Tuesday, 7 November 2017

Professional Grooming and Etiquette

Hospitality industry and immaculate grooming go hand in hand. As a trainer I conduct workshops on grooming and etiquette, am dedicating an article on the topic for the readers. Hope you like the pointers covered here. It can be used as a ready reckoner! 

There is nothing more embarrassing for a young man or a woman than to be put into a new situation that requires etiquette and  professional decorum and not really knowing  what to do or how to behave. Etiquettes or manners are described as good or bad to indicate whether or not a behavior is socially acceptable. Every culture adheres to a different set of manners, although a lot of manners are cross-culturally common. They are a subset of social norms which are informally enforced through self-regulation and social policing; hence they are publicly performed. Everyone is expected to adhere by them. 

Etiquette is behaving yourself a little better than is absolutely essential.~Will Cuppy

In today’s competitive business arena, it takes more than your educational qualification, updated CV or an up to date wardrobe to sail through smoothly. A study by Harvard University revealed that, to be successful in one’s career and personal life one needed to possess 15% of technical skills and 85% of people skills (Social, Business and Dining Etiquette). As businesses become socially-oriented, companies look increasingly to those who have what it takes to represent their organisation on a public platform. The class, style and the confidence that can individual showcases; Etiquettes are thus extremely important. 

Why are etiquette important?
Being familiar with the ‘norms’ will definitely help you. It allows you to fit in, be comfortable and confident.
  • They need to sharpen their social and international skills.
  • They are professionals at all levels of the corporate ladder.
  • They have aspirations for career advancement
  • They meet high-value clients, who are well travelled.
  • They hold international positions.
  • They regularly attend to internal and external customers and stakeholders for business or social purposes.
What is the need of immaculate grooming and business etiquette?
All professionals in the corporate world, need to be abreast with the dos and the don’ts. They are an integral part of one's personality.
  • Creates awareness on the impact of soft skills and first impressions.
  • Sharpens employee’s professional image and etiquette.
  • Increases employee's self-confidence, motivation, commitment and positive morale         leading to greater performance and productivity.
  • Improves and reinforces corporate image and brand value.
  • Improves client relationships through employee’s professionalism.
  • Enhances corporate charisma.
  • Takes the Company ahead of it’s competition.  
What will happen if you manage your skills of grooming and professional etiquette well?
Who doesn’t want to create a positive first impression? It is said that the first impression is the best one. The first 4 minutes are extremely important in any meeting or interaction, use the grooming and professional etiquette to make those 4 minutes count! Using these etiquettes will:
  • Make positive impressions with or on clients.
  • Conduct business with a professional demeanor.
  • Demonstrate confidence through eye contact and a firm handshake.
  • Know the etiquette of dining and table manners.
  • Know who to introduce to whom and handle business cards correctly.
  • Deal with clients or colleagues with respect and courtesy.
  • Dress according to the dress code.
  • Express compatibility and respect to different cultures.
  • Cultivate professional working relationships.
1.   Importance of Impressions
It is much easier to make a good first impression than to correct a bad one! It takes a quick glance, may be just 4 seconds to evaluate you. With every new encounter, you are evaluated and yet another person's impression of you is formed. These first  encounters are extremely important, for they set the tone for all the relationships that follow.  Rule of 12 applies to the first impressions:
  • The first twelve inches from the shoulders up
  • The first twelve steps a person takes
  • The first twelve words a person speaks
2.  Making Proper Introductions
 Look into the eye of the person you are speaking to and complete the introduction. Speak clearly, use courteous language and preferred names or titles. Shake hands if appropriate.  All rapport is built upon conversations; and most begin with small talks.
  • Approach with a smile and have an eye contact.
  • Open a conversation with a genuine compliment or an open ended question.
  • Whatever you do, don’t begin with a lecture about yourself, turn the spotlight on the person you are speaking with.

