Inspiration, LIfe, Social Agenda, Travel

Of stereotypes and other delusions

This is a picture I took last year when we were visiting our parents and took a little detour to a town called Jodhpur.

I have lived in India for 35 years before moving to Australia in 2000. I love travelling, so have voraciously gone after several experiences in Australia, India and luckily, during my work travel to Europe, New Zealand, Taiwan….

I consider myself reasonably culturally sensitive having moved a fair bit, growing up in India and of course, settling in Australia and working at a fairly senior level with executive teams.

Yet, this cheeky woman on the right had me. She was hanging out in the shade with her partner and on my approach, asked me if I can find her a “good man”.

I chatted. Explaining my view of the world and how I came to marry my husband, who was a friend… blah blah. Until she burst out laughing and said, “I have a husband. I love him. We have been married for xx years”

There are lessons to be learnt in every moment. If we can listen. Truly listen. Then we can see the world as it is. Without our own filters, beliefs or assumptions.jodhpur4

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Inspiration, LIfe, Social Agenda, Travel

The Caterpillar & the Butterfly

it is getting dull

So does anybody here know how many times the caterpillar hangs upside down waiting to turn into a butterfly?

It was 16 years ago that my then boss’s boss gave me this book “Hope for the Flowers” when I told him that I am going away to Australia. He also thought I should get my head checked. Why would I leave a career in HR with Larsen & Toubro Limited to go to a foreign land where Indians were not respected?

Or something similar. Maybe not exactly that. It is true though, that it was unlikely that any Australian hirer would recognise XLRI or L&T. Someone did. And some other.

It is a bit irrelevant though. Because this, really is the story of my life. How many times have I hung upside down, waiting to become the butterfly.

First, though, I must acknowledge what prompted me to leave my glass of wine to come here and write.

I am reading “The Adversity Advantage” and I stopped when I read ” I’ve always had a restless voice inside me, which seemed to speak loudest when my life felt a bit stagnant”

Chapter 1: Growing up, my mum said I must study. “why can’t you come first” she laments. “If you study, you will”. And I retort, “why mum? is it so you can talk about it in your kitty parties?” “no” was my answer. I did study more than I cared to. Only because I thought it is important to get into where I want to, so I can do what I want to. I got the marks I needed in Year 10 ( Mount Carmel, Ahmedabad) to get into the best High School, St.Xavier’s High School. And then enough there to get into the best Commerce College in Ahmedabad. Though of course, I could have gone to New Delhi perhaps. And then, it was not about marks any more. Well, of course you needed to be close enough to a Distinction. Mainly though, it was about a test of your Math & Logical abilities….. ngbbs4c14b82adb40c

Chapter 2: Working: The first job. I hated it. It was my first interview on campus at XLRI and I took it. Oberoi Hotels. We were a bunch of 6 MBAs and were training with the Hotel Management Grads. So learning to make Moussaka, chop chicken “properly” handle the front office, know all the wines in all the regions of the world. Three months in, I knew it was wrong. So I quit. Especially after within the first month at the Head Office, the VP HR expected that I “escort” the HR folks visiting us from our Egypt Office to shopping Delhi. Hmmm. And I was “told” to be “more appropriate” when we dined with Mr. Oberoi.

OK.

Chapter 3: That first “campus” recruitment lasted four months and I found myself in Baroda. Where my sweetheart was. The one who was a friend and became a sweetheart 8 years on. No one knew what XLRI was. So from being coveted by multi-nationals, I went a beggin for a job! I landed and quit about 6 different jobs in about 2 years. I quit again when we were expecting our first baby. And a year or so later landed a job with IPCL, a large petrochemicals business in India. 5 years there and then, thankfully, there was an opening with Larsen & Toubro who was setting up in Vadodara at the time. Those 10 years were fabulous experience, where I was very lucky to be inspired by a few brilliant leaders. Until I got restless again. What am I missing?

Chapter 4: Australia. My boy was 10 & girl 6. We decided to pack a bag and move. If we got a job that recognised our experience & qualifications, we would stay. If not, go back. That was in 2000. 13 years later. I was starting to get bored. I am most proud of engaging senior leaders and securing their commitment to investing in their own development and creating enduring processes that create the environment for people to do their best work. What am I missing out on though by coming in and out of work everyday? What about travelling? What about doing something different? Every time I went to India, there was a tug. I feel disturbed about the fact that some women don’t get to have a shower in private. That people are displaced from their homes in villages and don’t get a decent quality of life when they migrate into cities for work. I quit work. That was 2013.

