Tuesday, 17 July 2018

Personal Elegance Versus Style – Dressing Right for each occasion

The need for a conversation on Elegance versus Style arises triggered by the confusion thrown up by  the huge amount of chatter in social media and newspapers supplements and publication on what is the best /recommended or latest in fashion and the right dressing style to adopt for the social DOs or the workplace. A few decades back when the world was not so globalised and internet and media did not exit in every nook and corner, women  both playing traditional roles as well as those who were charting out careers as doctors, teachers, lawyers, actors etc did not have so many choices of fashion or so many advisors from designers and fashionistas and yet they actually developed an innate sense of style and elegance and carried themselves impressively with their unique personality and confidence and dressed elegantly for every occasion. Today we are spoilt for choice and in all these crowded sartorial offerings, we are swayed by ever changing suggestions. The result is chaotic dressing. While people are often fashionably dressed or even expensively dressed, the sense of elegance is not always represented. While many may claim to be fashionable, not everyone can claim to be stylish or elegant these days. Are we missing something? Are we loosing on some basic understanding? Is it important to understand and develop a sense of style and elegance?
In this modern world, men and women are working shoulder to shoulder on all areas of society, travelling for work, balancing home responsibilities with workplace responsibilities and meeting the world and encountering the diverse cultures of the world, the influences on fashion and clothes are many and continuous. The pace of life is fast and so is the pace of changing fashion. A profusion of designers within the country and the world are not just creating designs for clothes , they are also creating demands. The apparel industry and the designers apart from being triggered by creative urgency are also triggered by economic reasons to keep the changes happening, to innovate, to modify , to recycle, to shock but basically keep the movement and conversation going so that the focus does not shift from the fashion industry. Today a good section of media is focussed on capturing what the celebrities were and what is the ’right airport fashion’. The craze has reached a peak when earlier the focus was on comfort dressing while travelling. Some good may come out of it by way of new easy and comfortable dressing norms but the negative side is that people often blindly follow celebrities and ends up spend huge amounts of money trying to be righty dressed irrespective of whether it suits them or not.
Perhaps a few things will help to survive in this crazy rat race to outdo one another or even be at par with what is the latest. Also in this age where image makes a great deal of difference, developing a well put together look goes a long way. Perhaps a close look at what one’s life style is – what is the major aspect of one’s life? Is it largely that of a working woman, a student, a home maker, a frequent business traveller? That will decide what kind of clothes may be mostly required. A flashy unsuitable look gives a very wrong impression. Secondly while it is nice to get new clothes often to keep up with the trends, it is even nicer to opt for some classic styles which can be used for all occasions, mixed and matched with accessories. This is not just to manage budget but also to ensure that the constant buy and discard can be avoided. It is important to remember that style is more permanent and fashion gets recycled and if an apparel is stylish and versatile it will stand us in good stead. Thirdly the social context must be considered, as to whether the event is a business meeting or a evening dinner or a family gathering. Minimalism in jewellery usually works well for workplaces but a few light accessories which can be quickly added always help if one has to rush to a dinner afterwards. Sobriety and Decency in dressing is as important in workplace as well as formal social dinners and even social parties, it always smacks of class and good taste. Comfort and carriage is an important aspect while choosing clothes. Whatever can be carried well and lends comfort makes one look good. Developing a personal style over a period of time by choosing specific styles of clothes and cultivating an image is a good idea for some instead of a confused hotch potch look. Finally it is the personality which always outshines clothes, so the focus must be to groom oneself in carriage, speech, tonal modulation, walk and carrying oneself with confidence. With that in place, and a few well chosen classy pieces , a few  Indian and few western which can be considered versatile for many occasions a person is well set for a fast paced lifestyle.