In today’s workplace, gender is removed from all etiquette
  • Whoever reaches the door first opens it and holds it for others.
  • Both men and women rise to meet and greet, especially when a handshake is involved.
  • It is not expected for a male business companion to seat a female associate. But it’s fine to show some chivalry
  • Stand to meet someone
  • Extend your hand immediately
  • Shake from your elbow
  • Hold for 3-4 seconds
  • Maintain eye contact
  • A confident hand shake compliments the introduction
3. Body Language
Your body language often reveals more about you than verbal communication. Be conscience of it, because it is always being observed. Have a positive and affirmative body language.
  • Good posture displays confidence.
  • Don’t slouch, stand and sit upright.
  • Don’t fidget; it’s annoying and a sign of boredom.
  • Keep hands away from your mouth when speaking.
  • Honor others’ personal space, don’t intrude or stand too close.
  • Break nervous habits, such as gum chewing, nail biting, drumming fingers, hair twirling, etc.
  • Body language decides the winner!
 4. Dress code
Your appearance impacts your mood and confidence. It’s important to be aware of dress codes and understand what they mean. Though dress may be a very personal matter, it becomes a very public or professional matter when on the job. Employees are expected to comply with company standards. Dress to fit your audience and yourself. Clothing should have a good fit and be well-maintained.
  • Dress for the occasion; considering the guests, location or the event.
  • When in doubt opt for overdressing.
  • Casual – appropriate jeans, shorts, etc.
  • Smart casual- Jeans, Shirt and shoes for instance.
  • Business Casual – Open collar, slacks, skirt.
  • Business Professional – Jacket, tie, ladies suit or dress
  • Semi Formal – Suit for men, cocktail dress for women
  • Formal – Suit or tuxedo for men, formal dress or gown for women
  • Dark colors compliment your shape and create the appearance of authority
  • Polish your shoes, they are noticed and they speak volumes about your personality.
  • Quality accessories are important; sling bag, briefcase, purse, an umbrella, file holder etc.
Dress code – Men
  • Ties should reach your belt buckle.
  • Socks should cover your shin when sitting.
  • Wear a long sleeve shirt with a suit.
  • Socks match either trousers or shoes.
  • Button suit or coat when standing
  • Two button coat – button top button
  • Three button coat – button top two buttons
  • Double breasted coat – button all buttons

 Dress code – Women
  • Use fragrances sparingly
  • Makeup and jewelry should be kept simple
  • If the men are wearing ties, you should be wearing hose(with short dress or skirt)
  • Avoid all clothing that is too revealing or too restrictive
  • Don’t wear heels so high that you are unsteady.
  • Nails should not be more than ¼” in length
  • Nails should not have chipped nail polish, keeping them clean is a better idea.
5.    Conversational Techniques
For engaging conversations in social gatherings, one must:
  • Be polite
  • Be a good listener
  • Puts others at ease
  • Be comfortable to discuss various issues
  • Asks good questions
  • Never interrupt
  • Graciously accept a compliment with a simple, ‘thank you’
  • Extend a compliment with sincerity
  • Learn to open and end conversations with grace
  • Pick up on nonverbal cues when to end a conversation with “It’s been a pleasure talking with you, please excuse me.” or “I’ve enjoyed meeting you, please excuse me.”
And a good way to walk away from a conversation that is getting boring is to never have your drink more than half full so if you are “stuck” you can say “excuse me, I’m going 

6.    Telephone and Mobile Etiquette
A lot of work happens over the phone these days; hence it’s good to know the polite rules.
  • Smile and speak -  clearly and at a comfortable pace.
  • Tone and voice clarity are more important than the words you use.
  • Never eat, drink or chew gum while talking
  • Always begin a call by introducing yourself, your company and with whom you wish to speak.
  • When answering a call immediately write down the caller’s name and repeat it during the conversation
  • Return all calls within 24 hours to refill my drink.”
7. Dining etiquette
Business meeting or for that matter even dates happen over food. Following dining etiquettes help create great first impression that we have been talking about all the while. Learn the finer nuances and intricacies of
  • Napkin Use
  • Ordering
  • Reading the table setting
  • Use of silverware and glasses
  • When you have finished
  • Tipping
Putting these etiquette into practice can make a big difference in your social or professional life. You will make more friends, be invited to more parties and be considered when job opportunities arise. You are a complete winner!

Respect for ourselves guides our morals, respect for others guides our manners.~Laurence Sterne

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

Friday, 3 November 2017

50 years of The Park Hotels - a memoir!

The early association
The first time, I heard about the Park hotels was in 1997, final year of my Hotel Management course at IHM Mumbai. I didn’t appear for the off campus selection as it was being held in Calcutta (in 1997 the city wasn’t named Kolkata officially). I didn’t want to travel that far, in fact a few classmates did go for the interview at The Park Calcutta. Since, I had already decided that I’d join the Taj group, it didn’t make sense to travel that far.
Inauguration of AIH, 5 April 2007
Unveiling of the plaque by Mrs. Paul
Fast forward to 2007, The Park Navi Mumbai opened in February and The Park Hotel School was all set to mark it’s beginning. I heard about the hotel school and did like the concept. Moreover, for a young mother workplace being close to home was a blessing. The mother in me was more excited than the professional side of mine; but natural that my son was only 8 months old then.  I met the Principal Mr. Bhuvan, Mr. Shirish Bokde who had by then joined as an HOD, was also there for the meeting. I was asked to go for an interview to Chennai as the entire management team was going to be there.  That very week I was booked on an early morning flight to Chennai. There was another person accompanying me, who was also shortlisted for the position of HOD, Food Production. The flight was on time, the hotel car picked us and we were led to The Park Chennai.  As we approached the hotel saw steel doors instead of the regular glass ones that give a grand view of the hotel’s plush lobby. The moment the door opened it gave a glimpse of some cameras and lights; the reception counter was designed like a boat whereas the floor looked like the sea. I was amazed at the design of the hotel and also the uniforms of the staff.  I didn’t know much about boutique hotels though I did an idea, having read somewhere.  I also didn’t know that The Park group was the pioneer in bringing the concept of Boutique hotels in India.

