Ayesha Chenoy, a successful investment banker who won the prestigious Adam Smith Prize for economics at Cambridge, served stints at Merrill Lynch, UBS Global Asset Management and Credit Suisse before cofounding in 2013 an advertising agency that she says empowers brands and help them build their digital real estate: a universe of interactive and immersive experiences.
Not surprisingly, her debut as an author is in the form of therapy delivered through a series of poems and a letter to the reader that threads through the book.
“Sometimes you just burst, and that’s what happened,” Chenoy said in an interview of her book, “To the Bravest Person I Know” (Penguin) – that grew out of the disruption caused by the pandemic.
“I started writing this book on a flight on the way to a client meeting and I didn’t even know it was going to be a book then. It was a stream of consciousness-like the therapy I always wanted on paper, and that was the start of something special,” she added.
“While writing has always been something that’s not only come naturally to me, but something that’s helped me navigate through the ups and downs of life – as the pandemic hit last year, writing my thoughts, my grievances, my emotions – is what helped me push through.
“And as I wrote – I questioned: what really is the true meaning of bravery? What makes us brave, is it the big life moments that determine our trajectory and our legacy or is it making it through every single day while still maintaining some semblance of sanity. Somewhere along the road of answering these questions, I was able to bring together a community of equally curious and perplexed individuals – asking the same questions, looking for the same answers,” Chenoy explained.
After close to a decade of running the RepIndia advertising agency while simultaneously raising two kids, she had almost forgotten how therapeutic writing can be.
“So, as the world around me slowed down – as my typical 8 a.m. morning training sessions were replaced by an online workout, time lost in traffic and client meetings were replaced with time on hand – I was able to return to my love for writing, for expressing some of the things that are most meaningful to me. I guess I did what you do when life offers you lemons – I made lemonade,” Chenoy elaborated.
She had been longing to write, with a focus on mental health, and gender equality ever since she first quit investment banking in London and studied creative writing in 2009, “and since then I did everything but write – well except for advertising campaigns that fed my stomach, but my heart remained wanting”.
The journey began in March 2020, with mainly poetry which was illustrated.
“I wrote several poems on domestic violence, depression, and love, hope, and began to post them on Instagram. Voila! Even before I knew it, I had thousands of followers on Instagram who loved and appreciated the format extensively. In no time I had an offer from Penguin to publish. While my heart continues to break at the loss and suffering we’ve witnessed together since the beginning of this pandemic, the spare time has also allowed my heart to finally get what it’s always desired. Amen,” Chenoy said.
To that extent, from dysfunctional families to coming of age, from dealing with heartbreak and grief to learning forgive, “To the Bravest Person I Know” grapples with our myriad emotions and questions the construct of being ‘normal’.
It submits that fear is normal, as is feeling insecure; depression is normal, as is hurting people. And bravery is about facing it all. It’s about facing everything life throws at you every day. The book cuts through the rainbows and self-righteous dross to provide a vaccine of truth, liberating and reminding us that we are all in a tunnel, and that it is normal to feel like we may never get out – but there is light at the end of it.
How, then, does she see the ‘new normal’ panning out?
“We have never seen a time like this before, and I believe that the concept of bravery has permanently changed. and the new normal means that we are all a bit more scared, we all truly recognise how fragile life is and there is a recognition of the importance of mental health. I think people have had the chance to introspect and live knowing that nothing is certain except for our freedom to choose our own reactions and emotions, Chenoy elaborated.
How did she come to adopt this format – a series of poems and a letter to the reader that threads through the book?
“I wanted to write a book that is easy to read but influential, that combines art and words to help anyone who reads it. People struggle with time to read, with mad hectic lives, and I wanted to create something that they can just pick up again and again and again, that is short but stirs up so many emotions and gives them Strength. I believe that with our very busy lives, we often need something short and powerful and visual, a few words but then again with so much meaning.
“When the world has turned upside down, we need to be brave,” Chenoy concluded.