RSS Feed

30 December 2006

As 2007 rolls in

Happy New Year!

may you celebrate your birthday
     celebrating the sunrise and the sunset
     that will shine brightly with your birthday.

Happy New Year!May your health increase
     exponentially with your wealth
     so that you can pay the bill
     to get a clean bill of health.

May your blood pressure,
     your cholesterol, and your flat lease
     never rise,
and may your cheeks,
     your teeth, and your stocks
     never fall.

May you travel around Mumbai or Manila or Mongkok
     during rush hours with ease,
and when you get to Mumbai or Manila or Mongkok
     during rush hours with ease,
may you find space to park your car
     or space to share your space
     with another car.

May you live at peace with your neighbor,
     your in-laws, and your colleagues,
and may the person you see in the mirror delight you
     and the person others see in you delight them.

May someone love you enough
     to accept your faults
     and see you beyond your faults
     and tell the world the virtues
     that he or she has seen.

Above all, may you continue to smile,
and may your days and nights be filled with laughter.

May that laughter quicken the zeal
     and rekindle the hopes of the person next to you
     and lead that person to laugh and smile with you.

And if grief visits you,
may you rise above it, brave and undisturbed,
     ever so confident and trusting
     in the abounding grace of God.

Happy New Year!May you have
     a delightful,

:: Paul A.

Listen to ”Man In The Mirror” performed by Rockapella.

Remembering the tsunami

Floating paper lanterns fill the sky over the Andaman Sea in remembrance of the Indian Ocean tsunami victims. Image source: Reuters/Chaiwat SubprasomTHE DAY I arrived in Bangkok to begin work on a project, the depression in the city was palpable. Four days earlier, a deadly tsunami hit the country and took with it, amongst thousands, the only son of the much-loved Princess Ubol Ratana, eldest daughter of the king. The traditional Bangkok Countdown marking New Year's Eve was cancelled. The city streets bustled with holiday tourists, but the familiar fever of a festive season was gone. The city—nay, the country, the entire region was in mourning.

This week, nations struck by the Indian Ocean tsunami commemorated the second anniversary of the catastrophe . . . only to be reminded of the fragile status of the region's relief systems when severe flash floods and mudslides hit the Indonesian island of Sumatra and an undersea earthquake threatened northern Philippines.

“O army of God!
When calamity striketh,
be ye patient
and composed.
With perfect confidence
in the abounding
grace of God,
brave ye
the tempest
of tribulations
and fiery ordeals.”
As a Southeast Asian, I have been used to natural disasters of varying scale and form. However, the magnitude of destruction of life and property has made the Indian Ocean tsunami the most unimaginable disaster of my generation. What hurt me most was that much of this loss of precious life could have been avoided had there been effective communication channels between the many tsunami monitoring centers around the world. The former director of one of these centers said on the radio the morning I arrived in Bangkok that they had nobody to relay the news of the impending disaster to in Sri Lanka, India, and the rest of Southeast Asia. In the age of information, such statement of fact became unbearable; suddenly, the term “globalization” showed to me its premature, farcical nature.

The tragedy is yet another divine proof of the world of humanity being at one with the world of nature. My visit to Thailand, and subsequently to Cambodia, reaffirmed my belief in the spiritual nature and destiny of Southeast Asia, as shared in the musical production that I co-produced called Breezes and Bridges. Presented onstage eight weeks before the tsunami, the production showcased the spiritual ties that bind the most diversified region of the world.

28 December 2006

My first year in India

TODAY MARKS my first year in India.

One year ago, I was lodged in Mumbai's northern suburb Powai and writing my family about the previous night's safe journey from the United Arab Emirates.

Dearest all,


I have arrived safely in Mumbai. I felt like travelling in Cebu [cenral Philippine city]! The roads, the trees, the CROWDS, the climate—all are very provincial. Today I will sort out formalities (registration at the Foreigners Registration Office, Philippine Consulate, etc) and get my cargo in.

I am lodged at The Residence Hotel, which is right in the middle of mountains and forests, really, like Antipolo [hill town outside Manila]. The rent on my flat will start on Sunday, 1 January, so I will be in the hotel until then. If you want to hear my lovely voice, you can call me at +91 (22) 2857 5000 at room 707.

Once I get my new SIM, I will text you my new cell phone. Until then, Happy New Year to you!!!

:: Paul A.

Revisiting another letter that I wrote my friends, I realized that I still carry with me the same fervor that I had a year ago, and that there is still something I need to fulfill.

I have previously been to Mumbai and seen its glorified wealth and stratospheric poverty, so I know that this is the place I want to be in.

This is where I can have a deeper impact, where the balance of my spiritual and material development will again be tried, tested, and put to work.

I will carry with me new insights that I gained in the United Arab Emirates about human interaction and moral leadership, and the beauty of Islam as manifested in the grassroots way of life. (No, I have not converted to Islam, but I love the Teachings!)

Until then, Salam alaikum (Peace be with you) . . . and Merry Christmas!

25 December 2006

The season of Christmas

Maligayang Pasko! Image source: Krystyna Kasmil

Image source: Krystyna Kasmil

'TIS THE season to be jolly, merry, and bright, so may you all have a week of joy, goodwill, marzapans, fruit cakes, and big hugs from your families and friends!

Here are three of my favorite things to share with you this season:

  • Poinsettias from Polish photographer Krystina Kasmil's collection. Her recent portfolio consists of candids of others taking shots of others. View her splendid portfolio of people. The last time I took a picture of someone taking a picture of another one, I realized that that other one was taking a picture of me!
  • Forty ways of greeting the globe this season. See how it all piles up.
  • “Sleigh Ride” from Leroy Anderson. My perennial favorite, no other song captures the “have giddy-yappity fun with the snow while it lasts” spirit of December. If there is another one, please let me know! Listen to Laverne Butler's superb take on it, from the 2001 compilation CD Max Jazz Holiday.

23 December 2006

The night before Christmas

FOUR BIG things happened in the last four weeks:

1. My niece Angelica visited me in Mumbai. On these festive days in India (Diwali and now Christmas), being with a family member allows me to grasp the spirit of kinship that the Indians are celebrating with the season.

Angelica, the oldest of my nephews and nieces, stayed for only a day. After shopping for silk scarves at Bandra, a mainly-Christian suburb with funky streetside fashion markets, we spent the rest of the afternoon getting pampered at Abydoss, a wellness center that looks like a house. It was quite pricey, but the relaxation treatment diverted me from thinking of the major disappearance of cash in my wallet.

2. I moved to a new flat. The landlord of the old flat needed to reclaim it, so I had to pack up and move in 24 hours. Fortunately, there was little to pack up, so the move went smoothly.

But not peacefully. Moving houses, it appears, is also a time for noisome celebration in India. From beginning to end, the movers—ten brawny men who could cut rope with their fists—spoke incessantly with each other in Hindi, often at the same time. Their team leader took turns screaming at them and screaming at some poor chap at the cell phone. He was, naturally, being ignored by his team, which made him scream louder.

Two weeks later, my boxes are still unpacked. You know how it is to see a pile of stuff you know you need to adrress and then decide to delay it a little bit because something more pleasant always comes in between. It is called the art of procrastination, and unpacking has got to be listed as one of the world's most procrastinated things.

