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15 August 2014

A day of freedom

INDIA CELEBRATES its 68th Independence Day today. Having lived in its capital for seven months, I am hopeful that, in the very near future, this day also celebrates freedom from socioeconomic inequity, gender crime, and racial oppression that continue to taint the fact of India as a true spiritual center.

13 August 2014

Lauren Bacall (1924-2014)

SHE WAS the coolest and classiest actress I've known, with the smokiest voice, the sultriest stare, and the wittiest delivery of the most acidic lines in cinema. Reading Lauren Bacall's autobiographies gave me a lasting impression that she was a woman with the faintest ego. In fact, she once rebuffed her status as an entertainment legend, asking "Aren't legends dead?"

I first saw her onscreen with the little-seen The Fan (1981), and since then I had been beguiled with her stunning abilities to carry fashion and dialogue in the coolest manner. I often imagined what and how she would have been as my boss in fashion retail. At the 1975 and 1987 Oscar awards, she made the costume design presentation the most effortlessly fashionable thing the Academy has ever crafted. She was stately in very connecting way.

Thanks for the many years of inspiration, Ms. Bacall.

1975 Oscar Awards, Best Costume Design
Source: YouTube.

1987 Oscar Awards, Best Costume Design
Source: YouTube.

05 June 2014

The wrath of the sun

IT'S 12 noon, and I'm stuck in horrific traffic on the mammoth flyover on Ring Road in South Delhi. The sun is spitting 45 degrees of its dry searing temperature over this concrete desert. At this height, we're above everyone else in the city. We're closer to the sun than anyone else in the city. Nothing else is moving, not even the air. The air has lost the battle of the sun. Like an overwrought donkey, my car is struggling to get fresh air in. I try to amuse my co-workers at the back of the car, feeding them nonsensical stories of an expatriate life before they all wilt away. Before we all wilt away.

Every pore of my body is like my car. It's over-heating in this open oven of a flyover. What have we done to incur the wrath of the sun?

30 May 2014

Dust in the wind

A HUGE sandstorm hit New Delhi late this afternoon, swathing the city in layers of fallen trees―and my flat in sheets of dust. Like most of my experiences in Delhi, this is the first time I've encountered this. I was still in the office when it happened. As my office is in the basement, I can hardly see anything happening outside, so I thought it was a thunderstorm when I heard the lashing and the beating. The air was eerily calm and the skies were gray when I stepped out.

From monkeys and mosquitoes to sand and scorch, my dogs and I don't seem to run out of heart-pounding things to see (and hear) (and smell) (and swat) in this blustering city.

09 May 2014

Monkey see

THREE MEAN-looking rhesus monkeys were standing at the hallway outside my flat when I stepped out. They were staring at me menacingly, probably waiting for me to make the first move. I didn't. I fled back inside the house and locked the door. A few minutes later, I went out and saw them still in the same location, in the same position. It took a while for them to move, and when they did, I ran downstairs for the car park.

In recent years, thousands of rhesus macaque monkeys have swarmed over urban India. In Delhi, these wild monkeys have had mean encounters with humans when they look for food, especially during the hot summer months. There have been reports of them breaking into houses; in 2007, a deputy mayor fell to his death from his terrace while trying to fend off an attack from these marauders.

However, not much has been done to permanently give these monkeys a sanctuary. Monkeys are revered by Hindus as incarnations of Hanuman, the monkey god, so culling them has not been successful. Recently, larger langur monkeys were used by trained "monkey catchers" to scare the rhesus away, but such practice has been banned by the national wildlife authorities.

Hopefully, it will be my first and last monkey encounter at home―or any other place―in Delhi. I have no business for monkey business in this troubling city.

29 April 2014

Philippine cinema at its meanest

I slap your face, you slap mine
Source: Paul Ancheta on YouTube.

THE GREAT accomplishment of Philippine cinema in the late twentieth century was creating legendary rivalries between actors and actresses. It spawned big fan groups that safeguarded box-office success, and ensured that every performance was always better than the other's. Directors and screenwriters gave these performers dramatic confrontation scenes punctuated by the most memorable lines, slugfests or slapfests ever.

