Times They Are A Changing…

It’s quite a good winter here… the chill feels nice against the skin and the nip in the air feels crystal clear J I love winters… my favourite of all seasons…

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Moina’s third winter… do you know what that means?! She will soon turn three…oh, my gosh, wasn’t she just born!!!!!! Time flies and how?! My little lady has already started school. Although it’s got a slight speed bumper in the way that she fell ill. Again!!! I am now trying to use more common sense to calm my nerves when it comes to her because I cannot afford to live on the edge of paranoia as a mother. Her circle of exposure is increasing and that’s also opening new avenues of exposure for her, exposure to people, infections, various foods et al. So I am just trying to substantiate her misses with nutritious food. As much as possible.

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Moina is now slowly becoming a fussy eater. Not fussy because she is not enjoying foods, but she is more distracted these days. I used to lose my patience earlier and get all mad at her and that caused heartache at both ends. So now the trick that I have picked up is that I need to engage her. Tell a story, ask her about her day (I am a working mother so we end up meeting only late evenings), so I get into a story telling of her day, my day etc. What can I do? I don’t think I am spoiling her or that it’s going to create other baneful habits of not eating together et al. Right now this is what the scene is and the outcome has to be for her to eat her meals 🙂 So if she needs a story, a story she gets 🙂

Of late I had a few of my friends asking what books to buy for their children…well, my lil’un is almost three but I have always bought her books that I grew up with… simple but beautifully illustrated fairy tales, bed time stories, some pop-up books and Amar Chitra Kathas. I have also continued to bring in a steady stream of Bengali illustrated folk tales because that’s my mother tongue :-). But then the other day a very dear friend of mine who is also a new mother got me gifts for my baby. She got me something really priceless…she found a store in our little but very delightful city which sells ONLY Children’s books, beautifully illustrated and written only by Indian authors and storytellers. I mean, WOW!!! Indian designs and artistes just bring in a beautiful grace into any visual and you will know it when you see the pictures. The stories are short, crisp and absolutely imaginative. Love it. And Moina loves it too 🙂

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Image Courtesy: tulikapublishers

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Moina’s First PopUp book

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Panchatantra 🙂

I recently went home to my Mom and Dad along with Moina…these trips are always the most cathartic and indulging. It’s so always full of love, good food, great conversations and lots of laugh, hugs and sweet nothings. And I always learn something new about parenting. I noticed Mumma started engaging Moina in some small house errands and my little munchkin was more than happy to help and she did it all with great elan. And mum said engaging kids in housework gives them great delight and a sense of achievement. Also keeps them more productive and initiates a sense of discipline. That almost took me back to one of my grannies who runs a Montessori school and she had told me that kids love to work. You should always engage them in household chores…little by little and see how harmonious it gets managing a tot 🙂 Well, I am still trying.

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Moina now has started school and with my husband and me both full time professionals, I managed to negotiate a governess cum cook so to speak for her. So managing the lady’s timings, ensuring she takes care of the baby, does what she has to do around the house and all that is a new experience. I am not so fulfilled doing that because I reallllllllllyyyyyy wish I could feed her, tuck her into bed, dress her up etc. Especially when I go back home and realize that she is not dressed the way I wanted her to be, or she is down playing with her snacks half eaten, a little part of me gruntles and sinks in guilt and disappointment. I want to be with her, I want to work, I want to do her hair, I want to make that kick ass presentation, I want to cook her a delicious snack, I want to discuss my Client’s corporate strategy, I want to read her a story, I want to grow in my profession… what all I want?! And is that wrong?! I don’t think so… I just wish I could manage better, organize better… Tips anyone?!!!! Am all ears.

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Of Salt Pans and Sand Dunes

About a place I visited 13 years ago and something I wrote five years back. Couldn’t but help sharing it 🙂 Hope you enjoy it.

I wanted to write  this on February 24, since it was that day  eight years back that I visited that place and I am so thankful to God I got the opportunity. The place was Kutchch. 

