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26 December 2007

TRAVEL TALES : Nightmare after Christmas in New Delhi

WINTER CAN be the nicest time of the year: peppy fashion goes in overdrive, hot food is good, and holiday décor is always cheerful to behold. Early yesterday morning, however, the joyfulness of winter was farthest from my mind.

'Twas the night (morning, actually) after Christmas in Gurgaon (outside New Delhi) . . . and I was preparing to travel back to Kolkata on a 6:00 AM flight. At the guest house I checked in, the water taps in the bathroom were defective—and I realized this only when the hot water I was showering with automatically transformed into the Arctic sea. At 4:15 AM. In the wee small hours of winter morning. Oh yes, ouch.

Bones and teeth rattling nonstop, I managed to dress up under two minutes—not because I was running after time, but because I was quickly petrifying from the cold. Moments later, at exactly 4:30 AM, I was at the foyer of the guest house, waiting for the rental car to pick me up for the airport. The warm woolen muffler tied around my neck pacified my rattling bones and teeth. I was eager to fly back home to Kolkata.

Except that the rental car never showed up. The driver, of course, was also missing in action—he wasn't picking up my frantic calls on his mobile phone.

So what's a man to do when he has a plane to catch and no time left in the wee small hours of a frozen winter morning? Walk to the highway and pray for a cab to show up. My sense of humor was quickly freezing with my patience. See, in Gurgaon, the most posh place in northern India, everyone owns and drives at least one car (read: no one needs cabs in this place). To top that, I wasn't sure how long I'd survive the five-degree temperature at the open highway.

After what seemed like eternity, I found a cab two kilometers away from the guest house. Never mind if its dusty seat dirtied my white jacket and trousers and made me look like a shivering refugee from the Cambodian war; I was just ecstatic to get my shaking bones and teeth out of the cold and zoom like crazy to the airport.

I reached my flight in the nick of time, and vowed to make the holiday season miserable for whoever was responsible for the cab not showing up. Fortunately for that person, I was too sleepy in the morning to exact any form of misery. Ah, the thought of my warm Kolkata bed still gives me bliss . . .

TRAVEL TALES : New Delhi's Connaught Place at night

Christmas at Connaught Place, New Delhi, India
Image source: Paul Ancheta

CONNAUGHT PLACE is the grand, sprawling traffic circle at the heart of New Delhi. On Christmas Day, it was a natural hub for Delhiites, with its park at the center and lofty colonnades housing some of the trendiest restaurants in northern India. Without a map, I still get disoriented with the place, since the buildings look almost the same and the radiating streets that divide the circle into seven blocks are not properly marked. Nevertheless, I had fun taking photos of the place on the night of Chrismas Day . . . and never mind if I got lost in the crowd!

25 December 2007

TRAVEL TALES : Christmas Day at the Bahá'í Temple in Delhi

Visitors at the Bahá'í House of Worship, New Delhi, India
Image source: Paul Ancheta

IT'S CHRISTMAS Day, and India is on holiday mode. I thought I should take this precious opportunity to travel to New Delhi, visit the Bahá'í House of Worship, and perform my spiritual duties of worship.

New Delhi is chilly to the bone. It's a fabulous time to be fashionably dressed in layers (and in Delhi, those lovely northerners do know how to dress for winter). At the temple grounds, it seemed that half of the city were here: how encouraging to see hordes of visitors waiting to be admitted into the temple this afternoon! Children, parents, and friends in various attires filled the pathways; an inner entrance had to be used to accommodate the long queues. Later, an Australian Bahá'í youth volunteer told me that 4,000 visitors logged in today.

The late afternoon fog shrouded the temple and made its petals look so surreal. Inside, as I looked up the domed ceiling with its gleaming skylights, I wondered how the architect—Fariborz Sahba—designed a rain-proof (and fog-proof) building without compromising on the natural air conditioning and lighting. I could only marvel at his genius.

24 December 2007

The night before Christmas

A Christmas tree in New Delhi

A Christmas tree in New Delhi
Image source: Paul Ancheta

THANK YOU very much for being with me in 2007. I truly appreciate that you spend time to visit this blog.

It has been a most eventful year for me, one filled with milestones, new discoveries, and renewal of family and friendly ties. I regret that I have not been able to spend more time blogging since moving to Kolkata (my alibi: work immmersion and incredibly poor connectivity). In case there have been any of you besides my sisters who have been checking the blog here and finding nothing new, I truly apologize.

Here's wishing you and your family a happy holiday season and a new year of health, wealth, and joy. I look forward to being with your through my blog and sharing the excitement that 2008 will bring!

17 December 2007

TRAVEL TALES : Sunday in the park with Gujus

VADODARA HAS some of the widest tree-lined streets that I have seen in India. Still called by its old name—Baroda—the city, with its universities and museums, is dubbed the cultural capital of the state of Gujarat (north of Maharashtra).

I was here on a one-day business travel, and with a late Sunday afternoon to spare, I thought I should visit the lush, green Sayaji Barg as recommended strongly by my driver. The place is a sprawling park housing a zoo, a planetarium, an old toy train, and the imposing Baroda Museum and Picture Gallery. I had a glimpse of how lazy a Sunday afternoon could get at this otherwise bustling industrial city: Gujarati families gathered together for picnics, couples were napping on the grass, young adults played tag. Tag! this is the first time in a very long time that I saw adults playing tag.

The sights that afternoon weren't exactly rural, but they seemed taken from a 1970s movie scene. Charming.

15 October 2007

Blog Action Day: 
The hills are alive!

Flame tree on the Terraces of the Shrine of the Báb, Haifa, Israel. Source:

Flame tree on the Terraces of the Shrine of the Báb, Haifa, Israel.
Image source:

IN A modest solar system, our planet is a small globe. Yet, in the vast cosmic stream, it is a spectacular presence, carved by wind and water, painted with frescoes of sky, draped in root and fruit. It is a planet lush with created things, all humming in harmony in a place called home.

