Meet Manali Shah
I have a confession to make: I am terrified of writing about writers. I mean, how do you rightfully voice the stories of those who view life in words and cadence? The ability to share their worldviews brings along the feelings of nostalgia, and immense responsibility. So, when I reached out to Manali Shah, Assistant Digital Features Editor at ELLE India, for a feature on #AmrutamNari, I knew I had to work double as hard, given my embarrassing fear of writing about writers.
Naturally, the first thing I did was read as many articles by her as I could possibly find. Manali is, quite unsurprisingly, an ace writer and also an avid reader. She’s currently picked up Exquisite Cadavers by Meena Kandaswamy and The Women Who Forgot to Invent Facebook & Other Stories by Nisha Susan. As someone who spent most of her life with her nose buried in books, and browsing through the features section of newspapers, she knew this was something she wanted to do for a long time. “I would read anything and everything I could lay my hands on – fiction from the school library, novels passed down by older cousins and swapped with neighbours, and yes, even the second-hand books bought for a few rupees from the local raddiwala, a uniquely ‘90s phenomenon,” she says. So, choosing a career in media was truly a natural progression for her.
“Nothing else existed when I was thumbing through the pages of an engaging piece of fiction. As a teenager, I loved the features section of newspapers and when it was time to pick a career, I really couldn’t imagine studying anything other than media. I had zero interest (or aptitude, for that matter) in science or commerce.”
Hustling against the odds
As a family, the Shahs have always been extremely close-knit and supportive of each other, as Manali points out. But finding enough time to spend with loved ones is always a challenge in a city like Mumbai and she just about manages to get by. “With friends, it’s usually at a restaurant, after work if it’s a weekday, or spending a quiet weekend evening taking a walk, and hopefully getting to pet some cats along the way,” she adds. She also speaks about her family with great admiration. Her parents always emphasised upon making their girls feel loved and expressing affection verbally: “Love you, beta”, “So proud of you” and “You’re the best” are statements she grew up hearing (and continues to hear) often.
So, back when she was pursuing her degree in mass media with a specialisation in journalism from the University of Mumbai, her family was very supportive of her creative endeavours. Manali was hell-bent on honing her skills, interning every summer, seamless in earning her editors’ approval which further cemented her belief that this was the industry she was meant to belong in. She interned at Mumbai Mirror’s entertainment desk and the Hindustan Times. Her dedication was so impressive that upon resuming college, the then-editor Hindustan Times Café, Mayank Shekhar, allowed her to freelance for the publication, and thus, Manali became the first college student to receive that sort of freedom and responsibility!
“Since then, I’ve worked full-time at the legacy magazine, Society, have been part of the founding team of HT 48Hours (a new supplement by the Hindustan Times), freelanced for a couple of international magazines, and now, I am the Assistant Digital Features Editor at ELLE India. It’s been a crazy ride. I’ve interviewed Indian and international celebrities from all fields — entertainment, business, music, comedy, attended global fashion weeks, written cover stories, created podcasts, learnt mobile journalism, handled social media… basically hustled 24/7.”
Millenial with a grandma personality
Going through Manali’s writings, I sense a distinct comfort. Her tone is warm; the choice of her words acerbic. But her talents are not confined to weaving stories and offering global and unbiased perspectives. Her Instagram bio read describes her as “29-year-old millennial with a grandma personality” with “Views personal” in the next line. Scroll further and you will find her sincerely striking a Chakrasana pose in front of the Duomo di Milano in Italy and hula hooping with fire in Bandra.
I remember speaking to her for the first time on a quiet Tuesday evening. She picked up after the second ring and instantly asked me, rather candidly, how I was doing when I told her my name. At that moment, I remember thinking to myself: if I ever make it as big as her, I will also try my best to also remain as grounded as her.
Often described by her friends as fun, self-aware and open to experiencing new things, Manali is also great at gifting and dispensing advice. Given her field of career, she is always in sync with pop culture and is prone to getting ‘hangry’! When I ask if she is a night owl or an early bird, she says, “I struggle to wake up early but once I’m out and about, I actually feel more productive in the first half of the day than late night. And may God help the person who tries to talk to me before 10 AM!”
“I recently discovered the delight that is K-drama, and in embarrassingly little time, have become obsessed with Korean TV shows. I’ve just finished the super popular Goblin and I’m now into While You Were Sleeping. I’m also on the final season of Schitt’s Creek, which is really subtle in its humour and very different from other popular sitcoms.”