We were in our final year of graduation and the coin was tossed to choose between Mount Abu and Kutchch for the Kutchch Mahotsav. And we all chose the latter 🙂 An overnite journey of just 36 odd girls and  we all landed at Gandhidham from where we were taken to Bhuj in a hotel that was still being constructed. But we did not mind it. Our rooms were done up and we were excited. Even as we landed in the middle of February the sun was beating down on us and the rising mercury did not care much about what we thought of the weather, which was the hottest, driest, sunniest ever. I mean, everything was sunny, yellow, and you would see coloured blotches of sun every two minutes, if you know what I mean. If you know what Looh is in Hindi(dry, extreme, hot breeze with dust), then great…coz that was what it was all about. But who cared. We were a bunch of teenagers who were just happy to be in a place which I don’t think we would have visited otherwise.

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The order of the day was gulp down as many  glasses of Chhaas and water, since en route on our bus journey to the rest of Kutchch, that was what we would be in dire need of. But wouldn’t want to ramble on the amount of sunscreens and the sun strokes we all got…what I really want to share with you is the colour that met my eyes, the smiles that touched my soul, the land seeped in history and beautiful strong men and women bejeweled with the most exquisite silver finery you can ever see.  Every summer I am reminded of the beauty that exists in the deserts and barren mountains of our country.

Bachao and Anjaar, places that have now disappeared from the face of this earth (The worst ever earthquake that hit on January 26, 2001) were famous for their weapons and superior quality artistry amongst the blacksmiths who carved magic in those weapons and also for their vegetable prints and handlooms that burst in colourful richness and brilliant threadwork that was the result of nimble diligent fingers working day in and day out.  Flourishing with almost twenty different tribes, we had a glimpse of their religion, culture, their dance and song, their celebration and talent. 

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We visited the palace of the King of Kutchch (which you see as the British headquarters in the film Lagaan) . We were witness to original forms of Garba at the Dhrang mela where men and women danced in gay abundance and such free spirited they were, so oblivious of the temperatures that scorched the very epidermis of the bodies was brilliant.  In the three days and four night trip, we were witness to sand dunes and salt pans, peacocks and rare species of birds that flew from the North Pole to the sanctuary, we paid obeisance to the gods in age old Jain temples and chatted with  soldiers who showed us the Indo-Pak borders far away in the horizon. We tried to communicate in a language that was not Gujarati and Kutchchi spoken by people in the cities and the rest of us just stared, gawked and used some arbitrary sign languages to get across 🙂

We rode camels, ran across forests, wide empty scorching roads and watched in amazement as peacocks flew all around us like house sparrows. They were beautiful men and women and even innocent children. And I was thrilled we visited them.

It hit me hardest when I realized that we went from cities that celebrated the hype, the craziness and the mindless advent of the new millennium…while for them who walked the sand dunes and salt pans, it was just another hot day, with the women working on their colourful threads, the men still holding shops selling their talent to tourists who marveled but of course…it was just another day in the Rann of Kutchch  and I felt ashamed of our pseudo beliefs and events that mean nothing beyond champagnes and effervescent exchange of emotions, frenzy that makes me wonder whether we are celebrating the dawn of a new day which is as mundane as yesterday…

….and yet those just another days in the Rann of Kutchch were the few of the best moments of my life. Am attaching a couple of pictures, of what it was then that may not exist anymore.

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This trip was one of our most memorable trips. In the final year of graduation, we chose Kutchch over Mount Abu. Don’t think we regret it. One year before the earthquake, we saw everything that that beautiful land had to offer. Colourful embroidery in the middle of nowhere, bedecked camels, men and women, silver glitterati in scorching sun and the traditional Kutchch Mahotsav…Beautiful!!!

Give PR it’s Dues :-)

Clients paying Peanuts?!

