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The Palace of Illusions


I was called upon as a guest speaker at a recent All Women's CA conference held at the ICAI - Institute of Chartered Accountants of India, Southern region to share my thoughts as a media professional on 'Image Management, Grooming and Personal Etiquette'. I hoped that there could be something I could leave behind that they may not have paid attention to because they've had to deal with other matters of priority. And when my 300 plus audience nodded, agreed and smiled to my speech, I thought of sharing the crux of that half an hour session briefly to a wider section through my column so that you can get the gist in five minutes by reading it. But why should one even pay attention to what I am saying on a subject when I'm neither an image management expert nor a certified professional for that matter. You know sometimes in our daily lives, we tend to notice, acknowledge and take note of certain things from others of our age or even younger. There are things that we might have missed all along or simply forgot in our busy routine. I see this as that kind of a window to remind my readers of their strengths and go all out for storming the world with both their charm and talent. I see myself as a messenger to share my point of view on being 'Bold' (which I'd like to believe I am) and 'Beautiful' (which I'm just perceived to be - thanks to my grooming).

This seminar session at ICAI reminded me of a relevant quote of Lord Krishna from one of my favorite women authors Chitra Banerjee Divakaruni's book 'The Palace of Illusions' where the epic Mahabharatha is told from the point of view of an amazing woman, my most favorite - The daughter of King Drupad, Draupadi. She is one persona who defies all the rules and conventions set by the traditional society. She agrees to marry five men and take them all as her husbands owing to Kunti's conditions, when her chosen one was only Arjuna in the Swayamavara.  Panchaali as she's also known otherwise, is a fiery female redefining for us a world of warriors and the ever-manipulating times. She was not considered the most beautiful woman in the world. Not even bold. If someone addressed her - a guest or a newcomer who usually didn't know who she was, she would shy away from speaking her mind out, go tight -lipped and even trip over the edge of her sari. But one day, when she was 14, this royal princess born out of fire, gathered enough courage to ask her friend and confidante (Lord) Krishna  who'd visit the family, since all kings liked to call on him for counsel, if he thought a princess like her was capable of changing history, as predicted by the astrologer. Krishna gave his enigmatic smile, sensed her confused distress and said ' A problem becomes a problem only if you believe it to be so. And often others see you as you see yourself'. And she did attempt at grooming herself, dressing up well, changed her attitude, addressed people confidently and transformed into a new person to the extent that someone who had been shunned for her strangeness became a celebrated mesmerizing beauty. She was even called by a special name - Krishnaa with a double ‘a’ that meant the one whose attraction can't be resisted.

Sometimes we tend to ignore ourselves in the larger ambition of gearing up for our career and being focused on work. Which is good by all means but even our epics have had terrific women who chose to look good, dress well, accessorize and carry themselves with such grace giving us the message that it is Okay to love yourself and feel good about yourself. It is just fine to spend time and indulge in making yourself charming and ultimately confident. You could be in a high voltage job or a demanding profession and what matters most is whether you can deliver at work or not.  But in a world filled with perceptions and societal acceptance for the smarter lot, it really doesn't hurt much to bring out the 'smart' part of you and make people see that side of you.

Being informed and theoretically strong in your line of specialization is a pertinent part of bringing out the confidence in everything you say or do at work. Assuming you specialize in tax audits and cite a section wrong in your written exam, it means that you don't know two sections. The right one and the wrong one. So the base has to be strong and there is no excuse to not knowing your academics thoroughly. The only way you can earn your client's trust in any profession is by being good at your work. And when your knowledge base is strong, you've the invisible cloak of boldness wrapped around you to face any kind of situation at work and stand up for what you believe is right. Now having said this, there is a ruthless world out there where you have to fit in, mingle, get along and make yourself  part of the working culture. And that requires more than just book knowledge. People of all sizes and shapes are all over the place. But what differentiates a successful person beyond talent is the equation and rapport that one shares with his clients and colleagues. That comes from how one carries oneself at work not just on one occasion or just when one’s boss is around but by living and practicing that persona everyday of your work life.

All of us have our imperfections. But we have to choose to show the brighter side of ours and work on our weaknesses. Managing your image at an individual level when you're in the official circle and social gatherings is equally important. What you wear, how you look, how you look at others and how you conduct yourself makes a difference. The basic rule of dressing and fashion is that you've to be comfortable in what you wear. This is not to suggest that one could walk in to a meeting or office in checked pyjamas and t-shirts unless you're in a cheeky MNC advertising agency for example. But wear what makes you look official and dignified depending on the culture of the organization and nature of clients. Traditional or Western is your pick. But make sure it only adds to your personality and not a distraction to others.

Wear the right corporate colors, subtle stripes or prints. If you want your peers and clients to take your work seriously, they've to have a positive and respectful opinion about you. And looking classy becomes a good starting point in that process of building your image. Body gestures at work communicate more than words ever can. Polite conversations, looking into the eyes of the person when you talk,  just a simple genuine smile when you see your colleague for the first time in a day – all will make a huge difference not just to you but to the other person as well.

Pick up a book which interests you and read at least one book in a month. Spend time with interesting people and discuss your take on a topical issue. It certainly gives you a different perspective and opens up your mind to see the same thing in a different light. Know your work, know yourself and know what keeps you happy and do just that. Both the outer packaging and the inner content have to be impressive. Just having either one of them is not enough. And the over-all image that you want to send out to the world rests with you. Lastly, remember this phrase in Tamizh every time you step out of home: 'AaL paadhi ... aadai paadhi'.  And may I add - 'Arivu Meedhi'.


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