How I became a ‘Thinking Heart’ with Apeejay’s Internal Communications practice

By Vinita Singh

Often we do not understand what purpose we have on earth. Does that sound philosophical? I am sure it does. Then suddenly something happens – no matter how fleeting the feeling was – it changes our perception forever giving us a glimpse on what our purpose could possibly encompass. That is what happened to me when someone from our top management wanted to know who is the editor of a communication, Soul Curry, my department Corporate Communication issues every Tuesday. It was quite a simple question. It was difficult to answer because it had no right or wrong answer.

The fact is that there is no editor for this communication we send 53 editions of annually.  Each edition is the charge of an Acting Editor. Yes, our HOD reviews every edition, often even edits it, but is not the creator or the editor of the particular edition of Soul Curry. In a corporate world of SMART key result areas per person, per task is the norm but we had created a shared key result area towards Soul Curry.

The question needed to be answered, so it made us all think how we, as a department, had, through these weekly articles, expanded the scope of our work beyond our individual professional skill sets – Brand, PR, Internal Communications, Corporate Communications, etc. We had extended ourselves to contributing to thought processes of employees with skill sets that were as varied – from us and each other – as chalk is different from cheese.

It was only in this way that all of us in Corporate Communications were shouldering a key result area of bringing out weekly spiritual communication for the working professional – a line of work well beyond the areas that were our direct responsibility at Apeejay. By not designating an editor, we had, in a way, admitted to each other that nobody in our team was an expert to advice anyone on how to achieve harmony in personal and professional lives. Each one of us is a work in progress as human beings and therefore none of us can be the ‘Editor’ of Soul Curry. However, if each one of us was a good listening post at work – which was and is very much within the scope of our primary job of Communications – then each one of us could step up and take up the task. So that’s our philosophy behind Soul Curry and we put all of this in one sentence and answered the question asked of us.

Me conducting an online class for underprivileged children living in remote corners of the country, under the aegis of our Group’s ISR® initiative

A six off bunch of cubicles make our department where I and my teammates sit and work. Often our colleagues from various companies and corporate departments saunter across to say how nicely the Soul Curry article was written. Sometimes some colleagues reveal that they share these articles outside of Apeejay network with family and friends. This makes the ‘Acting Editor’ of that edition (and in fact all of us) grin with joy. Recently a senior colleague in a far off town was visited by one of us for a project. The office had a board where pieces of Soul Curry editions were cut out and pasted! Here’s a picture of it :-

An Apeejay office where Soul Curry cut outs are pasted as a collage!

When asked why the colleague shared it, she said that seeing it helped her combat mood swings on a ‘low’ day. Wow! Personally I learnt from another colleague who said he keeps the articles in a separate folder and on some specific days (read exasperated state of mind) makes it a point to read them.

To be able to touch people at random with the same article is evidence that the feeling we tackled in Soul Curry was one which touched many professional lives. I can actually see we make a difference to so many varied people, with different skills, different personalities, different outlooks to life but perhaps somewhere down the line similar needs at workplaces! A quote from Anthony Douglas Williams will be appropriate here “Spirituality does not come from religion, it comes from our soul.”

Soul Curry, started some nine odd years ago so considering that mental health at the workplace is only now a big ‘issue’, as a department Apeejay Corporate Communications, was certainly ahead of the curve by introducing a spiritual communication as part of our corporate Internal Communication Practice.

When I joined Apeejay in 2012, I was told that one of my tasks would be to make sure Soul Curry comes out every Tuesday. I learnt a few months later that it was everyone’s task too. I learnt that Soul Curry had been a challenge when it was person centric and therefore now it was everyone’s responsibility to put in an extra effort. We were to listen more carefully in our everyday work lives and keep a sharp tab on problems, issues, and disappointments of people around us felt not only as professionals but as human beings— and bring some advice into Soul Curry. Such a listening post activity gave Soul Curry clear areas to focus on and that’s how weekly ‘Soul Curry’ editions came out without any one editor.  I must admit that personally for me, this task created a stir in me and I started questioning myself. Maya Angelou said “People will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.” So i started questioning myself – How have I have made the other person/ a colleague happy or how have I helped another person heal or how I have touched their life or who was touching mine or who was listening to me more carefully. 

At work and in my previous employers I knew of countless people, colleagues and seniors, who just simply forgot how they made me feel and thus this is what inspired me to understand this part of the task I had been asked to co-shoulder.

Me with the Director of Cancer Foundation of India during a visit by ISR® volunteers of our Group

Working in Communication and Public Relations for almost 14 years, my way of life has become mostly deadline oriented, including my personal space. In a professional PR person’s life, disappointments are a regular affair – disappointments at somebody not liking PR, somebody expecting more PR than their work actually deserved, somebody not willing to work as hard as me to make a journalist / writer understand the subject yet expecting great PR.