Think what we have been given.

Now think what we have done.

SmokestackMan-made perils have placed ecology on a dangerously precarious balance, and the global call for sustainable action has never been this explosive. From the destruction of agricultural land to the poisoning of the oceans, our reckless impudence is threatening the future of our environment—the same precious environment that has inspired our own artistic instincts, whose seasons enrich our daily lives with color and texture, whose seas and forests nourish and comfort us, whose valleys and hills shape our song and dance with the sound of their music.

Now think what we could lose.

We either save this world together . . . or we all go together“The hills are alive/With the sound of music!” With these unforgettable lyric from the Broadway and Hollywood musical The Sound of Music, songwriters Richard Rodgers and Oscar Hammerstein II have immortalized the majesty and organic richness of the natural environment that surrounds us and supplies us with everything we need for life. It is the land we walk on, the air we breathe, the light and heat we receive, the fruit and crop we sustain on!

‘Abdu’l-Bahá, the Son of the Founder of the Bahá'í Faith, has reaffirmed our ecological ties to the environment by declaring that all things flourish according to the law of reciprocity. In simple terms, man is organic with the world. It is man’s imperative to remain interconnected with all created things in his environment with moderation, a commitment to protecting the heritage of future generations, and an awareness of the sanctity of nature.

“Nature is God's Will and is its expression in and through the contingent world.”
Then there are the spiritual ties. Bahá’u’lláh, Prophet-Founder of the Bahá'í Faith, has written that “nature is God's Will and is its expression in and through the contingent world. It is a dispensation of Providence ordained by the Ordainer, the All-Wise.” With these words, Bahá’u’lláh declares our essential relationship with the environment: that the grandeur and diversity of nature is proof of the majesty and bounty of God! Our respect for nature and concern for the environment are therefore fundamental, if we are to hold it as a divine trust for which we are answerable.

But the real challenge of our times is this: in order to move beyond our environmental crisis, we must accept our oneness with nature . . . and our oneness of humanity. Unless and until people of all races and nations are “as pearls of one ocean, as rays of one sun”, the problems of humanity, the dangers to our world environment, and the obstacles to sustainability will only worsen. The threats of climate change, amongst others, have made it very clear that we either save this world together . . . or we all go together.

“The earth is one country and mankind its citizens
Bahá’u’lláh has written that “the earth is but one country, and mankind its citizens.” An ever-advancing civilization can only be built on an earth that can sustain itself, an earth whose citizens are unified in universal thought and action . . . an earth whose life-sustaining fabric and beauty must remain safeguarded, protected, and cherished.

Its future is in our hands. On Blog Action Day, think what we can do.

Bloggers Unite - Blog Action Day

Related Sites:

The Bahá'í Faith and the Environment
Environmental News Network
National Geographic on the Environment
Tree Hugger
UN Focus on the Environment
World Wildlife Fund
11th Conference of the International Environment Forum

13 October 2007

Blog Action Day!

WATCH THIS blog—and thousands of others—on Monday, 15 October 2007.

Fellow Bahá'ís Collis and Cyan Ta'eed have teamed up with Leo Babauta to initiate this Monday's Blog Action Day. The landmark event brings thousands of humanity-loving bloggers together for one day to talk about one issue. This year, Collis, Cyan, and Leo have chosen the environment as that one issue to blog on due to to its exigent state of being.

Before anyone else raises further kill-joy hoots about this project being a product of over-active minds, let me offer a reminder: “If we didn't try now, when?” I am joining the collective endeavor with a message on the ties that bind man and the environment. I hope to see you all this Monday . . . at the blogs!

24 September 2007

EPITAPH : Dr. `Alí-Muhammad Varqá (1912-2007)

BAHÁ'ÍS AROUND the world learned today of the passing of Dr. `Alí-Muhammad Varqá, the last living Hand of the Cause of God. He died in the evening of 22 September 2007 in his home in Haifa, Israel, at the age of 95.

Dr. Ali-Muhammad Varqa. Image source: Bah&aacute'í Media BankIn a message released today to the global Bahá'í community, the Universal House of Justice describes the most esteemed member of the Bahá'í Faith as one “imbued with a luminous gentleness, a genuine kindliness and a natural dignity which combined to reflect the character of a saintly personality.” I reflected on these words and recalled my rare interactions with him during my precious days in Haifa. He seldom ventured out of his office due to frail health, but when he managed to attend social functions—usually holy day commemorations—the occasions became memorable moments of deep and sweet affection.

My last interaction was on the night of Breezes & Bridges: The Spirit of Southeast Asia, a musical show that I produced and directed in Haifa shortly before my departure late in 2004. At the end of the show, I approached him gingerly to offer my courtesies for choosing to attend the evening's performance. “Thank you, Dr. Varqá,” I said shyly. He looked at me with the famous broad smile and replied gently, “No, thank you.” I wanted to say more, but the impact of being thanked by someone of his stature was enough to gratify me (and shut me up!). It is a moment I will always remember.

The Bahá'ís are united in prayer for the quick journey of his soul through the next world and all the worlds to come.

19 September 2007

The fast of Ramadan

Ramadan Kareem!

MUSLIMS BEGAN observing the month-long fast of Ramadan last Thursday. This is the the holiest month on the Islamic calendar, commemorating the revelation of the Qur'an to the Prophet Muhammad as “a guidance unto men, a declaration of direction, and a means of Salvation”.

Ramadan Kareem to my Muslim friends and colleagues, with wishes for peace and happiness!

Related Site: The Fast of Ramadan (2006)

18 September 2007

Welcome, Fazal!

Fazal Mato

Fazal Mato
Image source: Jafred and Christina Mato

SPRING AND summer this year is turning out to be a delightful season of babies. Fazal Heaphy Mato has joined Ariana Songgadan, Elfida Laroya, Joaquin Ancheta, and Liam Fojas as the world's newest brilliant stars!

