Leela Menon, a pioneering journalist and the chief editor of Malayalam newspaper ‘Janmabhumi’, died at the age of 86 in Kochi on Sunday.
“She passed away at 8:30 pm today. For several months, she had not been keeping well and was undergoing medical treatment. For the last couple of months, she wasn’t able to recognise anyone,” said Joseph Alex, managing trustee of Signature Aged Care, where Menon had been living since January this year. Her body will be kept for public homage at the Town Hall in the city and then later cremated.
Menon, who began her journalistic career with The Indian Express in New Delhi in 1978, shot into the limelight for her wide-range of ‘exclusive’ stories and courageous reporting. At a time when a very few women journalists from Kerala showed the courage to enter the field, she led the way for them. She worked with the paper in New Delhi, Kochi and Kottayam. After her long stint with Express from 1978 to 2000, she started writing columns for ‘The Hindu’, ‘Outlook’ and ‘Madhyamam’ before she joined ‘Janmabhumi’ as its chief editor.
“She came into the profession after leaving a secure government job. She might not have even been getting half of what she was earning before. That shows her dedication to the profession. She was an extremely daring journalist and had a tremendous sense of news,” recalled MK Das, who was the Kerala resident editor of The Indian Express, at the time.
“One of the stories she did that I remember was about the large-scale prostitution among women potters in a village near Nilambur. When I broached the story to her, she immediately said yes despite the risks involved. She wrote a beautiful story and we featured it nicely. It was an eye-opener for many newspapers and magazines at that time and it made a lot of impact,” he added.
Das said Menon was one of the few reporters in his team who bothered about time. “She specialised in human interest stories and was a campaigner for gender equality,” he pointed out.
Menon had a long struggle with cancer but was able to defeat the illness and fully recovered from it. In the last couple of years, she had been suffering from hypertension, breathlessness and diabetes.
Her autobiography, ‘Nilaykatha Symphony, published in Malayalam is considered a brave memoir detailing all the major events in her life, from her childhood to marriage to journalism and finally her fight with cancer.