For a successful entrepreneur, Ayesha Chenoy’s latest detour into Insta-poetry and authoring a book of micro poems is perhaps not surprising, considering that this is the same economist who gave up a high-profile investment banker job in London to move with her husband to India on a whim in 2009.
“I thought I’d write and we’d enjoy the expat life. Instead, we launched a lot of failed businesses and lost a lot of money,” laughs Ayesha, who studied economics at Cambridge University, where she was awarded the 2001 Adam Smith Prize for Economics, previously awarded to Amartya Sen.
She has no regrets. “I don’t think you can regret that one turn that changes your life. You don’t know where it takes you,” says Ayesha, who founded RepIndia in 2013 when she was six months pregnant with her first child, and led the firm to its current position as one of India’s largest independent digital advertising agencies with over 300 employees in three cities, and clients such as Burger King, Gap, P&G, Canon, Suzuki Motorcycles, FabIndia, JSW, Tata Trusts, Adani Group among many others.
This year, having handed over the CEO position to her brother Archit Chenoy while she remains chairperson, Ayesha is finally indulging her first love: writing.
Based in the tony South Delhi neighbourhood of Shanti Niketan, where she lives with her businessman husband Ishaan Ahuja and two sons Aari, eight, and Ivaan, six, Ayesha has recently launched her debut book of poems To the Bravest Person I Know (Penguin Random House India, Rs 299), made up of little nuggets of new-age wisdom wrapped in evocative line drawings.
The book is a compilation of micro-poems, some of which are from her popular Instagram account, where she took to sharing her thoughts on life, love and relationships just before the pandemic struck. Seeing the success of the Insta-poems, a friend suggested she write a book in this format. Months later, it was on the bestseller charts.
“I’m a huge believer in luck, and all this makes me hugely grateful to the universe,” says Ayesha, who earned her MSc in finance from the London School of Economics, and also studied creative writing at Central Saint Martins.
The poems range in length from a few words to a few lines, with the titles coming at the end, much like captions on social-media posts. Most would reverberate with young people struggling with relationships in the digital age, while some reflect universal experiences:
“I have a dual personality,” says Ayesha of being able to manage the hard numbers of business and finance along with her rich imagination and gift of writing. “And I think that mix of tenacity and creativity helped me.”
After the book was published, she was touched by readers’ responses from unexpected places, such as from a carpet seller in Iran and her children’s school principal in Delhi.
A spate of celebrity endorsements – from popular UK poet Nikita Gill, Bollywood actors Amitabh Bachchan and Bipasha Basu, to fashion designer Tarun Tahiliani – surprised and delighted Ayesha, sparking off more ideas for future books.
Ayesha’s poetry is an extension of her expertise with digital storytelling, and she does not see any difference in the literary quotient of a piece of work simply because the medium has changed.
“It is merely a reflection of the change in the way we read things,” she says of the rise of Insta-poetry and a whole generation of poets who specialise in mini-verse and interactive captions.
“The way we consume content has changed, and Instagram is a great representation of that. People enjoy these micro-quotes that are short, heartfelt and can encompass an entire story in two lines,” she opines.
She also believes the ascent of the digital marketing platform has not really changed the fundamental rules of the game, and her job is still pretty much the same as traditional marketers. “Marketing is marketing: you still have to understand the brand ethos and what the audience wants to see,” she says. “In fact, the return on investment is greater now because you can see the numbers and reach.”
A follower of positive affirmation techniques such as Access Consciousness, Ayesha is now working on a second book, a work of fiction. “You write because you have to,” she says. Her advice to her reader in her book sums up her own approach to success:
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