We went to our respective rooms for wash and change and got ready for the interview. We were then asked to go to the business centre close to the hotel where the Financial Review Meet was in progress. All the General Managers of the hotels, Finance heads, MD, and Chairperson Ms. Priya Paul were there. Until this time I wasn’t really sure if I wanted to join the new organization that was so very different. Remember I came from a very conventional hospitality college that had army kind of rules. Equally strict with the norms and dos and don’ts was the Taj Mahal Hotel, Mumbai where I had worked. We waited for Managing Director Mr. Vijay Dewan and Mr. Lemuel Herbert, who was then the general manager of The Park Bangalore with an additional responsibility of setting up the hotel school.  They interviewed us during their tea break. That was the first time I saw Ms. Paul who was surrounded by the unit heads and she stood in the centre with so much grace, power and a magnetic sense of authority, she was charismatic and had a magical aura about her. I wanted to work with her and be a part of the organization; wanted to make sure that I did well in the interview. The interview was quick and I was selected as an Associate Professor and Head of Department for the Hotel school. I am not calling the institute by it's name as it didn’t have one then. I was asked to join as soon as it was possible. Since I had a few commitments at the place of work, I joined from 15th April 2007.  But the first day of work in reality was 5th April 2007, the day Apeejay Institute of Hospitality was inaugurated. I had the privilege of being the master of ceremonies for the event and also host the first program offered from the portals of AIH the Supervisory Development Program. Have fond memories of the ground work that we did for the institute right from finalizing the name, logo, vision and mission statements to formulating rules and regulations. We have brought up the institute to the level of being one of the finest in the country with 8 batches already graduating from it’s portals and successfully completing one decade of quality education and training.
Inaugural program and first PDP
AIH Team with Participants of the first PDP
AIH now
Today AIH offers 3 years Bachelor’s Degree programme in Hospitality Studies (BSc-HS) affiliated to the University of Mumbai, the group’s Management Training programme, Professional Development Programmes, Executive Training Programmes and consultancy projects for the hospitality industry are some of its additional core activities.

Management Training Programme
The MT Programme of The Park Hotels has been conducted since 1992 at different locations such as The Park New Delhi and The Park Kolkata. AIH became the centre for the programme since 2007 and it has been evolving over the years. Today AIH has its role right from recruiting the management trainees from selected campuses across India, the on-boarding as well as off the job training at its campus to monitoring the program over the two years. The responsibility concludes with the graduation of the management trainees both for The Park and Zone by The Park Hotels. It is one of the most sought after MT programs in the country.
The modules covered include The Park culture code and ABO moments, Communication, Corporate and management skills, Core hospitality content, grooming, wellness and lifestyle, customer sensitization and industrial visits. Some of these have been differentiators and are considered benchmark practices.  It does follow and inculcate the group’s philosophy, ‘Work hard and party harder!’ 
BSc HS Students Graduation Day

The Park Management Training batch 2017-19
BSc Hospitality Studies
The institute offers a 3 years Bachelor’s Degree programme in hospitality and IATA Foundation Diploma in Travel and Tourism from IATA, Canada.  At AIH, we believe the most effective way of imparting knowledge is to induce a coherent partnership between its two chief facets - learning and application. This is achieved by virtue of the institute sharing its premises with The Park Navi Mumbai. This becomes the biggest advantage, as it gives students the opportunity to get hands-on experience during their course of study, in terms of training facilities of the hotel for front office, housekeeping, Food and Beverage service and production, and back of house support functions.
We are committed to the all-round development and training of every student who walks through the portals of this institution. Our aim of providing the industry the best ensures that we give our students the best as well. This is evident in our much respected faculty, our cutting-edge resources, and our drive to stay up-to-date with the latest in the world of hospitality. We are focused on developing talent in a dynamic learning environment, based on our expertise in hospitality, to enable students to lead the industry into the future.
10 years of AIH, 5 April 2017
The team
The faculty members are multi faceted. They are empowered to take up various roles right from being counselors, to professors handling the BSc program; they double up as trainers for The Park Hotels as well as manage the MT program. The Park Navi Mumbai doesn’t have a training manager as this role is fulfilled by a faculty member supplemented by the entire team. This makes AIH the learning centre in the true sense. Every faculty has a blog that has its own fan following.  Some are extremely popular; they write on different domains. They are approached as consultants by renowned organizations and also get invited as resource persons for various events and programs of repute. This is taken as an opportunity to learn and explore. This learning helps adding value to the training programs offered by the institute. Our professors have created benchmarks that are replicated by many. They also contribute greatly towards important matters of the University of Mumbai. The admin staffs also handle various roles in their capacity in managing institute’s operations effortlessly, lending great support to the faculty team.