Me with Pulitzer prize winner Andrew Sean Greer

I am a believer in a self-motivating process and feel that no one can make you happy but yourself, no one can make you do the job except yourself. Hence I made it a practice to read something inspiring for myself right from the time that I started my career. I had never thought it will ever be my goal to create communication that actually can lift another person, teach new ways of doing things at work, dealing with issues of people, time management, priorities and in the process maybe deliver happiness that they take back home. I did not think my job encompassed spiritual communication because really, what did I know of spirituality anyway! I thought everybody’s mental health was their own personal responsibility.  Thus far, I had read motivation books to help myself through professional disappointments that regularly mark a PR person’s life. Now I find motivation that could help others because part of my job is to listen about their disappointments and areas where they could do with some regular help.  “The Secret” is a book that’s my favourite and in it is written that the great secret of life is the law of attraction. The law of attraction can also be called the law of creation. In other words, life is not happening to you, you are creating it. I am grateful to Apeejay for giving me such a platform where I can make a difference in people’s life and influence their thought process may be.

Me with some of my colleagues

When an employee is spending 8 hours of their day in an office, it is somehow natural to assume that it is the responsibility of employer to keep them feeling engaged, motivated and satisfied at work. To some extent it is true but to a large extent, it is individually each one of us that also need to be better and to use opportunities for deeper engagement made available by the employer in the best way possible. In Apeejay, we are encouraged to volunteer on working days under employee volunteering programme ‘Individual Social Responsibility’, which actually gives us an opportunity to search our heart and soul for what really matters. I feel it makes those of us who use this opportunity ‘Solid’ in character and often ‘Inspired’ at work because we then value what we have at work and at home much more. I try to bring value to Soul Curry and if I compiled all the advice I have sent out through Soul Curry for the last eight years whenever I was the editor, it would make a good two or three chapters of a working professional’s self-help book! This is why I am happy that I co-edit this weekly initiative along with my colleagues and there is no one editor except – the thinking heart – that if all of us had we would be happier at work and in life and make everyone around us happier too.

Me receiving the certificate for volunteering in the Group’s Employment Enhancing Professional Skills Volunteering Programme

This task would have been impossible without constant mentoring from my HOD who actually started the initiative and then co-opted everyone in Communications into it. Often when I am feeling low and disappointed she steers me, ever so gently, to revisit Soul Curry articles I have put together ! When we personalize everything we do, then we can develop the ability to see feelings from another person’s eyes too. Soul Curry carries articles that are contributed by me and many other professionals like me and in a way we use it to incorporate the organizational value and culture of ‘Fun’.  I feel this is why we have been successful in generating followers for ‘Soul Curry’ who are having a ‘normal’ day. Now how will you describe a normal day? like you wake up, jump off your bed, get ready, rush to work, finish all the tasks of the day, chit-chat with colleagues, head back home, watch TV, contribute to family if you live with yours, have dinner and sleep. The routine can make even the best of careers feel monotonous. At work people often fail to realize that they are moving, working and talking like a machine. Doing the same thing day after day, week after week can make anyone feel ‘restless’. Thus at work our soul needs some help too.
Unfortunately, most of us were not taught as part of our upbringing to introspect, not everybody has the time to introspect, not everybody knows how to either! This is where Soul Curry helps steer people.

Me with my colleagues and Ms Sudha Murthy, Chairperson of Infosys Foundation. We sat with Mrs Murthy to prepare an edition of Soul Curry!

Take for example the topics we have covered in the last few months encouraging our people to develop the happy habit for living for the day only ; to learn a life changing art of asking instead of telling in office ; how and why  use of humour might help our colleagues; encouraging our people to pause and think if they have irrational thinking patterns which were dragging them down ; encouraging them to prioritize alone time every day ; encouraging them to use self-control to have a fruitful day at work; encouraging them to unthread anxiety they feel every day while sharing with them a great study on career anxiety and how to tackle it.

Often our companies are graced with great thinkers and Soul Curry speaks to them and shares their tips in some editions. For example, Mrs Sudha Murthy visited us in 2015 to deliver the 2nd Apeejay Jit Paul Memorial Lecture at Kolkata International Book Fair and shared her thoughts on “values” and why it is so important in today’s world. Similarly, Man Booker Prize winner Ben Okri visited us in 2016 during Apeejay Kolkata Literary Festival where he spoke about what spirituality means to him and said that for him, spirituality is the relationship between human beings and the Divine.

Me with my colleagues and HOD at an event

Each topic needs a supportive non decorative design thus trying to hit the right chord with each article is the job of one of my colleagues who is responsible for the layout. Design is a big part of our Internal Communication Practice so we deploy that in Soul Curry too to increase readability by catching the eye of our busy people and in this way, we have created a space for Soul Curry in employees’ ‘must read’ list. I can confidently say that maybe not on Tuesday when it is sent out to the employees but sometime during the week, every one reads Soul Curry or so says our informal surveys! For me, that’s enough. This, in itself, is an achievement for the department because as American Singer Carlos Santana says, “There is no greater reward than working from your heart and making a difference in the world.” That is how I work on my core job and that is how I play my part in creating and delivering Soul Curry.

Sometimes our work brings out the potential we never realized existed in us and in my case the best part is I actually learnt a tool with whose help I can lift myself up by enlivening others, be it at work or home or in a gathering even if I am feeling low. For sure, my resume is different than any other PR person’s resume. I don’t know any in my fraternity who do Spiritual Communication. I do. I know people who think from the brain and feel from the heart but a “Thinking Heart” quality is rare. I have that now. Not all of us are lucky to get satisfaction at work. But if we get it, then we should be grateful. And I am.

Vinita Singh is Senior Manager – Corporate Communications, Apeejay Surrendra Group

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