It was rare for rivals to appear together in a film. If they did, the results could be epic. Ina, Kapatid, Anak (Mother, Sister, Daughter) (1979) and T-Bird At Ako (The Lesbian and I) were two such films. They starred four of the greatest Filipino actresses who ever lived: Lolita Rodriguez and the late Charito Solis in the former, Vilma Santos and Nora Aunor in the latter. I put together the most sensational confrontation scenes from those movies to show you what happens when thespian rivalry is put to a test. You get truly compelling performance and dialog . . . and acid tongues, dagger eyes, and hard slaps.

Bug off, bugs!

HERE'S ONE more incredible discovery about New Delhi: it's a city of mosquitoes. The city's heat seems to be an aphrodisiac for these blood-suckers, as they draw energy from external heat and spends the next three to seven days completing the egg-to-adult life cycle. That's a week for them to turn from babies to vampires. In South Delhi, especially in farmhouse-dotted Mehrauli where I live, the trees are not going to be helpful either as they provide convenient breeding ground. These totally annoying flyers are so professional, no amount of Baygons or mosquito repellents kill them. I can beat Delhi's heat, but I don't think anyone can easily beat these bugs. What a pest!

Biba goes to Kemps Corner

Images: Biba Kemps Corner, 21 April 2014
Source: Paul Ancheta on Flickr

INDIA's BEST-loved women's ethnic wear brand, Biba, has opened its flagship store in Mumbai. Appropriately located at the chic Kemps Corner district in South Mumbai, the new store is spread over two floors of contemporary fixtures designed by Bengaluru-based retail designer Future Research Design Company (FRDC). I spent an entire evening with my team dressing up the store and having fun working with a new style of mannequins that we purchased specifically for this store.

With Biba's opening at Kemps Corner, swanky next-door districts Cumballa and Malabar Hills have just become even more fashionable.

13 April 2014

Poor man's air conditioner

THE AIR cooler is a fascinating gadget that I've discovered in Delhi. The ugly-looking but effective apparatus is a savior during the city's sizzling dry summer. Water is filled inside, and a small motor pumps it up to flow on the sides. A powerful fan forces the water to evaporate, thus cooling the atmosphere indoors. With one drop of essential aromatic oil on the inner water tank, the evaporative water fills the air with a breezy scent. This wonderful invention beats the power-guzzling air conditioner by a mile.

10 April 2014

The Delhi summer

DELHI IS often called the heart of India, mainly for the extremes and contradictions that illustrate the wonderful diversities of this country. However, a non-Delhiite is never fully prepared for one very sharp extreme: its weather! After that brief but pleasant winter, summer has begun in this city. The transition is brisk and severe: tap water is suddenly hot, I've been warned that it’s going to be long, hot, and wilting. Power and water companies are now gearing up for potential shortages in the capital. No wonder the citizens of Delhi can be as hostile as its summer and as cold as its winter!

21 March 2014

Happy Naw-Rúz!

ON THE occasion of the Bahá'í New Year, I wish all of you a fresh start to a year of bounties! Happy Naw-Rúz!

17 March 2014

Focal point:
“Dance in Film : 1921-2011”

“Dance in Film : 1921-2011”
Source: Paul Ancheta on YouTube.

WHILE LISTENING to “One Note Samba” (1974) by Michel Legrand, I thought of putting together dance scenes in Western movies into the song. So I did.

Of the hundreds of Western movies that showcased a dance sequence in the last 100 years, the selections I made for the video are the most memorable to me. These scenes illustrate the evolution of contemporary dance as a medium for social reflection. Legrand's remarkable dexterity on “One Note Samba” matches the gusto and gracefulness of these dances. Together, they're perfect partners.

If you're unable to view the video on YouTube, check it out on Vimeo.

15 March 2014

Travel to Hyderabad:
Family wheeler

THE FATHER takes his family on a day-off in Hyderabad. With India's congested roads and massive population, the motorcycle is the invaluable, affordable, and flexible choice for domestic mobility and public transport in India. In fact, the country has the fastest-growing and second-largest motorcycle market in the world (next to China). As this photo shows, entire families travel with it, making it a catalyst for keeping families together outdoors!

