The woods are lovely, dark & deep; But I have promises to keep; And miles to go before I sleep...and miles to go before I sleep. - Robert Frost
Aparna was born into an educated family of professionals in the holy city of Ujjain (Ujjayni- Avantikanagari). Her birth was considered auspicious since her Mother saw the Shikhar of the Mahakaleshwar Temple while Aparna was delivered. Her sister Manisha always prayed for a kid sister whom she could play with rather than a brother who might fight with or beat her. She is the youngest of the youngest in the family, meaning her father was the youngest of seven (7) siblings and the last child to be born. Read on Aparna’s journey.....
Aparna was a chubby, naughty, playful child and had a bindaas sort of attitude. Mona didi (Manisha- her elder sister) doted on her & together they troubled mother with their mischiefs. Mummy would run with a belan (wooden roller) behind them.
Her penchant for languages was visible pretty early in life. When her father was posted in Karnataka , she could fluently speak Kannada at the age of Seven (7). In Rajasthan, she learnt Hindi for the first time in Class IV. She learnt elementary Sanskrit in school ; once again learnt Sanskrit with Ms. Shobha Putli of Sanskrit Bharati (organization dedicated to reviving Sanskrit) in Mumbai. She made efforts to learn basic French through Allianz Franciase since she worked for a Belgian company. Aparna also speaks Marathi, Punjabi, Gujarati, a bit of Tagalog (language spoken in the Philippines), Bengali & Telugu.
Her father had a transferrable job with ACC whose factories were located in interior parts of the country which barely had schools and/or rudimentary educational facilities. The initial years were spent in such schools until she joined the prestigious Maharani Gayatri Devi School (M.G.D), Jaipur in Class V as a boarder. This was the first time she moved out alone, early on in life ( That was really very young !). As the daughters were growing up, her father always tried to keep them in the same state where he was posted. This enabled Aparna’s mother to visit school often with home-made tuck (sweets etc as they called it in school) that were always shared with other hostel mates.
Aparna’s preparation & leaving for the hostel in Jaipur from Lakheri (where her father was posted) was similar to a BIDAI ; the ceremony after marriage where the daughter leaves for the husband’s house. She still has a trunk (steel box) that bears her name & address painted in white. The trunk carried her belongings to the hostel.
Aparna settled very well in the hostel in the first year. The routine was rigorous — wake up at 4:00 a.m, group exercise at 5:00 am, the usual action packed day in the hostel & school with lights out at 9:00 p.m. Life in the hostel was very different - they had bunker beds, each student had turns during the week…Aparna was scared to sleep in the upper tier (berth) so she always negotiated for a lower berth with her classmates (early experience-eh!). There were surprise checks to check cleanliness of cupboards - beds & regular checks every week too….the most well kept cupboard was given a prize….Aparna was usually the one to get it!
There were marks for everything during the week - waking up on time, not missing any activity/class, cleanliness, no in-fighting among kids etc…they would be added up for every dormitory at the end of the week. If all was okay for her dorm in a week, they would be given Rs 2-5 (pocket money) to buy ice-cream/candy or whatever they wanted in that amount from the tuck shop in the campus. This was distributed by the matron, Mrs. Marie Rebello, out of the pocket money left with her by the parents. That was a treat that she savored with her friends! If in a week, it was not okay, all students of the dorm were punished - the type of punishment depended on the gravity of the mischief or rule broken- it varied from paper picking for half a day throughout the campus; running with hands up on the ground (3-5 rounds) in front of Lilian Hurst hostel ; no maggi on Sunday evening on the sigari (coal based) with Sukhi bai - to not being able to avail the once a month overnight visit to the Local guardian’s house.
Sometimes she got caught reading a story book or Amar Chitra Katha with a torch under the quilt, blanket or cover after lights were out. It was almost like modeling for the Bajaj Lights & Bulbs advertisement (recall - Jab main chota baccha tha, badi shararat karta tha; Meri chori pakadi jaati, Jab roshan hota Bajaj….ting ting ting ting)
Aparna saw shades of ALL, grew to be Mrs. Rebello’s dear girl. She was in touch with her even after she settled in Jodhpur post retirement. She passed away there.
Sunday mornings at the hostel were special- the laundry man was the first to come. Next, they had to wash their cloth shoes - brown & white & dry them in the morning after which was the milk bonanza before breakfast. They all would start preparing by stirring coffee with sugar well in advance (sometimes from Wednesday onwards) in turns in their steel mugs ( Aparna still has hers ) or pool with a few girls, to have it with milk on Sunday morning….they preferred this over Bournvita or Nutramul. It used to be such a sight & experience that it is still vivid in her memory!!!!
