Sudha Madhavan

Author & Artist

Meet Sudha Madhavan, one of our senior-most #EntrepreNaaris in the community. Sudha is a thriving artist of the classical school, a children’s author with Hachette Publications and a freelance travel writer. 

When it comes to family heritage, Sudha has been fortunate. Her grand-aunt was a talented artist, and so was her father, who was a Mechanical Engineer and an officer in the railways, instrumental in designing a new version the WT Locomotive Engine. This wonderful, innate artistic ability was passed down to Sudha too. By the time she was 10 or 11, she was already making gorgeous watercolour paintings. She was fond of writing too, and got her first piece published in a magazine when she was 13. 

Though art and writing were always important to her, Sudha trained to be an educator by profession. She taught for a few years until she got married and life took her in a different direction. When she was around 42, Sudha’s journey took yet another turn – she needed to start working again, so she went back to education. But this time, Sudha opted to work as an educator and resource person with NGOs. Her work took her to the outskirts of cities and to remote villages. She found it both challenging and deeply satisfying! 

That was around the time she resumed writing. She wrote columns for newspapers, mainly about her work in the social sector — but as she began travelling more, she graduated to writing travelogues. And encouraged by her daughters, she rediscovered her old passion, art too. She was initially quite hesitant about it. ‘I thought it’s been so many years since I’ve done this, there’s no way it’s going to work for me now. But as I picked up the brush, I surprised myself!’ Sudha exclaims. She started painting everything — glimpses of nature, portraits, architecture, still life, and of course, unique moments from her travels. 

‘We are a travel-loving family, and we love experiential travel,’ says Sudha. And indeed, her travel experiences are wide and rich. She has met young monks at a Buddhist monastery in Western Bhutan. She has interacted with the semi-nomadic Lambani women who were the ‘forest-wanderers’ of Rajasthan. She has shared a cup of tea with a Konyak headhunting warrior king in Mon District, Nagaland. All of these moments have left deep impressions on her, and have found their way into her paintings. 

What’s particularly notable is the accuracy in her work. Sudha is careful to represent the exact shape of the Konyak Naga warrior tattoo; the exact number of beads on the tribal queen’s necklace. ‘These are real people that I have met, with stories and experiences of their own. I have to be honest in my art — I cannot misrepresent them.’ 

Moreover, she sees her art as having the potential to become slices of history. The people she paints are of a passing generation, so these paintings may well become points of reference for generations to come. 

Each painting took her three to five months or more to complete, and Sudha started getting so absorbed in her art, that she realised she didn’t want to do anything else (other than writing, of course!). 

Today Sudha’s work is shown and sold in exhibitions across India. As for her writing, that was something she simply did for her own pleasure — writing down stories from mythology and recreating old tales as poems. Only recently did she think about getting them published. Today, some of her short stories have found their way into an anthology for children published by Hachette India, and her new book, a collection of stories on Kings and Queens from Indian mythology, is soon to be published by Hachette too. 

Asked about her journey and about starting over, Sudha shares a message of hope. ‘You discover yourself. Often circumstances don’t let you evolve in the direction you should go, but eventually, with application and effort, you do discover your potential.’