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21 May 2006

Being late

AT THE BANGALORE domestic terminal this afternoon, the PA announced a 40-minute delay of the Kingfisher Airlines flight to Mumbai due to, uh, a delay of their flight from Mumbai. My thoughts went quickly to those passengers who had to suffer the inconvenience in an airport with uncomfortable seating, poor air-conditioning, expensive coffee, and no book store in sight.
But then again maybe those passengers, particularly the Indians, are used to delays from Kingfisher. Mark Bell, British visual merchandising specialist with whom I was traveling around India this passing week, told me the other day that Kingfisher is known for flight delays. I found this quite hard to imagine. My Kingfisher flight from Mumbai to New Delhi departed on time last Tuesday; more importantly, the local airline is positioned heavily as an “experience like you've never had before”.
Vijay Mallya and Kingfisher. Photo by BBC(Well, perhaps. Vijay Mallya, the savvy, if not flamboyant, founder of Kingfisher Airlines, seems to flaunt this by using sultry female flight attendants in flaming red body-hugging mini-skirts. With flaming red shoes to match, naturally.)
Habitual tardiness of vendors and contractors has so far been my one big test while working in India. In visual merchandising, so dependent on materials for display, late deliveries of custom-built materials jettison all subsequent work. Unfortunately, this obvious fact does not seem to be either accepted or understood, at least amongst Mumbai contractors. There is always an unapologetic reason for being late (getting caught in traffic is in the top three). Oftentimes, I end up adjusting schedules to accommodate late submissions.
Why worry over things you can’t control?At the end of the day, to preserve my sanity, I ask myself, “Why worry over things you can’t control?” Given India’s massive population, demand for goods becomes so heavy that sub-standard work is acceptable. Extremes in weather create physically taxing environments for efficient work. And Mumbai’s road infrastructure is impossible to work against.
I am gradually learning. At the end of the day, patience and perseverance are things I can control. And they make me a happier man, with or without those flaming red skirts flying in the skies.

The Bahá’í Temple in India

The Bahá'í House of Worship in India. Source: Bahá'í BibliothequeALL THESE YEARS as a member of the Bahá'í Faith, I had seen the Bahá’í House of Worship in India only on paper, particularly during my years handling audio-visual materials at the Bahá’í World Centre in Israel. It is one of eight temples around the world, built as gathering places of prayer and meditation for people of all faiths.

Inspired by the lotus flower, the building has 27 free-standing marble "petals" clustered to form nine sides of a glass-contained prayer hall. At night, these "petals" float in a sea of spectacular lighting effect. This illuminated view of the Lotus Temple, as it has become known around the world, is what flashes in my mind whenever I think of it. It is an extraordinary vision.

Last Friday evening, I was not sure how I would handle that lingering view as the car I was riding in drove towards the temple site in New Delhi. It was my first-ever visit, and snaking through dusk-time traffic with the thought of seeing the beloved temple for the very first time left me restless. Suddenly the car broke away from the jam, sped through, turned to a corner, and drove uphill.

And then, just as abruptly, there it was.

The Bahá'í House of Worship in India. Source: Bahá'í BibliothequeDo you remember the first time you saw a movie in a cinema as a child? Remember the larger-than-life figures on widescreen? The soundtrack that wrapped you in delightsome music? Similar sensations rushed through me as I saw the temple emerging into full view. This time, though, the widescreen was much larger, the figures blurred, and the music surreal. I have visited another temple before—at Langenhain, Germany—but the potency of my visit to the Delhi temple is particularly enormous to me, being an Asian living next to the cradle of my Faith.

The potency of this visit is particularly enormous to me, being an Asian living next to the cradle of my FaithI first saw the top of those “petals”, and as the view became full, I knew that my stay in India now had a deeper meaning. The next sixty minutes came and went as I wrapped myself in prayer inside the temple. When it was time to leave, I looked back at the queues of visitors, foreigner and Indian, all entering the temple in collective silence. The serenity and splendor of its gardens and grounds prove once again the beauty and binding power of religion.