3. We set up Christmas displays in the stores. It was a colorful affair, with three-dimensional Santas, reindeer, snow, trees, and elves filling the windows, entrances,and staircases. It was also a gigantic test of crisis management and perseverance for me, as I had to deal with a contractor whose sense of timing went berserk and messed up deadlines. To begin with, his snowmen (made of plaster of Paris) kept flaking off, so they looked like they were melting. At one point, I wanted to turn him into a reindeer and make him fly away. Forever.

4. We opened a new store in the northern city of Lucknow. It is the third store that I helped set up during my first year in India. There were lots of fun bonding with my northern team . . . and lots of dust settling in the mugs that we displayed at the entrance. One day, I will write a screenplay about dust in mugs and how they strengthen human bonding. Cesar Buendia will direct it.

Oh, what fun it is to ride and sing a slaying song! Uh, I mean sleighing.

17 November 2006

Two things you must know

Clueless!WHEN YOU are stuck in a conversation with a CEO or the wife of the prime minister and you don't know what else to say, tell them two things:

1. The Georgian word for “frog croaks in the water” is “cbakhi tskhalshi khikhinebs”. You must practice this thoroughly because the Georgian language is famous for the “kh” sound, which is a strangled aspirated glottal sound that appears four times in “cbakhi tskhalshi khikhinebs”.

2. Also, the Inuit Eskimo word for “I just have to give up drinking” is “Imminngernaveersaartunngortussaavunga”. It is most impressive if you say this with your lips not touching each other and your left eyebrow arched.

There. I hope you learned something new and useful today.

14 November 2006

FOCAL POINT : Cesar Buendia, “Idol: Pag-asa ng Bayan”

Cesar BuendiaTHE ROOTS of Cesar Buendia's craft lie in his growing years. In the late 1970s and early 1980s, he was one of the most popular figures at the UP Integrated School, running for the student body, writing poetry for the school organ, singing for the UP Cherubim and Seraphim, and appearing in stage plays. Those were also the years of literary talents who wrote screenplays and of avant-garde filmmakers who dared the authoritarian rule of government.

After college, amidst the social turbulence of the late 1980s through the 1990s, Cesar became a most-sought-after scriptwriter for a television network. TV, in fact, had acquired a potent form during those years. Middle-class families stopped visiting movie houses to watch home videos, and television stations ventured in mainstream film production.

Such influences are visible in Cesar Buendia’s debut feature “Idol: Pag-asa ng Bayan”. I spoke to him about writing and directing a film that defined a generation faced with powerful questions of art and moral values.

What separates Cesar Buendia from other debuting directors?
Apart from his weight, Cesar Evangelista Buendia is different in that he is a director who is committed to the truth first and art only second. He recognizes that his talent comes from God and therefore must use it only for God and not just to earn a living.

Tell me a little bit more about Idol: Pag-asa ng Bayan.
A Palanca Awardee friend of mine says that Idol is not even just post-modern. It is contemporary art, which means that it is even more advanced than post-modern art. Well, it does subvert many conventions and yet manages to use the standard literary structure in doing so. This creates a shocking, disturbing, thought provoking effect on the viewers.

Idol does not prescribe solutions, but provokes discussions and debates. It compels us to take a long hard look at our values as a people.

Is the film inspired by your own personal experiences?
Not really. Some characters are, but it is really more fiction than anything. But I did research to make sure that the plot is possible in the real world.

What was it like working with veterans Michael de Mesa and Jacklyn Jose?
K lang (It is okay). It was my first time to handle veteran performers. Nung una, china-challenge nila ako (They dared me initially). But I think I proved myself along the way. Kaya later sumusunod na lang sila (They followed my directions later on) .

Filipinos of late have again been getting attention in international film festivals, notably your friend Jett Jeturian. Any plans for entering the international film fest circuit?
Sana (Hopefully). But the iconography of the film is very local. Baka hindi maintindihan ng international (the international audience may not understand it). Will try, though.

What is your dream project as a director?
My next project—if God permits—is a film about gay discrimination and the Filipino gay culture. This one, my friends say, is even more shocking daw. (Laughter)

If you weren't a director, what would you be?
Let me know ha. Not a whore, I would starve. (More laughter) Maybe a choir conductor.

Idol: Pag-asa ng Bayan” will screen on 28 November 2006 at the Henry Lee Irwin Theatre in Ateneo de Manila University, Quezon City, Philippines. View the trailer at Nina Saldaña’s blog Life in Kilobytes.

For tickets, please contact Cesar Buendia at +919189235515 or email me at Proceeds of the screening will fund various endeavors of the UPIS Batch 1982 Alumni Association.

12 November 2006

Birth of Bahá’u’lláh

The Shrine of Bahá’u’lláh, 'Akká, Israel. Source:

The Shrine of Bahá’u’lláh, 'Akká, Israel.
Image source:

OVER FIVE million Bahá'ís worldwide celebrate today an important anniversary: the birth of Bahá'u'lláh. The Prophet-Founder of the Bahá'í Faith was born Mirza Husayn Ali at dawn of 12 November 1817 into one of Persia's most noble families. He descended from the Divine Messenger Zoroaster, thus fulfilling the belief that the great Redeemer of Mankind would be a pure Persian.

“The purpose of religion as revealed from the heaven of God's holy Will is to establish unity and concord amongst the peoples of the world”
Bahá'u'lláh, which means “the glory of God” in Arabic, became a follower of the Báb's and was jailed in underground prison after the Báb's martyrdom in 1844. It was here that Bahá'u'lláh received a vision of the Divine in the form of a maiden who assured Him of His earthly mission as successor to the progressive cycle of Divine Educators.

This singular event has similarities to the descent of the Holy Ghost as a dove unto the Christ, the apparition of Archangel Gabriel to the Prophet Muhammad at Mount Hira, and the the enlightenment of the Buddha under the bo tree at Bodh Gaya. For Bahá'ís, it marks the advent of the Bahá'í revelation with the message it brings of the oneness of religion and the oneness of mankind.


Bahá'u'lláh's earthly remains have been laid to rest in a garden room off the restored mansion called Bahjí. It is the holiest place on earth.

View a special audio-visual presentation prepared by the Bahá'ís of New York.

07 November 2006

Veiled shots

Broken connection?

Smile! You're on candid camera!
Image source: Bonnie Ellis

EUROPE'S ONGOING debate over Muslim veils reminds me of the time last year when I tried taking photographs of Abu Dhabi's sprawling Marina Mall. It was my first week in the United Arab Emirates, and I wasted no time taking shots of the impressive lobby and black-marble staircase. Suddenly, some tall, burly men descended upon me with the menacing attitude of Attila the Hun.

“You are not allowed to take photographs of Arab women,” snarled one of them, his dark Middle Eastern eyes ready to devour my camera. My first thought after this rude interruption was, “Which part of this lobby looks like an Arab woman?” I held my tongue back (because the burly men were scary and I was getting scared) and looked around.

Voila! I saw the object of our contention. There, at the foot of the staircase, stood three women. With black veils shrouding them from head to foot, it was easy to miss them in the black-marbled architecture of the mall.

When in Rome (Dubai, in this case), do as the Romans (Dubai'ites) do: don't shoot the women.

04 November 2006

Pre-departure checklist

TAHMINA AND AMIR DAUMAR, former colleagues in Israel, are leaving the Bahá'í World Centre in Haifa to settle in Kazahkstan, Tahmina's land of birth. To help ease the move, I offered them some tips based on my own experience when I left the country in December 2004. I thought I should post the tips here for others who are also reaching the same milestone of leaving the holiest place on earth.