 Best practices
AIH has over the years experimented on many new practices that have come to a level of near perfection now. Some of them are 

  • Professional Development Programmes that bridge the gap between university curriculum and industry. 
  • Experiential workshops that inform and engage students who wish to join the industry in taking one of the most important decisions of their lives.
  • Remedial coaching for students who didn’t fulfill the required attendance norms to not only achieve the same but utilize the time to update their knowledge or skills.
  • Staff engagement through wellness has been one of the success stories towards health and wellness. Yoga class is conducted every Friday for team members. Some of them have gone ahead to enroll in certificate programs and have become certified instructors themselves.
  • Many success stories of students who graduated from AIH. Students who lacked either recourses or focus.  AIH has coached and counseled the students as well as necessary resources made available to them so that they were able to not only do well in the course but also make great careers for themselves.
  • The graduation day, one of the events where we invite not only parents and industry stalwarts but also the media has been appreciated by all who attend. It’s been a showcase event for AIH that we have been able to perfect and benchmark.
  • The whole campus is Wifi enabled with 20 Mbps optical backbone. All staff as well as students get AIH email ids that use the Google backend for seamless communication and access to learning resources. Thus we promote paperless communication, our eco initiative. We also promote the use of smart phones on campus for conducting online tests and exams. These not only save resources such as use of paper but are also are highly efficient.
Felicitation of team members completing 10 years

An ABO experience
My entire experience at AIH and The Park Hotels, has been Anything But Ordinary in the true sense. It started with my own on boarding. How many of us can take pride in being the founder team members of an educational institute that is affiliated to one of the oldest universities in the country? A university from where the father of the nation graduated. AIH has been like a baby to me and I take pride in it’s every little achievement. Can say that, we have come a long way and have miles to go!
We had the honour and privilege to have Mr. Jit Paul, inaugurating the institute along with the entire Paul family. I would be failing if I didn’t speak about the empowerment I have felt at every stage. Being able to do what we are good at and being encouraged to do so. Even when I thought of doing something else; to contribute towards my individual social responsibility.  The chairperson having heard all that, said that the organization wouldn’t want to lose me!  I feel that’s the highest level of appreciation one can get. Who’d want to leave an organization that values you not just as a team member but as an individual with unique skill sets, needs or aspirations?
The organization has always supported us in bringing about changes or innovations true to the vision of the company, Leadership through differentiation. I have had ABO moments in almost all hotels that I have visited, as a trainer or as a guest using the hospitality plan. In 10 years,  have been to all our hotels and it gives me immense pride to be associated with this esteemed organization, being solid since 107 years and the hospitality division completing golden jubilee this year. As a trainer I have been conducting induction programmes for the new joinees right from General Managers downwards and with every induction I learn something new. Gain another insight into the philosophy of the company.

The Park Hotels Legacy
When I joined the company in 2007, I did my homework and found out all that was available from the information point of view. Over the years I did a bit of research on boutique hotels and I have written a blog on the subject not well known. Every new joinee specially the ones for Sales and Marketing as well as front office are asked to go through the write up and get a better understanding of the brand that’s a pioneer in luxury boutique hotels in India. Ms. Paul is given the rightful credit for the same. She is one of the most respected as well as decorated hotelier. She was awarded the Padmashri by the Government of India in 2012 and The French Government conferred on her the rank of Knight of National Order of Merit of France in 2014. She has won numerous awards and accolades for her contribution to the hotel industry and the concept of design as well as out of the box ideas.
The Park Hotels is introduced to the world as a collection of contemporary luxury five-star boutique hotels in India belonging to the Apeejay Surrendra Group, headquartered in Kolkata, West Bengal. The hotel business was started by Mr. Surrendra Paul in 1967, with the opening of the Group's first hotel, The Park, a 150-room hotel on the fashionable Park Street in Kolkata, on 1 November; the hotel at Visakhapatnam was added in 1968, while The Park New Delhi commenced operations in 1987.
The company’s vision is Leadership through differentiation, with a brand promise of Anything but Ordinary experiences across our hotels. The hotels are located in Bangalore, Chennai, Hyderabad, Kolkata, Navi Mumbai, New Delhi, Visakhapatnam and Goa.
The Park Kolkata was awarded the National Tourism Award (2003–04) for outstanding performance as the Best Boutique Hotel in the country by the Department of Tourism, Government of India. This is in addition to the numerous national and international awards won by the hotels.
 Flurys was awarded the most stylish place by Lycra MTV in 2006 and it has been bestowed with the lifetime achievement award by Times Now in 2010. That year it also won the award for excellence, as the best cafe in the city and also CNN IBN - the most loved breakfast place.
More recently, The Park Hotels has been recognized with the Asia’s Best Employer Brand Award 2017 under the category of Best Companies to work for. The event was held at the Le Meridien Singapore on August 1, 2017, hosted by Employer Branding Institute and World HRD Congress.