 

Sometime ago I had written about how it was important for the media to understand the importance of PR as an industry and respect its professionals. And how without their help it would be difficult to give PR it’s due importance. But there is one more entity who plays an equal role and needs to give PR it’s dues, which I mean literally and that is Clients!

As much as we may all want but pitch fees is still utopia to expect but what is not Utopian and is even justified is for Clients to agree to give PR agencies at least the fee they so deserve and not haggle over monies. Am sure all senior PR professionals would have experienced this at various points in time at new business presentations. The plans and concepts presented are seldom just the ordinary and I know that many of us burn the midnight oil, brainstorm and research a lot to present the best of pitch concepts and plans. The Client is all too eager and excited to lap it up the first instance…but the moment the commercials are put across the table the Client cringes to an extent to make you feel as if you have asked for the moon. As much as the fees may be, trust me, PR is still asking for peanuts as compared to all the money that the Client spends in other forms of communication. When you are invited for a pitch you are told that the brand is incomplete without you, which we agree…then why the discomfort to pay the right dues?

The haggling goes on for days on end…(am sure to get a lot of …Madhavi, it is a part and parcel of this profession..comments) but what am saying is it is not fair! People negotiate and renegotiate…they want all regions, they want dedicated resources, they want all the activities mentioned in the pitch and then they confess about menial budgets for PR. Why should you have menial budgets for PR? Why shouldn’t you understand the long term positive effects and the equity you will enjoy as a brand after a successful PR campaign and allocate budgets for PR likewise?Why would you not understand that it takes a lot of effort, a 360 degree understanding of various media operations, people skills, industry knowledge and a news sense to get your brand the required limelight…so why would you not pay?!

And the even better part is that when Clients do agree to a commercial, they start negotiating on the size and position of coverage, when it will appear, the headlines and content?! Suddenly one wonders if the Client is equating PR to Media buying?!

Even while the PR professionals study and increase their competency to understand the Client’s domain and communicate to the Media, just as we all expect the Media to respect us for what we do and not treat us as mindless mediators…we also need the support of Clients to understand that PR is a knowledge exercise…Public Relations is the Art of communicating with the masses and formulating a Scientific approach to reach out to your target audience to enable the publics have better understanding of an organisations’ objectives and intention thereby building a favourable image.

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Image Courtesy: ebay.com

It’s a humble request to all the Clients all over who engage or want to engage PR teams and professionals…Do not haggle and negotiate to an extent to drain the communications experts of their enthusiasm and eagerness to work for you. When you are agreeing to a retainer or project fee, you are respecting the talent, the ideas and the resources that is being dedicated to build your brand. It is not a high perk, high paying, high on revenues and billing industry. But that does not mean the work and effort, the brains and sweat are any less…so just do the needful…Give PR it’s Dues 🙂

Public Relations: Blending of message and audience

‘Spin doctors’ is what many think a public relations consultant is. I was quite flummoxed when I realised that that is how many perceived public relations or PR consultants to be! “So you are in the business of creating news, huh?”; “You create news when there is none?” …”You make sinking organisations look nice?” Of course, the most common understanding of PR is getting covered in print and judging the efficiency of the agency in terms of per column centimetre coverage in print!

So, is that all that a public relations consultant does? Surely not. Public relations has been slow in evolution and needs some definitions beyond creating corporate images. I define PR as the art of communicating with the masses and formulating a scientific approach to reach out to the target audience, to enable the public to have a better understanding of an organisation’s objectives and intentions, thereby building a favourable image.

Public relations is not just about media relations; it is not just about getting coverage in print, electronic media, etc. It is about ‘communications’, and any professional who wishes to be a part of the PR industry should be able to understand the nuances of communicating with various groups of people catering to heterogeneous mass-scapes. It has to be more than media relations, a smooth blend of various ways of communicating with your target audience.