Dear Tahmina and Amir,

As you prepare to move out of the World Centre and into a brand new life together, let me share with you some small things you can do to make the final leg sweeter.

1. Relish the time! Smile and laugh a lot with each other as you pack, unpack, repack, clean, sweep, write, and do all those myriad tasks mandated for departing friends.

2. Go to the Consumer List and offer three of your most beloved material belongings FREE to the third, ninth, and last persons who will respond. Consumer lists never exist outside Haifa. Use it one last time to enrich the lives of others with three things that have gratified you.

3. Have fun throwing out garbage as you clean out your flat! If you take the staircase to get to the garbage bin, make a detour to the nearest store and treat yourself to a bag of Israeli potato chips. No one in the world does potato chips the way Israelis do.

4. Write a mail to the five persons you have always wanted to have dinner with but never got to. Tell them you want to lunch with them at the erstwhile Twelve-Shekel Kebab Restaurant in Hadar on Wednesday. If no one shows up, lunch together anyway, and enjoy that one restaurant in Haifa that has magnetized and enhanced the fellowship of the youth of the World Centre through all these years.

5. Go to the Cleaning/Maintenance Department and the Accommodations Department and personally thank each one of the crew that you find in the office. Show your appreciation for those fellow workers who make daily life in Haifa a much more pleasant experience.

6. On your second-to-the-last Saturday, volunteer to become a morning terrace tour guide and breathe in the air that our predecessors did. Then one evening in your final week, walk together down the terraces as the lights come up. End up at Ben Gurion; walk further down until you reach the final rotunda. Stop, turn around, and marvel at the glorious lights that celebrate the dawn of a new day.

7. Spend one lunch hour at the Monument Gardens. Reflect on the great, tranquil majesty and symbolism of these gardens. Say a prayer for the departed, and visit the Department of Holy Places to bid them goodbye.

8. Ride those final sherut rides to Bahjí seated together in silence. Absorb the moment: you are on the path taken by countless pilgrims whose lives have changed after visiting Haifa. You are now about to join those blest ranks.

9. And as you visit the Shrines for the last time, dedicate your prayers to the House of Justice and the beloved institutions of our Faith for divine assurances of guidance and protection, as they work hard in ensuring the progress of the Cause in every corner of the world, including that corner in Kazakhstan that you will now be part of.

Embrace the brand new life ahead of you with all its uncertainties and expectations. As you traverse another path of service in His Cause, let your full trust rest in Him. He will work with you in ways you never even imagined. You have my fondest wishes for the best.

:: Paul A.

Driving in Mumbai

Drive them crazy!
Link reference:, sent by Behi Sobhani

SO YOU thought the roads of Manila, Tel Aviv, and Rome have been your best driving challenges? Wait till you come to Mumbai. Drivers in this city neither race with each other at the slightest provocation (like Israelis do) nor halt in the middle of the road to debate on the latest traffic regulation (like Filipinos do). But a typical Mumbai driver honks madly and comments on how idiotic the other driver is . . . before joining 1.8 million other vehicles the competition for honking the loudest and squeezing cars into that extra space on the road. And that's when the best driving challenges of your life begin.

While most Mumbaikars travel within the city by train, around 655 vehicles navigate every kilometer of road length, compounded with 9,000 vehicles being bought every month. Enhance the snarl with the fact that only 2,500 cops form the Mumbai traffic force.

But there's light at the end of the tunnel (or road, in this case). The good news is that the state government is reviewing the initiative by the city police commission to install an ambitious automated area traffic management system to ease the congestion. It remains to be seen how soon this system gets delivered. In my experience in Mumbai, deliveries get delayed in the city . . . because of the traffic.

03 November 2006

Derailing competition

Broken connection?

Better and bitter (click on image for larger view)
Image source: Ajay Sukumaran

IN TODAY'S fiercely competitive world of advertising, brands understand the value of ads that stand out, are remembered, and have fun with competition. You can tell from the screenshot above that SpiceJet Indian Airlines relishes this. Just derail competitors—Indian Railways, in this case—and fly away with the business!

02 November 2006

FOCAL POINT : William Saroyan, “In the Time of Your Life”

William Saroyan

AMERICAN AUTHOR WILLIAM SAROYAN (1908-1981) wrote the following as prologue for his Pulitzer Prize-winning play “The Time of Your Life”. The words testify to the possibilities of the human spirit to reflect attributes of the divine.

In the time of your life, live—so that in that good time there shall be no ugliness or death for yourself or for any life your life touches. Seek goodness everywhere, and when it is found, bring it out of its hiding place and let it be free and unashamed.In the time
of your life, live—
so that in that wondrous time you shall
not add

to the misery and sorrow of the world
Place in matter and in flesh the least of the values, for these are the things that hold death and must pass away. Discover in all things that which shines and is beyond corruption. Encourage virtue in whatever heart it may have been driven into secrecy and sorrow by the shame and terror of the world. Ignore the obvious, for it is unworthy of the clear eye and the kindly heart.

Be the inferior of no man, or of any men be superior. Remember that every man is a variation of yourself. No man's guilt is not yours, nor is any man's innocence a thing apart. Despise evil and ungodliness, but not men of ungodliness or evil. These, understand. Have no shame in being kindly and gentle but if the time comes in the time of your life to kill, kill and have no regret.

In the time of your life, live—so that in that wondrous time you shall not add to the misery and sorrow of the world, but shall smile to the infinite delight and mystery of it.
Source: William Saroyan, “The Time of Your Life” (1939)

01 November 2006

FOCAL POINT : Barbra Streisand, “The Tour”

Barbra Streisand in WashingtonCRITICS HAVE been raving massively about Barbra Streisand's current North American concert tour since it kicked off on 4 October in Philadelphia. The tour showcases the reclusive 64-year-old entertainer on comeback with songs she recorded early in her 46-year-old career. From what I have read in newsgroups and fan sites, the vocal performances are grand, majestic, and wildly applauded.

The tour also hit the headlines for a different reason. The concert features a five-minute comedy skit halfway through, where Ms Streisand (a longtime Democrat), trades jokes with George W. Bush impersonator Steve Bridges (a Republican and friend of the real George W. Bush's!). The skit has elicited protests from three hecklers in Philadelphia, New York City, and Fort Lauderdale. Ms Streisand's onstage replies are now classic: she shouted down an expletive to quieten the jeerer in New York City and offered to repeat whatever words offended the heckler in Fort Lauderdale.

Yesterday, yet another news hit the headlines: someone threw a paper cup onstage at one of the two Fort Lauderdale shows. Thankfully, it missed Ms Streisand. The scene-stealer, who turned out to be a drunk Australian with no political motive, attended the concert in lieu of a guest of Ms Streisand's! I wonder if the real guest and the Australian are on speaking terms the morning after.

As a Streisand fan since 1980, I regret missing the shows: the tour may actually be her last one ever, in light of her age. Teeny Matias, a friend from college, wrote me last week about watching the Toronto show. ( “It was fabulous!” he raved. “When they said it was sold-out, they were not kidding—no empty seat despite the ticket prices!”) He reminded me of the cassette of Streisand songs that I gifted him with in college. Oh, that cassette! It was part of my youthful years filled with consuming passion for Barbra. For that particular 90-minute cassette, I spent weekends selecting songs that I thought Teeny would enjoy most, one weekend recording them in chronological order from 1963 to 1984, and another weekend deleting and re-recording those I thought were not exciting enough. THEN I went on one more day perfecting a freehand pencil portrait for the cassette's cover.