I have a dream to dedicate a book one day, having lived the philosophy of the organization and experienced the culture. In fact I have every script, right from inauguration of the institute to all the functions that I hosted as a master of ceremonies. Be it the first year BSc programme, The Park Management Training Programme, the graduation day or the valedictory function. Everything is there on my computer! I also have the profiles of all dignitaries who visited AIH, that were used for their introductions, as well as some of the speeches that were kept ready as a reference for the dignitaries addressing our students. These are some priceless memoirs that I possess. I love the minuscule role of a decade contributing towards the larger history of The Park Hotel’s glorious five decades! Wishing the organization more power, to move from strength to strength; from Gold to Diamond to a Centenary and more!

#50YearsOfThePark #AnythingButOrdinary #GoldenJubilee #Anniversary#FabulousAt50 #TheParkHotels  #proudtobeatThePark #Fabat50

Tuesday, 31 October 2017

The Manifestations of Maa Durga

Sarva Mangal Mangalye Shive Sarvartha Sadhike
Sharanye Tryambake Gauri Narayani Namostute

Oh Mother, you are the source of auspiciousness. And the support of Shiva.Possessing the third eye of enlightenment, O Gauri, O Narayani, I surrender to you.

This year during Navratri, there were beautiful DPs (Display Pictures) used in one of the groups that I am a member of. My younger son's class group where we all mothers are connected, for the obvious reasons; sharing important messages, notes and updates from the class teacher. Like a lot of people I too fast during the auspicious period. I liked the DP of the group, didn't really open it to check thinking that it'd be a picture taken from the internet. The picture changed on the second day of the Navratri, then the third and so on. Finally I opened the DP to enlarge it and have a better view. I discovered that these were actually paintings of one of the mothers, Swapna. I loved her form of devotion very much. I asked her if she could send me her renditions of the manifestations of Maa Durga, Which she gladly did. They have been my treasured possessions since then; safe on my phone and email. Finally, got them here on my Blog to share with you all. I found each picture to be live and as if it was talking to me. Thought of creating a little write up so that I could use the beautiful paintings as illustrations.

Navratri in Sanskrit translates to ‘nine nights’. Hindus all across the world celebrate these nine nights with great fervor and enthusiasm. These nine nights of festivities are marked with ritualistic fasting and performing poojas, while leading a calm, spiritual  and meditative lifestyle. This festival is dedicated to Goddess Durga and her 9 manifestations or avatars. On each of these nine days, her devotees worship the nine different avatars of Goddess Durga or Shakti. The ‘Nav Durga’ or the nine manifestations are pleased with special offerings and prayers. The significance of Nav Durga is narrated and reiterated in every Hindu household especially during the Navratri;  as this is the time when Goddess Durga descends from the heaven to bless her devotees. Here are the nine manifestations of Goddess Durga that are worshiped on each day of Navratri.

Goddess Parvati is Maa Shailaputri (daughter of the mountains). Her First Incarnation was that of Maa Sati. From the time Maa Sati was a Child, She had only one focus and aim in life, Lord Shiva. As She grew up Her Love and devotion for The Lord grew deeper. She began Her penance to please Lord Shiva and She did that. The Lord manifested in front of Her to grant Her a boon. Maa Sati asked The Lord for His eternal companionship as Man and Wife. It was granted. She is the absolute form of Mother nature.

Maa Brahmacharini is Maa Parvati. Brahmacharini means a devoted female student who lives in an Ashrama with her Guru along with other studentsThis second form of Nav Durga is the one related to the most severe penances connected with worship of Devi Maa. This manifestation of the Goddess is associated with the penance done by Maa Sati or Maa Parvati to get the boon of eternal companionship with Lord Shiva. Maa Parvati’s penance for Lord Shiva went on for thousands of years. 

Maa Durga in Her third avatar for the first time shows Herself as the ferocious One. Maa Chandraghanta (She has a bell-shaped half moon on Her forehead, thus the word Ghanta, meaning bell). She is worshiped on the third day of Navratri. She has ten arms and rides a lion. She is worshiped by those who seek Her blessings to ward off their opponents and foes who resort to corrupt or evil means. Her third eye is always opened and she always ready for war against demons.