Economic independence for Women - A critical need

Economic independence empowers women by giving them the ability to make choices, to make impact both on their own lives and society in a far wider range of ways than ever before. What we cannot control, controls us – be it people or habbits or circumstances. If we allow others to control us we are enslaved to their likes and preferences, their ideas and actions and their prescriptions.. If we observe the  women in society who were or are dependent on men be it their father, brothers or husband or children we will also note that largely the ability to make life’s choices also resides with the provider of financial support.  So when women are denied the rights to education and employment or women choose to be dependent on others for financial support it implies giving up one’s ability to decide, denial of the basic freedom to choose their life’s path and goals It is precisely due to this , in the earlier day when women were dependent that they were relegated to the role of the ‘fragile, subservient, the helpless and of course the oppressed. They were handed down their role by others, they had to be the ideal daughter, wife, mother, grandmother and their life rotated around the series of responsibilities to serve, please, care and comfort others at the cost of often extreme sacrifices of their health and happiness.
Irrespective of whether there is financial criticality in a family to have the women work and earn money or not, the need for every women to be educated, to develop skills and abilities to find ways of financial independence cannot be denied. The impacts of economic independence of women are many – it goes beyond just providing food on the table. Women comprise 50% of the population so in a society if 50% of the population are not educated or empowered or unable to decide for themselves what their lives should be, then the society cannot be balanced, it is crippled. A child born to educated, empowered mother has a father better starting point in life and hopefully much less struggle in every sense to evolve and grow.  Earlier a girl child was brought up with the notion that marriage is the ultimate goal and hence skill must be developed solely for that family life. Subjugation and exploitation of women within the families both financially and psychologically as well as mal practices like dowry deaths all are well documented and still happens in our country in some parts of society. But as women got educated and more and more women stepped up and stepped out these atrocities also reduced, though not eradicated. To eradicate them, the women must play a leadership role to lift and empower other women.
Today thankfully we have  progressed enough and today women are shattering frontiers, leaving their marks,  and they are flying planes, being rocket scientist, educationists, doctors, police officers, army officers, explorers,  and the list goes on to cover the entire gamut of jobs and profession society can offer. But harassment of women continue at public places, workplaces. Safety of women are a big issue in our country which once revered women. Rapes and Molestation cases are happening everyday. One example of a step in the right direction taken to curb this is the initiative by Kolkata Police which has recently launched the Women Police force ‘ The Winners’ to monitor patrol the streets and ensure safety for women from eve teasing and crime against women. The core message is clear – the women must be empowered for their own betterment and for betterment of society. Women must take charge for they are the ‘Shakti’.

Sunday, 17 June 2018

Hospitality Sector – its current emergence and the many facets and the many opportunities for growth

Our Traditional culture of hospitality and warmth is deep rooted. In Sanskrit there is a saying that we are familiar with courtesy the may promotional material on tourism. “Atithhee Devo Bhava’/ We are taught to treat our guests as god be it at our home or in our homeland. The implication is that we should welcome and open our arms and treat our guests with love and respect, dignity and ensure the comfort safety and honour that we bestow on god.

Back to modern times tourism is no longer confined to people travelling for the sake of seeing the world. Tourism today has many facets – people need to travel for medical purposes, for employment, for skill training, education and research, for photography, for business opportunity, for agricultural initiatives or for preservation of nature and world, for social work and the list goes on. This of course opens up the conversation on what is possible and what can be done by way of support services to ensure that we have the right infrastructure and services and the cultural readiness to support the multi dimensional and multi cultural environment that is the rising trend worldwide.

Tourism sector needs to gear up to offer not just the traditional package to tourists but perhaps needs to come up with innovative packages which could attract and meet the expectation of the people travelling for passion like culinary adventure or photography or skill training or new initiatives. Times Travel does a passion travel trail for art and culture and culinary trail. More players need to come up with ideas that can attract people to make journeys possible. Medical tourism is an area that has brought in large number of people to India from the neighbouring countries of India where medical facilities and expertise are not as good. Since medical treatment in USA or some other developed countries  are expensive, a lot of people from Africa and other Asian countries as well as some developed countries come to India for more affordable but world class treatment. The fact that most educated Indians speak a high amount of English also helps. India’s booming services of diagnostics and telemedicine are triggers.

