Ruhi on the Lightness of Being
A conversation with Ruhi Bhatia easily steers into her passion to understand human interaction with the world around them. A Master in Gender Studies (London School of Economics) - her work experience covers public relations management, qualitative research and content marketing. She currently advises organizations across FMCG, lifestyle and entertainment on branding and content development, in the capacity of a consultant. Ruhi inspires a raw realization of how a passion can have a distinct uniformity across different work environments, leading one to experiment and succeed. She helps us understand how communication is the basis of all business functions.
Team AST: What role did your background play in shaping your love for the paths you have chosen?
Ruhi: I had an early fascination with words. Read a lot as a kid - encyclopedias, Blyton, Indian folk tales, and even product descriptions on bottles! Then I started working in PR - my first job. That’s when I started flirting with this malleable quality they possessed - being able to create different emotions, moods by stringing them together in a particular order. I was mainly doing brand work. That exercise of being creative within the commercial constraints was poetic to me, and it’s kept me hooked since.
TA: How did you settle down on content marketing?
R: Settled on it for now - a disclaimer I feel I must add. I got back into content after a brief hiatus of working in qualitative market research (a bit too brief for my liking!). Brands were eager to look beyond traditional advertising, and ride this new wave of marketing. It presented an opportunity to unlearn and relearn many rules of marketing, and create meaningful content that people actually want to consume. It was a good time to be around.
TA: Average day in your life?
R: Day starts with checking my phone - a habit I am actively trying to kick. The consultant life lets me work from office, home, or whichever corner of the city the day takes me to. I choose what music I work to, depending on the task and mood of the moment. Black coffee or green tea is the drink of choice, depending on how late the previous night was. Exercise of some sort is a must - my time for my body. The day will typically end with a home-cooked meal, and a book.
TA: What role does comfort play in your work? How do you balance structure and chaos?
R: Been working on my own for some time. So I have grown to really value, respect, cherish my time and space- emotional, physical, mental. I like having breathing space in my work life. I’ve also learnt to embrace both structure and chaos. Balance is the key word. It calls for organisation, discipline, and motivation. But also, taking advantage of the flexibility and chaos - to not be a slave to habit, and allow for moments of magic.
TA: Right now, being seated where you are, what inspires you?
R: People. And their ability to express, articulate, persevere, chart their own paths, reinvent themselves. I find that constantly inspiring. I also follow a lot of organisations and publications who work on gender representation in the media and popular culture at large. Bitch Media is one example, and closer home, Ladies Finger. Incisive critique like that inspires me to see the world a little more closely.
TA: Since starting out, do you think your work has evolved over time?
R: As with any skill, the more you do it, the more depth at which you learn about it. But I think one thing I’ve learnt is the importance of spending time on the fundamentals - why are we doing something, who is the audience - and keeping that at heart of everything you do. Also, always have a plan B.
TA: Why do you think your work resonates with your clients?
R: Rather than simply my skill, I think this has more to do with my work ethic that drives my skill. Anything I do is driven by a basic passion and commitment to find the best possible solution to a problem, keeping all factors and constraints in mind. So if that means exploring unchartered paths or keeping things as is, I arrive at it through a thorough, focused process that gives my clients conviction to trust my point of view on their work.
TA: How did the city you grew up in, moulded your perspective towards your work?
R: I grew up in the city of Madras (now Chennai) and went to a CBSE school. I was always a sincere, hard working student from the start. Then I went to boarding school for 6 years. That really fueled my curiosity in learning about different kinds of people and (their) ways of living. It was certainly not a conscious deliberation, but just drifting and diving into whatever new knowledge and experience came my way.
TA: How much of your work is through collaboration or do you prefer working alone?
R: I think both are important to me. I like working on my own to do research, organize ideas, critique or give feedback, and of course, write. But I also think collaboration is key in brainstorming how different ideas come together, and synergizing them to create a unified vision or approach.
TA: What attracts you to working with people from different fields?
