I was in ISB Hyderabad recently for a leadership course.
I found the staff at the executive dining hall particularly young and energetic, with a smile almost permanently plastered on their face, darting from place to place to serve the diners, no noise or murmur despite the varying workload – be it the breakfast time or Lunch. There were 5-6 of them.
One of them was a young lady. I do not know what is it that makes a smile on a lady’s face so much more embellishing than it is on a man’s face.
The 3rd day I could not resist the temptation of probing into the secret of their happiness in general and a lonely lady in the crew. At breakfast time when the crowd was still low, I struck a conversation with her – Ms Usha Rani. Through the conversation I came to know that she was from Behrampur in Orissa, that her sister was working in that Executive Dining Hall before getting promoted to the adjacent F & B outlet as head, that they were living together nearby, that she had completed her 12th and started working for ISB (the dining operations as indeed most hospitality services have been outsourced to Green Park Hotels) about 6-9 months back. I gave my compliments to her and her team and the spirit of service they exhibited and wished them that they kept it at the level at all times to come.
Just 2 days before, my Coach (Mr Gopal Krishna) had remarked that I looked formidable and ‘Kadoos’ and hardly the jovial humorous variety that I claimed I was. But then I found some others in the group similarly challenged. I casually remarked to my Coach that I would not mind asking that lady to come and share with us the secret of her smile. I was least expecting a reply – for it was more a statement than a request for permission. But he responded enthusiastically that he had no objection to such a gesture – I was actually surprised at his positive response.
I went over to the Dining hall where another lady participant was still dining and sought her help to convey it to Usha for I did not want any misunderstanding. I had asked one of the staff for Usha Rani who was in the back room. She came out with her boss who was looking concerned and a couple of staff approaching slowly to see if something had gone amiss. Usha Rani herself must have wondered if she had goofed up something – there was the smile alright but mixed with a dose of bewilderment.
I began explaining my mission and requested if she could spare 10 minutes to enlighten us on the secret of her smile. She agreed without much persuasion and I told her that she could get her elder sister Liza along if she would feel more comfortable that way. The look of consternation on the face of the other staff broke into satisfied smiles in no more the 30-40 seconds. Deed done I went back to the session.
Usha Rani and Liza came to our class room a half hour after their duty time. Anbu (another Coach) had also joined us to see how the experiment fared. There was the statement of purpose from me and a few questions from some of us.
Liza had actually wanted to join the army and (her family) had spent Rs 2 lacs in her undergoing some training but could not make it finally and thus took up hospitality service about 4-5 years ago. She visited her parents in hometown once a year. She seemed satisfied – neither too anxious about the future nor dissatisfied with her past.
We pretty much started repeating the questions to Usha Rani. Someone asked her what she wanted to become or some such thing and suddenly there were some tears in Lisa’s face. From where I was I could not make out what she was trying to say even as someone consoled her with words. Liza it appeared had found the going tough on the Rs 9000/month salary she was making in Hyderabad and requested Usha to join her so that they could make it together on twin salaries. (I learnt it the next day).
Later a classmate remarked that my gesture of inviting them would make a significant difference to their life. Well… I don’t know about that… but his (Jain of Sneider) remark seemed to have energized me.
I would have spent a lot more time to learn more about them and the inner sense of happiness, fulfillment, hope and optimism lying beneath the (completely effortless and guileless) smile which is only their outer veneer. But then there was the class to attend. I would any day give a tenth of my wealth to have that smile (and the underlying optimism) on my face.
However, I was a little worried overnight if my gesture to a select individual from a team was appropriate. Next day at Lunch I wanted to downplay the incident deliberately so that I did not ruffle any feathers.
Lisa had asked to serve in our Dining hall and she was there when I went to lunch. Surprise of surprises she came and told me that the entire team was happy for my gesture. I felt like getting up and pumping my fist in relief. For there indeed was the whole team behind their smiles, the teams spirit was high and they truly practiced ‘each for all and all for each’.
Thank you – Usha and Lisa. May your team flourish and enthuse people like me who have forgotten how to smile.