Hospitality Sector’s  is closely related to this growth in incoming tourists. Be it the need for affordable but good accommodation facilities to meet all ranges of pockets or the need for healthy hygienic food, support services for the elderly and sick ( transport, forex, safety , valet, Ayurvedic treatment Spa, ) the need and possibilities are endless.  Not just large scale hotels and corporate services, a lot of small initiatives to bring in localised facilities are possible. Skill of language is something that can be leverages since not every from other countries may be comfortable with English. Translator services is clearly possible. Likewise a lot of other people to people support services and offerings are possible creating further employment opportunities. Young students from Hospitality sector or other sector equipped with skills to deal with people or all the range of skills taught at a finishing school may be able to participate and steer growth in these areas.

Tuesday, 1 May 2018

The Perils of Social Media

It is known fact that Man is a social animal. Living in close knit communities and interacting with others and forging a close bond are the traits of human society. In the past the interacting with friends and family across long distances has been a concern but by primitive yet innovative and creative means since ancient times man has always managed to communicate over distances to strengthen their relationships.

IN the modern age, the emergence of handy social media tools started first with the recognizable social media site, Six Degrees, in 1997. It allowed users to upload a profile and make friends with other users. By the year 1999, the first blogging sites became popular and since then over the years people have flocked to social media sites for communication and sharing and entertainment. Emergence of MySpace, LinkediN, Orbit, Facebook, Photobucket, Flickr, You Tube, Twitter,Tumblr, Spotify, Pinterrest,  Whatsapp all paved the way for exciting life on the social media. Today both business and personal life thrive on social media. Majority of the world population uses social media on regular basis sharing their life and information with the virtual world at every opportunity.

The internet is not a very secure place, inspite of all the security measures. Nor is it a very private place. We feel what we are posting or sharing is secure and private but that is really often an illusion. Often we share too much of our self on the social media, often we post very personal information or moments, often people accept virtual friends without really knowing the person and fall prey to the dangers. The hackers on the internet often break the security measures.  The apps you use or games you play may have been equipped to record your keystrokes, every photo you upload is archived. The recent case of data exploitation, exposure and pilferage by organizations such as Cambridge Analytica is proof of the dangers that lie in this age of life on social media. The extensive grilling of Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg by American senators has been shared on all platform. One can deactivate a Facebook account or other social media account but not really delete it. Facebook always maintains a copy of your deactivated account and it will always be there and hackers love to hack inactive accounts.

The Children are particularly vulnerable on the virtual world. That is why along with Parental Control there is a need to use the built-in firewalls on the routers to block out specific websites from the children.  There are enough cases of bullying via social media from the circle of ever growing FB friends of children. Bullying is no longer confined to schools, it continues via social media.

How one behaves on the social media has a far greater impact on other areas of life. Today employers often base their hiring on the impression they get about a candidate based on his/her social media behaviour and preferences as it reveals the traits of a person. If a person is seen to project undesirable behaviour the employers often reject the candidate at the outset. That apart background check is becoming mandatory everywhere.

All the above is not to say that we should refrain from using the internet or stay away from social media. Frankly in today’s world shunning the social media completely is not possible. However it would be wise to curb and control what we post on the Internet. This means that the social media has invaded into every area of our life today and the level of personal privacy we can safeguard is always challenged. It is necessary to remember that our information and posts actually gets exposed and even shared or stolen in a virtual world full of hundreds of thousands of people who may not all have the honest intention. We should therefore be cautious and judicious when we are posting on the social media and ensure that we do not post anything that we may not be comfortable sharing.