On learning to be kinder and biggest influences
For some reason, Manali’s humility feels unbearably palpable (in a good way, of course). She’s generous with compliments and is a constant learner. And she also understands the gravity of the platforms she engages with. This is also probably why she applies too much pressure on herself to do things perfectly, and this is not limited to just office-related tasks. “Learning to go easy on myself is a WIP. I need to constantly remind myself that it’s enough to try my best regardless of the outcome, and to not derive my sense of self from professional success,” says Manali, who also knows that there’s no way to quantify writing. “So, as long as my Editor and I are happy, I tell myself it’s a job well done.”
Manali also draws immense inspiration from the people in her life and the events that happen on the daily that continue to shape her worldview, work ethic, and thought process.
“As cliché as it sounds, my parents have made an indelible mark on my value system. They are not the preachy sort, so everything I’ve imbibed from them has been from watching them conduct themselves in their day-to-day life. I get my relentless optimism and never-say-die attitude from my dad. I take after my mother in being empathetic, thoughtful, and always treating people right. Also, I can’t ignore my elder sister Sonali’s influence on my personality. As annoying as she is (siblings, amirite?), she introduced me to rock music in my teens, is responsible for our shared wardrobe consisting of only black T-shirts at one point, and overall set the tone for what I considered cool in terms of pop culture.”
A journey of unlearning
Despite growing up in a joint family, Manali never heard anyone say things like “women can’t do this” or “women are not good at that”. Her choice of career, appearance, clothing, and the company she kept was never questioned. Growing up, she had the liberty of questioning her parents’ ideals and engaging in rational discussions. “I count myself incredibly lucky that I was raised in a progressive, liberal environment where I was given plenty of freedom and the choice to make decisions for myself,” she says.
While Manali has always identified as a feminist, she admits to engaging in her fair bit of unlearning and addressing the internalised misogyny she realised she needed to, in her early 20s. Spending hours reading online articles and books on feminism certainly helped her overcome her internalised biases. “In my mid to late 20s, I discovered voices from the Dalit, Bahujan, and Adivasi communities and realised feminism is nothing if not intersectional,” Manali explains. Quite evidently, feminist leaders, activists, and writers have moulded her ideology and she’s come to rely on them for news far more than mainstream media. One of her favourite social media accounts to follow is @Reductress, the Instagram account of www.reductress.com – a satirical women’s website. “It’s like The Onion but better,” she quips.
Superpower as a Woman
When asked about the superpowers that help her excel at her work, she concludes:
“I think it would be my willpower and resilience, which women are abundantly blessed with. We are also masters at multitasking.”
Manali’s mother learnt about natural remedies, doshas, and Ayurveda rules for food from her mother and through a lot of reading. So, she always emphasised on Ayurveda for wellness, and its principles resonate strongly with Manali. “Ayurveda heals from within, and that’s something that I think is really important. My entire family is into yoga, I myself learnt yoga when I was 21, and continue practicing it even today (though not as frequently as I’d like),” she adds.
On being part of #AmrutamFamily
“Vanity was never encouraged in our household so while I didn’t grow up applying DIY face packs, today, I definitely prefer skincare and beauty products that are rooted in Ayurvedic philosophy. This is a major reason why I’d pick Amrutam over mainstream, chemical-ridden brands. Kudos to Amrutam for choosing ingredients that nourish your skin and hair in the true sense of the word. And for supporting women through their values and digital presence! It’s a mark of a company that goes beyond thinking only of profit and actually believes in building a community.“
Manali seems to be grabbing life by its horns. And she still manages to remain incredulously humble, rather effortlessly. And I am simply in awe of her. She believes in equal rights and the agency to lead a life of choice, freedom, and passion. Her message to the readers says: Smash the patriarchy! And we couldn’t resonate more! While most of her value system is built on taking responsibility and ownership, she understands the need to make collective efforts to create and sustain a better world.
Amrutam celebrates Manali for her honesty, passion, and relentless will to learn. We take immense pride in having her as part of our #AmrutamFamily!
More on #AmrutamNari:
- Aafreen Ansari, Mental Health Activist & Forbes Asia 30 under 30 List
- Ankita Kumar, Travel Content Creator
- Aanchal Malhotra, Oral Historian & Author
- Shramona Poddar, Travel & Lifestyle Blogger and Co-runs Amrapali Boutique
- Rohini Kejriwal, Curator & Founder, The Alipore Post
- Kshitija Sarda, Founder & CEO, Platform For Artists
- Aditi Surana, Graphologist & High-Performance Coach