your husbands have careers and aspirations of your own, which I am happy about, but let me caution you that if a marriage has to succeed, you will have to sacrifice more than your husband.” Surely, most Indian women have been beaten with this stick at some point in their lives, and I was sad to see it in a collection that should be about helping women to go beyond the traditional limitations that constrict our lives.
Luckily, there are plenty of counterpoints in the book, including letters from mothers Chanda Kochhar and Renuka Ramnath, both highly successful women in the financial industry. I found Renuka Ramnath’s letter particularly inspiring, both because of the tragic circumstances she has weathered and her unapologetic acknowledgement of her drive and ambition to achieve at work. Talking about life beyond work, she says, “There can be no bigger joy than marrying the man you love. But even then, it is important for you not to forget and give up your identity…. Don’t live with the feeling that you sacrificed your personal goals for your family.”
Other highly readable letters come from Pradeep Bharghava, the Managing Director of Cummins India and Ganesh Natarajan, CEO of Zensar Technologies. Both share deeply personal experiences from their lives that have shaped them, including in their role as parents. While most of the letters are lessons shared by parents with their children, Ganesh Natarajan also talks about his own journey from conventional religious belief to agnosticism thanks to his daughter Karuna’s influence.
One issue when reading a book of this nature is that beyond the stories, the lessons can become repetitive. Be kind to others. Persevere at what you do. Money is a means, not an end. Learn to think for yourself. We hear these again and again. Naturally, one cannot blame the writers for sharing their innermost convictions, but it is possible that reading this book in bits and pieces may actually make it more enjoyable and fresh than reading it at one go.
Minor errors that could have been picked up by editors are one small blip, but Legacy is otherwise well worth a read for anyone who is a daughter, has a daughter or just believes that this country needs to value its daughters.
Publishers: Random House India.
If you’re planning to purchase Sudha Menon’s Legacy do consider buying it through this Women’s Web affiliate link at Flipkart. We get a small share of the proceeds – every little bit will help us continue bringing you the content you like!
Readers outside India can purchase Legacy through our affiliate link at Amazon.
Founder, Editor of Women's Web, Aparna believes in the power of ideas and conversations
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