Monday, 15 January 2018

Importance of Counselling and Guidance in Choosing a Career

Mrs Sharma’s phone was ringing in the next room and she called out to her daughter Shalini to bring her the phone as she was busy talking to the carpenter who was doing some sundry wood work in the guest room. She was expecting some guests in a few weeks and she wanted to add a couple of night stands and a small shelf to the room. The phone continued to ring and finally her maid Lakshmi fetched her the phone but by then it had stopped ringing. “This is the problem with Shalini nowadays, she is just not attentive to anything we say...not focused and constantly on her mobile with her friends”.  She read on the caller ID that it was from her brother in Bangalore and called right back to be informed excitedly that her nephew had cracked the entrance exam to study B.Tech in a reputed college. Well next year it would be Shalini’s turn to choose a career path and Mrs Sharma was concerned about what it would be? Numerous rounds of family discussions had happened but without any concrete conclusion excepting for the fact that it would definitely not be Engineering or Science. Shalini felt that she had no orientation toward science subjects. She had had to work really hard at them in school because they were compulsory subjects. She felt that she was more artistically inclined, had loved many of the subjects in the arts stream, achieved rather decent marks in exams and was really talented in many creative areas. But she was still very indecisive about what she should take up. Once it was this and the next it was that, a week later it was something very different. Mrs Sharma did not want to push her daughter into anything, she wanted Shalini to decide for herself and be happy with her decision because it was something she would pursue and invest her time in for the rest of her life.  She decided to follow the same route that her brother had suggested i.e. to put Shalini in an environment which would enable her to decide.

Mrs. Sharma browsed through the website of Good Shepherd Finishing School on recommendation of a close friend whose daughter too had faced similar dilemma and had greatly benefitted from being a part of one of the programs that the school offered. She studied in detail the different programs on offer and the topics and activities covered under each with excellent photographic evidence. She liked what she saw, especially the different competitive events where the learners had the opportunity to excel and earn merit certificates in addition to the certificate for the program in which they enrolled. She shared her research with her husband and suggested that they should put Shalini in the Good Shepherd Finishing School for a six-week program during the summer vacation following her Board Exams as she awaited the results. It would allow Shalini to attempt learning different and new skills and decide what she liked best and what gave her the thrill, the high and perhaps lead to a decision on her choice of a career path. If still undecided, she would at least come back as a well-groomed, confident and poised young lady.

And true to the school’s promise, a few months later, when Shalini returned after completing the six-week program at the Finishing School, her eyes were shining with happiness and confidence. She had liked the place, the program, the facilitators and mentors and most of all she had loved the facilities and infrastructure and the world of ideas and options it had opened up for her. She now wanted to attend the 9 months’ program which would allow her to learn and practice more of the skills that held her interest and help her explore further her own interests and abilities. She had already decided that she would do a bachelor’s program in fashion design followed by a master’s program in fashion business. She was now well informed on the best possible Universities where she could do these formal degree programs and the kind of career options that would be available to her. She was immensely grateful to the school for opening up this world of possibilities to her.

Saturday, 6 January 2018

Being social and socially responsible!