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Image Courtesy: cakecommunications.co.uk

One has to understand the fabric of heterogeneity in our country. At a time when media is at its pluralist best, it’s easy to get entrapped in the battle for ink and bytes and summarise PR as getting every bit of both. It is imperative for clients and those aspiring to engage public relations as a viable tool to realise that one should not get limited to target audiences, which is what defines the route of PR to be taken most time.

As a student of ‘Communication Studies’, one is exposed to many alternate ways of communicating with the masses, such as street plays, posters, handouts, lectures and photography. The objective is to make a wholesome communication package. At the end of the day, all that matters is to get across to that one consumer, listener, reader, customer, stakeholder, etc. Target audiences can never be homogenous, but the way we communicate needs to be customised to each and everyone in the audience.

PR has evolved to a level where agencies today offer much more than column centimetre coverage. There is a whole gamut on the platter that is dished out to the client: issues management, crisis communications, investor relations, corporate social responsibility, brand communications, corporate communication, healthcare relations, etc. The PR consultant has to know how to synergise, how to create that perfect message. Public relations has evolved as an industry, but the perception of PR hasn’t undergone much change. There is a bigger need today to make the obvious known, that PR is beyond press conferences and press releases – it is about bringing together the basics of effective communication and merging media and non-media activities to be heard and get noticed. It is always a pleasure to work with clients who have understood the benefits of communicating with their audiences at the right time and in the right manner; clients who give PR consultants the upper hand to judge what is best suited to reach out to their consumer and take decisions on the channel of communication to be adopted, be it media or non-media.
It is heartening when the client says, “I am not looking at print, electronic or online media to make my presence known; I want to reach out to him directly…can you help me do that? Can you help me get a sustained communication blanket where I do not have to over sell myself? Give me an integrated communication plan.”

That is good news for the industry, but there is still a long way to go for this perception to gain maturity. Just as a healthy corporate image matures over time, so also PR is brewing slowly. But that can be heightened with some orientation. May be the industry needs to think collectively about presenting public relations as an integrated communications module with an understanding of socio-economic cultures, importance of messages in various cultures, a deeper understanding of exploiting various forms of media, and formulating a scientific approach to reach out to the masses rather than just a flash in the pan publicity.
No, we are not spin doctors, we do not create news out of nothing. We understand the five Ws and one H of a communication model and know how to tune audiences into the same stream of thoughts to perceive our clients better. PR, like I said, is the art of communication with a scientific approach.

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image courtesy: http://www.public-relations-consultants.co.uk – 221 × 252 – More sizes

Stalagmite Theory in Public Relations

`courtesy - scienceillustrated.com.au

I would like to borrow a concept that is oft used for television viewership to Public Relations and I think it suits just fine. The concept is that of Cultivation Theory or the Stalagmite Theory. I quote “Black et. al. used the metaphor of stalagmite theories to suggest that media effects occur analogously to the slow buildup of formations on cave floors, which take their interesting forms after eons of the steady dripping of limewater from the cave ceilings above. One of the most popular theories that fits this perspective is cultivation theory.”

Cultivation theory (sometimes referred to as the cultivation hypothesis or cultivation analysis) was an approach developed by Professor George Gerbner, dean of the Annenberg School of Communications at the University of Pennsylvania.

One of the core assumptions and statements of the Cultivation theory is that television is responsible for shaping, or ‘cultivating’ viewers’ conceptions of social reality. The combined effect of massive television exposure by viewers over time subtly shapes the perception of social reality for individuals and, ultimately, for our culture as a whole.

I believe that Public Relations does that too…or rather primarily Public Relations is doing that all the time. Slowly and steadily honing the opinions and perceptions of the masses to cultivate attitudes, beliefs and notions about products, services and people. We are always cultivating our media, who are not just our vehicles but in fact they are our primary audiences. You grow on them by continuously orientating them about your Clients, the messages that you want to be widely spread, by convincing them about why they should write about your Clients et al. Just as a continuous dripping of limewater on the cave floor helps in the slow build up of formations on the floor, so also a continuous and steady feeding of messages leads to a slow and yet a sure formation of opinion and perception about the Client.

