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26 January 2014

A day of sovereignty

SIXTY-FOUR YEARS years ago today, India wrote its constitution as a free republic. Since then, the festivities in New Delhi to mark that day have always been full of pomp and majesty. It reflects the essence of sovereignty that the nation had long dreamed of attaining.

Today, the dignity of such festivities seem ironic in the face of a frightening rate of crimes against women in the city. As I view captivating images of armed forces marching with stateliness, I hope for a day when women will not require such armed force to secure their basic humanity in Delhi. A day celebrating a country's sovereignty must also commemorate the powers invested in protecting its women.

18 January 2014

ICICI Bank's customer disservice

ICICI Bank's Phone Service

WITH TODAY'S relentless corporate cost-cutting and disenchanted generation of younger employees, customer service is bound to take a horrible hit. ICICI Bank never seems to learn from this.

I spent a historic record of over 180 minutes, non-stop, on two mobile phones last night with a couple of ICICI Bank Wealth Management officers and with a 23-year-old technician named Julius from their iMobile phone banking application team. We had been trying to figure out what to do with an iMobile application that did not recognize my phone number and failed to download my accounts onto my gadget.

Unforgivably, for all the time and effort spent on those monstrously extended phone conversations, my issues ended unresolved. I was subjected to dropped phone calls from the iMobile team. The last conversation was disastrous, done over a phone call to a certain Azeen of the Wealth Management desk: he refused to let me talk, testing the limit of my patience, and when I volcanically exploded with an adroitly delivered “F" word, he blatantly instructed me to use professional language. As you can see, my service request over iMobile ended immobile. It was farcical misery fed by their outrageous apathy.

By then, I had already assumed that the Wealth Management hotline and the iMobile technical support were operating from call centers. I was wrong. I learned later that evening that these desks are, in fact, full-time employees of ICICI Bank. If the Wealth Management team treated me with such level of amateurism, how are non-Wealth Management customers handled on the phone?

This three-hour saga has left me with total disgust at ICICI Bank's telephonic service and utter disbelief over the bank’s amateurish tactical processes. More precariously, it left me with a gnawing mistrust of the bank's ability to handle personal banking information on phone applications. Most of all, it made me rethink ICICI Bank's commitment to trust, confidence, and service.

It's time to open an account with Axis Bank, ranked by the Business Today as the most consistent bank performer in 2013. I am confident I will be treated with an excellence that I used to enjoy from ICICI Bank during its glory days.

14 January 2014

As 2014 rolls in

Happy New Year!

WELCOME, 2014! The passing year wasn't too friendly: it was fraught with challenges and unexpected difficulties from the workplace and from living in Mumbai. My work contract had ended, and I faced twists and turns that required long trains of thought and quick judgement calls. The year ended with another twist, albeit on a positive note: a new job that I liked, in a new city that would bring me to the heart of the Bahá'í Faith in India.

This year, we'll see a wave of international legislations and regulations that will change the way we live, work, and connect with each other across borders. There will be tons of opportunities to think bigger this year. I look forward to the eternal sources of inspiration in 2014—which, by the way, is not just the Year of the Horse; it's also the International Year of Family Farming, International Year of Crystallography, and International Year of Small Island Developing States. Even with semantics, we never run out of inspiration!

For all of you, may the 365 days ahead be productive and meaningful!

13 October 2013

The night I saw Barbra Streisand

EXACTLY ONE year ago, I watched Barbra Streisand in concert for the first time in my life. I've been a fan since 1980, and seeing her live 32 years later was a monumental rite of passage. As I write this, I can still feel the sensation of complete, mind-blowing, breath-taking bewilderment when she walked out and performed on stage. This was for real. It was a collision at the crossroads of memories of listening to her music, watching her movies, collecting every available memorabilia in Manila, and always getting inspired by her commitment and dedication to creative excellence.

12 October 2013

Focal point: 
Mary J. Blige & Barbra Streisand,
“When You Wish Upon a Star”

When You Wish Upon a Star

How I would have imagined the cover art
Image source: Paul Ancheta's Photobucket

MARY J. BLIGE has recorded a duet with Barbra Streisand on the 1940 standard “When You Wish Upon a Star” (from “Pinocchio”). The song appears on Ms. Blige's new A Mary Christmas CD, her first holiday collection. This is also the first time the two singers performed together—an inspired choice, considering how their styles so totally differ. Ms. Blige explains to Essence Magazine that she was “definitely not trying to make hip-hop soul Christmas songs or some club music Christmas songs . . . I don't like when people take the nostalgia out of the classics.”

Ms. Streisand and Ms. Blige have certainly taken the nostalgia out of this classic Disney song. It swells with orchestral strings, and then soars with those two voices. Their harmony on the title line is a pleasant sound. Who would have known a hip-hop diva and a theatrical queen would blend so well? Listen to the track; it's bound to be a regular Christmas staple:

05 October 2013

Travel to Vijayawada: 
Stuck in Strike

MG Road in the day

THE MOMENT I switched on my mobile phone after landing in Vijayawada City in southern India yesterday, five missed calls registered.  They were from the head office, wanting me to return to Mumbai immediately. Unbeknownst to me (and them), a three-day public strike had formed in Vijayawada on the day I landed. From what they'd heard on media, the agitation in the city streets was ferocious and therefore unsafe. The alarm bells rang too late: return flights were no longer available. I had no choice but check into the nearest hotel for overnight safety. Besides, I wasn't really keen on lugging back to Mumbai a humongous package of display materials that I needed for opening a Globus store in this city.

