Have you ever realized that different songs soundtrack the various stages in your life? When I was just a little girl I sang ‘Que Sera Sera’, with great gusto, not knowing what the future had in store for me. Looking back, I recall that it was an unusual choice of career at the time; a chef was called a cook; it was the Hotel Industry not the Hospitality Industry and women choosing this career were fools who rushed in where angels fear to tread.
I completed a one-year craft course in Bakery and Confectionery prior to joining the Diploma in Hotel Management and Catering Technology. Right from the start, I knew that I wanted to join the Housekeeping Department. Despite the fact that the course syllabus involved many daunting menial tasks, I doggedly pursued this department as my career choice. Despite the strict discipline of the revered Thangam Philip, college days were fun with many co-curricular and extra-curricular activities. There was also some amount of heartbreak – ‘Everybody’s Somebody’s Fool’. My first job as a Management Trainee in The Ambassador Hotel in Mumbai placed me in the Front Office, then Room Service and eventually Housekeeping. Working in the hotel was not easy as there were just three women in hotel operations. We were surrounded by a bunch of protective (read that as possessive) males. At this point I ran into my life partner though I did not know it at the time. After completing two and a half years working in the hotel, I was invited by Ms. Thangam Philip to join the teaching faculty. I come from a family of teachers and vowed never to be one – famous last words!!!!
And so my journey in Hospitality Education began… I joined as Housekeeping Faculty and worked shoulder to shoulder with my teachers. It was not long before I was enjoying the role of a teacher. I strived to make each session as interesting as possible. I pioneered the use of audio visual aids in the institute and dabbled with the use of games in the classroom. At the National Seminar – DISHA (Development of Innovative Strategies in Higher Academics) 2006, I presented a paper dealing with the effective use of games in classroom teaching. I enjoyed a good student-teacher relationship and this helped in getting accurate feedback on the sessions conducted. My anthem at the time was ‘Do What You Do, Do Well’.
Being teaching faculty at IHM, I had a chance to closely interact with Ms. Thangam Philip and my association with her was quite different from most people. As a student and staff, the fear that she instilled in all of us laid the foundation for the exemplary discipline of the Institute She brought out the best in me with her ‘open sandwich’ criticism; she would rarely praise and when she did there was always a ‘but’ attached. When she was no longer at the helm of affairs at the Catering College, I used to meet her whenever she visited Mumbai and accompany her on shopping trips, to the doctor or just sit with her and listen to her stories and philosophy of life. She became like my second mother and we even shared jokes. It was sad to watch her health deteriorate and towards the end I felt miserable after spending time with her. All I knew was that I needed to be there for her, no matter what.
During my tenure as faculty in the Catering College, one of my greatest inspirations was Ismay Gomes – my teacher, colleague and now, forever friend. It was he who encouraged me to attend the Certified Hospitality Educator programme and complete my graduation. His impeccable dressing style, subtle sense of humour and command over the English Language made him everyone’s favourite teacher. I also owe a great deal of my teaching expertise to HOD of Teacher Training, Dr. Shanta Devi whose encouragement while attending the teacher training programme enabled me to score the highest marks. My personal and professional life has always been supported by my classmate, colleague, soulmate and BFF Jyotsna Bhosale. No two people could be more unlike each other and we revel in the difference.
The metamorphosis of the Catering College into the IHM was difficult for most of us as the quality of teaching was sacrificed to accommodate a larger quantity of students. Teaching remained interesting through changes of governing bodies, curriculum and nomenclatures, but after a while, when there were no challenges to be met, I started writing articles for leading hospitality publications, joined a trainer’s forum, became a member of the HCIMA, was a guest speaker, hosted events and interacted with a world outside the workplace. I am forever grateful to my parents for encouraging me to develop these talents as part of my dowry!!!
I was awarded the Thangam Philip Foundation Scholarship in 1989 and I travelled to the UK and parts of Europe visiting Institutes and Hotels. It was exciting and interesting because unlike now, it was an era when India was lagging behind in the field of hospitality, so everything was new. In September 2004, I was privileged to be invited to participate in the first WHATT (World Hospitality and Tourism Trends) roundtable discussion held in South-East Asia.
When Mr. K.V. Simon took over as the Principal of the Catering College, we experienced a different management style. He was full of praise which was in stark contrast and I ended up taking on responsibilities that I never would have thought I was capable of. It came as a complete surprise that several years later he invited me to be a facilitator for the prestigious Certified Hospitality Educator workshop conducted by the American Hotel and Lodging Educational Institute. Facilitating this programme opened up a world of opportunities. We conducted the programme in India and also in the Maldives, Srilanka and very recently in Bhutan. With this, my passion transferred from teaching students to training hospitality educators and trainers. I have conducted training programmes for tourism departments in India and also for other countries. I have been appointed as an examiner and as a teaching expert on the syllabus committee by the Maharashtra Board of Technical Education, the National Council for Hotel Management (Govt. of India) and the SNDT University.
