Monday, 27 February 2017

Differently Abled - a story from The Park Hyderabad

I was at the Park Hyderabad recently on a training program. Have been to the hotel so many times but this time the agenda and perspective was different, so I could notice a whole lot of things that I must have missed on my previous visits.  I also wanted to use the opportunity for my own learning; I wish to share here with my readers. It can also highlight the efforts of all unsung heroes and the ones who are in the limelight most often.
I did two,  two day programs, Train the Trainer and Supervisory Development Programme (SDP). The last day was meant for observation and learning for me. Glad it went in that order. I believe Training is not just a department but its a mindset. 
I am back with extremely fulfilling and enriching training experience at The Park Hyderabad (TPHD). Before I take you all into the differently abled inspirational story, let me share the general feedback about the hotel as that'll clearly highlight the reason why certain concepts, ideas and initiatives work there that may inspire some more stories too.

Let me follow the guest cycle as we call it in the hotel industry, right from arrival to stay and departure.
The arrival experience was absolutely great, I was in my room in less than 3 minutes upon arrival at the hotel. This was a great service recovery after I had to call hotel for the driver's contact at the airport, as travel desk didn't have my number. I am mentioning the incident as it shows a wonderful service attitude and recovery. I met Ms. Sahu, the Front office manager and learnt that they have created a wow team. It did create that WOW for me throughout the stay.

Housekeeping took great care, the room cleanliness was good. I must mention that the rug (carpet) that I was using as a yoga mat smelled fresh. To me that's the exceptional level of cleanliness. I am not auditing hotel cleaning at all here. The amenities for single lady travelers were very thoughtful and I thank the team for everything that they did. Made me feel like a royalty. Also gives me a lot to talk about in my training sessions. As it is rightly said that knowledge is all about sharing. Applauding whats good and working on things that are not so good, till the time they reach a level of perfection too!

The Train the Trainer Workshop - I had one of the best batches in my TTT programs, have been doing this for more than 15 years now.  One, the job knowledge was very good and I could also notice some of the participants being very passionate about certain aspects of their jobs. Be it  Chef Abdul Shakur Khan for the biryani knowldge or Kadheer for his passion for bars. Even Pankaj Kumar from Aish, our Hyderabadi speciality restaurant, who had qualities to be a good trainer. If I write the qualities of each participant this post will go into pages.I believe right feedback goes a long way.

The SDP workshop - The participants were enthusiatic, receptive and a fairly younger lot than the TTT batch. They delighted me with their presentations on creating a story as a team, where they had to trade  pins for items.  It was an inspiration for me as well, to see the staff attend full day workshop and then get back to their shifts, reporting back for training the next day..... on time! absolute delight for any trainer.
I got to spend some time with some of the HODs and managers. HODs, seeking feedback of their team members attending the training session. This is such a positive thing to do. Training filters top down and I experienced that at TPHD.

Met the Chief Engineer, who showed some to the useful things they had created out of scrap. That's the way forward and a great initiative towards sustainability.
Spent some time with the Executive Chef and learnt about the initiatives followed in the kitchens and the Food Production department as a whole. A dynamic person who permeates that quality in his team. Met HR and Training heads, the interaction was again with a lot of exchange of  ideas and synergy. Got to know so many things that they do,  make them anything but ordinary! Spending some time with the spa manager,  learnt about the new business plan and menu for Aura, our signature spa. Again a very insightful discussion and knowledge sharing.

Team members with disabilities

I was so very touched and inspired by the way they have been working. Got insights from Ms.Suchitra  Naidu, Area Director Housekeeping on this project and a whole lot of other things that they do. Ms. Naidu is an inspirational lady and time spent with her is a huge learning always. I met her exclusively to know more about her initiative of involving the differently abled team members into the work force at TPHD. The one hour that I spent with her, we discussed not just about this project but so many other equally interesting and inspiring ones. Will write about them, later.

Coming to the topic, the term disabled is often associated with people diagnosed with different kinds of physical and mental conditions. The conditions that often restrict normal functioning of an individual on a personal or social situation. The first thing that comes to mind when labelling someone as 'disabled' is the action itself. People aren't and shouldn't be labelled as anything, least of all disabled!  Who they are as a person is not impacted by a medical condition and it certainly doesn't contribute to their identity.

The term disabled has not been favoured in recent times with several alternatives coming up. People have agreed upon 'differently abled' being the most appropriate one to use. Individuals with mental or physical conditions are rightly called differently abled as they possess unique set of abilities and perspectives. Everyone has ability and everyone matters isn't it? It's just the matter of acknowledging it. 'Differently abled' doesn't hide the fact that they do have difficulties and challenges that might hardly matter to the ordinary human beings; but continues to empower them despite it.

