Sunday, 14 May 2017

Mom my rockstar!

I got a message from one of my ex students who is an entrepreneur and a public speaker saying that he’d asked one of his colleagues to get in touch with me for a mother’s day activity. I was wondering what it was all about and how was I any different as a mother. All mothers are special; here I am not referring to women who have given birth to their children but all those who have that caring and nurturing instinct in them.  That makes them equally special if not more. It is said that the strength of motherhood is greater than natural laws.  Mother to me is more than a relationship, it’s a ‘feeling’ and her love and care can never be described. For when a child is born the mother also is born again. I knew about mother’s day in bits and pieces, of late we have started celebrating it in India too. Agree every day is mother’s day and it really doesn’t require one to choose a day to wish their mothers but what’s the harm in celebrating what makes people feel special? Anything that makes you feel good isn’t that bad an idea after all. Whatsapp will be full of content that traces the origins of this day. I found some and sharing the same here with you all to see where it really started.
Mother’s Day is a day for many to thank and show their appreciation towards their mothers and mother figures. It is an annual event celebrated worldwide but it may fall on different dates in the calendar, depending on the country. It is held on the second Sunday (being a non working day) of May in many countries. It’s a day to remember mothers and mother figures such as stepmother, mothers-in-law, a guardian, a relative or a family friend who has been like a mother. There are many ways to celebrate Mother’s Day.  Some common ones are:
Giving Mothers Day cards, flowers, and/ or cakes.
Mother’s Day poems and messages self composed or bought in the form of a picture frame or a memento. 
Gifts such as chocolates, jewelry, accessories, clothing, hand crafted items, hobby ideas and accessories or gift vouchers.
An outing or a day at the movies with mothers.
Phone or video calls if one cannot meet the mother or is based in another city or country.
Family gatherings or events where all mothers and children celebrate the occasion together.
Family brunches, lunches, or dinners either at home or at a restaurant.
Gifting mothers a day at the spa or a complete health check up.
Creating a traditional or conventional album of all pictures and photographs. 
For me mother’s day celebration began almost 15 years ago, that’s when I learnt about it. Got flowers and cake for mom and thanked her for all that she has done for us brother and sisters. It has continued over the years. Then mom in law joined the celebration after my marriage. Now, it’s two cakes and two bouquets. I generally have lunch with one and dinner with the other. Haven’t got both of them together yet may be this year, will have family celebration. 
Origins of Mothers Day
The origins of Mother's Day, as largely celebrated these days can be attributed to two women – Julia Ward Howe and Anna Jarvis, who were important in establishing the tradition in the United States. Around 1870, Julia Ward Howe called for Mother's Day to be celebrated each year. It continued to be held in Boston for about 10 years under her sponsorship, but died out after that. Other sources say that Juliet Calhoun Blakely initiated Mother’s Day in Albion, Michigan, in the late 1800s. Her sons paid tribute to her each year and urged others to honor their mothers.
In 1907, Anna Jarvis held a private Mother's Day celebration in memory of her mother, Ann Jarvis, in Grafton, West Virginia. In 1908, she played a key role in arranging a church service that attracted 407 children and their mothers. A Mother’s Day International Association was founded in 1912 to promote the holiday in other countries. Mother’s Day has grown increasingly popular since then.
Many people believe that Mother’s Day is now very commercialized, with card companies, flower shops, jewelry stores, gift shops, restaurants, hotels, and department stores advertising promotions and special deals for this event. Anna Jarvis, in her lifetime, unsuccessfully filed a lawsuit to stop the over-commercialization of Mother's Day.

Mothers Day for children away from home
Children such as sailors who are away from their families for long periods of time. It is said that distance makes relations grow fonder. Use this distance to make the bond with your mother even sweeter. Men are generally less expressive but making a phone call to your mother or a mother figure will certainly bring in loads of smiles and a few tears. Women are emotional and mothers in particular, simply adore anything their children do, that says ‘they care’. They won’t really bother about any material gifts but a couple of words do for them, bringing a lifetime of happiness and more.

I remember my mother's prayers and they have always followed me. They have clung to me all my life
~Abraham Lincoln

Wishing all mothers a very Happy Mother’s Day and all children, young or old, all the happiness!

Thursday, 11 May 2017

Mom, you make me who I am

My mother was the most beautiful woman I ever saw. All I am I owe to my mother. I attribute my success in life to the moral, intellectual and physical education I received from her.
~George Washington

When I think of my mother, I think of a very strong woman who fought all odds to make sure that her first born survived and survived to be a warrior!  That’s me who was born premature and at home; barely into the seventh month of pregnancy. My Naval diver dad was away for a course and mom had to stay with my grandparents in a remote village in Uttarakhand, there was no hospital close by and healthcare unheard of during those days. I came unannounced and too soon,  no one was prepared including my mother. She was very young. She gave birth to me and nursed be all along to ensure that I survived, she named be Laxmi after the warrior queen of Jhansi, Rani Laxmi Bai. Don't know if I've turned out like that but my mother has treated me like a princess all through....I still am, her princess!  Mom has been my biggest support system, my friend, philosopher and guide. She allowed me to take my own decisions, be it choosing a field of study, career, marriage or any other matter. She was there with me through all thick and thin. I believe I have really been lucky to be born to her. Got luckier; when I got an equally loving, caring and supporting mother in law.

The natural state of motherhood is unselfishness. When you become a mother, you are no longer the center of your own universe. You relinquish that position to your children.
 ~Jessica Lange

I guess you need to know where I come from to understand the gratitude that I feel and the bleesing that I count. I am a professional with a career spanning over 20 years and a hands- on mom, have two lovely sons. I have gone through all the concerns and challenges that every mother faces. It wasn’t easy as I had to single handedly manage things, not depending on my mariner husband who is away for months.  My mothers; mom as well as mom in law have been the pillars of strength for me. They form a great support system, creating the right environment for my children to grow up in. Otherwise I don’t think I’d have been able to do justice to the roles that I play being a mother, daughter in law, professor, trainer, counselor and a blogger. Every woman wears multiple hats and she has the power to manage every role beautifully. The key being investing in relationships, if you want a 100% from anyone your contribution has to be much more than that. All relations are important but that with the mother in law is very special. When I look back, I am happy with my journey so far and I look forward to equally awesome years ahead. I owe all this to my moms. 

In a child's eyes, a mother is a goddess. She can be glorious or terrible, benevolent or filled with wrath, but she commands love either way. I am convinced that this is the greatest power in the universe. 
~ N.K. Jemisin

Happy Mother's Day!

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!