And all this while being a sophomore student at the university. Now you know what I meant by “consuming passion”!

Ms Streisand has pledged millions of dollars from the concert proceeds to NGOs dealing with the environment, women's health, and education. The 20-city tour ends in Los Angeles on 20 November.

30 October 2006

Swansong a decade ago

Launch of Maximizer in SM Megamall, Philippines

Launch of Maximizer in SM Megamall, Philippines
Image source: Paul Ancheta

TEN YEARS ago today, I wrapped up a series of in-store activities in Manila that launched Triumph International's Maximizer brand. I was also preparing to leave the company after nine years, so I ensured that the event would be my best project ever. My team of young display artists and vendors worked enthusiastically in executing the most appealing displays the stores had ever seen. The launch effectively resulted in high visibility and busy cash registers for Maximizer. My Triumph swansong turned out to be a melodious triumph.

The launch featured a thirty-minute fashion show recreated for seven days in seven stores. This was a first-ever activity in the Philippines. On this day, I remember the music that I organized for the show. Listen to Matt Bianco's happy, bouncy version of Georgie Fame's “Yeh Yeh”, from the band's 1986 album Matt Bianco.

29 October 2006

TRAVEL TALES : Meeting my mentor in Hong Kong

Wolfgang Kruecker, Joyce Lui, and Paul Ancheta

Wolfgang Kruecker & Joyce Lui, from the first company I ever worked with
Image source: Joyce Lui

THERE THEY were, waiting for me at the foot of the escalator at the Sheraton Hong Kong Hotel lobby. He looked a bit older than the young Michael Douglas look-alike I remembered from 18 years ago. She maintained the slender, graceful looks of the Chinese youth I knew back then.

Memories of training, learning, and growing in a corporate environment ensure that the bonds are never forgottenIn Hong Kong on a business trip early this month, I found time to meet up with Wolfgang Kruecker and Joyce Lui. They were my colleagues at Triumph International, the first company I joined after college in 1988. Mr. Kruecker was the regional advertising head based in Hong Kong; he provided the standards of excellence in visual merchandising for such upstarts as me and continued to guide me throughout my nine-year tenure in Triumph. He was my mentor. Joyce was his design assistant who coordinated Triumph's visual merchandising in all of Southeast Asia; she would travel to Manila to assist me in understanding and setting up the latest store design directions.

We sat for after-dinner drinks at the scenic Sky Lounge of the Sheraton. They asked what I had been doing since leaving Triumph ten years ago, and we opened up a stream of memories that left me with deeper respect and affection for both of them.

Casual friends can meet up after 20 years and renew old ties, but not with the same grateful fondness that dots a successful mentor-trainee relationship. Memories of training, learning, and growing in a corporate environment ensure that the bonds are never forgotten. And with those bonds come the traits that make the relationship special. When I ordered soda that night, Mr. Kruecker knew the reason. "You don't take wine because you're a Bahá'í." He remembered that about me.

The night sped by fast; soon it was time to go. I assured Mr. Kruecker and Joyce of a place to stay when they visited Mumbai; they promised to keep in touch. It may take another 18 years for us to meet again; in fact, we may never even meet again. Even if the links fade with time and place, they remain strong in my heart and mind.

Mark, Mara, and maternity

Mark, Mara, and maternity

Mark and Mara Fojas in expectation
Image source: Mara Fojas

IN A FABULOUS fabulous marital season, the news that Mark and Mara Fojas are expecting their first born is one of the most thrilling.

Imagine the progeny of a witty, willowy Mara and a wise, wholesome Mark. And then imagine the morals of their parents, the music of the Filipino forefathers, and the magic of growing up a Bahá'í. What a wonderful, brilliant star ahead of us!

Corinne and Kevin get married!

Kevin McLoughlin and Corinne Padilla

The new Mr. and Mrs. Kevin McLoughlin
Image source: Kevin McLoughlin

THE BRIDE'S delightful singing voice, cool garden breezes, and crashing ocean waves provided the background for Kevin McLoughlin's nuptials to Corinne Padilla last night.

The newlyweds exchanged vows in an intimate Bahá'í wedding ceremony at the seaside Padilla gardens in Palawan Island, Philippines. The venue befits them: they both love the ocean, he as a scuba diver and she as a pure islander.

Kevin Mcloughlin and Corinne PadillaWe were friends back at the Bahá'í World Centre in Israel, getting together on weekends at my flat over irreverent Hollywood DVDs and home-made dinners with the rest of the gang (Ailsa Hedley, Behi Sobhani, Behrooz Behboodi, Kurt Austria, Romina Bahrami, and Sharon Marnell). I spoke to the couple through the mobile phone of my sister-in-law Tara, who attended the wedding with my brother Allan. (“He is your twin!”, Kevin laughed about Allan.) I told them how the gang chatted in MSN a month back and spoke about their wedding. “I wish you were all here, it's so (mild expletive) beautiful,” said the groom.

At the reception, Kevin's brother and sister joined Corinne's family and 200 other guests that included friends who flew in from Israel. Tara basked in the sheer romance of the evening. She gushed over the phone while Corinne sang in the background. “Paul, get yourself an Indian bride," she instructed, "and get married like Corinne and Kevin in these gardens. Ang ganda-ganda! (It's simply ravishing!)”

24 October 2006

Festival of Diwali

Tis the season to be giftin

’Tis the season to be gifting
Image source: Paul Ancheta

LIGHTS, SWEETS, décor, and firecrackers—these have literally exploded onto the scene this week. It is the grand festival of Diwali, commemorating the triumphant return, thousands of years ago, of the exiled King Rama in the illuminated glory of diyas or oil lamps. (The term “diwali” comes from the Sanskrit for “array of lights”.)

It is the brightest, most joyous, most family-oriented observance in IndiaThe pomp of Diwali is similar to that of Christmas. It is the brightest, most joyous, most family-oriented, and most commercial observance in Hinduism. It culminates weeks of festivals rejoicing the victories of the Hindu gods in their battles against evil beings as well as giving thanks to divine bounties. Those of you who have read my recent blog entries will understand the range of such festivities here in India.

Diwali lasts five days, each one having its own story and significance. I realized how this multifaceted celebration reflects the many layers of Mumbai’s character when almost everyone around me—from my colleagues and suppliers to my driver and maid—took leave on these days. (No other place seems to beat India in having the most number of days off!) For most of them, Diwali is about their own spiritual upliftment: I saw queues of devotees outside temples and learned about the need to attend poojas (religious ceremonies) at home.

Firecrackers outside my flatOthers see Diwali as that time of the year to mend fences and strengthen bonds. My mobile phone beeped forever with SMS greetings from friends and colleagues wishing me all the prosperity and happiness in the universe. I even received one which might have been ancient Sanskrit (or Nepalese), since none of my officemates could translate it. (I wanted to memorize the words to impress others, but I gave up over the tongue-twisting syllables.)

On the night of the third and most important day of the festival, I joined my neighbors in a fellowship gathering at the building car park. Most of them left early to join private parties with families in their own flats. I was left with six sari-clad (and jewelry-laden) grandmothers, who delighted me with the meaning of the rangoli (drawing on the floor) that “mysteriously” appeared one morning at my doorstep. When they left, a slew of family drivers took over the scene, itching to light those firecrackers and magnify the already-bloated air pollution levels of Mumbai.