14 May 2006

India's first hypermarket opens

HyperCity. Source: HyperCityIndia.comIF A SUCCESSFUL store opening is measured by the mere number of visitors, then the opening of HyperCity on the week of 1 May 2006 is a mega-stratospheric triumph. Thousands of Mumbaikars trekked daily into India's first international hypermarket on its first week, culminating in a mind-boggling (and body-squishing) weekend of massive humanity. It was spectacular! Never have I seen such massiveness of in-store traffic at a given place and time, not even in Dubai and Southeast Asia, where shoppers never seem to cease. For a non-Indian like myself, this is Indian retailing staring right in your face, throbbing and ready to roar.

Never have I seen such massiveness of in-store traffic at a given place and time!Eighteen months of hard, dedicated work by my colleagues at HyperCity Retail—a lean, mean, and fun team—gave these crowds sights and flavors and smells and textures that they have never seen in India before, all wrapped in value for money. T-shirt gift packs, plasma TVs, Raleigh bikes, and Waitrose gherkins are amongst those displayed on Indian shelves for the first time at a stupendously affordable price. And the shoppers lapped it all up. The cacophony of cash registers at the tills matched the happy squeals of children dribbling basketballs and the eager cellphone calls of young adults egging friends to visit this gigantic facility.

During the first four days, my team and I spent full time and energy churning out signs to communicate price changes and mandatory store information on real time and to replace those that were quickly mangled by the customer traffic. The demand for signs was ready to overwhelm the supply. On Tuesday and Thursday, the color inkjet printer bogged down, and the vendor serviceman was always unable to reach the store in time. On both occassions, I was ready to melt and vanish into someone else's wallet (or handbag, where it is cooler). The team had to generate the signs from the laser printer elsewhere (at the central office); I was often the most ecstatic person in the store when the color printer came back to life.

This is Indian retailing staring right in your face, throbbing and ready to roarEvery evening and early morning, the team and I would rearrange the displays. The "Spa Display", showcasing health and beauty products around a state-of-the-art bath tub, was always the most dramatically reconfigured by the customers. In place of bottles of massage oils on bamboo mats, we would find soda cans. Bath towels folded daintily became heaps of linen. One day a friend removed a watermelon INSIDE the tub. I kidded that perhaps someone wanted to see if a melon was watery enough for a bath.

On Sunday morning, just before the onslaught of the weekend crowd, I was viewing the ground floor from the mezzanine and realized the bittersweet experience of this week. Never mind if signs and visual displays continue to go up and down and up and down in the hands of a racing, raging crowd. Dreams have come true in HyperCity, and they are sensational.

Related Site: Branding in India

Memories: 
Breezes, rebridged

COCOY AQUINO REMINISCED about Breezes and Bridges, the musical event that we co-produced in Israel late in 2004.
In his letter last Thursday, he wrote:

It really brings back the sweet memories of all the hard work and cooperation of the friends in preparation for this grand presentation. Thank you for creating and updating this site. We hope to join force again in the future for another inspiring presentation.

Cast performing the closing number, Love In Any Language. Source: BreezesAndBridges.net.tfBreezes and Bridges has become the single most memorable project that I have ever undertaken since leaving school. Tracing the history of faith in Southeast Asia and presenting it in 60 minutes to an audience of 600 was as exhilarating as it was daunting. In between were the preparations for the script, the music, the staging, and the Web site. Above it all was the turnover of my work, as I was due to leave the organization after the show.

The learnings derived from every aspect of the project—whether in researching for material or collaborating with colleagues of varying nationalities—continue to reaffirm my belief in the unity of religion and the oneness of the human race. Today, those learnings assist me in the daily ways of living in India, a land of true diversity. (Interestingly, Breezes and Bridges begins its journey from India, where Hinduism and Buddhism were born!)

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