This holds true especially when you are carrying out a Public Relations exercise for a new and niche sector such as electronic home securities or a new brand in an already established market space. In either cases the effort of message dissemination has to be relentless, continuous and steady. And the results won’t be to your disappointment.

But as PR professionals, what you have to do is innovate, ideate and create new ways and means of getting the Client talked about…Cultivate the primary opinion makers (Media) to get talking about your Client, Cultivate your Client to have faith in the system and the process. The effects and the measurement of sucess of this model is difficult since it is a long driven effort and not related to a sudden burst of activity like a promotional campaign, but the long term effect is that it homogenizes a category of audience to see meaning into what your Client is doing and saying and to become ardent believers of your Client.

Next week, we will discuss more topics in PR. Till then your views and feedback will be much appreciated.

 

Towards A Youthful Existence…

It’s all about being Young… Reducing ageing lines and wrinkles… banishing any tell tale sign of age growing in on us… stretching our skins to the tightest corners of our body to get the toned look, hair glistening with the sheen that we were born with till we take ourselves to the grave, the youthful gait, the spring in our steps, the white as a full moon teeth and a smile to go with it… crow’s lines is almost the biggest failure a woman ever has faced…

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I am continuously reminded of Peter Pan; and the more commercials I see on television advocating us to look younger as we grow older, I begin to believe that we as a world are all suffering (for the lack of a better word) from The Peter Pan Syndrome. While I am not referring to this syndrome in any way clinical, though I have come to understand that there sure exists a clinical and psychological state as that… but I am just trying to derive the refusal to grow to this syndrome. It’s not a Never Never Land and we all are growing for sure… growing old… but what I find amiss is that at some point in our lives a few years back there was a concept of ageing gracefully and an admiration for men and women who moved ahead in their lives with an innate self worth and assertiveness that age was just natural and it was okay to age. We had and I think some still have a deep seated idea of how our parents should look and how they should present themselves as they grow older and as we grow older too along with them. (And I am talking only in the Indian Context).

With mothers looking younger and fathers looking more hip and behaving more ‘In’ with times to just accompany us in our younger lives, there is a growing sense of insecurity amongst the children today as well… could it be that they are feeling cannibalized in their own peer group? With Mothers looking hotter than them, Fathers are cooler than them where do these kids fit in?

I am completely pro the idea that we should take care of ourselves as we grow, nourish our skin, nourish our hair, exercise and meditate and to have a healthy existence. But to be awashed by feelings of unattractiveness just because you are ageing seems a bit too petty.

We need to soul search… we need to come to terms with ourselves… of what we are worth and feel good about it. Youth and Ageing are natural phases in a human existence and we all need to accept it. Take it in our stride and feel well. Be well. I am sure with all the age replenishing ingredients that are being marketed to us it’s natural to feel unprepared to grow old and look young at the same time. But what is needed more is the acceptance of our true selves, are values and a rendezvous with the real ‘us’ in us. The Never Never Land exists within us… it doesn’t have to be about immaturity and non-acceptance of ageing… the youthfulness and feeling young should be an attitude, a way of life, a perspective to looking at everything around us and not about skin blemishes and dark spots. It has to be skin deep… It is Skin Deep. Only then it will not be cakey and made up. The Crow’s lines will then not be so much about ageing but will be the lines that add character to our faces that speak volumes of our meaningful existence.

And maybe then, Peter Pan will not seem like a shallow character who refuses to grow… he will be our symbol to a youthful existence and a younger mind and soul.