And finally, there are those bedazzled by sheer commercialism. They battle great traffic to navigate malls that glitter in festival sales and promotional offers. It is all about the gifting essence of Diwali: give and you shall receive love, blessings, respect. I received chocolates from two suppliers, and I revel in giving them my good wishes in return.

22 October 2006

Birth of the Báb

 The Shrine of the Báb, Haifa, Israel. Source:

The Shrine of the Báb
Image source:

LAST NIGHT was a challenge to drive down to town where Mumbai’s Bahá’í Centre is located. India is presently celebrating its most dazzling season: kicking off this week are festivities around Diwali, the biggest Hindu festival of them all, and Eid-ul-Fitr, the breaking of the Muslim Ramadan fast. All roads were jammed with vehicles and pedestrians frantically trying to reach the malls for last-minute Diwali shopping or their homes to break the Ramadan fast.

Stuck in the traffic, I was obviously going to miss the commemoration of the Birth of the Báb at the Bahá’í Centre. The anniversary on 21 October is one of the nine major, non-working holy days in the Bahá'í calendar. Referred to as the Prophet-Herald of the Bahá’í Faith, the Báb (1819-1844) proclaimed the imminent arrival of Bahá'u'lláh, the Founder of the Bahá'í Faith. Bahá'ís view the Báb and Bahá'u'lláh both as “Manifestations of God”, even though the Báb's testified that His mission was subordinate to Bahá'u'lláh's.

Bahá’ís commemorate His birth by holding simple but joyous gatherings open to everyone who would like to attend, There are no prescribed ceremonies, but the events often involve prayers, devotional readings, and music. View a special audio-visual presentation prepared by the Bahá'ís of New York.

» Window Views : Martyrdom of the Báb

26 September 2006

The fast of Ramadan

Ramadan Mubarak! Image source: maryam_islam.typepad.comMUSLIMS HAVE begun to observe Ramadan, the ninth and the most venerated, blessed, and holy month on the Islamic calendar. It commemorates the revelation of the Qur'an to the Prophet Muhammad as “a guidance unto men, a declaration of direction, and a means of Salvation”.

“Thee do we worship,
and Thine aid we seek.
Show us the straight way.”
—from the Qur'an [1:5-6]
For thirty days, there is strict fasting, prayers, self-accountability, and charity from sunrise to sunset. Fasting during this month is often thought to figuratively burn away all sins. Furthermore, the Prophet Muhammad told his followers that the gates of Heaven would be open all the month and the gates of Hell would be closed.

Ramadan Mubarak to my Muslim friends and colleagues! May His blessings be a beacon for you for the next year.

24 September 2006

Rosh Hashanah

May you be inscribed and sealed for a good year! Image source: VirtualFlorist.comJEWS ARE now celebrating Rosh Hashanah, the first of ten days celebrating the year 5767, the number of years since Jews believe the world was created. Many will spend hours reading the Torah in synagogues, reciting Hebrew prayers, and meditating as a process of self-examination and repentance.

One of the prayers often recited is “Avinu malkeinu” (Our Father, Our King), originated on fast days as a plea for rain. Listen to Barbra Streisand's moving interpretation of the song, taken from her 1997 album Higher Ground.

To my Jewish friends and colleagues, l'shanah tovah tikatev v'taihatem! May you be inscribed and sealed for a good year!

The power of religious rhetoric

POPE BENEDICT XVI apologized four times this week for enraging Muslims worldwide. In a university speech, the Pope had used an uncharitable quotation from 14th-century Christian Byzantine emperor Manuel II Paleologus. He said, “Show me just what (the Prophet) Muhammad brought that was new and there you will find things only evil and inhuman, such as his command to spread by the sword the faith he preached.”

This is not the first time that the leader of the Roman Catholic Church found himself in a row with followers of the world's faiths. In a 1997 interview, the erstwhile Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger described Buddhism as “auto-erotic spirituality” that would be the source of “the undoing of the Catholic church”—remarks still repeated by the Buddhists years after he said them. Last May, he referred to “signs of religious intolerance that have troubled some regions in India”—comments that discomfited Hindu leaders in the Indian government. Over a week later, while visiting Auschwitz, the pontiff claimed that “by destroying Israel, (the Nazi) ultimately wanted to tear up the taproot of the Christian faith”—views taken by some Jews to mean that the real victims of the Holocaust were the Christians.

Such rhetoric—and the uneasy reactions that ensued from other religions and fed and ripped apart by powerful media—only highlights the piercing truthfulness of the message addressed by the Universal House of Justice (the governing council of the Bahá’í Faith) to the world’s religious leaders in April 2002. I quote below parts of the letter that touch on the ongoing issues (highlights mine).

In contrast to the processes of unification that are transforming the rest of humanity's social relationships, the suggestion that all of the world's great religions are equally valid in nature and origin is stubbornly resisted by entrenched patterns of sectarian thought. The progress of racial integration is a development that is not merely an expression of sentimentality or strategy but arises from the recognition that the earth's peoples constitute a single species whose many variations do not themselves confer any advantage or impose any handicap on individual members of the race.

“The greater part of organized religion stands paralyzed at the threshold of the future”Other segments of society embrace the implications of the oneness of humankind, not only as the inevitable next step in the advancement of civilization, but as the fulfillment of lesser identities of every kind that our race brings to this critical moment in our collective history. Yet, the greater part of organized religion stands paralyzed at the threshold of the future, gripped in those very dogmas and claims of privileged access to truth that have been responsible for creating some of the most bitter conflicts dividing the earth's inhabitants.

The consequences, in terms of human well-being, have been ruinous. It is surely unnecessary to cite in detail the horrors being visited upon hapless populations today by outbursts of fanaticism that shame the name of religion. Nor is the phenomenon a recent one. To take only one of many examples, Europe's sixteenth century wars of religion cost that continent the lives of some thirty percent of its entire population. One must wonder what has been the longer term harvest of the seeds planted in popular consciousness by the blind forces of sectarian dogmatism that inspired such conflicts.

Religion, as we are all aware, reaches to the roots of motivation. When it has been faithful to the spirit and example of the transcendent Figures who gave the world its great belief systems, it has awakened in whole populations capacities to love, to forgive, to create, to dare greatly, to overcome prejudice, to sacrifice for the common good and to discipline the impulses of animal instinct. Unquestionably, the seminal force in the civilizing of human nature has been the influence of the succession of these Manifestations of the Divine that extends back to the dawn of recorded history.

In the same message, the Universal House of Justice has offered us the following reassuring guidance:

The implications for today are summed up by Bahá'u'lláh in words written over a century ago and widely disseminated in the intervening decades:

There can be no doubt whatever that the peoples of the world, of whatever race or religion, derives their inspiration from one heavenly Source, and are the subjects of one God. The difference between the ordinances under which they abide should be attributed to the varying requirements and exigencies of the age in which they were revealed. All of them, except a few which are the outcome of human perversity, were ordained of God, and are a reflection of His Will and Purpose. Arise and, armed with the power of faith, shatter to pieces the gods of your vain imaginings, the sowers of dissension amongst you. Cleave unto that which draweth you together and uniteth you.

. . . It is to this historic challenge that we believe leaders of religion must respond if religious leadership is to have meaning in the global society emerging from the transformative experiences of the twentieth century. It is evident that growing numbers of people are coming to realize that the truth underlying all religions is in its essence one.

