Before I begin on anything about Purnima Menon – I have to explain ‘Kathakali’ as an art form. It is important that you know because, within my limited knowledge, it is one of the toughest art forms ever. Its rigorous training involves the mastery of all the body’s muscles. One performance alone takes hours of preparation – just for the ‘costume and make-up’. The performer applies natural irritant to the eyes to change the eye colour. The footsteps for the act involve hard thumping on the floor with the sides of either feet. There are 144 pieces of jewellery that go into the performer’s attire! (and this is a very shallow/small glimpse of the complexity of the artform)
“How do you manage it all” – is one question that repeats itself to most women who get on the dais after any success. ‘Work-life Balance’, ‘Work-life Integration’ – there are many terms coined for the same. When I saw Purnima’s name in LinkedIn’s List of ‘Must Know Writers (India)’ and her profile as ‘CMO of MicroLand and Kathakali Dancer’ – there were a thousand questions that I had.
She is an active performer of an art form of such complexity, she’s the CMO of a ‘Billion Dollar Company’, She’s in LinkedIn’s list of ‘Must Know Writers in India’, she’s passionate about CrossFit (an intense strength and conditioning form), she loves music and had just finished recording a ‘Karaoke’ song when we spoke!
AND…the chat I had with her was at 6 a.m. on a Sunday morning- she filled with love and laughter. This lady here has coined a new term for managing it all! – ‘Work-life Celebration’!
Considering the fact that Kathakali is Kerala’s very own art form, I was in for a surprise to learn that Purnima was initiated into it in New Delhi when she was 9! She, along with her sister (aged 5 then), learnt the basics from Sadhanam Balakrishnan Asian (ex-principal of ICK, also associated with Kalakshetra). Her father was passionate about Kathakali and insisted that the girls continue their training. It was her interest in music and percussion that kept Purnima connected to Kathakali till her mid-twenties with long gaps in between. Then, inspired by her own sister being connected to Kathakali with much greater fervour, she decided to take it up again. She dedicates her current interest in Kathakali to Guru Evoor Rajendran Pillai and his storytelling techniques.
Speaking of her career, she said she started as a management trainee with a leading retail chain in Mumbai when she had to move to Delhi due to her father’s health. She joined a company called BATES where she handled reputed clients from electronic goods to airlines. From there it was the aspiring curve of being a marketing leader, marketing manager, and CMO. She was the head of Marketing for great brands like Tata Telecom and Infosys BPO in her Thirties.
She considers her corporate journey as one that couldn’t have been otherwise. Storytelling and connections are what she was all about, and she was blessed to have great mentors who took her under their wings all along the way.
As long as you bring the requisite values to the table, find the balance of letting go of the small fights and standing up for the right ones, and maintain the right attitude – you are bound to reach your destination.
Her biggest learnings have come from significant failures and risks. Her failure in an interview with Infosys propelled her to turn the tables for the next. A risk of taking a coder under her wings and entrusting him with a marketing position rewarded one of the best digital marketers in the industry.
“If you are passionate about something, you will not find it as a chore. You will not exhaust or have your hands full”.
“Understanding our innate talent and passion helps us evolve better in our respective roles. Since I’m passionate about Kathakali, there is a lot that the artform demands which I do with ease. I constantly update myself watching YouTube videos, I got into CrossFit training to maintain the fitness levels and set aside an hour every day for it. We are reviving the ICK (International Centre for Kathakali) in Bangalore and plan to form a chapter formally and popularise it. This passion has also helped me in my career in terms of learning, laughing and loving every moment.”
“In India, we have women with priorities handed over to them in terms of ‘getting a job, get married and have children’. Instead, I encourage women to explore their innate talent and form a connection with themselves. This commitment to themselves will help them evolve into celebrating their work and life”. Her infectious smile and cheerful tone throughout the conversation was proof enough of the power of positivity.
I’m always awe inspired in the divinity of ‘art forms’ where people use their own being as a tool to tell stories of great impact. We chatted more than an hour and half and it was Purnima’s innate ability to connect that awed me. She made me feel like she was my long-lost childhood friend and I guess as an artist, as a blogger and as a CMO that’s her beautiful talent.