Maa Durga’s fourth avatar is that of Kushmanda. She is considered as the Mother of all creations, all planets, stars, galaxies, and the universe. The Sun is her home and dwelling. Kushmanda means ‘The one who created the universe as a tiny celestial egg’. She has created the Universe, and thus is also known as the Primordial One, or the ‘Adi Shakti’. She has breathed life into all things and beings; and by praying to her, the devotee is bestowed with resplendent glory, success, fame and well being. She resides in the Sun and only she can; as she has created it. Her form is luminous and has resplendent glow like the Sun. She has eight hands hence gets the name Ashtabhuja.

Skanda Mata
Skanda Mata is the fifth form of Maa Durga. She gets her name from her son; Kartikeya, who among other names is also called Skanda. Hence Skanda Mata would mean the mother of Skanda. Lord Skanda is also known as Subramanya or  Murugan and worshipped by these names.

This is the sixth manifestation of Maa Durga. She is the destroyer of Mahishasura. Maa Katyayani’s name is derived from a sage called Kaatyaayana. Sage Kaatyaayana was a devotee and disciple of Maa Durga. He worshiped Her with dedication, love,  and sincerity. Maa Durga pleased with Him, appeared before Him, and told Him to ask for a boon. The Sage asked Her to be born as his daughter. Maa blessed him and took birth as his daughter, Katyayani.

This seventh form of Maa Durga is also called Maa Kali or Kalika. She is dark skinned and ferocious, She can seem very daunting to those who go just by her physical appearance. She fights the enemy of her devotees. She is atop a donkey (her vahan), and has a sword, a trishul and a noose. Maa Kalaratri has a third eye on her forehead. Though She is depicted as dark skinned, black to be precise, luminous rays of light emit from her body. She is seen as The Power and the destroyer of all evil.

The eighth manifestation of Nav Durga, is Maa Durga, represented as a young eight year old girl.
Due to thousands of years of penance that was undertaken by Maa Parvati to appease Lord Shiva, Her complexion became dark, almost black in colour. When Lord Shiva was convinced of Her devotion and love, He bathed Her with the holy water of the Ganga that flowed through His locks. Devi Maa regained her former complexion and radiance. Her name became Maha Gauri or Gauri, (the one who is very fair or radiant).

Devi Maa in her ninth manifestation is the giver of all siddhis. This is the final manifestation of Maa Durga; but in reality, creation as we know of, evolved from Siddhidatri avtar of the Nav Durga. Legend says, when the Universal Mother, the creator of all creators, created Lord Shiva,  the Lord prayed to Her to bestow Him with all boons that would lead to perfection. Maa Durga; from herself created Maa Siddhidayani or Siddhidatri. She is the ultimate giver and blesses everyone who prays to her.

It's not only during Navratri that we invoke Her, She is Omnipresent and blesses all of us in the form of our own mothers!

PS  A big thank you to Swapna Deshpande for the mesmerising pictures of  Goddess Durga.

Monday, 30 October 2017

The Homecoming!

The thrill of homecoming hasn’t changed from time immemorial.  Coming home to the family makes the work richer, easier, meaningful and more fun. It is tremendous source of joy and excitement after completion of the contract. Also an intense relief regarding your beloved husband’s safe return home, but you can’t keep calm until you see him in person.

The countdown

The countdown begins may be when he is still left with a month to go. You ask him if he has communicated his sign off to the office. You need to be so prudent that you make it sound casual, what if the sign off is not lined up? He shouldn’t feel bad; remember it’s even harder for him to be away from home, family and kids. Mine counts his biryanis and me checking the dates and imagining a homecoming scene. It's sleepless nights again, I guess you get this at least a fortnight of his joining and that of his coming home. So out of 12 months in a year, 1 is spent in roller coaster of emotions, excitement, sadness, and love; all mixed into one! It wasn’t said just like that, God found some of the strongest women and paired them with the sailors. You live on your nerves but there’s joy in that too. You are a sailor’s queen, you very well know that uneasy lies the head that wears a crown. You wear a big one at that; it’s a combination of multiple hats that you adorn and so seamlessly switch from one to the other.

 The sign off

Finally he tells you that the sign off is planned. You know from experience in shipping nothing is planned per say, last minute changes and delays can always happen. It’s a part and parcel of the job. You believe in the sign off only when he sends you his flight details and tells you that he has left the vessel. That’s when you feel the butterflies in your belly. It’s exciting to know that he has traveled the world but now he’s going to be in yours, your home! You’ve been under the same stars and now under one roof too. Your husband, your heart, your hero is going to be in your home! It’s time to clear his cupboard. I tend to use a bit of his, you know a woman will never find her wardrobe to be spacious enough, no matter how large it is.  It’s time for me to remove my stuff from there; the shifting of things is the ultimate realisation that he’ll be finally home.