There is certainly wide differences among the world's major religious traditions with respect to social ordinances and forms of worship. Given the thousands of years during which successive revelations of the Divine have addressed the changing needs of a constantly evolving civilization, it could hardly be otherwise. . . What cannot be morally justified is the manipulation of cultural legacies that were intended to enrich spiritual experience, as a means to arouse prejudice and alienation. The primary task of the soul will always be to investigate reality, to live in accordance with the truths of which it becomes persuaded and to accord full respect to the efforts of others to do the same. . .

“Religion has awakened in whole populations capacities to love, to forgive, to create, to dare greatly, to overcome prejudice, to sacrifice for the common goodWe come finally to an issue that we approach with some diffidence as it touches most directly on conscience. Among the many temptations the world offers, the test that has, not surprisingly, preoccupied religious leaders is that of exercising power in matters of belief. . . The unheralded inner victories won in this respect by unnumbered clerics all down the ages have no doubt been one of the chief sources of organized religion's creative strength and must rank as one of its highest distinctions. To the same degree, surrender to the lure of worldly power and advantage, on the part of other religious leaders, has cultivated a fertile breeding ground for cynicism, corruption and despair among all who observe it. The implications for the ability of religious leadership to fulfil its social responsibility at this point in history need no elaboration.

Because it is concerned with the ennobling of character and the harmonizing of relationships, religion has served throughout history as the ultimate authority in giving meaning to life. . . (It) has simultaneously been the chief force binding diverse peoples together in ever larger and more complex societies . . . The great advantage of the present age is the perspective that makes it possible for the entire human race to see this civilizing process as a single phenomenon, the ever-recurring encounters of our world with the world of God.

Inspired by this perspective, the Bahá'í community has been a vigorous promoter of interfaith activities from the time of their inception. . . We owe it to our partners in this common effort, however, to state clearly our conviction that interfaith discourse . . . must now address honestly and without further evasion the implications of the over-arching truth that called the movement into being: that God is one and that, beyond all diversity of cultural expression and human interpretation, religion is likewise one.

With every day that passes, danger grows that the rising fires of religious prejudice will ignite a worldwide conflagration the consequences of which are unthinkable. Such a danger civil government, unaided, cannot overcome. Nor should we delude ourselves that appeals for mutual tolerance can alone hope to extinguish animosities that claim to possess Divine sanction. The crisis calls on religious leadership for a break with the past as decisive as those that opened the way for society to address equally corrosive prejudices of race, gender and nation. Whatever justification exists for exercising influence in matters of conscience lies in serving the well-being of humankind. At this greatest turning point in the history of civilization, the demands of such service could not be more clear. “The well-being of mankind, its peace and security, are unattainable”, Bahá'u'lláh urges, “unless and until its unity is firmly established.”

23 September 2006

Bears and beers

Gu GuALCOHOL BLURS the vision as we all know. But who knew that beer could make a sleeping panda resemble a beer drinker's wife in his eyes?

Zhang Xinyan knew, and it got him to a panda-monic brawl and a hospital bed afterwards.

The unbearable story goes this way. Last Tuesday, the 35-year-old Chinese migrant got drunk, visited the Beijing Zoo, saw the sleeping 6-year-old panda bear named Gu Gu, entered his den, and decided to hug him. “I just wanted to touch it,” recalled Zhang. “I was so dizzy from the beer. I don't remember much.”

Well, we do remember what happened next. Startled (and possibly insulted for the rude awakening), Gu Gu bit Xinyan's leg. Angered (and possibly insulted for the rude welcome), Zhang bit Gu Gu's back and then delivered a kick for good measure. Gu Gu bit the leg that kicked, and a scuffle ensued for 15 minutes. Guess who won.

“Its skin was quite thick,” Zhang reflected later, lying on the hospital bed with blood-soaked bandages. I am sure this biting remark would have merited a retort from Gu Gu: “Yeah, and his face was thick enough to mistake me for a wife!”

22 September 2006

Coup in Thailand

THAILAND HAS such a long history of coup d'etats that this week's military revolt reminded me of an old joke.

A tour guide brought a female tourist to a kick-boxing arena in Bangkok. “This is Muay Thai, our national pastime, ” he began. “It involves kicking, punching, elbowing, kneeing, and head-butting the enemy to wear him down and knock him out.”

The lady gasped, “It is revolting!”

The tour guide responded, “That is our second national pastime.”

21 September 2006

FOCAL POINT : Curumin, “Achados e Perdidos”

BRAZILIAN MUSICIAN CURUMIN (Luciano Nakata Albuquerque) has released his debut album “Achados e Perdidos” (“Lost and Found”). The collection reflects Curumin's global roots: born to Spanish and Japanese parents, raised in Brazil, world music student at Gaviões da Fiel, and band leader of Zomba.

The track above is the infectious “Tudo Bem Malandro”, from the album that fuses ukelele-driven Brazilian beats with funk, hip-hop, reggae, and psychedelic electronica.

17 September 2006

FOCAL POINT : Hildegard von Bingen, “Caritas abundat”

She is the first female composer in documented music history WHEN ROMAN CATHOLICS commemorate today's feast of the Blessed Hildegard von Bingen (1098-1179), they remember a twelfth-century German abbess who received divine visions at the age of five. Growing up a Catholic, I savored the Ladybird picture book that told her life story as an extraordinary, powerful woman who ventured where few—let alone women—dared in her time. She wrote major works of theology and medicine, gave public speeches on natural history and healing, and counseled (and chastised) statesmen, royalty, and popes. For a woman to do all this in the twelfth century brings the cause of womanhood right bang on front row, center!

What is also striking about Hildegard von Bingen is that she remains the oldest known composer with a recorded biography—effectively making her the first female composer in documented music history. Her music is liturgical and devotional, wrapped around poetry that came to her in visions. Soaring over two octaves, the songs are difficult to sing today; imagine how they must have been performed during her time. Hildegard once described her works as a means of reliving the joy and beauty of the garden of Eden. I describe her work as Eve's supreme creative progeny.

Listen to “Caritas abundat” (Divine love abounds), a short piece with a beautiful vocal line spread among many notes, almost wordless, always soothing, performed here by The Shelter Music Boston Ensemble.

Pluto comes home

Pluto in my flat

Pluto in my flat with his toy and and his potential daybed

I HAVE a new cat, and his name is Pluto. He is a Persian kitten, the third in a litter born on 6 July 2006 in Pune, the second-largest city in the state of Maharashtra.

I took him home through seven hours of driving back to Mumbai, no thanks to the sudden downpour that clogged the streets. Through the havoc, he took turns sleeping on my lap and playing with my necklace. What a fantastic preview of things to come as he grows up. Or as we grow up together.

Those of you who knew about my cats in Israel (Tiger, Cleopatra, Java, and that moogie that almost killed me in the kitchen) will be delighted that Pluto not only shares their brown colors (he is a red tabby), he also likes to dance with someone looking like Behi Sobhani. (The breeder, a young Indian man who also breeds bonsais and terrariums, looks like Behi Sobhani. When he jumped up to fetch something from the kitchen, Pluto must have thought that the young man was about to dance, so he jumped up along with him.)

14 September 2006

FOCAL POINT : Christopher Logue, “Come to the Edge”

BRITISH POET Christopher Logue (born 1926) wrote the following verse for a 1968 festival honoring French avant-garde poet Guillaume Apollinaire. I am delighted at the poem's reference to the need for leaders to initiate the process of overcoming barriers that hinder creativity.

Come to the edge.
We might fall.
Come to the edge.
It’s too high!
And they came,
and he pushed,
and they flew.