Ladies Compartment – Mumbai Locals

Vasudaiv Kutumbakam…say the vedas meaning…The whole world is a family :) and that is best reflected in the Ladies’ Compartments of the Local trains of Mumbai…How you may ask…Well, let me do the honours:)

The Mumbai Local Trains…

A class apart..while the world goes gaga about how it carries almost more than 6 million commuters daily, about being the highest passenger density of any urban railways in the world et al…some more experiences while traveling on a Mumbai Local train and nowehere else…

One of the days’ my journey back home in a Ladies Compartment…

So, over and above the unimaginable, slightly unbearable pungent mix of deos, perfumes and body odour and an air that is at the same time filled with

the scent of freshly made gajras of mogras and champas…out comes the basket of a woman another scent that was unthinkable to me, at least in a local train where people are either workbound or homeward bound…is the scent of fresh, skinned icy cold SHRIMPS….I almost jumped out of my seat the first time I encountered the sight of a steel plate filled with the light delicate orange and white bodied crustaceans making rounds in a bogey that had nothing but women on top of each other…and while I thought that would not be very welcome..it was more than welcome…they were all SOLD OUT in flat 6 minutes :)

And even as I was recovering from the fastest SALE ever, there were more on Sale…no, not shrimps, but Delicates, Night Gowns, Pillow Covers, Cosmetics, Books that had barely hit the stands, Steel wool to wash utensils, hair accessories, to bhajipalas, fruits and chutneys to towels and talcs, games, toys and comics and notto forget Muft ki jadi booti too…

A Mall on the Move may I say…and no, you did not even have to find your way through the alleys and figuring out the shelves..everything came calling, right on your lap…and oh…Bargaining was strictly allowed and Welcome!

And as i marveled at the business opportunities that were available for all these entrepreneurs, someone shrieked from another corner of the compartment…and boy did she scream her guts out and scared everyone…but then she soon had a reassuring word from the ladies next to her and she heaved a sigh of relief…the shriek was for??? You may ask….well, the shriek was because a couple of teeny weeny rats went criss-crossing in between her legs and before she could save her senses, she felt roaches crawling up her back…and while she continued to yell and scream…a few good samaritan aunties just brushed the roaches aside and asked the hapless soul to sit with her leg up so the rats woudn’t bother her…How thoughtful…that is when out came the dialogue from one of the wiser ones in the compartment…Vasudaiva Kutumbakam…all world’s a family….so chill..don’t kill them…learn to live with them!

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Image Courtesy: colabradio.mit.edu

And while the aunties assured the fleeting soul, out came a garma garam dabba from within the safe precincts of another damsel’s bad…a dabba full of samosas, wadas and dhoklas…and there it was, a mini feast of sorts…the girl forgot the roaches and the rats, the salespeople were gone, now was the time to feast in peace… :)

And of course the discussions were endless…right from an advice being given to an expectant mother to a description of the dinner that someone went out for for her anniversary, from bitching about a colleague and singing prasies about a boss, to discussing the techniques that Sachin should have had used in a match the previous day…oh, not-to-miss-the-Lovely-saree-why-this-necklace-and-why-no-make-up-today-new-gold-bangle-sasu-maa-ne-diya-discussions :)

And while there were of course some who fumed and fretted for not getting a seat to rest their tired bodies or who grumbled about a dirty train, some who were busy pulling each other’s braids and abusing the crazy hell at each other…trust me, I love all of this that makes my journey to work and home so amazing.

With my music plugged inside my brain (yeah..that’s the full volume on my fone), I barely can manage to hear my own thoughts…but the scenes like these are my everyday engagements and that makes the journey so worth it. There is salesmanship, comaraderie, fear and assurance, mothers and sisters, train friends and acquaitances, food and drinks, curses and blessings…there are saree days when the entire compartment is coloured with traditional drapes from various parts of the country with trinkets and bangles et al and amidst them you would find a city girl in her complete western attire working away on her laptop and enjoying every bit of India around her…

When I tell people I travel to Churchgate from Borivli everyday they think it’s a chore and sympathise with me…what they don’t realise is that there is a beautiful world out there in the quintessential Ladies’ Compartment in the Local Train that means MUMBAI…

Write in if you have experiences and anecdotes to share..I am sure you have also been witness to this-world-is-a-family Spirit :)