 Your time

You have spent days looking at the pictures and reliving moments. Waking up and immediately checking whatsaap or messenger hoping that there’s a message from him. Your smart phone is the link between your hearts. You’d check the last seen time, and imagine what he’d be doing.  You have spent months missing him. It certainly doesn’t get easier but you become stronger. 
The preparations

You begin with spring cleaning the house, the sailor is finicky about cleanliness, and he’ll clean the bathroom even at 3 am if he feels it needs a bit of sprucing up before he takes his shower. That’s the level of cleanliness acceptable to him. I can never match it, even though I am hotelier. Kids are excited too, they might make welcome home cards, infact you encourage them to. There are flowers waiting at home in a bouquet or the vase.

 I remember the first time he came home on sign off after our marriage was to see himself as a new father. The signoff got delayed and sonny arrived earlier than the due date. It was past midnight he switched on all the lights to see both of us; holding our son and laughing and crying at the same time. That picture is etched in my memory forever fresh.

The feeling of homecoming is that important and powerful for all, the sailor and his family. Women I know start cleaning their homes as if it’s Diwali, truly it’s a festival in the real sense when your sailor is home. A visit to the parlour is a must too. Probably you didn’t really bother about it or didn’t have the time, so this visit is a must before he is home. It may not matter to him, he loves you anyways but for you it’s one way of a celebration or a big event. For women no big event is complete without visiting the friendly neighborhood salon. So there you go! Some even dress up at 4 am just to welcome him home, may get the kids ready too. I haven’t ever done that but you never know! Surprises are good sometimes. A friend of mine even prepares delicacies like the kebabs and loads her refrigerator with them so that she can keep calm while her sailor enjoys the kebabs! 

The arrival

On coming home, honeymoon or vacation periods vary, often depending on family plans and work schedules. It is important to share expectations well in advance by simply asking each member of the family what they want to do.  Many sailors want to sleep and eat home cooked meals, while spouses want to go out to fancy restaurants. It’s a good idea to discuss or make plans in advance so that everyone’s desires can be addressed. Children obviously want to spend time with their dad, doing different activities.  They’d want to do all that the mother didn’t allow them to or couldn’t take them out for. My children’s wish list is to go for various sports, playing badminton, football or for a swim. They also have a shopping list in place. For some, the reunion of partners and the ability to share parenting and household responsibilities again is the primary source of relief and joy. Known what works for you and plan accordingly.

We generally plan a vacation, it breaks the routine and we get to spend some quality time together. You may not follow the holiday season as it’s the season when the man is home. Remember mantra is work hard, party harder! No matter what you do make the vacation time memorable!

PS Pictures are taken from google with due credits

Thursday, 26 October 2017

Wear Pink to Work - Breast Cancer Awareness

October is Breast Cancer Awareness Month, we do our part in the cause by choosing a day as, Wear Pink to Work and organise various activities for staff, women in particular. Posters are put up, talks or discussions are held; they could be great ways to refresh your knowledge of the disease. As more research is done and advancements are made, it can be difficult to determine the latest and most trusted information on breast cancer. It is imperative to take the time to learn some common myths and facts about the disease, and share with women in your circles, your mother, daughters, friends or other women in your life. 
We are wearing pink to work tomorrow and I prepared a note that I'd like to share with all the women colleagues. Thought of sharing it here on my blog so that it can reach out to others too. Have collated information that might be useful or could be used as a guide for self examination. In case of any doubt, we have doctors to rush to and get the timely diagnosis and treatment.

Breast cancer is the most commonly diagnosed cancer in women:
Breast cancer has ranked number one cancer among Indian females with age adjusted rate as high as 25.8 per 100,000 women and mortality 12.7 per 100,000 women. Breast cancer projection for India during time periods 2020 suggests the number to go as high as 1797900. Better health awareness and availability of breast cancer screening programmes and treatment facilities would cause a favorable and positive clinical picture in the country.
The positive news is that if breast cancer is diagnosed and treated early, the five-year survival rate is nearly 99 percent.

Obesity can increase your likelihood of developing breast cancer: Studies show that obesity increases the risk of postmenopausal breast cancer, possibly due to high estrogen levels found in fat tissue. Exercising regularly and eating a nutritious diet can help you maintain a healthy weight.

Taking birth control pills may increase your risk of breast cancer: According to several studies, if you currently use birth control pills, you may slightly increase your risk of breast cancer, especially if you are a young woman. However, your risk level returns to normal about 10 years after you stop taking the pill. Most of the research on this topic applies to high-dose estrogen pills, which were more common in the past; more studies need to be done to determine if newer, low-dose estrogen formulas carry a similar risk. Talk to your health care professional about how birth control pills may impact your cancer risk; some studies suggest they may reduce risk for other cancers.