Source: Christopher Logue, New Numbers (1969)

12 September 2006

Five years ago today

IN REMEMBERING 9/11, we take solace in the following guidance contained in the 10 February 1980 message of the Universal House of Justice to Iranian Bahá'ís throughout the world:

In such an afflicted time, when mankind is bewildered and the wisest of men are perplexed as to the remedy, the people of Bahá, who have confidence in His unfailing grace and divine guidance, are assured that each of these tormenting trials has a cause, a purpose, and a definite result, and all are essential instruments for the establishment of the immutable Will of God on earth. In other words, on the one hand humanity is struck by the scourge of His chastisement which will inevitably bring together the scattered and vanquished tribes of the earth; and on the other, the weak few whom He has nurtured under the protection of His loving guidance are, in this Formative Age and period of transition, continuing to build amidst these tumultuous waves an impregnable stronghold which will be the sole remaining refuge for those lost multitudes. Therefore, the dear friends of God who have such a broad and clear vision before them are not perturbed by such events, nor are they panic-stricken by such thundering sounds, nor will they face such convulsions with fear and trepidation, nor will they be deterred, even for a moment, from fulfilling their sacred responsibilities.

The depth of the message is as useful today as it was more than twenty-five years ago.

11 September 2006

Chasing the chaste me

MY TEAM and I set up the displays for a new store throughout last week, with each one of us responsible for specific areas in the store. One day, Mallika needed my advice in decorating the bedroom showcase, so she asked her young junior assistant Anusha to fetch me from the décors section where I was working.

In the most nonchalant manner, Anusha announced, "Paul, Mallika wants you in the bedroom."

I replied without batting an eyelash, "Tell her that marriage comes first."

The young lady walked away nonplussed as the rest of the team broke in laughter.

10 September 2006

Festival of Ganesh

The Ganesh of the Curry Road community in Mumbai. Image source: Arun Patil

The Ganesh of the Curry Road community in Mumbai
Image source: Arun Patil

THE PASSING WEEK was a spectacular break in the life of Mumbai. It is the annual Ganeshotsav, eleven days of joyous celebration and great devotion across India to honor the birthday of Lord Ganesh. Revered as the lord of good fortune and destroyer of obstacles, Ganesh is the most beloved and most frequently invoked god in Hinduism. His icon adorns doors facing the east to encourage smooth passage, and his mantra is recited to start any task or event. Ganesh has the widest following in Mumbai and the rest of Maharashtra.

The festival starts with Ganesh Chaturthi, when ornately dressed Ganeshas (Ganesh idols) are displayed in pandals (raised platforms) at home for family worship. However, the devotion to the cheerful elephant-headed god is so great that the worship—and adornment—spills from homes onto the streets. Huge, brightly festooned tents rise in the middle of roads, which shimmer with sparkling strings of light. Most of the idols contained in these tents tower over six meters!

On the third and last days of the festival, the Ganeshas are ritually immersed in the nearest body of water. Mumbai practically shuts down to allow processions of people on their way to the Arabian Sea to bid their idols farewell.

Mumbai practically shuts down to allow processions of people to bid their idols farewellThese processions are, to say the least, revelry. I was caught in one of these processions while visiting a supplier on the third-day visarjan (immersion) last week. I enjoyed the elaborate displays of Ganeshas in gigantic pandals, but what riveted me was the spectacular show of merrymaking. Firecrackers punctuated the air. Sharp yells accompanied the brass horns and drums that guided the processions. Then there were people dancing wildly in what a colleague of mine insisted was not Indian, but plain street dancing. On my way home much later that night, I saw a pandal with a man striking a pose by flexing his muscles while teenagers pranced around him to some Bollywood-sounding song. This sight sent my driver to endless fits of laughter. (He was still laughing as we reached home.)

What also interested me was the question of whether the idols immersed into the waters were non-biodegradable. My colleague mentioned that this is the one singular issue that has plagued Ganeshotsav, and that environmentalists have actively taken this to task. On the bright side, newspapers this week reported that some of the idols have in fact been made of more eco-friendly materials.

The morning after the last day, as I drove to work, I saw empty pandals and street hoardings being taken down. The smell of firecrackers still lingered faintly. The stanchions that barricaded the revelers from the traffic were gone. For the masses, who seemed to me to be the only frenzied celebrants of Ganeshatsov, the morning after is once again another ordinary day in the life of Mumbai.

On the way to visarjan at Juhu Beach in Mumbai
Media source:

27 August 2006

Back on the block

I'M BACK from a month that was both busy and bizarre. In the aftermath of the Mumbai blasts, several ISPs (including mine) in India blocked,, and This left me (and countless other bloggers) helplessly silent amidst the media hysteria following the terrorist surprises of the past six weeks. This afternoon, I was going to sit down and write about how July was not too jolly and how August augured badly. Then I realized that the events in India, the Middle East, and the United Kingdom have already reached some semblance of an ending. For the time being, I can write about hopeful things.

I am so glad to return to the blogosphere that I spent the whole afternoon today tweaking the site, reclassifying the posts into various categories, and organizing my list of links to other sites worth reading. Keep watching this space. More precisely, watch the space on the left.

12 July 2006

Blasts in Mumbai!

IN VIEW of this early evening's train bombings in Mumbai, please know that I am safe at home. The bombings occurred around the suburb that I live and work in, so the situation was pretty scary.

The local and national mobile phone network is down, though, so I am unable to determine whether my staff and colleagues have been able to reach home safely. The bombings began when people were rushing to get home.

Your thoughts and prayers for the people of India will be very helpful.

10 July 2006

Viva Italia!

THE ROMANS won over the Celtic Gauls in the global theater that was 2006 FIFA World Cup. Congratulations to the Italians and the fans of Italy. In your honor, I present la divina signora Bette Midler with “Mambo Italiano

E molto dificile resistere Italia! Con pizza! Maria Grazia Cucinotta! Oooh la la! Ooops, that was French. Sorry, Zidane.

09 July 2006

Martyrdom of the Báb

The barracks square where the Báb was executed. Source:

The barracks wall where the Báb was executed on 9 July 1850

AT THE Bahá'í Centre in Mumbai today, I joined over a hundred other members of the Bahá'í Faith in remembering the arrest, torture, imprisonment, and eventual execution of the Báb (born 1819) in Tabriz, Persia, on July 9, 1850. The Báb, whose name meant “the gate” in Arabic, was a Divine Messenger Whose brief mission on earth prepared humanity for the coming of Bahá’u’lláh, the Prophet-Founder of the Bahá'í Faith.

Prior to a special prayer read by Mrs. Zena Sorabjee at noon, we viewed a moving fifteen-minute film that narrated His martyrdom. Once again, I was reminded of the immense potency and meaning of this day, which Shoghi Effendi called a century later as “the most dramatic, the most tragic event” in the history of the Bahá'í Faith.

27 June 2006

The world's rudest cities?

How rude! Image source: FreeRangeStock.comASIA'S LANDS have cultivated strong traditions of hospitality throughout history, from serving tea to greeting namaskar or sawasdee with the courteous bow. But a global courtesy test by Reader's Digest sees a flip side to this.

The magazine administered three politeness tests in the main cities of 35 countries where it is published: dropping papers in a street to check helpfulness, counting how often shopkeepers said “thank you”, and testing how often someone held a door open for others.

The results were released last week, and they are surprising. New York City emerged as the most polite city and Mumbai as the least!

Here are other findings:

  • Asia is the least gracious continent on earth: eight of nine Asian countries rank lowest. Manila's manners rated best in this region.