Most often, differently- abled people see what we can't, hear what we can't hear and think what we can't imagine. This makes their ability; not inferior, not even superior but just different! The term differently abled recognises talent and value in everybody and treats them equally. The lack of certain mental and physical conditions  need not stop them from enjoying a fulfilling, enriched and loved life. Many differently abled people are known to flourish and rejoice in life with the right opportunities, support, guidance, encouragement, love and care.

I asked Ms. Naidu how she initiated getting differently abled team members on board. She had worked with ITC hotel Kakatiya, that employed  people with disabilities in the laundry, gradually involved them in some other areas too. She got inspiration from there. More than that, she spoke about a problem that she was facing in the laundry, linen and uniform room. It's a big hotel and has many employees. The morning scene in the linen room, where the staff go to pick their uniforms from, used to get tensed. Imagine many employees yelling at the counter staff for their uniforms. They would shout, pick up arguments and do a verbal volley if delayed, certainly not a pleasant way to begin the day.

She thought of getting staff in the uniform room with hearing and speech disabilities. She contacted Take One, an organisation that trains and empowers people with disabilities. It didn't matter what the people are shouting for. They'd just do their job and not get hassled. The outcome was different. The laundry and uniform room became so much quieter and everyone smiled. There was built the culture of understanding and humanity. No one wanted to shout but wanted to encourage the new team members. Slowly the other staff started learning the sign language. It was heartening to see everyone communicating with them in their language. Didn't matter which department they worked in everyone was learning the sign language... the language of love and understanding.

On talking about challenges that she faced, she said that while working in the laundry especially on the flatwork ironers, sometimes they'd have their fingers in the feeder. Whistles were given to them so that in case of any mishap or emergency they could blow the whistle and attract attention and help would reach them. They were trained on SOPs and each team member got better with every passing day. That gave them a lot of confidence, they moved from self pity to the level of being confident and self reliant.
This was evident to all, their families were  grateful to the hotel for giving this life changing opportunity to their loved ones. The mothers came and thanked Ms. Naidu.  Can really identify with their concern, as when a child is diagnosed with a medical condition, there are many questions that emerge such as what does this mean for his future? Will he be able to cope in the real world? How will their own life change after this revelation? How will the family deal with someone who is different from others?
When they saw their differently abled child do well as a professional, learning new skills and enjoying his work More than anything else he is happy! They'd but naturally be grateful.

Their uniforms have, ' Differently abled' monogrammed on them so that no can miss that especially the guests. The hotel guests may find it rude if the staff don't  respond to their requests, the message on the uniforms serves the purpose. They wear whistles around their necks to draw attention when needed. She spoke in details sharing incidents where the differently abled staff showed so much of commitment. She said some of them were immensely talented. One of them gifted her a portrait of hers for her birthday.The journey that started for a few 6 years ago from the laundry now has moved to other areas that are covered by the housekeeping department. Its heart warming to see so many happy faces and happy families have resulted from the small step that was taken by Ms. Naidu. 

She discussed many more ideas in this direction and making work place conducive for the differently abled. She swears by the loyalty that these people bring with them. Also the intelligence that they display. To add the care and understanding of human beings, qualities that are needed in the hospitality industry. I know her ideas will find wings and  will certainly write about them too.  
A portrait gifted to Ms. Naidu by one of her talented differently abled staff.

Tuesday, 31 January 2017

Romancing the chicks!

We meet interesting people, say butter chicken types and some are the typical tangy, minty, spicy chutney kinds and Chef Mandaar Sukhtankar is one such person. Have known him for almost a decade now, infact the familiarity was more with his food. He specializes in Italian cuisine and  he can pass off like one of the interesting Italian men, if you know what I mean! 
He heads the kitchen brigade at The Park Hyderabad, A very interesting hotel that is truly a grand boutique hotel carrying the glimpses and the legacy of the Nizams. I love every visit to the hotel and look forward to the next one. Its a designers delight and scintillates every possible sense that you might have. Mesmerizing is the right word for it. Most of the trips to the hotel are on work, that means there's a very packed schedule in place but Chef Mandaar would always make it atleast one dinner with us. My personal favourite being Aish, the restaurant serving Andhra and Hyderabadi cuisines. Haven't had Haleem and Andhra food better than Aish.