Fazal—Arabic for “grace”—is the first-born of Jafred and Christina Mato. He said his first hello on 5 September 2007 in Massachusetts, USA, and he may be saying “hello” to everyone he meets as he grows up: see how friendly he looks on his parents' blog. He is yet another global citizen-in-the-making: Mama is from USA and Papa is from Kenya. Twenty years from now, Fazal, Ariana, Elfida, Joaquin, and Aleta Leftwich will serve the Bahá'í Faith with Christina Mato's cello, Arnold Laroya's guitar, Farzana Songgadan's dancing feet, Von Ancheta's singing voice, Mara Fojas' poetry, and Ailsa Leftwich's directorial hands!

Congratulations, Christina and Jafred . . . and Welcome/Ukenereri, Fazal!

Related Site: Jafred and Christina Mato's Blog

16 September 2007

SIGHTED SITE : “Bombay Taxi”

EVER WONDERED how drivers in Mumbai manage two of the greatest threats to their sanity—taxicabs and parking spaces?

Ambassador taxi in MumbaiGames2Win has developed an online game called “Bombay Taxi”, where you get the chance to become a Mumbai taxi driver trying to fit into tight parking spots. The taxis are replicas of the real (and ancient) black-and-yellow Ambassador sedans plying Mumbai's streets. It is fun and addicting, especially since the game ends as soon as you hit even a bit of a car (and a male voice curses at you in Hindi). But that is where reality ends, because in Mumbai, when you hit a vehicle, the driving still continues.

Go ahead, play the game, and be a Mumbai driver!

09 September 2007

Welcome, Ariana!

Ariana Songgadan

Ariana Songgadan
Image source: Farzana Songgadan

FOLLOWING THE heels of Elfida Laroya's entry to this world is Ariana Lokhandwala Songgadan, first-born of Neil and Farzana Songgadan!

Born on 3 August 2007 in Haifa, Israel, Ariana—Greek for “most pure”, according to her very smart mom (she topped the CPA licensure exams a few years back)—is yet another fruit of the union of Filipino and non-Filipino. Farzana comes from Mumbai, India, and Neil is from northern Philippines. I await the growth of Ariana, another brilliant star with the best of both worlds.

Congratulations, Farzana and Neil . . . and Swaagatam/Mabuhay, Ariana!

Related Sites:

Ariana's First-Month Photos
Neil and Farzana's Blog

08 September 2007

Dining with hyenas

“YOU MUSTN'T go to the city,” she barked at him. “In fact, you will not go to the city.” There was silence, then laughter.

The barking and the laughter had been going on for twenty minutes now, and they were LOUD. In between were tales of New York City elevators and problems with the boss. She also wanted him to stop talking to a certain Neal, and he wanted her to drive the car tonight.

No, I was neither engaged in nor eavesdropping at this conversation: it was happening three tables away from me in this almost empty Japanese restaurant. After twenty minutes, I thought it was time to end the disturbing cacophony and finish my sushi in peace and quiet. So I turned towards the noisome storytellers with as much withering look as I could muster. The message was plain: the whole world DID NOT CARE TO HEAR their woes and tribulations.

The hyenas were an attractive young man and an equally gorgeous-looking girl friend. I immediately thought how the most annoying public disturbances belonged to pretty young things: loud mobile phone conversations in hybrid English, screeching Audis, Britney Spears-ish outfits, to name a few.

They easily saw my animosity amidst their animated discourse. He got my message and beckoned for her to lower her voice. She refuted the message and huffed loudly instead, “Some people.”

The battle lines were drawn, but I decided not to pick up the fight. It was useless to rage against nonchalance and youth (and gorgeous looks). If you can't beat 'em, eat your sushi. I gathered my lunch plate and sat as far away as possible and decided to focus on the sliver of salmon on my tekkamaki.

Fine, they got the last laugh (and bark). But at least I got my bliss!

23 August 2007

Creature in the dark

AWAKENED RUDELY by my cat Pluto’s agitated leap onto my chest, I peered through the darkness of the bedroom and saw two sapphire eyes glaring like tiny headlights. They were definitely not Pluto’s . . . and they were definitely bizarre. I sat straight up and switched on the bedside light. What I saw was frightening!

A strange creature stood by the bedside table staring back at me. Its oval body was about ten inches tall and covered in gray spiky hair. With a bushy tail and a pointed, whiskered nose, the creature might have been an offspring of a mongoose and a rat. Yet the form was neither feline nor mousy. And it was huge. And frightening.

What was this creature? Lost, did it find its way through my bedroom during a nocturnal romp in the gardens outside my door? I had a moment to scan the pointed, sapphire-eyed face in the amber light of the room. Its countenance was disconcerted and vicious, perhaps ready to bite. But perhaps it was ready to die of a heart attack as well. My curious cat might have given this creature a too-close-for-comfort investigation upon its unexpected entrance, which might have scared the creature and raised whatever natural defense system it had, leading to Pluto landing vigorously on my chest with wits as frazzled as the creature’s.

Gathering the cat, I bounded from the bed and sprinted towards the door. I switched on the room light and looked behind me.

The creature was gone, hopefully back to the gardens and to its waylaid existence with a memory of tonight's bizarre encounter.

11 August 2007

Welcome, Elfida!

Elfida Laroya

Elfida Laroya
Image source: Rhea Aquino

ELFIDA ALICI LAROYA is now a member of the whole human race, thanks to Arnold and Çanan Alici Laroya!

Elfida was born on 9 August 2007 in Haifa, Israel—a much-awaited event, as she comes three years after her parents tied the knot in a ceremony I tried to beautify (well, they got me to decorate their wedding!). Based on photos that I have seen on Rhea Aquino's Flick album, Elfida seems to have taken after Arnold's Shah Rukh Khan-ish nose and Çanan's eyes and mouth. Her name is Greek for “daughter of the wind&rdquo, which is most appropriate since her Filipino father sings with the gentleness of a breeze and her Turkish mother dances with the lightness of a feather in the wind. Wait till this little lady grows up to be a singer, dancer, and teacher like her amazing parents!