It was in the second year (Class V) that Aparna began to feel homesick…..she would often sit at the steps of Lilian Hurst hostel at M.G.D school & weep for her parents. That was miserable! She wrote a letter to them every week.
She went to see her parents once or twice a year during summer & or winter breaks & usually to her local guardian’s (Bade papa- tauji (father’s elder brother)) place once a month to spend time with her cousins. She met her elder sister Manisha only once a year. They wrote letters to each other & planned for vacations with eagerness.
Aparna learnt to draw-paint on the earthen tawa, wood bark; tie & die (Rajasthan’s special art); knitting in the school with other girls. She was part of the troupe that performed, before the late Maharani Gayatri Devi, for Holi & Diwali.
Those two (2) years left an indelible mark on her personality & life.
Thereon, she moved from one city to another. She did Class VII to XII at St. Mary’s Convent School, Ujjain with majors in Maths & Biology, Graduation (B.A) from Maharani Laxmi Bai College, Bhopal and Post graduation (M.A) in Personnel Management & Industrial Relations (PM & IR) from the Tata Institute of Social Sciences, (TISS), Mumbai.
Boarding life (living independently in hostels) impacted Aparna in many ways. It gave her a very distinct personality. She learnt and practiced self-discipline from any early stage in life which has, over the years, served her in good stead.
Aparna also took part in numerous extra curricular activities in both school & college. From one who did not know Hindi till Class IV, she won a state level Hindi grammar (Vyakaran) competition in Madhya Pradesh. She was the most admired News Reader in school and House Captain. She played football, basketball, throwball, volleyball, cricket, hockey ; participated in javelin throw, discus throw, short jump and long jump.
At Ujjain, she lived with Aai (father’s elder sister) for six (6) years. It was the same Aai (Dr.M.D.Vyas) who gave her birth, so the attachment was special. Aai had a great influence on her personality, thinking, values and ideas about life. She lived alone and brought up Aparna just like her mother would.
Aai has been a pillar of strength for the whole family- she has done what most people would find unbelievable in today’s times - to sacrifice her life & happiness to help all members of the family without asking for anything in return. Aparna draws her inspiration from Aai & has immense respect for her!!
Aai had wanted Aparna to become a doctor like her, however Aparna wanted to study Arts & become an IAS officer. She continued with Science (Maths & Biology) in Class XI & XII since the school did not have Arts subjects . In college, she took Arts to further her goals. Aai never came to school even once in six (6) years. If the teachers ever had to convey something about Aparna, they sent a sealed envelope in her name. That was the level of trust & respect!
Even though she was studying science, Aparna was so scared of blood that she would have tension diarohea three (3) days before the dissection class.
She recalls a class where she had to prick her finger to check blood group. So petrified was she that the lab assistant, Sir Ganeshan & all her classmates, chased her when she ran away to escape.
Her school days at Ujjain with Aai & Saroj Bua & family are truly memorable.
From being in an all girl’s school she went to a co-education one. She made some friends for life from then on, Mamta (married & settled in Bhilwara; Neelu in Chennai; Sharmishtha in the U.S; Seshadri in Mumbai; Sandeep Mehta in Ujjain; Late Dr.Prachi Dixit). Her school principal, Late Sister Clarella was very fond of Aparna , so was Madam Chowdhary, Madam Langar, Madam Wad; Madam Joshi ; Sir Dubey; Sir Ashiko ; Sir Joseph ; Sir Amitabh Trivedi ; Sir Ganeshan & other school & classmates.
Aparna was an all-rounder – from academics to sports to other extra-curriculars ; Aai was always there to back her up! She nurtured her winning streak at every step!!!
After Ujjain, she moved to Bhopal. Here, she did her B.A. at the Maharani Laxmibai Bai College & stayed in the hostel. Interestingly, this was the same college where her mother & sister did their graduation & post graduation.
Her subjects were History, Economics and Political Science. The dream was to get into Civil Services. This used to be amongst the only college in the country where students had to take a boat ride from the hostel to the college. She learnt rowing in the Chota talaab at Bhopal. At college, she learnt to play the Sitar, took part in inter-collegiate Elocution, Debate, Quiz competitions & endeared herself to all professors & hostel authorities.
She met her best friend, Faiqa (means UNIQUE) in the first year history class & they have been inseparable since then….come rain, come sun---they standby each other in all seasons!