Chapter 5: 2016 Feb. Here I am. What happened in the last two years? Can’t quite account for it except to say that there hasn’t been a single day that I got bored. I cannot say either exactly what I have achieved? I had no goals. No plans. I have woken up each morning and done what my heart desires. I have studied. Read books. Written a few blogs. Or not. I fell into making soaps. And learnt how to do Facebook 🙂 I learnt marketing. And whilst I was doing that, I kept nursing my desire to bring EI education into schools. To make sure every woman has a private place to shower. And late last year, I decided I also want to keep consulting in the area of my expertise.

Because in the end, I am a catalyst. I thrive on change. I absolutely, utterly love any chance to make a difference. However small. Hence why, perhaps for me, turning upside down, slowing down, waiting for what’s to emerge is best. No ambition needed.

Except, I absolutely want to do the Masters in Science Coaching Psychology. I wonder where that might take me 🙂

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Inspiration, LIfe, Social Agenda

Happiness is overrated. Want to know why?

What would you say if a child came up to you looking sad?

You will reach out to comfort them. Instinctively, we know it is “not ok” to feel sad. It is kinda hardwired. I bet most of us have been conditioned to believe that feelings such as anger, sadness, and frustration are “not ok”.

And I will admit that I have been quite taken by “The Power of Positive Thinking”.

For a long time.

And this is what I have learnt.

Fear is a faithful friend. It is always with us. It is what keeps us safe. It will never go away. It is also the reason we may get angry, sad or frustrated. So if I am really mad, I know that something important to me has been taken away from me and I fear that I will not get it back.

Fear serves another purpose that is hugely powerful. I believe fear is omnipresent so we can fly.

Remember when you got that really BIG WILD idea?  Fear was probably right beside you, saying…

“Oh, now that is stupid.”

“You will never be able to pull that off”

“People will laugh at you.”

Know that thought? And I am sure you would have learnt/ read that we could just replace that with “I can do it”.

There is another way. Which is to say, “yeah, it does sound stupid. I may not be able to pull it off. And yes, I may fall flat on my face.” So who can I talk to about this idea? How can I take this forward?

And the most important question to ask yourself is “Why is this idea important to me?” “What about this idea is getting me so excited?”

The answer to that question is the secret held deep inside you that drives everything you do, the choices you make and is that light that guides you telling you what “feels” right and what “feels” wrong.

It is your closest friend. The one you sit beside when they are sad. Just sit. Listen. Hold hands. Treat your fears as your friend. They are.

When you feel sad, mad or just plain frustrated, imagine your friend has arrived. Do what you would do with a friend. Sit with them. Listen. Let go of your judgment for a bit. Go outdoors. And wait until your heart opens up and you understand why it is.

On the Beach 1

On the Beach 2

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Inspiration, LIfe, Natural, Social Agenda

Shopping, Farmers, Local, Artisans… crazy foolish people striving for a better world

To live with an open heart… like a child. Unfettered. Simply curious. Innocent. And compassionate.

Well that bit, maybe not always 🙂

We are a crazy bunch. Some of us that is.

As a HR Director, I was constantly tracking for what is out there…. tripping with excitement about some of the wonderful stuff people were experimenting with to help people live life large. Be in tune with what they value. And partner with leaders and teams to do stuff that will create the environment for people to do their best work.

I loved it. I was also restless. Wondering what else was out there.

I fell into making soap a year or so ago…. and I think I keep falling deeper because it allows me to be curious. It makes me think about what I buy, from whom and when.

So if I was to Get off the dance floor for a bit, and be an observer, what would I see?

I would see me getting a bit tired of large organisations like J&J, P&G, Unilever seduce us into buying stuff with the promise of whatever it is that was seductive.

I would look at the guy standing at his stall in my local markets. Like, I would slow down, and linger. Appreciate the work that went into getting up early in the morning loading the car and putting their soul into making their space look inviting. They are just plants. These are the ones though that even I cannot kill.

This I know to be true.

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I would watch myself spending a bit more time with stall holders; getting to know them. Just curious. How do you make this. What is it about and then get pulled into their world for just a bit… Like Lindy Lawler who makes these beautiful pieces and tells a beautiful story that I can never say the same way. All I know is that there is a sense of abundance that is celebrated through her work.

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Sometimes though, I have to get a few things from a far away land. Ghana is where my Shea Butter comes from. Kwabena, who is the Managing Director of the company based in Adelaide, works with women’s co-operatives that work in the Zabzugu – Tatale district in Tamale located in the Northern part of Ghana. Traditionally it has been the women who go and pluck or gather the shea nuts. The women sometimes have to travel as far as 17 kilometres on foot and carry bags in excess of 40kgs on the heads whilst carrying their children on their backs.

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It is the same story with Neem Oil, where my dear friend introduced me to Agrocel, an organisation that works with the farmers to get us beautiful cold pressed Neem.