Congratulations, Arnold and Çanan . . . and Maligayang pagdating/Hos geldiniz, Elfida!

31 July 2007

Last day in Mumbai

THE DAY seemed endless. When I thought I had my appointment book all sorted out, the timing went berserk.

  • 8:00–9:00 AM: Breakfast with a friend at JW Marriott. This extended to 10:30, which meant I had to move the . . .
  • . . . 9:30–10:00 AM final inspection of my flat with the landlord. A very sociable man, he chatted amiably with me until 12:00 noon, which was way beyond the . . .
  • .. . . 10:15–11:00 AM turn-over of the car, house keys, and a few other documents to Shoppers’ Stop. By the time I wrapped this up, it was 2:30, and the person waiting for me for the . . .
  • . . . 12:00 noon appointment at Airtel was off for an hour-long lunch. My stamina had now worn thin. I should have taken a big breakfast at JW Marriott. By 3:30, I got to close my Airtel telephone and DSL accounts. I was now ready to lunch with a Baha’i friend in Bandra! But did you guess that she had to cancel the lunch as it was beyond lunch time and she had to go somewhere else?
  • 4:00 PM: With an empty stomach, wobbling knees, and throbbing headache, I sped off to Hyatt for a sandwich, an easy lounge at the sofas, and a tired countdown till dinner with another friend.
  • 7:00–8:30 PM: Lobster dinner and coffee parfait. I let the parfait melt in my mouth. Pure bliss. But not for long.
  • 9:00 pm: At the airport with excess baggage. This, I expected courtesy of all those Indian sandals and pouch bags bought for two sisters and three brothers (and their spouses) in Manila. What I did not expect was the unpacking, repacking, and depacking of one big luggage into three smaller ones, so that each would not exceed 30 kilos. Have you ever gone through the security check four times in fifteen minutes with four heavy suitcases? One day, I will write a screenplay on this draining fifteen-minute adventure.

I am now ready to sleep in the aircraft. The thought of snoring is very delicious.

29 July 2007

An empty room

After the storm of packing up

After the storm of packing up

DONE. The most overwhelming part about moving on is over. All my personal stuff have been packed in seventy boxes and shipped tonight. Two years of collectibles from Dubai and India are about to see a new home.

24 July 2007

Farewell, westerners

ON THIS particular evening, I could say they were all my girls. Gathered around the table at some suburban Indian restaurant were 14 members of the western VM team, and I hired almost all of them into Shoppers' Stop. I am proud of these ladies and even prouder to have joined them for one last supper around that long wooden table. Invitation to dinner

“Come the way that Paul would dress up!” said the invite. So they came in bright colors and tons of beaded necklaces. The colorful attire spoke about them too. This western team is one the most colorfully ferocious bunch I have ever trained. And those ladies are ready to erupt in vicious laughter. If the afternoon with the northern team was spiked with stories, the evening with the westerners was filled with laughter.

Amidst the hilarity is the throbbing Bhangra dhol drum music played by a Punjabi-dressed waiter. The food was delicious and overwhelming. What is it about Punjabi cuisine? It seemed like an endless supply of food from all the pots and pans in the restaurant's kitchen and the neighbor's kitchen. I had to take out bags of leftovers and gave them to my driver for his week-long supply of lunch.

It was hard to part ways that evening. With food and music and laughter and love, how can I ever forget the night and the team?

Related Sites:

Farewell, Northerners
Flickr Slideshow

22 July 2007

Welcome, Joaquin!

Joaquin Alfonso Aseron Ancheta

Joaquin Alfonso Ancheta
Image source: Aya Ancheta

I HAVE a new nephew, and his name is Joaquin Alfonso!

Born on 21 June 2007 in Manila, Philippines, Joax (read: Wax) is my youngest brother Von's first child with his wife Hazel Aseron. I have been told the baby takes after Hazel's nose and mouth. Well, I expect him to grow up wearing all the denim jeans in the world (like his father does)!

Congratulations, Von and Hazel!

15 July 2007

One singular sensation

Aleta Leftwich

Aleta Leftwich at 1
Image source: Her mom

AILSA HEDLEY LEFTWICH wrote in this morning to remind me that my cat Pluto is one day older than her daughter Aleta. As the mom narrated in her blog, Aleta's “birth is still a rather clear memory for me, and the last year has really flown by”. I completely agree. It went so fast I did not even hear the airplane that carried the year! (That was a joke, so you better laugh.)

Happy birthday, Aleta! May the days of being a brilliant star bring joy to you, your parents, and Zeddie the Cat!

14 July 2007


Former management trainees

A batch of brilliance
Image source: Kalyani Vaidya

“SNAP!” WAS written on the subject line on the e-mail that carried the picture above. Sent by Kalyani (the woman in red standing at extreme right), the group shot included me with her and the rest of her fellow managers at Shoppers' Stop—and they might as well remember me as SNAP! See, I used to snap at them when they were all training as department managers in the stores. And boy, did they love snapping back in glee!

“Did we not agree to display these westerns according to collection?” “Uh, yes, but they weren't selling that way in this store.”

“Please get those ties on those suits and jackets in one color, like I told you three hours ago.” “Well, they are! One is purple, the others are pink.” “And pink and purple are two different colors.” “Maybe purple is a darker pink, and pink is a lighter purple. They're very attractive, yes? And they sell well.” (That shut me up.)

“Why the heck are these waterfall hangers moved over there?” “Paul, the customers kept bumping on the hangers, so I gave them space.” “But there's no more space for the hangers.” “Yeah, but there's now a lot more space for the customers!”

“That's how we do it elsewhere.” “But we're not Mango, are we, Paul?”

“May I remind you that you're not supposed to own that round table for your department? It's meant for the whole store.” “I don't exactly own it. I just reserve it for my regular use!”

I so loved training these 17 men and women who buzzed with intellectual courage and youthful energy. My tasks were so much easier with them, as they made me pause, think back, and evaluate the training process. They were also amongst the most stylish crowd in Shoppers' Stop.