Her grandmother & Mausis were in Bhopal too. So, Aparna had the best of both the worlds. She spent a lot of time on the weekends or holidays with Kumud Mausi , Mausaji, Kaki ( Mausaji’s mother), Sonu, Seemu, Cheeku, Neha (her cousins), Saroj Mausi & Ashu Mausi & Mausaji. Being with them & knowing them better was a humbling experience. They are all stalwarts in their own fields of expertise & Aparna’s winning streak got further shaped & strengthened with them.
Ms.Bais (hostel warden) & Tai (hostel matron) were & continue to be very fond of Aparna as much as Prof Pathak (college principal), Prof. Sarita Deoskar , Prof. Urmila Mishra, Prof. Asha Mishra. She won many laurels for the college & hostel.
Aparna was very fortunate that she had family in the all three (3) towns where she studied. It was they who became her guardians. In Jaipur, it was her Tauji (father’s elder brother), Ujjain was Bua (father’s elder sister) and Bhopal was Grandmother & Mausi’s (mother’s sisters).
With time civil services was no longer the preferred option. Mandal Commission had made it more unfavorable. She did not want to get married early like most others in the family. Aparna wanted to become financially independent. How, where, when ---she did not know!
Aparna showed great zeal in trying to figure out what to do and ways to reach her goal. In the early 1990’s, students had limited access to information as the there was no internet and the telecom revolution was yet to begin. She would go to the post office every week and get a copy of the Employment News. Every page was scrutinized as if there was no tomorrow.
Around the time she finished her B.A., her father was posted in Mumbai.
She applied to the Tata Institute of Social Sciences (TISS) in Mumbai for a post graduation in Personnel Management and Industrial Relations (PM&IR) and Jawahar Lal Nehru University (JNU) for post graduation in International Studies & got through both.
During campus placements, she was offered a job at then a sought after employer, NOCIL. During the interview, she told them that she would consider joining NOCIL only if they allowed her to begin on the shop floor. The men were shell shocked. Is this girl nuts? She wants to work in one of the most unionized environments of those times! But Aparna was firm. They came back the next day and made an offer.
Her experience at NOCIL was very enlightening. It covered a wide gamut of issues — be it union issues due to size of Batata Vadas ( called as Aloo Bondas in some places), routing of bus transportation & integration & change management focus when NOCIL ( National Organic Chemical Industries Limited) & PIL ( Polyolefins Limited) were to merge.
After spending two (2) years in NOCIL, she joined Monsanto, a leading global Biotechnology organization. She was exposed to a manufacturing environment (Lonavala, Silvassa, Bellary, General Santos), R & D set up (Bangalore, St. Louis, Boston, General Santos) and Commercial Operations (All India & in the Philippines). Aparna did pioneering work in setting up the Research & Development centre at Bangalore for Monsanto India. Her efforts continue to be remembered by those who are still a part of the organization.
At Monsanto, she worked diligently & seamlessly with all parts of the organization be it in India or the Philippines. She tried to make a positive impact & contribution to each employee’s career & life overall. Some of those efforts are reflected in the recommendations by her ex- colleagues (refer to www.linkedin.com). She is best remembered for her exemplary work, simplicity & humility.
She moved as an expat to the Philippines based out of Manila in 2003. In a completely alien environment, Aparna endeared herself to all through her simple, focused & straightforward nature, setting of robust systems & processes and coaching people internally for bigger roles.
Clearly, Aparna once again made her mark in Monsanto locally & globally.
Her colleagues, Ms. Myrna Guibao, Ms. Abigail Alip, Ms. Amy Donasco, Ms. Leila Gaspar, Ms. Liza Ugalino, Mr. Pio Morito , Mr. Prakhar Sharma, Mr. Singh etc. are her best friends too today. She has a home away from home with them & their families.
Life in the Philippines was different & not easy for a pure vegetarian. Her family consisted of 2 helpers (Ning Ning & Lyn who cooked excellent Indian food thanks to Aparna’s mother for training them) & dog Fluffy (gifted by a colleague Leila). Her parents visited Manila a couple of times during the posting. When in India, they worried about her well being.
Her fastest achievement was being able to speak Tagalog & Taglish within the first 3 months. It helped her connect well with people at work & outside.
Aparna learnt to play golf, scuba diving, gardening and in her spare time travelled extensively to most islands with her Filipino friends. She was a regular at the only Indian temple in Manila besides the Gurudwara.
Reminiscing of the time she lived in the Philippines, she sings “THOSE WERE THE BEST DAYS OF MY LIFE”.
After her repatriation to India in late 2005, she rejoined Monsanto India in Mumbai for a South Asia Training & OD role. Having spent about 8 years with Monsanto it was time to move on. A job that allowed her to not only share learning’s but provided avenues for growing.