While working with The Galaxy Education System, I was given the opportunity to enroll for the Cambridge International Diploma for Teachers and Trainers. I completed the programme successfully and in the process discovered the difference between the British and American system of Education. In the words of John Dana, “Who dares to teach must never cease to learn”
After a brief sabbatical of training school teachers of The Galaxy Education System in Gujarat, I returned to Mumbai to be part of the start-up team for the Sheila Raheja Institute of Hotel Management. I was recruited while I was still walking with the help of a walker following a major accident. Undoubtedly, the enthusiasm of taking on the new assignment put me back on my feet (literally)! The four years at SRIHM were an opportunity to build an institute and posed challenges that I had never faced before. Somewhere along this journey, I reconnected to my first love – Housekeeping. After a long stint of writing articles for the Clean India Journal, I took on the role of organizing and moderating panel discussions and forums for their annual event Clean India Pulire – Asia’s Largest International Cleaning Trade Show. Working closely with their editor, Mohana, was a self-realization of what I could achieve and I was invited to be part of the organizing team for the first ever International Housekeeper’s Summit in 2016. In the following year, I was a project consultant for the IHS 2017 and also hosted the show. In 2016, at the International Housekeeper’s Summit, I was awarded a Lifetime Achievement Award for contribution to Education in the Hospitality Sector. It was a proud moment to receive the award on stage with scores of students in the audience who gave me a standing ovation. Also present were my always supportive husband, Prashant and one of my inspirations in Housekeeping Education and Training, Mary Hall from Ireland.
I have learnt so much from so many people… family, friends, teachers and even students! I truly believe that the greatest legacy that one can leave behind is the people whose lives you have touched. I am grateful for having had the opportunity of meeting so many wonderful people who touched my life and supported my unconventional career moves.
When I look back at those dreadful moments when I lay on a hospital bed not knowing whether I would ever walk again, I shudder. Never had I been in confinement for such a long period of time … I read all the books that hitherto had been sitting on a shelf in my cupboard, revived my blog and even watched a Hindi movie on TV. It was a chance to take stock of one’s life and create a to-do list for the future – a bucket list so to speak! The inner spirit of enthusiasm and wild sense of humour that is my trademark were largely responsible for my ‘Staying Alive’. Also my very tolerant surgeon, Dr. Satish Samant, who probably never encountered a patient as crazy as myself. He is witness to the fact that I sang in the operation theatre during surgery. The song – ‘I Have a Dream’ by Abba. The anaesthesist suggested the Titanic song (I hate it!). Later, one of my students drew my attention to the fact that she probably wanted to make sure that my heart would go on and on!!!
For most of my life, the soundtrack was the Credence Clearwater Revival Classic ‘Have You Ever Seen the Rain’ – written to express the fact that the highest pinnacles of achievement in life have been coupled with the saddest moments. As one of my students put it, “Just like a musical octave, her life has been full of low and high notes creating melodies, like never before. But one thing ma’am would agree to is that the support and care from her family and the love from her students always got her back on her feet and made her achieve much more”. There is a saying that you must learn to deal with what life gives you – maybe you should take what life gives you and make something better from it.
Over the years, I have met many students across the globe. It is such a joy to see what they have achieved and know that they are happy to meet you. I disagree with the notion that students can be ‘moulded’. Rather they be nurtured to grow in their own individual way.
I retired in April 2017 from the Sheila Raheja Institute of Hotel Management (and have since been busier than ever before!) A week before, I received the best retirement gift at the Annual Valedictory Function – I was voted the Best Teacher by the students. I was completely taken by surprise by this student initiative which was kept a well-guarded secret and it was a very emotional moment. The award was presented by the Principal, Mr B.P. Sahni and the Chief Guest Mr. Sameer Sud (both my students). Above all, a Final Year Student, Aditya Gupta composed the inscription on the trophy and read a quote from my best critic – our daughter Pria. “To learn is so much easier nowadays, with the internet and information a snap of a finger away, but inspiration really comes from few. For me, my mother had a reckless abandonment for process and hard-wired rules. Her goal was always to break the mould. No definitions could put her in a straight-jacket. There is always room to breakout; be exceptional, be unique, even to be contrary. And all of her best students were the ones who didn’t fit in, but everything they eventually did, after crossing paths with my mother, fuelled their passion and eccentricity. Over the years, I have met scores of her kids across the world and every one of them had a story about wanting to give up on their unusual choices, but then being inspired by my mother to forge on. Do it because no one else has done it. Do it better than anyone else. Don’t let the norm define you, respect it but rework it. Let your discipline help you achieve but let your creativity help you excel”
That quote pretty much sums up everything that I believe education should be and my motto for teachers or trainers conducting a session is to be predictably unpredictable!
I am currently enjoying doing things and working with projects that were not possible in a 9 to 5 routine and yes, I am, as the song goes taking life ‘One Day at a Time’