  • English manners are as good as French: London and Paris shared the same score. Berlin, though, is better bred than both.

  • Those younger than 40 are the most courteous; those over 60 are the least.

  • The worldwide level of politeness stands at 55 per cent.

Here in Mumbai, citizens have been quick to dispute the results. Over the weekend, newspapers took the city's politeness quotient by interviewing celebrities and common folk. The universal response: you have to live here to understand its graciousness. Scriptwriter Salim Khan offered: “The people who did the survey should have worked harder to know Mumbai better.”

Well, true: Mumbai grows on you, although slowly. And I am glad that my fellow Filipinos were being their usual mannerful selves during the candid tests. But the one question I have about the whole survey regards the methodology designed for it. How appropriate are the parameters designed by Western minds for non-Western cities?

I have to wonder how valuable a survey about global courtesy is when differences in cultural dimensions are not taken into accountMy experiences in Bangkok, Phnom Penh, and Mumbai have shown me that common courtesies are all relative. A Thai would show gratitude with the bowing, palms-closed gesture called wai. In India, most languages have no specific word for “please”, so politeness is used in the way that the request is worded. Also, the act of giving is considered to be such a reward that it becomes bizarre to thank the giver! The Indian, however, may express gratitude with a phrase like “May you live a hundred years”. And in the conservative Buddhist, Muslim, and Catholic societies of Southeast Asia, a well-bred lady is not expected to pick up a newspaper dropped by a man!

So I have to wonder how valuable a survey about global courtesy is when differences in cultural dimensions are not taken into account. Perhaps the good news is this: the Reader’s Digest survey reminds us of the reality of human diversity and shows us more reasons to celebrate it.

For all its worth, here is the final tally:

The most courteous cities. Image source:

The least courteous cities. Image source:

Image source:

18 June 2006

Turning 41

Aging publicly. Image source: Isra Ramirez

How not to hide from birthdays.
Image source: Isra Ramirez's e-mail to the world of humanity

THE FIRST messages on my mobile phone last Friday came from my ten siblings around the world. This is how the family remains connected, wherever we are. We commemorate the events of our lives with timely messages across the seas in phone calls, text messages, or e-mails to one another.

11 June 2006

FIFA fo fum

2006 FIFA World Cup. Source: FIFAWorldCup.Yahoo.comAND SO the world's most euphoric sports event has kicked off, and millions around the world are once again unified with the common language of cheering wildly. Here in Mumbai, retailers are latching on the 2006 FIFA World Cup fever with colorful branding and themed merchandise. At HyperCity, the cheering takes on the form of a splendid display created by visual merchandiser Darshita Thaker: six life-sized cutouts of football players stand at the store entrance dressed in actual gear.

I told Anand Ray, a colleague at HyperCity, that I was rooting for the underdog Croatia. I have no national team to cheer on. Like India, the Philippines is not playing in the World Cup; however, unlike Indians, Filipinos do not turn ecstatic over the game.

Football is simply not popular in the Philippines, despite the national football team being the oldest in Asia. The national sport is basketball: give the Filipinos one match, and you get the most boisterous moments of your life. Football is played mostly in high schools and universities as part of physical education courses. The game is also popular in the central islands of the Philippines, where Spanish influence remains strong.

Give the Filipinos one basketball match,
and you get
the most boisterous
of your life
So what can I do when the whole world is gaga and I have no national team to go gaga over? For one, I can vouch for hometown Germany; my sister lives there, and everyone else is cheering for them. Or I can vouch for Spain, old motherland of the Philippines; they deserve to be in winning form like the rest of the Latin world. Or I can just wear the flag of Croatia. Wait, are they actually playing?

Oh well, I guess I can always simply cheer on Darshita's life-sized cutouts in front of HyperCity. I think one of them looks like a Filipino version of Ronaldinho . . .

04 June 2006

Equal signs

Another blow against women's rights? Image source: Jason de Villa

Another blow against women’s rights?
Image source: Jason de Villa

JASON DE VILLA WRITES, in A Hundred Words A Day, about the mandatory signage shown above in one of Manila’s Mass Railway Transit (MRT) stations:

What were the operators of the MRT thinking? Lumping women, who have fought for decades against the image of being the “weaker sex,” with the elderly, children, and the disabled!

As a willing crusader for female rights—read my essay on female fortitude—I am with Jason on this. What appalls me are the very low taste levels and offensive judgment evident in making the signage. The physically challenged, both elderly and handicapped, correctly require such special treatment in a massive public facility like the MRT. However, by including the whole female gender in the category of preferential treatment, the message thus reads: “Women are physically challenged; they cannot be in the same place as men.”

Our generation has seen the most promising advances in ensuring the equality of men and women in the past 163 years. Perhaps we need a train station signage such as this to remind us that trains of thought are still arriving from a different direction . . . and that so much is yet to be done to redirect railways towards building a global society.

Dial “m” for migraine

MY ONE lingering wish for humanity: that it never suffers from migraine. I finally recovered from a two-day attack, and, as always, the suffering is insufferable. Rhea Aquino, a former colleague in Israel, had a name for it: Miggi. When I would call in sick, she would ask, “Kuya Paul, is Miggi on home visit again?” My last attack was seven weeks ago; perhaps Miggi thought it was time pay a “home visit”.

I have had migraine episodes since my late twenties, and I have never really managed it perfectly. Once the symptoms show up, paracetamol and ibuprofen come in handy, but oftentimes the effects kick in too late. I used to swig a steaming mug of black coffee in hopes that the caffeine would stimulate those spasmodic blood vessels that turned my head into a throbbing boom box; I stopped the coffee-swigging habit in fear of becoming coffee-addictive. My sister Myriam used to massage the tips of my fingers to stimulate blood vessels (and they are often relieving), but to become a self-masseur is the last thing on your mind when you are under attack and you live alone.

The only solution then is to crawl into a dark, quiet room and sleep it off. This was challenging for me in the past two days, as apartment walls in Mumbai are never really sound-proof (read: Mumbai is noisy, period). Perhaps I should return to the steaming mug of black coffee next time. That, or sing along to my head-turned-boom box.

Monsoon so soon

View of the street where I live

The day after: all wet and wild on the street where I live.
Photo: Paul Ancheta

THE FIRST RAINS of the year arrived heavily in Mumbai last Wednesday, and they threw Mumbai out of gear. Monsoon season normally starts early June, so the heavy downpour took most Mumbaikars—including the regional weather bureau, which forecast “cloudy skies” that day—by big surprise.

“If this is the condition after the first rains, what will it be like in the coming months?”
—MP Priya Dutt
Worse, the rains cast heavy doubt on the monsoon preparedness claims by the city officials, in light of the disastrous deluge on 26 July 2005 (locally known as 26/7). Heavy water logging caused traffic jams and delays and cancellations in railway and airline schedules. Mumbai congresswoman Priya Dutt fumed, “If this is the condition after the first rains, what will it be like in the coming months?”

Hopefully it will not be a city on water standstill, as I saw last Wednesday evening. We were driving back to HyperCity from a suburban agency inspection when the Really Big Rains began. The sidewalks quickly disappeared under cascading water, and the three-lane street became one-lane. By the time I got to HyperCity two hours later, the torrent had stopped, but the showers continued. I learned later that those two hours of downpour were enough to cause the water logging and to grind Mumbai to a halt.

It is time I get three big umbrellas. And a pair of Wellingtons.

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