Breaking Myths about Breast Cancer

Only women with a family history of breast cancer are at risk
Roughly 70 percent of women diagnosed with breast cancer have no identifiable risk factors for the disease. But the family-history risks are these: If a first-degree relative (a parent, sibling, or child) has had or has breast cancer, your risk of developing the disease approximately doubles. Having two first-degree relatives with the disease increases your risk even more.

Drinking milk (dairy) causes breast cancer
According to the National Breast Cancer foundation, studies have shown that dairy consumption does not increase your risk of developing breast Cancer. 

Men do not get breast cancer
Each year it is estimated that approximately 2,190 men will be diagnosed with breast cancer and 410 will die. While this percentage is still small, men should also check themselves periodically by doing a breast self-exam while in the shower and reporting any changes to their physicians. 

Caffeine causes breast cancer
No causal connection has been found between drinking caffeine and getting breast cancer; In fact, some research suggests that caffeine may actually lower your risk.

Antiperspirants and deodorants cause breast cancer: 
No clear scientific evidence has been found to support this claim.

If your mother did not have breast cancer, you are not at risk
Although a family history of the disease does increase your risk, anyone can develop breast cancer. In fact, most women who are diagnosed with breast cancer do not have a family history of the disease. Regardless, it is important to know your family history and talk to a health care professional about your risk to determine when and how often you should get screened.

Breast cancer has high survival rates, but that comes down to breast awareness and monitoring

Who should do a self-breast exam?
Every woman, under 18 or over 50 and everyone in between should do a regular self-check at least once a month. 
All women over 20 should be breast aware while women aged 30 to 40 should get a clinical breast exam (by a doctor) done every three years. Women aged over 40 should do a clinical breast exam every year.

What does it mean to be 'breast aware'?
 25 per cent of all women with cancer, have breast cancer. It is sad that there is still stigma over being aware of your own breasts and body. Being breast aware is all about gauging what is normal for you - as an individual woman. Women's breasts keep changing throughout the month and throughout their life. What is normal for me or you will not be normal for another person. The only way to know when something doesn't seem right is to understand what is normal for you personally and to then monitor your breasts regularly.

When should you check?
Ideally it is best to check your breasts after your menstrual period as the hormonal changes during or right before menstruation can affect your results month to month. Breasts are also painful for many women during the time, which could make it harder to understand if something is wrong.
Before and during your shower is the best and most convenient time to do a self-examination. 

Which areas should you check?
The self-exam should include three areas of your body:
  1. Breasts,
  2. Collarbone area and
  3. Armpits
 What should you look for?

In all these areas you are looking for:
  1. Lumps, painful or otherwise
  2. Moving or fixed swelling in any of these areas
  3. Differences in skin texture like puckering or dimpling anywhere on the breast
  4. Any unnatural or painful discharge from the breast
  5. Drastic differences in shape or size of either breast (usually women tend to have slight differences in sizes, which makes understanding what's normal so important)
  6. Any rash or redness around the nipples 
  7. Any pain that is not related to menstruation or other cyclical pains
  1. Stand straight with your hands loose by your side, look at your breasts and collarbone area. Look for any visible swelling in either area or skin texture differences on the breasts.
  2. Place your hands on your hips and bend forward. Watch the way your skin looks and the way your breasts move to check for anomalies.
  3. Place your palms on the back of your head and straighten up. Look at the armpits, and to the sides and under the breasts for any swelling, skin texture differences, rashes or shape variations.
  4. After this, lift only your left arm up. You can place the palm on your head or hold it straight up.
  5. Place your right hand on your left breast and use the pads of your fingers to start the exam from the centre of the breast.
  6. Move your fingers firmly, lightly pressing with the pads of the fingers, in concentric circles outward, feeling for lumps or swelling in the entire breast tissue. Also note any uncharacteristic pain.
  7. Do the same in the left armpit and the left collarbone area. 
  8. Let your left arm down and repeat the entire process from Step 4 with your right arm up, using your left hand to check your right breast, armpit and collarbone area.
The best way to do this is during a shower. You can repeat this lying down on your back when the breast tissue lies closes to the bone. 

Why is it important?
Breast cancer is one of the most common cancers in the world but it also has one of the highest survival rates. Being aware of your body can help eliminate or manage breast cancer risk. You do not need to worry even if you find a lump or something abnormal. It could be anything from harmless fibroids to scar tissue. The most important thing is to know before it's too late. 
Breast-feeding, healthy lifestyle choices and weight management have been proven to have some effect on mitigating the risk of this kind of cancer. However genetic factors, family history of cancer and age seem to be high-risk factors. However, researchers have not yet been able to find exact reasons or causes and until then, regular checks are vital for all women of all ages.