Months after they left the stores to become managers in the head office, I posed with them in the picture above. What joyful honor to be snapped with this batch before I leave the company!

Romina and Arman get married!

Arman Imani and Romina Bahrami

The new Mr. and Mrs. Arman Imani
Image source: Arman and Romina Imani

THEY HAVE finally tied the knot. Romina Bahrami and Arman Imani exchanged their marriage vows in a Bahá'í wedding ceremony in Edmonton, Canada on 16 June 2007. I was unable to join or greet them on this special day: I was returning to Mumbai from Delhi and celebrating my birthday at the same time.

The newlyweds have released pictures of their wedding on Flickr.

Romina and Arman with former colleagues from Haifa, Israel

A reunion: Romina and Arman with six of our former colleagues from Haifa, Israel. What fun to see old friends together in one group shot!
Image source: Ailsa Hedley Leftwich

Related Sites:

Finally Happening
Romina and Arman Get Engaged!

12 July 2007

Farewell, northerners

The VM team of northern India

The visual merchandising team of northern India

THE PUNJABI lunch in New Delhi was quick, yet it took me forever to complete it. I was, after all, busy telling stories of my earliest days in visual merchandising, back when we were still called “display artists”. This was a great audience: my visual merchandising team for northern India, seated around me at the dining table this afternoon one last time. How privileged of me to be with them before my last day of work with Shoppers' Stop!

They gifted me with a silver pen and a silver clown. Did it take them forever to decide what to give me as a farewell memento? Or have I stayed long enough to share with them my gift for gab and gags? I assigned the value of these presents to my love for writing and clowning.

The gift of gab and gags

Silver pen, silver clown

Through the next four hours, there was less laughter and more silence. I looked at this youthful team of the north and thought of the years it took for me to build my career, then I thought of the years ahead of them. This was the team that always impressed me with their sense of styling, layering, and almost snobbish approach to work. What a joy to think of what they can do with the glorious years ahead of them!

I shall miss them greatly, this bunch.

08 July 2007

Viral marketing: 
AR Rahman, “Ek Mohabbat (One Love)”

Ek Mohabbat (One Love)”
Link reference:

THE NEW 7 Wonders of the World have been announced—and the glorious Taj Mahal made it. Indians had been vigorously campaigning for its well-deserved inclusion through a global voting system. The most catchy effort is a music video by singer-composer AR Rahman called “Ek Mohabbat (One Love)”. Shot at the monument grounds, it captures the myriad textures, rhythms, and patterns of the land, and the love that unifies these diversities. Watching the video makes me privileged to be amongst the Indians.

06 July 2007

Pluto turns 1

Pluto's birthday
Getting drunk on his birthday.

TODAY IS Pluto's first birthday. In human terms, he is fifteen years old; it will take another eleven years for him to be considered a senior cat. Imagine me taking care of a geriatric creature when I am 53.

I am not sure how cats celebrate their birthdays, but he certainly enjoyed the cold bottle of Coca Cola that I had over dinner.

Related Site: Pluto Comes Home

01 July 2007

FOCAL POINT : Rohit Rajen, “Untitled Words”

ROHIT RAJEN, a young member of the visual merchandising team at Shopper's Stop, wrote the following in response to my resignation e-mail to the entire team.

I sail past the expanse of plains,
Through the womb of mountains,
And sometimes..
From graves.

This is Journey and I shall travel!

Acoustic silence,
Ripping me apart,
Fear of friends . . .
Drifting away.

Togetherness is a blessing,
Irony of truth kills it.
A pause is not what I see,
What I see is the cause.

A pause is not what I see,
What I see is the cause
Journey is traversal,
I traveled some miles,
Yet to go far.
I write words,
And names . . .
In paper they become story,
In reality—Life!

Come, join me in the celebration,
Because I am born,
And have the reason for freedom & expression.
So beautiful be our creation,
That it becomes one’s Imagination.

We shall be the cause of rejuvenation.

Source: Rohit Rajen, “Untitled Words” (2007)

Parting ways

IT'S OFFICIAL. I announced my resignation from Shoppper's Stop early this week, ending twelve months of work with the company (and several weeks of indecision whether to leave or not). I now count the days towards 13 July, my last day.

I made the announcement by e-mail. The outpour of response from colleagues was overwhelming (and mostly shocked), making the rest of the week bittersweet and exhilarating. But nothing prepared me for the massive chain of calls, text messages, and e-mails from my own team of 39 visual merchandisers across India. Most of them implored for me to stay. Those 24 hours reminded me how painful it was—and still is—to finally decide to leave the company—and part with the exuberant men and women of my team.

My dearest VMs,

I was incredibly moved by the e-mails and phone calls that I received from you. I honestly did not expect this. I thought you disliked my bossy, picky, pesty attitudes! :) The overwhelming show of love and affection from this team continues to move me!

Thank you very much for the very kind words. I will keep those mails and SMS'es with me.

I know that most of you have taken my decision with hurtful surprise, especially those of you who have been working closely with me. It has been a painful decision for me personally, but I must move on. There are personal concerns in Manila that I have to attend to.

I leave the organization confident that you have learned and will carry with you what you have learned from me, especially about the need to support and nurture each other. The (senior visual merchandisers) have been trained to take the big projects forward, and these will involve all of you. You must prove to your store heads that you have indeed learned and grown in the past one year. For the newcomers, you have your seniors to emulate. Please continue the mark of excellence that has been the stamp pad of the VM team.

This is not my last e-mail to you, I promise :) In the meantime, please concentrate on the events that are coming up very soon. Please do not reply to this e-mail en masse; if you need to, do so privately.

:: Paul A.

20 June 2007

VM&RD profile

Interview at VM&RD Magazine

VM&RD MAGAZINE, India's bimonthly journal on visual merchandising and store design, has featured me in its current issue. Read the interview below and find out about my inspirations, nightmares, and a cat named Pluto.