Mrs Marina Varghese looked at the beautifully laid out dining tables in the dining hall, the well decorated Christmas tree in the centre and the red, green and silver decorations around the hall, much of which had been her daughter Shannon’s ideas. The Christmas carols being played softly in the background created a sense of serene festivity. She was very proud of how her little boutique hotel had shaped up with years of careful personal touches and now every year, throughout the year it enjoyed a steady inflow of guests from around country as well as from overseas who came to spend the year-end festive season in Kerala. The word of mouth from past guests had helped greatly in making the hotel popular. The feedback on the popular travel portals were indeed effective.
She checked her watch and noted that in exactly 20 minutes the pre-lunch drinks would be served in the lounge after which the guests would move to the restaurant for the Christmas lunch. She needed a few minutes to sit down and catch her breath before the real bustle started. She remembered the years of struggle when she was widowed at a tender age with only an infant girl for company and no other support. Her husband who had been serving in the army had been martyred in the line of duty. All she had been left with was the family’s ancestral house and some land around it. She had opened a small bakery and started catering to birthday parties and other festivities alongside. It generated a regular income and before long she had started a paying guest accommodation and started renting out the extra rooms to working ladies.  It started well and in approximately five years, she managed to take a moderate bank loan and extend the house to make it into a boutique hotel. She stumbled but persisted and learnt from her failure and today she was considered a successful hotelier and an effective businessperson. She had dared not give up for at the time when she had commenced her business, she had constantly reminded herself that she had a daughter to bring up, educate and inspire. She had to groom her into a competent lady. When Shannon was ten years old, Mrs. Varghese had sent he to The Good Shepherd International School and there she studied not only till her high school but also with the Finishing School learning the various life skills, career skills and the professional skills that would be of value to deal with people especially in the hospitality business. She also did a higher degree in hotel administration to add to her professional skills.
Shannon was now all of 22 years and fully committed to the running of her mother’s business.  Mrs. Marina Varghese often observed her daughter quietly when she dealt with enquiries, guests, the staff, the suppliers and corporate clients. From the shy little girl, Shannon had turned into a charming, poised and confident young lady who was now adept at dealing with different kinds of people and addressing their different needs. She was very active in the local community too. helping in Church activities to raise funds for the local orphanage and old age home. Just the other day, Rev. D’Souza had made it a point to regale Mrs Varghese with details of all the wonderful work that Shannon had been doing on behalf of the church.

Although Mrs Marina Varghese still had a tight grip on the operations of the hotel, she was happy to go along with the many new ideas and initiatives Shannon was initiating to make the hotel more attractive to the families who came to spend their vacation.  The hotel had about 20 rooms, a combination of double occupancy and family rooms. These days the bookings were all completed online and much in advance. Shannon fully understood the importance of using social media to promote the existing business and generate new business and used it to her advantage. The location of the hotel, the view, the well-manicured garden, the spa and Jacuzzi, baby-sitting services for children, safe play zone for kids, organic food and attentive staff all ensured good customer satisfaction. Mrs Varghese wanted to build up another floor and discussed this with Shannon but as Shannon pointed out to her, there was no limit to aspiration, however the point was to manage well what they had and not grow beyond their capacity to manage happily, the point was to enjoy and be satisfied with what they did and participate in the community development activities as well.  Mrs Varghese knew that Shannon was right and she credited her Schools for instilling the right values, giving a balanced perspective and the ability to be socially responsible. She knew that when the time came Shannon would be able to run the hotel independently and with efficiency and good sense. But for the present, it was time for the Christmas lunch to commence and Mrs Varghese stopped her thoughts and went to ring the bell.

Monday, 25 December 2017

The obsession with gadgets

“I fear the day that technology will surpass our human interactions. The world will have a generation of idiots.” – Albert Einstein.

It was a weekend evening and the members of the Mankar family were gathered in the living room to catch up on a much needed family time and to plan out the next family holiday. The weekdays were usually very busy for all, Mr. And Mrs Mankar were professionals and their two children, two twin girls aged nearly 18 years were involved with preparing for their college admissions. The weekends were usually time for the family to be together. The twins were as different from each other as possible, one was sports oriented and the other was more inclined towards art. One was a bit feisty and the other quieter however they were always close to each other. Their pet dog and a couple of domestic support staff made up the rest of the family. It was a family with well organized schedules and routines and in the large expansive house sometimes the atmosphere was so quiet even when the family members gathered in the same room that it might lead one to wonder whether the house was unoccupied. Of course from time to time when the in-laws and extended family visited and stayed with them the home seemed far more vibrant and bustling.

