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Sathya Saran

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“I think I am a good writer. That’s the only skill I have,” said Sathya Saran on a visit to Tokyo from Bombay.

In her honest assessment of the driving forces in her life, Sathya denies her many other skills. Intense and convincing, she is a reliable, efficient organizer. Her qualities of leadership are pronounced. As editor for 12 years standing of Femina, India’s foremost magazine for women, Sathya has illuminated issues and taken positions that testify to her social awareness, ability and courage.

She is known as an activist with a purpose, a popular and senior journalist who encourages Indian women to think about themselves and what goes on in their lives. “I want women to be independent,” she said.

As the daughter of a government servant, Sathya spent much of her childhood traveling to her father’s different postings. She remembers with particular affection the years she lived in Assam. That remote northeastern state neighboring Bhutan is a region of hill tribes, tea gardens and deep valleys with gorges and rapids. “It’s beautiful there, with that huge river running through,” Sathya said.

She went to Hyderabad to enter college. “I always wrote, and I studied English literature,” she said. “I wanted to be a journalist, but I married and had a baby whilst trying to get a Ph.D. in American literature. Then I joined an English-language newspaper in Nagpur, Maharashtra.” She also freelanced, sending her stories to national dailies and magazines, and becoming “a kind of correspondent for Femina.” After two years she won the national Young Journalist Award.

25 years ago she joined the staff of Femina, which is published by the Times of India group. “My husband closed his factory, packed his bags, and we moved to Bombay,” Sathya said. The magazine caters to all age groups, though its main readership comes from the under-40s. Concerned with considering conflicts in society, it advocates keeping the lines of communication open between those who take opposing sides. It seeks to bridge differences in outlook and opportunity between men and women, whilst urging women to re-examine themselves and their accustomed roles in life. “We want Indian women to believe in themselves, to realize that they can do anything they want,” Sathya said.

In her capacity of guest columnist contributing to other periodicals, Sathya takes up troubling problems involving women and men, women and children. She discusses education and politics. She tackles the urgent and often misunderstood threats of HIV and AIDS. Some of her stories appear in high-class international magazines. She writes fiction too, and has to her credit three stories published in Japanese. Since last spring, Sathya has moved from the editor’s seat to become director of brand alliances for Worldwide Media Ltd., a Times group-BBC Worldwide joint venture. Her viewpoint remains unchanged.

Sathya came to Japan bringing Femina’s support to the Wings of Love charity dinner organized by BirdLife Asia Division in conjunction with Tokyo’s Taj Enterprises. Sathya praises Princess Takamado for her energetic leadership and active presidency of BirdLife International. “If birds are healthy, so is the land beneath,” Sathya affirmed. “I was brought up close to nature, and know we must protect and preserve threatened birds and their habitats. We are indebted to nature, and to birds for their part in life.” She has a particular hatred for plastic bags, knowing the harm that they, as indestructible litter, do to the environment and to birds. At every opportunity on a woman-to-woman mission she campaigns to have the use of plastic bags discontinued.

Anything that interests women interests Femina. For many years Femina has promoted the Miss India contest, and within Femina Sathya was the key person. She views the contest as a useful element in building up the morale of women. “It serves its purpose,” she said. “It gives shape to aspirations of health, beauty and intelligence. There are no losers in the Miss India contest. Any event that is uplifting, that helps women to be proud of themselves, is important. Our policy is to help women find confidence, self-definition, to carve roles for themselves in society. Women turn to Femina for a supporting hand. When celebrities come together — artists, musicians, designers and Miss India, as they did for BirdLife Asia — they promote a social cause, and the cause of the environment needs all the promotion it can get.”