A big house, with a big garden and a long dining table is what Paul Ancheta remembers first about his house in Philippines. With seven kids around, Paul was all that a strict lawyer father could ask for. After spending two years in engineering, he realised it was not his cup of tea. “I always knew that architecture is meant for me!” He studied architecture and tried his hands at theatre, choir, interaction management and every other thing under the sun. He moved on to Israel and did visual collection management for the Bahá'í World Centre, his spiritual endeavour. This is where he came to know what India is much more than poverty, high traffic and snake charmers. He landed here in November 2005 and has more reasons now than his Persian cat Pluto to call it home!

First thing you get reminded of when one says, “Let’s go shopping!”
Shops to discover! I check out windows, merchandise displays, store directories, and fixtures—and quite obviously at times, which makes my family and friends turn red.

One thing you won’t leave your house without.
Keys to my flat in Malad. Any place I hang my hat is home, but right now I prefer entering the door to see my cat Pluto.

Best thing about working in India:
Its staggering diversities, ubiquitous colors, and astonishing contrasts.

Your inspirations come from?
The social and spiritual teachings of the Bahá’í Faith.

Your nightmare:
The annihilation of differences that make each one of us so capable and so unique.

Best work by someone else which you really appreciate:
Barbra Streisand’s film adaptation of Isaac Bashevis Singer’s “Yentl the Yeshiva Boy”.

If not VM, what would be your profession?
Store designer. And if that fails, a puppeteer! Either way, I get to create dramatic stories!

You are currently reading:
Alain Daniélou’s “A Brief History of India” and Tom DeMarco’s “Slack”.

Favorite holiday destination in India and why?
I’ll tell you when I get two weeks off! When I do have time, I’ll explore the northeast corners of India and celebrate the balance of nature and human accomplishment. Right now, I’m busy being a Mumbai culture vulture.

To you, VM is all about:
The focused mind of a retailer, the trained eye of a consumer, the passionate heart of an artist, and the sprightly gait of a playful child.

Things that make you leave a store in a hurry:
Erroneous signage, rude sales force, and the guard’s insistence that I’m the last customer for the day and they have already closed the shutters!

Favorite one-liner.
“Every minor detail is a major decision!”

16 June 2007

Turning 42

I CELEBRATED my birthday with a visit to the Bahá'í Temple in New Delhi. It was my last day in the city, where I spent the passing week setting up the displays for the newest store of Shopper's Stop. Visiting the temple is always a refreshing joy: not only do I have the spiritual recharge, I get to visit the book shop! I brought two of my fellow workers with me; I hope their first-ever visit to the temple moved them.

20 May 2007

Mark & Mara . . . & Liam

Liam Ulluru Fojas
Image source: Fojalicious Photo Stream

LIAM ULLURU Fojas has finally arrived in this world! Born 4 April 2007, Liam has the patrician chin of Mama Mara and the inquisitive eyes of Papa Mark. He is a beautiful child who looks ready to explore the wonders of his new world.

Congratulations, Mark & Mara . . . & Liam!

Related Sites: Liam's Mom's Blog; Liam's Grandma's Blog; Liam's Dad's Photos; Liam's Fellow Filipino's Blog

19 May 2007

Romina and Arman get engaged!

Romina Bahram and Arman Imani

The future Mr. and Mrs. Arman Imani
Image source: Arman and Romina

ROMINA BAHRAMI and Arman Imani have decided to tie the knot this year!

They are two of the kindest friends I have ever known. She belonged to the group I perpetually dragged to my Haifa, Israel flat for dinners and horrible DVDs; he was a congenial gentleman who patiently withstood my questionable humor and wit . . . and the first person to ever leave a comment on this blog. Together, they make a ravishingly beautiful pair, driven by their pure hearts, their love for each other, and their love for Bahá'u'lláh.

I am thrilled for this couple and the future they will bring together. Here's to the big wedding day!

Related Site: Finally Happening

18 May 2007


One of my masksMASKS DECORATE my flat in Mumbai. Collected during travels in Asia, these works of art teach me much about the diversity of people and cultural achievement. has written about my mask indulgence. Read about it on “A World of Masks” and “Decorating with Masks”.

13 May 2007

Mother's Day

Happy Mother's Day!

ON THE OCCASION of Mother's Day, I share with you my thoughts about female fortitude in an essay I wrote after undergoing minor surgery two years ago. I thought you would enjoy reading it with today's celebration of womanhood.

Related Site: Female Fortitude

06 May 2007

Viral marketing: 
Samsung Mobile, “Millimetres Matter”

“Millimetres Matter”
Link reference:

THE VIRAL Factory has done a spectacular job with “Millimetres Matter”, a viral video demonstrating the slimness of Samsung Mobile's Ultra Edition II handsets. Directed by Richard de Aragues, the just-released ad shows a microscopic pie fight with insects, shot at high speed and brilliantly edited. Strauss' “Blue Danube” provides the graceful music to this ballet of a fight.

The ad is posted on YouTube and provides a link to Watch out, though: this site quickly redirects you to Samsung Mobile Europe's Samsung Mobile Web site, where nothing suggests the viral campaign at all!


  • Agency: The Viral Factory, London

  • Creative: The Viral Factory

  • Production Co: Mad Cow Films, London

  • Director: Richard de Aragues & Steve Downer

  • Producer: Jonas Blanchard & Nicholas Unsworth

  • Editor: Rick Waller

  • DOP: Steve Downer

  • Post Facility: Rushes

  • Telecine Artist: Simone Grattarola

  • VFX Artists: Brian Carbin, Richie White, Paul Hannaford, Emir Hasham, Matt Jackson

  • After Effects: Brad Le Riche

For the love of corniks

A bag of cornsI AM RELISHING the last few grams of corniks, about to say goodbye to the only genuine Philippine snack that I can have in India. I bought the crunchy corn snack by the bag during my recent travel to Manila, hoping it could last until my next home visit. Alas, it is such an addicting and delicious break from the masala-infused snacks of India, that those three bags are gone in sixty seconds.

