“I’ve always been very open about everything, but in a very self-deprecating and comedic way. And I don’t think that was as cathartic as the understanding I have of it now is.”
When Pooja walks onto a stage, into a camera frame or a room, it lights up instantly with her sheer enthusiasm, openness and vibrancy. Described as an uninhibited and passionate public speaker with a knack for telling stories, Pooja says her voice aims to amplify narratives of women that stray from the norm.
Born in Mumbai, Pooja lived in Shanghai, Canada, London, Singapore, Hong Kong, Delhi and USA before moving back to Mumbai [in a full circle]. Having worked in the space of digital storytelling for years, she believes that these narratives truly have the power to shape and influence the way our communities think. She aims to encourage healthy conversations about mental health, sex, and identity politics that so often stray from the soft and safe spaces they belong in.
Pooja describes herself as a natural storyteller, who tends to write stories that please people. Speaking about the key elements of storytelling she says, “when you’re writing a story, you’re writing to a blank universe, there’s not really anyone specific in mind. And as someone who likes talking to people in front of me – I struggled a lot with that.” She prefers to write letters because she can picture a face in front of her while writing.
In terms of how to construct a story, she stands by writer Philip Ross’s quote, ‘Voice, as a writer, is something that comes from the back of the knees and makes its way up the spine to the crown.’ This quote can be interpreted in many ways, but to Pooja, it’s clearly about honest writing. “Voice comes from vulnerability, and the back of the knees are the most sensitive and vulnerable. So unless you’re speaking from a place that is just brutally raw and honest, I think there’s something missing. Whether you’re speaking to a camera, an audience or a reader, when it’s absolutely honest, it makes a good story.”
Pooja often finds that being so open about her life, mental health and dating experiences is a form of catharsis and therapy in itself, but it depends on how it’s done. “I’ve always been open about everything, but in a very self-deprecating and comedic way. And I don’t think that was as cathartic as the understanding I have of it now is, which is just allowing yourself to fall apart whenever you need to. Obviously it’s important to choose the people you fall apart in front of.”
Among all her various roles and jobs, Pooja has always been inspired by the fast-growing storytelling scene in India. “I covered Spoken Fest last year and I got to see young Indians creating great work that was very raw and honest. It takes time for people to realise that they have many stories to tell and it takes the support of people encouraging them, saying that people really do want to listen to what they have to say.”
Fingering a mangalsutra-like choker on her neck, she tells us it’s her lucky charm and that she rarely takes it off. “Because it looks like a mangalsutra, people come up to me and talk about it. One day, I was buying vegetables when a lady came up to me and said it’s just such a good feeling isn’t it – to be newly wed – and I was like no no no! I’m not married!” The one time it went missing was very symbolic for her, because those few months were a period of her losing and finding herself emotionally and professionally. “When I finally found it and put it back on, it marked the day when I felt sure of myself. It may be a symbol of marriage to many people. But I think of it as marriage to myself!”
Watch Pooja Sivaraman LIVE at PORT
words by Shaista Vaishnav