I was there recently for a training schedule at the hotel, as usual had a very packed one and Chef Mandaar was busy too with many high profile events that he had to personally oversee the culinary part. But it was on my agenda to meet Chef as his first book is out called Romancing the Chicks! Infact what attracted me to the book was the title. I had to meet him and get to know a bit more about him as a person and also the story behind the book. I love stories and I know for the fact that people love them too. Infact the participants in my training programs always compliment on my real life anecdotes and stories as examples. Hence proved....this sounds so Maths isn't it? Doesn't matter if you liked maths or not but stories certainly go a long way.

Chef Mandaar Sukhtankar - Who?
An alumnus of the Institute of Hotel Management, Pusa, New Delhi, Chef Mandaar started his career as a management trainee with The Park hotels in 1993 at New Delhi.
He was one of the only 12 winners worldwide, of the ‘Foundation for the Future’ scholarship awarded by the International Hotel and Restaurant Association for the year 2000-01.

In 2006, he was rated as one of the Top Young Chefs of India in an independent story published by the Taste and Travel magazine and in 2013 he found place among the Celebrated Chefs of India - a definitive book by Marryam Reshi brought out by the Times of India group.
He credits his early learning of European cuisine to the Spanish restaurant, Las Meninas at The Park New Delhi, but he is more famously known for Italia, the suave and iconic Italian restaurant that he opened and ran for 10 years at The Park in Bangalore.
His work with Antonio Carluccio, one of the biggest names in Italian cuisine, has made him one of the foremost foreign exponents of Cucina Italiana, to the extent that it made Carluccio call him “my extension in the east”
More recently he was awarded the ‘Chef of the year 2016’ by the Times Food awards at Hyderabad, for his revivalist work with Hyderabadi cuisine at the  award winning restaurant Aish at The Park Hyderabad.
He loves to travel and explore cultures and cuisine and is an avid writer with a keen sense for capturing details in his unique literary style. He also loves photography and playing the guitar.

Chef Mandaar Sukhtankar is the Area Director, Food Production of The Park, Hyderabad, a contemporary Indian boutique hotel and during his six year stint there he has worked a lot on traditional recipes and explored the cuisine of the Nizams in great depth.
He lives in Hyderabad with his wife, Meenakshi – a trained classical musician and son Aadi- a budding young cricketer.

Hope you found his story interesting.

The conversation I had with him was even more.... interesting! This time we couldn't manage to have a meal together so no food suggestions from him but I had to meet him and get an autographed copy of his book. I am a die hard romantic, how could I miss on getting a bit of romance myself? I met Chef around 8.30 pm after my dinner at Verandah. He was in an event but the kind of person that I am, with the never give up attitude managed to get 20 minutes of his time. That's when I heard his story and what brought him into the kitchens of the Park Hotels. 

Hotel management by chance 
He comes from the army background, during his 12th he had gone to pick up a form for NDA entrance exam. The lady at the counter didn't have the change so she offered him the National Council's hotel management joint entrance exam form for the IHMs. On the day of the entrance exam for hotel management, his friend came on his moped to pick him from his home. Mandaar was sleeping, it being a Sunday. He didn't want to go for the exam but the mother force woke him up and asked him to get going as there was money paid for the same. A DD of Rs. 100, that was  a big amount in 1990, mind you and Indian mothers want value in everything. So Mandaar went for the exam by accident of sorts as the sight of other candidates carrying thick books, guide for the entrance exam scared him. The result was out and he secured a seat at IHM Pusa, one of the top colleges in the country.

He was interested in Food and Beverage service initially and wanted to go to Cidade de Goa for his internship in the second year of college. His reason was to chill out in Goa. But again there are some good friends and advisors, especially for the parents. Following the good advice, they asked him to train in a city hotel where the exposure would be good. He finally interned from The Taj Palace Hotel, New Delhi. That's where he developed interest for the culinary. Rest is history! He has so many awards in his kitty, done newspaper columns, articles for journals, TV shows and what not!

The book - Romancing the chicks!
He started off as a column writer in the Deccan Chronicle, the editor liked his content and the writing style so much that he offered Chef a full page weekly feature on culinary. Which he undertook for a good time. Then a lady from Westland books asked him to try putting his interesting stories about food in a book. He gave it try and approached the publisher, the result of that is a book that is not just a cookbook but the one that celebrates food. 
I simply loved this book, the stories that are woven make things so very, ' in front of your eyes'. I loved every chapter. The recipes are a must try with so much gyan and interesting tidbits in between. Appetizing sense of humour and cool incidents as well as names served for dessert.  I strongly recommend this book to all the chefs, chefs in the making and the chefs at heart. A great book for gifting as well.  Its available on amazon if you wish to feel a bit of the romance, show some love! Would say its a very different book on culinary, a collectible for sure. At The Park Hotels we call it Anything But Ordinary! 