Toasted in garlic and drizzled with salt, corniks is a truly riveting Philippine snack that ranks with Magnolia Popsicle, Choc-Nut chocolate bars, banana cue, and halo-halo as amongst the best loved childhood favorites for most Filipinos—and amongst their top all-time sinful indulgences. I have no idea where the name corniks stems from; obviously, it is a take-off from “corn”.

My Indian friends and colleagues never had the chance to try my bags of corniks. I am not sure they would enjoy the snack anyway. Last week, I discovered two staple Philippine vegetables—kangkong and pechay—being sold as specialty foods in HyperCity. I was so thrilled at the discovery that I sent an SMS to a former colleague in HyperCity.

“Thanks for carrying these vegetables! I will be their biggest consumer in India!”

What she said made me laugh. She replied, “And probably the only one.”

Related Sites:
Corny Snacks, Garlicky Corniks, India's First Hypermarket Opens

05 May 2007

FOCAL POINT : Cyrus Parvini, “The Promise of World Peace: A Bahá'í Perspective”

Preview of the 30-minute documentary film
Link reference:

FOR BAHÁ’ÍS, global peace is not just an achievable goal, no matter how long it takes to reach it: it is the inevitable fact of God's Will for humanity and represents the next stage in the continuing social and spiritual evolution of the planet.

A new documentary film, “The Promise of World Peace: A Bahá’í Perspective”, evinces this belief through a well-produced dialogue of historical facts, interviews, and actual footage. On center stage is a brilliant portrait of the Bahá’ís and their continuing efforts in promoting a just and peaceful world in these days of conflict. The documentary is produced and directed by Cyrus Parvini in association with Clear Sky Pictures, an award-winning, non-Bahá’í film producing company in Portland, Oregon, USA.

Related Sites: Radiant Century Productions, Statement by the Universal House of Justice on the Promise of World Peace

03 May 2007

FOCAL POINT : Annette Hodermann, Potter

Annette Hoderman's workGERMAN POTTER ANNETTE HODERMANN (b.1960) has launched her Web site showcasing her works in pottery. Based in Töpferhof
near Hamburg, the artist draws her inspiration from the natural patterns of the verdant and rocky hills, brilliant skies, and aquamarine seas. The forms ranges from the austere with a hint of Bauhaus to the fantastic spiked with a sudden sense of curvilinear drama.

Annette also creates a range of ceramic décor for home and garden, and provides workshops for children. See her collections on Pottery in Töpferhof (the site is in German).

02 May 2007

The Bahá’í Temple in North America

THE BAHÁ'Í House of Worship in North America has just been voted as one of the the Seven Wonders of Illinois.

Dedicated in 1953, the Temple in Wilmette is one of eight temples around the world, built as gathering places of prayer and meditation for people of all faiths.

Related Story: The Bahá’í Temple in India

29 April 2007

Star wars

They changed
They changed at Cadbury Junction, Mumbai.

LOOK UP in the sky! It's a bird! It's a plane, it's . . . well, entertainment in the open air.

In the past few weeks, Indian airlines are slugging each other out in cheeky billboard advertising in Mumbai. I look forward to seeing change in the other airlines as well. And there is a lot of them in India.

They all changed
They insist that they changed.

Related Site: Jet, Kingfisher Fight in the Open

21 April 2007

Festival of Ridván

FOR TWELVE days (21 April-2 May), Bahá’ís around the world commemorate the commencement of Bahá'u'lláh´s prophethood during the “Most Great Festival” of Riḑván. It is the holiest of all Bahá'í festivals, named after the Garden of Ridván (Persian for “paradise”) located by the Tigris River outside Baghdad where Bahá'u'lláh stayed for twelve days. (The garden no longer exists; in its place is a large medical teaching hospital.)

The twelve-day period was the time after the Ottoman Empire exiled Bahá'u'lláh from Baghdad and before He began His momentous journey to Constantinople (now Istanbul). This was the time when He announced to His followers that He was the messianic figure of He whom God shall make manifest whose coming had been foretold by the Báb.

From the Writings of Bahá'u'lláh come the following passage:

Say: This is the Paradise on whose foliage the wine of utterance hath imprinted the testimony: “He that was hidden from the eyes of men is revealed, girded with sovereignty and power!” This is the Paradise, the rustling of whose leaves proclaims: “O ye that inhabit the heavens and the earth! There hath appeared what hath never previously appeared. He Who, from everlasting, had concealed His Face from the sight of creation is now come.” From the whispering breeze that wafteth amidst its branches there cometh the cry: “He Who is the sovereign Lord of all is made manifest. The Kingdom is God's,” while from its streaming waters can be heard the murmur: “All eyes are gladdened, for He Whom none hath beheld, Whose secret no one hath discovered, hath lifted the veil of glory, and uncovered the countenance of Beauty.”

Related site: Online greeting by the New York Bahá'ís

TRAVEL TALES : Time to leave Manila

Sunset at Manila Bay
Sunset at Manila Bay.

IT WAS time to part ways. Bembem and Neha flew back to Mumbai this afternoon, while I stayed behind to join the family this weekend.

The whirlwind visit captured the best and worst of daily life in Manila. In so many ways, it celebrated the flamboyant artistry and ingenuous craftsmanship of the Filipinos—whether in the the colors of the jeepney and the GK Village along the river, the textures of the Intramuros mansions and the baskets of Quiapo, the rhythms of the airport musicians and the pedicab driver, or the forms of the capiz and the skyscrapers of Makati City.

Hopefully, my Indian colleagues gained enough insights in creativity to share with others back in Mumbai. In the meantime, I need to gorge on Chowking noodle soup and my sister's sinigang na baboy.

Past Post: Oh, Makati, Oh!

TRAVEL TALES : Oh, Makati, oh!

Makati skyline at noon
Makati skyline at noon.

AFTER FOUR days, the Indian ladies needed to have the genuine Indian meal. I brought them to Bollywood, a desi restaurant within Ayala Center in Makati City.