Her career @ Monsanto was extremely enriching & rewarding from where she truly transcended geographical & cultural boundaries!
Aparna joined Novartis Healthcare Private Ltd, a budding captive offshoring set up, as Head HR- Global Services. It was yet another interesting & challenging assignment. She began from scratch by building the HR team to help set up various business line functions that wanted to start operations in India simultaneously.
It was an intense job from not only an HR standpoint but also involved integrating line functions like IT & ITES, Clinical Development, Medical Writing, Data Management, Technical Research & Development, Marketing & Sales, Drug & Regulatory Affairs etc into an organization for effective delivery of business results to global. She was truly enjoying it; till the organization decided to move base to Hyderabad from Mumbai.
Due to personal reasons, Aparna was unable to relocate, hence moved on. Even today she cherishes the professional & personal associations with colleagues built in a short span of 1.5 years. There was tremendous learning & strong networking that is carried forward.
Aparna went on to become part of a progressive Belgian Pharmaceutical organization called UCB as Director HR for their Indian operations which included a manufacturing set up in Vapi, IT Services Centre in Bangalore & a full fledged Commercial organization across the country.
The company’s goal was to be a Bio-Pharma leader. The thrill of re-building a sound organization based on values & sustaining it in the long run got her going each day ( refer to “Look to this day” by Kalidasa in “This inspires me” section).
She built & consolidated a strong HR team & championed the people strategy aligned with the business. The attempt & her efforts were to create an organization that is different & unique in its approach to business & people with focus on the People , Planet & Profit ( Triple Bottom Line) rather than only profit as the traditional rallying point.
Aparna led many people initiatives & led the transformation of the organization successfully.
Having spent 14 years in the Life sciences space, Aparna moved to the Deutsche Bank Group as Director HR for their Service Centers in Mumbai & Jaipur. The possibility of making a huge difference in this industry given the nature of business & complexity involved kept her constantly excited & engaged.
Maintaining & keeping the attrition under check through various HR initiatives in the Mumbai centre whereas scaling up the Jaipur centre with the right talent to full fledged operations were the key challenges.
There was a lot of unlearning & relearning involved & also the experience of dealing with a multi generational workforce, much more of Gen Y than in the earlier jobs. The most important learnings were not so much about “what to do” in a different industry sector, but more about “ what not to do”.
However, her calling, was Back to Basics again - Brick & Mortar. Thus, Aparna has moved to the manufacturing sector with Lafarge as the Country HR Head for India for all their 4 businesses in India. Lafarge is a well known French MNC in the Construction & Building Materials industry. The new entity post the completion of the merger with Holcim will be named LafargeHolcim.
Under her leadership, many in-company Global Awards such as “Digilearn Championship Trophy” & “WAVE” (Women Adding Value & Excellence) have been received besides external recognitions like CLO (Chief Learning Officer’s) Award consecutively for 3 years.
In each of her jobs, she has been able to bring about key changes and also make a long term impact for the organization.
Post her role as CHRO at Greaves Cotton Limited in Mumbai, Aparna chose a different path to be able to juggle multiple personal challenges.
She invested her time gainfully into upgrading her knowledge & skills by completing various certifications, working on her Doctoral Research & focusing on writing – Books, Articles & Research paper/s.
Even though she became an author accidentally, she channelized her energies well in churning out 3 best seller books ( 2 in English. 1 in Hindi).
Simultaneously, she has donned various other hats too - Serving as an Independent Director on the Board of a few companies ; Consulting as an HR Advisor for specific business driven HR projects ; Training, conducting Workshops on different subjects; Serving as an External member on Internal Committee/s as part of POSH; Coaching CXO’s; One-on-One Counselling; Mentoring Board/s; Delivering Key note address/es as a Motivational Speaker & also on a variety of contemporary topics; Visiting/Guest Faculty at various Management Institutes.
She continues to be as active & engrossed as a Gig worker as she has been in her successful Corporate Career.
Aparna as I have known her all these years, is a fun loving, simple person; (some call her “naïve”) who continues to have the innocence of a child in her eyes. Her energy, radiance, passion, commitment towards life, goodness are truly contagious. She is a Thought leader in HR whose expertise is acclaimed by her colleagues & seniors.
In her view of life, much of your growth as a person will come through hardships & challenges. Embrace those & know that you will be better, stronger & wiser.
The website is an attempt to reach out to many more fellow travelers, colleagues & friends who want to take small steps rather than stand still !!!