So here I am. Grateful to be surrounded by many many people who love me. Doing stuff that I am not ashamed of saying that I am not an expert in the domain. That I am learning. Having fun. And maybe, bringing some abundance into a few moments when people read the stuff I write or buy something to pamper themselves or a dear one.

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Inspiration, LIfe, Natural, Soaps, Social Agenda

Craftmanship – Creative Confident Explosive

I continue to be astounded by the craftsmanship that is so alive and thriving in this day and age… surrounded by appliances, machines and all things that automate our lives to make it easier and at the other end you find people painstakingly sewing a beautiful dress for a two year old…. or making a terrarium in a tiny glass jar that becomes a beautiful pendant.

My hubby is so eager and enthusiastic whenever I describe to him these little timber trays I have imagined I must have to present my soaps.

NOT.

So here, in Vadodara, I asked my Dad two days ago if there is a carpenter near by who would make me these trays. And I was really surprised when he said yes.

We walked down to this humble shop 300 meters down from our home.

I was looking around as we walked and noticed this broken clay pot on the road ….

Having grown up in India, I am very familiar with the clay pot that is in many households, even rich ones. It keeps the water cool and I think it is healthy too. The clay would act as a natural filter I imagine.

I notice it with fresh eyes now. Perfectly formed, impossibly thin. Some one has made millions of these possibly not pausing to recognise the talent he or she has…
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At the shop, we are describing what we want… we choose teak and I give the dimensions… Dad kept challenging them and insisted that we see some samples before commissioning 30 pieces. “Bring the soap here, so we can test it. ”

Clearly, my father has a lot of faith in my ability to measure 😉

Back home, I give the soap to Dad. He looks at it. He has his feet up on the sofa. After a while he says, “Yes, these dimensions will work”.

Ahem. It is a new found skill after all, so I guess the incredulous realisation that I can measure accurately is well founded!!!

I walked down to the shop later that afternoon to see the two prototypes Mr Smartie created for me. He was so excited to see me… “here they are”, grinning from ear to ear.

I loved them. I had my iPhone with me because I wanted some pics.
“Can I take a pic of you to share the story?”
“No” he says. “Why would you want that?” ”
Can I just take one of your hands while you are working on these?”
“No. You might cut off my hands then, like the people who worked on the Taj Mahal”.

I burst out laughing. “Do I look like Aurangzeb!!?” I retorted, laughing!

It wasn’t even Aurangzeb.. I forget the history lesson 😉

Any way, no photos of the craftsman then.

I do have photos of the trays and of course I had to see how these looked with soaps in them.

I took those along to Mr Smartie so he could see what he has created….

“Ah, these are soaps?”
“Yes”
“And you make them?”
“Yes”
“How?”
“I take some milk, add lye, mix it all up with oils and voila!”
“And you send them overseas?”
“No, I make them overseas.”
“How much do they cost?”
“I will bring you one. I have one of these – pointing to the clay & loofah one.”
“Yes, that is the nicer one.”
“Bring two” This was a guy standing next to Mr Smartie.
“We will try them and see how they are” … unabashedly mimicking a good lather up with the soap!
Yes, Sir

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Inspiration, LIfe, Social Agenda

My Dad

My Dad is a romantic. Or he was one. Or so I thought. Now a days he is a wee bit disgruntled with the state of affairs in India.

Dad was a cop at a time when it was very corrupt. I say this in the past tense because I think it is getting better. The lesson that I hold dearest to my heart is when he took me into the home of a Muslim man in Khadia (the heart of the city in Ahmedabad, where riots got fuelled). He went to the heart of the matter. Got to know his constituents. And he was known for being able to stop communal violence.

He was also outspoken. And arrogant. Born to a rich family, his father who was a judge in Kapurthala sired him when he was 64 and died when Dad was very young. He became a cop because his mum wanted him to. I suppose he felt that he could choose. Though he never did!! He continued in the force and found creative outlets for his energy when he got sidelined for promotions.

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In the Reserve Police in Godhra and in Saijpur (Ahmedabad), he rallied the troops and got them involved in creative activities…. I remember the “mobile” fountain and police band that started getting commissioned for weddings. Outdoor theatre for the jawans, a co-operative society that would have people cooking delicious snacks for sale in the community.

He has touched many lives. He is retired now and has stopped coming to visit me in Australia because he claims he cannot travel anymore. Injuries from his days controlling violence …. that is the stuff that matters. But I still want my Dad 🙂

Today, he dispenses medicine to the women who come to our home to clean and cook. The woman who cleans the home for my parent’s neighbour is married to an abusive alcoholic. She came running up to mum to enlist her help. My mum was down in an instance chasing the hubby away.

I wonder why people in the neighbourhood reach out to my parents for help with tackling the difficult issues. I am grateful to them. And I am grateful to be part of this family that has defined who I am, how I view life and what I make of it. Most importantly, I have learnt to chase my dreams, however impossible. It is the cost of being arrogant. And also hungry and foolish 🙂

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Inspiration, LIfe, Natural, Soaps, Social Agenda

Awe, Inspiration, the weather and the sky….