Monday, 9 January 2017

Kick that pill!

Though I am a healthy person and manage my weight within limits, I had developed gestational hypertension 8 years ago and was taking medication. In 2013, got a health screening done rather accidentally at a camp in my housing society. The reading for blood sugar were slightly higher. This made me take a stock of my health. Thought to myself  that I was on medication for hypertension and if I started another one, I'd be stuck in medications and I wasn't even 40! Thought I really had to do something about it. I checked my BP regularly and it was always on the lower side of the normal with a low dose medication. I wondered if  I really needed the pill?  The next time I visited my doctor I shared my concerns with him. He said that it could be achieved but with lots of efforts and monitoring. So the efforts had to start and they had to start with me. I ensured that I did atleast 30 minutes of exercise everyday, watched my salt intake. With being a bit thoughtful and leading a healthy way of life. I was only on a maintenance dose. Then the doctor put me off the medicines gradually.
Around that time. I had to travel to Kerala doing a series of training programs. I came across an article in the newspaper on Hypertension and how the medicines were not the best solution for it. It also addressed the side effects of the medicines. I also discovered that May 17 was celebrated as World Hypertension Day. I can't recollect other details of the article but it did help me in understanding the condition. I researched on the topic to get more facts.  I made a promise to myself that I'd do ‘whatever it takes’ to kick the pill, I did that and for good! Its a lifestyle disease most of the times. If lifestyle can get it; making changes can drop it too, was my belief. Its been more than two years and I haven't taken the medicines for BP. Of course, I consulted my doctor.  Have made a few significant lifestyle changes, yoga has become a part of it in that quest. 
Let me share, all that I did in the pursuit of kicking the pill! Do check up the internet for more details, I have only mentioned what I have been doing. It'll be half the purpose served if it can motivate another person. Just like an article in the newspaper was an eye opener for me.
Tibetan Yoga
All thanks to my sister, she introduced me to the 5 Tibetan Rites. A quick form of yoga that I find great and doable. Morning 15 minutes are dedicated to The Five Tibetan as it is referred to. It should not be done without the doctor's consultation, if you are suffering from high blood pressure. Found it extremely good for overall health.
Watch salt intake
I am not too much into it, I eat the regular food but avoid anything that has excess salt such as pickles and papads, generally had with Indian food.
I take 2 pods of garlic first thing in the morning, with a glass of warm water. It is said that garlic helps controlling blood pressure.
I take some crushed ginger in the form of tea before going to bed. Ginger too is considered helpful in controlling the blood pressure. 
I also walk for half an hour everyday. Do twenty minutes of yoga and deep breathing. This has helped me keep blood pressure under normal limits without any medication. Not only has it contributed in fulfilling my short term goal but also helped improve my overall health. Specially women in their mid 30's- 40's go through a lot of changes. This lifestyle will eradicate all those challenges, if not that, they'll make them bearable. I have experienced that. It helps greatly when you are aware of what you are eating, no need to actually go off certain foods and exercising 'moderation' to everything works. Its also a great idea to have a cup of green tea or may be just black. Above all, be hopeful and optimistic that it'll work for you. I am a very strong believer of that Hope! Placebo works.....
Stress is the biggest spoiler
Remember no one is incharge of your happiness, for that matter not even sorrow; except you! It is said that everyone works hard to make a happy life for himself not to create so much stress that one dies because of it. Stress is one of the main causes of lifestyle diseases. It needs to be under check always, if uncontrolled it spoils everything else that one has done for his health as well as personal and professional goals.
Each one of us is different and different things work for us. Be it on the health front, weight management, lifestyle perception or what works for us on the professional front.  Find out what works for you. It may take time but once understood you can have a lot under your control. That understanding is needed to create a great work life balance and a happy life! 

Keep walking, dancing and running your way to Health, Fitness, Wellness and Happiness!! 
PS pictures are taken from google for representational purpose, with due credits!

Friday, 6 January 2017

Invest in relationships!

Mom in law and I were having a very meaningful conversation, it started just as a tea time talk though, me having tea and she telling me why I shouldn't have so much of it! Afterall the Saas- Bahu relationship is such, Ekta Kapoor created Indian television history, and had soaps that completed golden, diamond and platinum jubilees. Her daily soaps running successfully over decades. She probably knew what Indian women wanted to see, not just Indian but the neighboring countries and the NRI community all over the world. Not generalizing or stereotyping anyone but there were fans! Though I wasn't tuned to any but had a fair idea of some of them that my mother or mother in law watched.
Coming to where I started, our conversation, mom in law's friend's son had separated from his wife and the reason apparently was that she didn't want to stay with his parents leading to a situation,"Either them or me". This was not one odd incident but have heard of quite a few in the recent times. Its unfortunate that people end a beautiful relationship based on such reasons. Assuming that's the reason though! I guess people try everything possible to make things work before they decide to quit or leave. 