As the tea and snacks were being cleared away, Mrs Swati Mankar asked if anyone had any suggestions or preferences for the family holiday. There were a few mumbles from the kids for their attention was glued to their mobile screens, their fingers rapidly tapping on the keys, perhaps exchanging or responding to messages or surfing on social media sites or playing games. This was often the scene in the household of late and Mr Mankar was equally caught up between responding to calls and watching television. His attention too was divided and needless to say the discussion on the holiday plan did not progress as expected. However, Mrs Mankar had already foreseen this scenario and had already made up her mind with regards to the upcoming vacation.

As a child psychologist, Mrs Mankar dealt with various behavioural issues with children of different age groups, on a regular basis. In her children she did not see any deviational behaviour that could be of major concern, however lately she has been involved in several cases involving teenagers which has made her aware of the impact of social media and gadgets on children and she was prone to comparing and observing her own children against these latest trends. She had read enough about how destructive and obsessive the games were and about the negative impact of social media on children. She had also noted that conversation among the family members had become minimal. They were all like isolated entities even when in the same room, a sense of detachment was visible in her teenage daughters. Even when her daughters were sitting with each other there was more finger tapping on the mobile phone than verbal exchanges. This was not normal, because they were each other’s best friends; giggles, gossip, leg pulling and fights were normal.

Last month when the grandparents were here and there were family get-togethers she noted that the children did not spend enough time with the grandparents or did not participate in the family conversations. Her children and their cousins even when in a group were more focused on mobiles or laptops and any questions to them were answered in monosyllables. She had seen these children walk with a drooping shoulders, head bent down with eyes on mobile, staying up late to be on Facebook or play online games. They were neither interested in their family nor their surroundings. They were often lethargic and groggy and even irritable if dragged into a conversation. It was not at an acute stage yet but if something had to be done it had to be done now. Soon the daughters would go to college and be away from home, there would be less and less of family time.

She took up the conversation with her husband post dinner as they were retiring for the day. She shared her fears and her suggestion that this time the holiday must be planned in such a way that for that 3 weeks they could be in the midst of deep nature where network signals were frail and the access to internet entirely cut off. She suggested a coffee estate deep within Masinaguri where her sister had visited with her family. There are enough opportunities for activities like trekking, animal safari, photography, story-telling by the bonfire, local bands coming in to entertain guests with country music, visit to coffee a factory, pottery making, some gardening, etc. Basically there was enough to keep guests engaged and help them enjoy the leisurely pace and rejuvenate from the fatigue of modern life. Soon all arrangements were finalised, although the children did not readily like the idea of being so isolated.

They reached Masinaguri resort and settled in to enjoy their holiday and within a day or two, Mrs Mankar saw her daughters laughing more, talking to each other more, going out for walks and treks, participating enthusiastically in the different activities and above all making friends and being social. Mrs Mankar was exceedingly happy with the outcome of her holiday plans but she began contemplating if something could be done to make this change more permanent. In a conversation with Mrs. Simon, the owner of the resort, she mentioned her concerns and Mrs Simon suggested that they should consider sending their girls to the Good Shepherd Finishing School in Ooty.

Mrs Simon explained that the School, located in Ooty nestled in the pristine hills of the Nilgiris mountain range had courses on offer which helped change ‘a young girl into a lady’, The residential programs covered topics like the art of self-presentation, public speaking, protocol, etiquettes and social graces to help handle every interaction in every social setup with poise and confidence. The learners were exposed to different sports including squash, horse-riding and golf; a foreign language; musical instruments of their choice; baking and cooking of several popular national and international dishes and different competitions to prove their merit in learning. Mrs Simon connected her with a counsellor from the school who filled her in with more details about the school and the programs on offer. Mr and Mrs Mankar were suitably impressed and decided to go ahead with admitting their girls to the school. And a few months later when the Mankar girls returned home after completing the program, the parents observed with awe, the impressive changes in the behaviour of the girls who were now poised, confident and well-mannered young ladies and made a mental note to send a heartfelt ‘thank you’ note to Mrs Simon.