20 September 2013

Focal point: 
Barbra Streisand, “Children Will Listen”

Children Will Listen

TRACK SIX of Back to Broadway is “Children Will Listen” from Into the Woods (1987) by Stephen Sondheim. This is a powerful moralistic song that explores the double-entendres of its title. It's a theme that Barbra Streisand has always favored: “Actions have consequences, even for future generations.” She sings it with an irony that recalls her 1985 recording of "Pretty Women/The Ladies Who Lunch” from The Broadway Album. Like that song, this one is a splendid performance.

06 September 2013

Focal point: Barbra Streisand, “As If We Never Said Goodbye”

As If We Never Said Goodbye

TRACK FIVE of Back to Broadway is “As If We Never Said Goodbye” from Sunset Boulevard (1993) by Andrew Lloyd Webber. Along with another song from the musical, “With One Look”, “As If We Never Said Goodbye” is Barbra Streisand's most controversial recording to date. Furore ensued (primarily by the msuical's lead star Patti Lupone) when Mr. Webber allowed Ms. Streisand to record and release the song ahead of the show's world premiere in London. Moreover, there was criticism to the inclusion of these two songs in Back to Broadway, since the musical had not yet debuted in Broadway. For all the wrong reasons, I still think Ms. Streisand's version is the most stunning of all recordings made of this song. It's one of her vocal highlights in the 1990s.

21 August 2013

Focal point: 
Jimmy Webb & The CompanY, “Didn't We”

“DIDN'T WE” is a song written by American singer Jimmy Webb. First recorded by James Darren in 1967, the slow ballad has been performed by such vocalists as Frank Sinatra and Carmen McRae. It depicts a failed relationship, almost similar to the themes that Mr. Webb explored around the time that he wrote the song. (Remember “MacArthur Park” with all its strange similes and metaphors?) “Didn't We” is the least corny sentimental of those songs, despite the morose message of regret.

09 July 2013

Focal point: 
Barbra Streisand, “Speak Low”

Speak Low

TRACK FOUR of Back to Broadway is "Speak Low" from One Touch of Venus (1943) by Kurt Weill and Ogden Nash. A standard recorded by several jazz singers, the song gets a similar jazzy treatment on this album. The saxophone-infused arrangement by David Foster and Johnny Mandel is evocative of the sensual Ava Gardner, who portrated the goddess Venus in the film version of the play. Barbra Streisand matches the sexiness with a vocal that is both breathy and laid-back. This could have been the album's radio hit.

Focal point: 
Barbra Streisand, “The Music of the Night”

The Music of the Night

TRACK THREE of Back to Broadway is “The Music of the Night” from The Phantom of the Opera (1986) by Andrew Lloyd Webster, Charles Hart, and Richard Stilgoe. This is perhaps the most-performed song from the Broadway play, selling millions of copies in several languages worldwide. Barbra Streisand sings it with Michael Crawford, whom Ms. Streisand starred with in the film version of Hello, Dolly! (1969). It is a dramatic performance. The harmony provides for Mr. Crawford to lead the melody of the song, a nice touch since he made this famous on Broadway and on British Top 10 charts.

08 July 2013

Focal point: 
Barbra Streisand, “Some Enchanted Evening”

Some Enchanted Evening

OPENING THE album Back to Broadway is “Some Enchanted Evening” from South Pacific. Written in 1949 by Richard Rodgers and Oscar Hammerstein II, the song is the biggest-selling show hit from the legendary songwriting duo. Its catchy melody is in fact quite difficult to sing: there are half notes in between, and it ends with a high note that “soars” away, true to the lyrics “fly to his side” and “never let him go”. Barbra Streisand navigates the song effortlessly, and her voice is supple. Johnny Mandel brings his usual brand of elegance into the string-laden orchestration. The performance is an exquisite way to open the album.

07 July 2013

Focal point: 
Barbra Streisand, “Back to Broadway”

TWENTY YEARS ago, Barbra Streisand released her twenty-sixth album, Back to Broadway, a collection of songs from Broadway musicals that served as a follow-up to the universally-acclaimed The Broadway Album in 1985. On this new tome, Ms. Streisand interprets the most legendary composers: Richard Rodgers, George Gershwin, Frank Loesser, Kurt Weill, Leonard Bernstein, Stephen Sondheim, and Andrew Lloyd Webber. It quickly rose to the top of the US Billboard Top 200 Album Chart, her seventh album to become #1.

My nephew gets married!

Basil Alkhadra Then and Now

Basil Alkhadra, then and now

MY NEPHEW Basil Alkhadra is now a married man. He tied the knot with his girlfriend, Gabrielle Glow, at a seaside spot in California this week. He's the very first of my nephews and nieces to be married, so it's an exciting moment. There are no wedding photos posted yet, except for a couple that my sister Kathleen (his mother) sent me on WhatsApp. From what I've seen, the newlyweds were pictures of youthful joy.

Congratulations, Basil and Gabrielle! May you have a lifetime of healthy togetherness!

Restoring "Maynila"

Maynila Poster

ONE OF the greatest films in Philippine history has been digitally restored—wonderful news for those generations who may not have seen the movie in full splendor. Maynila: Sa Mga Kuko ng Liwanag (Manila in the Claws of Light) by the legendary Lino Brocka (1939-1991) tells the tragic drama of Julio (played by Rafael "Bembol" Roco in his film debut), a fisherman who travels to Manila in search of his girlfriend Ligaya (Hilda Koronel). The city's cruel and alien ways disenchants him; eventually it eats him up and leaves him hopeless. Shot during the repressive martial law period of President Ferdinand Marcos' rule, the film carries hard-hitting metaphors for political corruption and decay.

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