Namrata Wakhloo | Head of Learning & Development, United Colors of Benetton
Unrest in the Valley in the 1990s changed the course of Namrata professional bearing. After finishing her engineering, she took up a course in management so as to stay aloof from the unrest in the Valley. Today, she has many notable feathers in her hat. For getting recognition for her work, she recently was appointed as Honorary Regional Director, CASI.
Excerpts from the interaction with Rajesh Prothi
Times have no doubt changed. There are work pressures, and to top it all, the Kashmiri Pandit, as a community is scattered. Under such a situation, how do you manage to keep the culture of Kashmir alive?
Kashmir is very close to my heart and always would be. As they say, you can take out a Kashmiri out of Kashmir but not Kashmir out of a Kashmiri!
I come from a generation, which had the opportunity to grow up in the Valley and ours being a joint family, I was not just exposed to our age-old traditions and customs but was part of them. Now at home, I make sure our family follows most traditions and customs, that a regular Kashmiri Pandit family would. All Kashmiri festivals are celebrated at home with great pride and I keep on inculcating our age-old values into our children. The binding factor between our traditions & customs is of course ‘the Kashmiri cuisine’ which is known all over. Kashmir dishes are regularly at home. Be it our good old Dum Aloo or Sheer Chai served with Telvor! One thing I am trying to work hard on is the ability of my children to speak Kashmiri. I speak it very well however, my children were born in Delhi so they aren’t very good at it.
Going back in time, any interesting memory, which pulls you back to your homeland, Kashmir that you would like to share?
Just one incident? I mean, I could write a book. There are so many fond memories from the past. I was born and raised in Srinagar. Lived in a huge joint family and had a very sheltered life. The school was the next best place to be in (Presentation Convent High School) and life revolved very much around these two places. I miss Kashmir very much. I make sure that the memories from the past remain as fresh as yesterday’s chores. I make sure that I visit Kashmir. A couple of years back, I took my children and show them around the places where I grew up and took them around so that they know where they have their roots.
There have been changes since the time you left Kashmir. Now there is more awareness and more opportunity for the Kashmiri’s. What is your observation?
Yes much has happened since the time we left the Valley. I would like to talk about the Kashmiri woman, who is brilliant! She is that diamond that glows amongst a thousand gems! Our generation, as parents and teachers, must always encourage them to become fiercely independent and back them in whatever they have their hearts set upon. It is important that we explore different streams in which a girl can build her career and not just restrict it to medicine or engineering. I started out as an engineer, however, moved on to an altogether different career in Human Resources. Kashmiri woman is a powerhouse – intelligent and sensible. There’s no stopping her when it comes to facing challenges and tough situations. There are so many opportunities, just let her draw her own path and take her own flight.
If you had not joined this area of work, what career you would have opted for?
I love photography. Had I not joined HR, I would have become a photographer. I love clicking candid pictures of people, places, food, and random moments of life. I think it comes naturally to me.
Was this career by choice or circumstantial & how did the family react?
My career has always been molded by what I wanted to do in life and the priorities that I had at different junctures of my life. My family members have been the main driving force behind me and they have done everything that they could have, to help me excel in life. They have been that rock that never let me fall down. Their sacrifice has made me reach where I have, irrespective of the challenges that life threw at us.
What have been the high points in your career?
I started my career under very challenging circumstances. The very fact that I made a career for myself is an achievement in itself.
I finished my Engineering in Pune in the mid-1990s and terrorism in Kashmir was at its peak then. All my classmates went back home to spend a good time applying for jobs and planning a career. That option was closed to me. My family was back in Srinagar braving the odd circumstances there. I was worried about their survival and at the same time finding out ways for me to stay back in Pune. I had no place to stay until I found that the YWCA of Pune was willing to give me accommodation if I could show them that I was either employed or pursuing education. That’s what prompted me to take up MBA in Pune and I bought more time for myself.
As they say, no genuine effort goes in vain…at the end of my course, I got placed in a very good company in Mumbai. Thereafter, there was no looking back.
The profession you are in, gives you an opportunity to interact with people from various cultural backgrounds, what have been your experiences as a person working in the field of Human Resources?
I am in the field of Learning and Development (HR) for the last 13 years and it gives me a great opportunity to look into the professional and personal development needs of people in the corporate world. I have had the opportunity to work, learn and grow with reputed corporates like Reliance Infocomm, Bharti Airtel, Aircel, and Benetton India where I have headed the function of L&D at various levels. I have been one of the founding members of the world-class training Academy that we set up at Aircel in 2010. I have won several awards for work done in the area of Values & Culture and Corporate Governance in the corporate sector
Your education has been quite interesting in itself. What all did you do and to who do you give the credit for your progress?
I am an Engineering graduate with MBA in Marketing. Having done my schooling at Presentation Convent High School, Srinagar, I went to Pune University for my further studies. I also have a professional certification in Human Resources from the prestigious institute, Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM). I was the first girl in my family to go to a professional college. The credit goes wholly to my progressive parents who wanted me to be independent and have a career.
What has been your inspiration when it comes to your professional life?
Strong and successful women have always inspired me. Today, women are doing very good work in different domains at leadership positions. They stand out for their diligence and drive. It’s always a proud moment when I come across these women and it motivates me to do even better.
What interests you apart from your professional career?
I like to balance my work and the rest of my life. I enjoy spending all my free time with my family. I love traveling, photography, and reading. Polishing my Kashmiri cuisine-cooking skills is also a big interest.