There is something about the raw beauty of earth that pulls me. This picture is of Australia at it’s most magnificent…. if there is such a thing!

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My first encounter with awe was when I saw the Kanchenjunga – the second highest peak of the Himalayas. I must have been 9 or 10. And may be it was since then that I have always pondered about stuff. But not really cared about nature and its bounty. When I say that, I mean, I was the penultimate consumerist. Keratin treatments because I was never happy with my hair, peels because I was in anguish over my scars that I had from chronic acne for many many years… food, because I thought I would cook healthy meals but didn’t… shrinking clothes in the dryer because I could not be bothered hanging the clothes out, plastic bags because I never remembered to take my bags with me.

My sister is a greenie. It used be very annoying how she was always tuned in to nature, to waste, to be conscious about her foot print. We would laugh. Grateful that she did not install a tank in her beautiful Californian home to fill recycled vegetable oil to fuel her car.

And I am talking about a few years ago. So I am not entirely sure what happened. Something sure did. We installed solar panels in our home. I started putting my clothes out on the clothes line. I started following Crunchy Betty and almost entirely stopped buying serums, creams or lotions…. even hair masks, which I would be spending hundreds of dollars on without blinking an eyelid. I think it was the luxury of having worked for 25 years, having raised kids and paying off the mortgage. I felt like I deserved to buy whatever caught my fancy.

I started noticing poverty. I always did, but I started really noticing it. How some kids seemed really happy on the streets of India with rags on and peddling books that would give them some money but barely feed them, let alone give them the life they truly deserved. I looked at the woman washing herself on the streets of Vadodara, in a skirt, hunched over her boobs for privacy… because she could not afford to use the wash rooms down the street.

So I think it was random stuff that led me to watch a video of making goats milk by David Fisher. So I bought some lye, got some goats milk, froze it and made my first soap…. that was in February this year. It is fun, wildly creative, and I love the creative leeway I get exploring different stuff.

My favorite ingredient is oatmeal. I used to buy Lush Angels on Bare Skin and decided to make my own with home ground oatmeal, clay, shea butter and coconut oil… it was amazing. And then I discovered that even Lush, who I worship, and thought was fresh, fresh, fresh…. had artificial fragrance and synthetic ingredients!

So back to soaps…. here is my fav way of doing this… I soak organic oatmeal in water and then blend it. That is your oat milk and it cost pennies relative to what you would buy in Coles or Woollies. Read about the benefits of oatmeal. I am personally quite taken by oat meal and I believe I have used it in every soap! My inspiration for soap comes from nature… lemons hanging off a tree or mandarins…

So here is how I made this particular soap – I was with a dear friend when I noticed the bright orange mandarins… I got some home and juiced them. Then I dried the peels and ground them.

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These are the ingredients that went into this baby: Oat and almond milk made with purified water, crushed orange peel, cinnamon and cloves, saponified oils of organic coconut, castor, sunflower, extra virgin olive oil, virgin shea butter, clove essential oil. I wanted the soap to be rustic… had seen something on pinterest that tickled my fancy. so decided I would “pour” the soap into a yoghurt bucket… (recycling in action!!). Essentially to make soap you mix the lye with water or in this instance with frozen oat and almond milks and then combine this solution with the blend of oils and butters.  I keep a stick blender and pans specially for my soap…. you stick blend the lye solution and fat until it starts looking like pudding… a little before that you add the botanicals…. in this instance, orange peel and essential oils; pour it into the mould, leave it for a couple of days and voila, you have soap!!

The lye solution reacts with the fat over a few hours, known as the saponification process, as a result of which soap and glycerin are produced. The soap is then cut and then left to “cure” for 4-6 weeks, which makes it milder, harder and just plain gorgeous!!

Then we are ready for “a wicked scrub” … which is what I have named my little baby hobby business 🙂

There are loads of tutorials and talented soap makers out there who post videos of beautiful techniques that make it look easy peasy. My fav is this lady who is drawing art with soap

My journey with soap is kinda chronicled on my facebook page… you can see how my recipes and technique has evolved over the past few months…

Am loving this journey and more than happy to connect with anyone who wants to watch or learn how to make soap! Specially if you want to gift it to someone special, there are so many pretty things to play with … like the one here…

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And ah, about the “weather and the sky” in the title of my story…. that is what I have learnt over several years of coaching, growing, leading… that your thoughts and feelings are like the weather; your mind is hardwired to protect you, so it’s job is to constantly talk to you about what can go wrong and your feelings tell you something that is terribly important to you is happening… they are like the weather, and you are the sky.

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