R: Witnessing another perspective in the close quarters of a specific project or brief. A content marketer, media planner, and art designer will all be looking at the same issue, but seeing such different things. And everyone needs to work together to find that common thread of synergy. That doesn’t always happen though. Especially in the corporate world, you are often left with less conversation and more noise. It is important to retain focus while swimming through those different points of view.
TA: How emotionally driven are you and what moves you?
R: Honesty moves me, in and out of the professional space - in an idea, or insight, or point of view. And I am emotionally driven - a lot of care and earnestness invested in every step. But also maintain an objective distance or coldness - makes it easier to deal with change, stay efficient, and evaluate a situation with clarity.
TA: How has your work process changed over time?
R: I am more conscious of how I divide my time. I try and use it smartly, and be more picky about how much I invest in different tasks.
TA: How much attention do you pay to trends and the competition?
R: That is kind of non-stop in my head. Observing people, social media, reading on popular culture, checking out the latest media - music video, show, movie, book, etc. to see what patterns or anomalies catch my attention. It is my constant mental fodder. Can’t turn it off even if I want to!
TA: Do you find it difficult to switch off?
R: When the world is relentlessly throwing new stimuli at you, inspiration can strike at random times. So whether you are in the middle of a conversation with your waxing lady, or mindlessly scrolling through your timeline, mental notes are being made. Or actual ones, if the thoughts won’t stop. But I’m comfortable with that. Because I make it a point to switch off often enough. I am very diligent about my down time as well.
TA: Would you say that you have achieved success?
R: No. Lots more left on the to-do list. Still brimming and buzzing with ideas, ambitions, goals, experiences I want to pursue. Far from satisfied, long way to go, and I am trying to enjoy the journey as much as possible.
TA: What is your art’s role today, given the state of the world?
R: To change the way people behave, think, do life. More specifically, I want to use my skills to carve progressive gender narratives in mainstream media, and inspire more wholesome, non-restrictive ideas of masculinity and femininity in people.
TA: What is an important life lesson you have learnt through your work practises?
R: Self assurance is key. Listen to your gut. Also again, always have a plan B.
TA: Do you like working in the morning or night?
R: Both. Whenever I’m feeling focused.
TA: What do you admit to being bad at?
R: Negotiating, especially in money matters.
TA: Would you ever like to be famous?
TA: What do you think about traditional upbringing?
R: Builds a strong foundation of values and principles, and it instills a sense of discipline, which I think is important. But one needs to also be able to critically analyze certain notions that are passed down, and not get limited by them.
TA: Is sustainability important to you?
R: As a value, yes. Sustainability of an idea determines its life cycle and level of impact. So thinking long term, and keeping foresight on your side is very important to expand your vision beyond just the here and now.
TA: How do you make sure your workplace is conducive to creativity?
R: My workplace extends into the world wide web, in many ways. So it is constantly sparking new thoughts. Music is another big stimulant, and also creating the space for conversations to explore new ideas. I also like to sit as comfortably as possible, and I walk around barefoot, even in office - makes me feel more at ease. Less restricted, somehow
A: How do you apply discipline in your life?
R: Comes naturally to me. I think a lot of it comes down to time management. And breaking down each goal into a series of micro tasks. I love to do lists - makes me feel in control of the future, and keeps me going with a sense of progress. And being honest about what is motivating you to put a certain goal on your life agenda. Because that is what will keep you going.
TA: Your most immersive experience in life?
R: My Masters degree in Gender, Media and Culture at LSE, London. Most intellectually stimulated time, where I threw myself into the literature, ideas and conversations, and was so excited by the clarity I was gaining on the world as we know it.
TA: What are the most challenging aspects of your job/artwork?
R: Staying focused on the objective, not getting carried away with an idea. Also, not just getting seduced by numbers and adding to the deluge of content out there, and having a tangible impact by inspiring real, behavioural change.
TA: In retrospect, what do you know now that you wish you knew before you decided to pursue your career?
R: In the corporate world, old habits die hard.
Ruhi is delightfully succinct in framing her replies. Her individual lines stand out, as she prefers lending an identity to each one, ensuring they stand out despite the paragraph. Her writing represents her perspective on individuality and the lightness of being - the unbearable kind.