14 March 2014

And the cab woes continue

MANILA'S TAXI operators must come to India to train taxi companies on efficiencies. After that grueling experience in Chennai with Taxi For Sure, I met another taxi disservice. At the Hyderabad airport, I kept waiting for the driver at the arrival gate . . . and he kept waiting for me at the departure gate. Oy.

My cab woes remind me of a time I landed in Chennai a few years ago. The driver was nowhere to be seen. When I phoned him, he insisted on being at the arrival gate with a placard. I insisted that I was at the arrival gate looking at all the placards. Then I suspected a different background noise on the phone, so I asked which airport he was in. He replied, "Bangalore."

To this very day, my colleague who booked that cab still wonders when Chennai ever became Bangalore.

Travel to Chennai:
How to make passersby pass by

LOOK CLOSELY, as you may miss the error with all the black things happening in this Kenneth Cole show window in Phoenix Marketcity in Chennai. Found it? That's what happens when visual merchandisers neglect the details. I had to walk in and ask the store manager to immediately correct the grammatical error before Kenneth Cole himself throws a tantrum.

Nevertheless, never mind the missing letter “S”. The bigger catastrophe is the use of everything that makes a show window font a failure: thin, black, italic, and serif. The recipe makes the message unreadable. To worsen its legibility, there's the use of mirrors and black merchandise behind it. Apparently, the vinyl cutouts have been there for a week, and no one else had noticed the errors. I rest my case.

Travel to Chennai:
Amy Sareehouse

GLAMOR WAS probably in the visual merchandiser's mind while creating a look for this mannequin at a saree store in Express Avenue Mall, Chennai. Unfortunately, the person had to manage a wig that is neither here nor there. From what could have been an homage to the late Amy Winehouse, the enterprise ended with Amy Sareehouse. Rated C for Confused.

13 March 2014

Unsure about Taxi For Sure

FROM UNAPOLOGETIC tardy drivers to vomit on the car floor, it seems that every reason has been thrown at me to dislike cab rental start-up Taxi For Sure. I've been a most avid evangelist for the firm for the past 18 months, giving it the thumbs-up on every word of mouth and social medium possible. The group links commuters to taxi operators through online and mobile apps, and it does have a robust front-end facility. However, it seems to struggle in aggregating cab operators who share their brand promise of quality service.

I booked my cabs through Taxi For Sure for the entire two-day duration of my stay in Chennai. I often did this to guarantee seamless cab availability. On the first day, I was picked up half an hour late from the airport by a driver who barely spoke English and Hindi. After requesting for a driver who could understand English, I got one―and this one made me nervous by beating the red light and making an illegal U-turn. The following day, I rode on a cab thick with dust inside and dried vomit on the floor mats. The cab was immediately changed after my phone-in complaint. At the end of the day, though, the driver insisted on giving me a fake invoice. I naturally, angrily disagreed. It didn't help that the Chennai hotline was unusually arrogant and self-serving on the phone.

The experience left me confused, angered, and betrayed. I created online dialogs with Taxi For Sure, but they ended up nowhere. To date, no senior official from the firm has come around to offer an apology and a commitment to better service. Unless and until Taxi For Sure resolves its birthing issues and accepts the precariousness of their customer base as a fact, I will no longer continue to give them my trust and support.

04 March 2014

Two months later

TWO MONTHS after moving to New Delhi, I realize how quickly the honeymoon has ended. The weather has turned warm with winter ending and spring quickly descending, and the city's temperament has also turned on the heat. The beastly traffic situation has worsened, and air pollution has doubled up. I've been going back and forth to the doctor for a throat infection that's been lingering, due invariably to the air that I breathe indoors and outdoors.

As a place to live, Delhi, with all its contradictions and emotional chaos, is both loved and hated by non-Delhiites. It hosts India's largest number of foreign residents, but lots of them leave it all too soon, mostly with negative experiences. I'm realizing, however, that Delhi will never change for anyone. It's got to be embraced, smelled, tasted, and heard to the very core, throat infections and all. Only then will one have a thriving relationship with this sensational city.

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