Decades ago, Mohua Chinappa gave up her career in public relations in favour of family, and turned homemaker. After years of struggle and facing bad times, Chinappa, a former journalist based in Bengaluru, began writing to express herself and to reassert her identity.
Soon, her communication skills spilled over to the medium of podcasting. Today, in her fifties, Chinappa is an established podcaster, voiceover artist and columnist who highlights women’s perspectives.
Often taking on issues related to rebooting one’s career and gender equality, Chinappa uses her journalism skills to interview other women on her podcast, which is titled The Mohua Show. She also wrote a book Nautanki Saala and Other Stories (2022), a collection of short stories that explores urban India’s socio-cultural-economic shift in the past few decades, and lays bare the many stories that women often don’t share.
In this interview, Chinappa shares her journey and inspirations with eShe.
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How did this transition from being a homemaker to becoming a writer and then a podcaster come about?
Like most housewives, I too had given up my ambitions, my aspirations and my dreams to manage my family’s needs. I had no independent bank account and was cut off from the world of paid work.
Then, the veil of conditioned attitudes of marginalisation and dependency on others as a housewife started to gnaw at me. My awareness of my situation got clearer. So, the search for the woman who was more than the home she kept began.
It was not easy. Most around me wanted the old me. But I was steadfast in my decision to reinvent myself. From the fragile, unsure housewife, I chose to pick the threads of podcasting and writing.
When did this second phase of your life and career begin? What was the trigger?
It started with my only child leaving for his higher studies. I felt a vacuum that seemed purposeless and all-consuming. I had not really comprehended the impact of the empty-nest syndrome. Added to that were the changes that had taken place in the working world with technology and mediums of communication.
I did try to find employment, but most thought that, as a housewife for over a decade, I wouldn’t really add any value to an organisation.
So, I decided to start out on my own, and to keep it small so that I didn’t need much financial investment. I began by writing a blog. The blog caught the attention of many readers and brands came forward to offer me work. From there was the genesis of my writing journey. I also did voiceovers for a few brands and that was the start of my work as a podcaster.
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Your first book Nautanki Saala and Other Stories brought out unheard stories of women and men across India especially from smaller cities and towns. How did you go about the research for these stories and what are you writing next?
My formative years were in Shillong and then I moved to New Delhi. I currently live in Bangalore. My debut book is a collection of short stories of people I had met in Shillong and New Delhi over the early two decades of my life. I had lost touch with many of them, but the stories they shared with me stayed on. I chronicled those heartfelt experiences using the creative license to bring alive the protagonists of my stories.
The next book is a series of letters that I am writing to my late father. It is about the many things that were left unsaid, misunderstood and the trauma of displacement that I felt had devoured him as he aged.
It is said that writing is a cathartic process. You delve into multiple forms of writing, but each has a common thread of displacement and pain. Tell us more about this.
Writing the stories helped me close a few difficult chapters of my own life. Also, I have experienced the pain of displacement at a very young age, when we Bengalis were forced to move from Shillong because of insurgency to Delhi and then to Bangalore.
I still feel quite unsettled. I can’t pinpoint which place to call home. The pain of leaving a beautiful hill-station, where most of us knew each other, and finding myself anew in a city as large as Delhi, haunts me regularly in multiple ways. I still pine for the hilly roads, and I find myself subconsciously still searching for the powder-blue hydrangeas that grew unhindered in my Shillong home.
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Many homemakers who want to reboot their lives look up to you. How do you manage this newfound fame and responsibility that comes with it?
It’s extremely heartening to know that I can inspire. But I also know that fame is as transient as the fleeting sunrays of my childhood home and the rain-drenched Shillong skies. So, I don’t take fame seriously at all.
I remain accountable in my writings and I hope I can empower more women with my work and also in the field of podcasting.
Housewives definitely need a voice and if I can share mine for the ones who are afraid to open up, I know that breaking my silence would have been worth it.
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