Bembem and Neha in Bollywood Restaurant
Desi food at Bollywood Restaurant in Greenbelt 3.

Greenbelt 3.

Yes, Makati, the bustling financial hub of the Philippines. This is that fiercely independent city whose Central Business District is aspired to by some cities but whose politics lead others to dismiss it as “Republic of Makati”. Its towering buildings loom above Ayala Avenue, where over a million Manileños do their business every day: trading fast, talking fast, walking smart, dressing smart, dining, wining, entertaining, getting entertained, getting recognized, recognizing others.

I let Bembem and Neha roam the pedestrian sky bridges connecting the malls of Glorietta and Greenbelt shopping centers. The malls contain the greatest concentration of shopping and entertainment destinations in the Philippines, from SM and Rustan’s Department Stores to Prada and TGIF. Also notable is the lush Greenbelt Park under the sky bridges: it is a verdant break from the concrete jungles of the city. Next to it is the ultra-chic Ayala Museum, recently renovated and housing the famed Dioramas of Philippine History and works by Fernando Amorsolo, the country's first National Artist for painting.

Sky bridge at Greenbelt
Sky bridge at Greenbelt.

Greenbelt Park
Greenbelt Park.

Ayala Museum
Ayala Museum.

Glorietta crowd
Glorietta crowd.

Towards the evening, I left the ladies behind to attend a meeting with members of the Visual Merchandising Association of the Philippines. In case they got lost in the heavy pedestrian traffic of the malls, either of the two of them could always call me on the mobile phone.

Or both of them could simply sit on those fashionable benches until the crowd disappears in the wee hours of the morning . . . and then I could find them!

Officers and some members of the Visual Merchandising Association of the Philippines
Officers and some members of the Visual Merchandising Association of the Philippines.

Greenbelt at night
Greenbelt at night.

Glorietta at night
Glorietta at night.

Makati skyline at dusk
Makati skyline at dusk.

Past Post: Down South
Next Post: Time to Go

20 April 2007

TRAVEL TALES : Down south in Manila

Driving along South Luzon Expressway towards the south
Driving along South Luzon Expressway towards the south

ESCAPING THE heat of metropolis, we drove in the morning towards the southern cities of Metro Manila. Once notoriously billed as home of the maximum security National Bilibid Prison, the south is now the vibrant alternative to the urban chaos of the metropolis. Swanky residential communities, two of the best planned commercial centers in the country, and the biggest country club in Southeast Asia dot the gentle rolling hills, all veiled by the placid breezes of neighboring Manila Bay and Laguna Lake.

At the epicenter of these neighborhoods is Alabang, the glamorous, boldly stylish trailblazer of the lot. Much of its allure comes from Alabang Town Center, which groups five shopping zones around a central open-air plaza. This breezy establishment houses high-street shops, nightspots, outdoor cafés, and the world-class Rustan’s Department Store.

Alabang Town Center
Alabang Town Center

Driving along South Luzon Expressway towards the south

Driving along South Luzon Expressway towards the south

An added treat is the parade of people: its pavilions and restaurants are filled with alarmingly good-looking Filipinos! I chanced upon my high school batch mate Nina Saldaña, who was with her peppy daughter Reb. She gave me a hard time for not advising her and the rest of the batch of my presence in town, but I promised to see them the next time I come home.

Next to the Town Center is the Ayala Alabang Village, a sprawling residential community. Opened in 1981, this hilly village continues to attract style-conscious Manileños and expatriates. To see why, enter through the strict security gates and drive through the tree-lined, multi-lane Acacia and Madrigal Avenues, along whose lengths stand some of the prettiest houses in the metropolis.

This is where home is. It felt so good to be back there this morning.

Acacia Avenue, just outside our house
Acacia Avenue, just outside our house

My erstwhile bedroom, still intact!
My erstwhile bedroom, still intact!

Past Post: Walking by the Baywalk
Next Post: Oh, Makati, Oh!

Related Site: Southbound Blogazine, The TIC Blog

TRAVEL TALES : Walking by the Baywalk in Manila

Calesa passing by Plaza Rajah Sulayman in front of Manila Baywalk
Calesa passing by Plaza Rajah Sulayman in front of Manila Baywalk.

THE DAY ended with a calesa ride along Roxas Boulevard and a midnight stroll down Manila Baywalk, the seaside promenade on the boulevard buzzing with nocturnal fun, frolic, and food.

Launched a few years ago, Manila Baywalk is an initiative by the Manila city government to capitalize on the scenic boulevard as a venue for social and cultural activities. The two-kilometer-long area used to be an unlit hangout of prostitutes, petty criminals, and brave young lovers kissing in the shadows and stench of Manila Bay. The hard-edged low life has given way to rock and pop bands, mime performers, caricaturists, cotton-candy sellers, flower stands, food stalls, open cafés and restaurants . . . and throngs of Manileños of all ages eager to see and be seen at night.

Mime performer at Manila Baywalk
Mime performer at Manila Baywalk.

One of numerous live bands performing every night
One of numerous live bands performing every night.

We sat down to listen to a band of four curvaceous Filipinas who greeted us in Hindi with an impressive “namaste”. They looked very pretty in their skimpy red skirts, and they harmonized very well on English pop songs I have not heard before. One singer seemed eternally confused with her dance steps, but it was delightful to see her confused on stage.

So many places to sitAs we continued our walk towards the hotel, I observed how the young and the old sat together, shared food, posed for pictures, sang along, laughed along—even at midnight! I realized how strong family ties continue to exist in this highly urbanized city. It was a refreshing thought. Manila Baywalk is proof of moral leadership in the Philippines; along with it are endless possibilities for meaningful community lives.

Frolic and friendship at the Baywalk
Frolic and friendship at the Baywalk.

The view of Baywalk from CCP Complex
The view of Manila Baywalk from CCP Complex.

Past Post: The Philippines Under the Bridge
Next Post: Down South