We are living in the times where each one of us has an opinion and expresses it at the drop of a hat. There's big data generated and is readily available for use. Who are these opinion makers? They are mostly the people who are single, not favouring marriage either as an institution or as a lived experience; married people who are either pro arranged marriages or the ones who strongly favour the love marriages. These people never lose any opportunity to stereotype marriages or married couples. This can be a classic example of, life is simple but we insist on making it complicated. It is said that life is the toughest exam and most of the people fail because they copy others but the fact remains that each gets a different question paper!

I am not an expert on relationships, so looked at my own life, its easy to take pages out from there. Probably to see what created and cemented the relationship and bonds around me.
Ours is an arranged marriage, me coming from a small family and brought up not typically like the girls of my generation were. Someone who was independent, who had been given all freedom to choose what she liked and be what she wanted to be. I am forever grateful to my parents for that. 
When I was moving to my in laws house, my dad was extremely emotional and he said just one thing to me, "Now you have another set of parents, love them just the way you loved us" Nothing else. That has been my takeaway; the most precious possession I carried with me. Today I understand that better.

Its never easy or smooth going for any girl moving to another household. There are differences, more than that the girl is different in the sense that she moves to another role. From being a daughter she graduates to a daughter in law. Not that the man doesn't feel the change, in fact some are so scared that they don't want to get into the institution of marriage at all. All thanks to the stereotypes created around them and my husband was one so I know.
Law becomes an integral part of her personality. She needs to make her own rules for that law book. That'll involve time, understanding, observing, seeking guidance, following a mentor and so on... the list can be as expansive or as crisp as she likes. It not only takes time, intent and patience to achieve but is also an ongoing process. Its like an SOP that needs review and updates regularly. Relationships need nurturing, period!

How did I make my imaginary  rule book?
My husband and I are persons of quite different construction, bent and of dissimilar views. To say opposites attract will hold good in our case too. Attract is one thing but remaining attracted is quite another. Over the years we have learnt to respect each other's views, personalities and ideologies. We try not to interfere or create influence on each others lives anymore. This has taken time and our energies to reach where we are today. Husband is taken care of what about in laws? 
When I came into the new household, I just did whatever I understood from my dad's precious gift, his advice. Tried not to interfere be it in the rules of the family, the kitchen or the decor of the house. My room was my perspective but the rest of the house would continue to be getting the patronage from Mom in law. Biggest family feuds happen in the kitchen they say.
Non interference and respect for each others opinion has been the strength in my family. In laws have treated me like a daughter in fact even better, I only put them at the same place as my own parents.

Infact over the years, have realised that we are quite dependent on each other emotionally, we seek suggestion, support and even take decision as a team? So its me and my in laws as a team, at times even husband in not in the picture! I believe, to get cent per cent from relations you need to give ten times more. Its an investment, that has plentiful rewards, above all it gives happiness and creates harmony. 
So the people who have not lived in the system, can never know the joys of it from a distance. Not having invested enough time you walk out with too little, at times it could only be half baked. That haste can break the relationship as it happens in some cases.

Living with in laws has so many pluses that one must consider a blessing and truly His grace bestowed on you! It gives you the freedom to pursue what you desire never having to worry about who'll be behind managing things back home. You must also give room to the their freedom, step in whenever needed. Children have a balance and healthy environment to grow up in. They learn the values of respect, love, caring, sharing all simply while growing up. Humility is automatically instilled in them. Living in a bigger family system, children learn and know by observation rather than pasting family trees in their school notebooks. They live as a branch of that tree that has deep strong roots built by every member contributing to the purpose. A great family or a relationship is the one where each one takes your problem as his or her own and you are never left to face it alone. Wouldn't victory come to that relationship or the family?

The older you get the more you realise that it isn't about material things, ego or pride but its about the things in your hearts and who it beats for. If caught in a tricky situation when it comes to relationships, one must tackle that fear as Face Everything And Rise rather than 'forget everything and run'.
Invest in people who invest in you and time is that commodity or the asset. There's certainly no other way to invest in a relationship without investing your time!

PS: Pictures are taken from google, with due credits for representational purpose.