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29 February 2008

Festival of Ayyám-i-Há

BAHÁ'ÍS ARE now celebrating the Festival of Ayyám-i-Há (“Days of Há”). These are the days between 26 February and 1 March that lead to the holy 21-day period of fasting. It is the time of the year when Bahá'ís celebrate God and His oneness with the joyfulness of gif-giving, merriment, fellowship, and hospitality. In spirit, the festival is not too different from Christmas.

Joyous Ayyám-i-Há to everyone!

28 February 2008

By the book

SO MUCH has already been written on two compelling facts about this year's Oscar awards: most nominations being dark-themed and acting awards going to non-Americans. But not much has been told about the fact that several nominations belong to adaptations of fiction books. There's “Oil” by Upton Sinclair (retitled “There Will be Blood”), “Atonement” by Ian McEwan, and “No Country for Old Men” by Cormac McCarthy. Toss in Khaled Hosseini's “The Kite Runner” and Robert Ludlum's “The Bourne Ultimatum” also, although they failed to win as much nominations at the other three.

Several Best Picture winners in the past 80 years of the Academy Award history originated from short stories (Mary Orr's “All About Eve” in 1950 and FX Toole's “Million Dollar Baby” in 2004) and plays (Shakespeare's “Hamlet” in 1948 and Ebb and Kander's “Chicago” in 2002). Rarely have they come from novels. Over the last two decades, only four Best Picture winners began as fiction books: Isak Dinesen's “Out of Africa” (1985), Michael Ondaatje's “The English Patient” (1996), Thomas Harris' “The Silence of the Lambs” (1991), and JR Tolkien's “The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King” (2003). The blog “Strange Culture” lists statistics of the past ten years, noting that only 16 of 50 best picture nominees are fiction adaptations.

I don't claim to be an avid Oscar buff, but the literary stats above are reason enough for me to celebrate this year's Oscars—the year a writer's strike almost crippled the “Golden Boy”!

22 February 2008

EPITAPH : Remembering Mama

Mama in her youthMAMA PASSED away ten years ago today. What she had bequeathed to us, her eleven children, continue to bind us together to this day: her love for Bahá'u'lláh and the teachings of His Faith, a passion for laughter, and an indelible devotion to family. Even in the final, painful hours of her life, the sense of duty to her children never failed. She hung on until her youngest grandchild Zayca celebrated her first birthday in January that year. And no matter how ravaged the diabetes-ridden body was, the spirit was solid: she died gracefully, peacefully in her sleep three weeks later.

I join the rest of my family in remembering our mother, Zaida Linda Mijares Ancheta (1933-1998), on the tenth anniversary of her passing, with the following words from the Bahá'í scriptures.

O Son of Justice! Whither can a lover go but to the land of his beloved? and what seeker findeth rest away from his heart’s desire? To the true lover reunion is life, and separation is death. His breast is void of patience and his heart hath no peace. A myriad lives he would forsake to hasten to the abode of his beloved.
Source: Bahá'u'lláh, “The Hidden Words of Bahá'u'lláh”

13 February 2008

Discovering sinigang in India


Prawn sinigang
Image source: Paul Ancheta

ONE OF the best things about Spencer's Hyper is discovering food ingredients that would have been extremely difficult to find in India. Imagine my joy of finally getting the right ingredients for sinigang, my all-time favorite Philippine recipe, after two years of living in India! I had tried Philippine dishes in two Asian restaurants in Mumbai and Bangalore, but they were too spicy for Filipino taste buds.

Sinigang requires a myriad of vegetables and meats (pork, fish, prawn, or shrimp) stewed in sour broth. In Spencer's, I found organically-grown radish, onions, tomatoes, pumpkin (to replace taro or yam which was not available), string beans, spinach (to replace kangkong), and tamarind—all staple ingredients in this much-loved dish. In the absence of pork, I used huge prawns which were ridiculously cheap at 50 rupees (50 pesos or 1 dollar) apiece.

What a delight to cook my first honest-to-goodness Filipino dish in India!

11 February 2008

India's largest Spencer's Hyper unveiled

Visual merchandising at Spencer's Hyper, Kolkata, India
Designed by Paul Ancheta, Haimanti Upadhyaya, & Nilanjon Ganguly
Image source: Paul Ancheta

FINALLY, WE opened it: the largest Spencer's hypermarket in India. After months of intense preparation, the doors of what is also Kolkata's first-ever Spencer's Hyper opened to the public at the glitzy South City Mall on 1 February 2008. It has been a blast since then, with footfalls and bill conversions exceeding anything that the company has ever done (or seen) before on a first-week run. This is easily its strongest store launch ever.

The Bengalis have not since anything like this before: 72,000 swanky square feet of electronics, appliances, music, books, apparel, home decor and commodities, sports goods, furniture, fruits, vegetables, staples, and grocery items under one tall roof. The products all come from various parts of the world, and they all scream for value for money. Buttressed by a clever marketing campaign around the tag line “Taste the World”, streams of shoppers lapped it all up. There is also the “hometown” factor: Spencer's Retail is owned by the Kolkata-based RPG Group, and opening its first hypermarket in the city is almost a homecoming event. And fellow citizens are loving them back.

For three weeks prior to the opening, I joined my team of three diligent and disciplined visual merchandisers in working the aisles, battling vendors and deadlines to create globally themed displays to match the international look and feel of the store. Initially, we thought we would not make the launch date, as the goods were not fully available until the week of store opening. Thankfully, the effervescence of the operations and merchandising teams infected us. The setups went smoothly, and they were fun.

Once during the opening day, I peered into a shopping cart queued at the cash registers. It contained a Levi's T-shirt, jars of Chinese ingredients, and an English-language cookbook on top of sundry pieces of grocery. We did it. We made the shopper “taste the world”!

Related Site: Spencer's Retail Web Site, Grocery Shopping Can be Fun!

10 February 2008

Chinese New Year

NEW YEAR festivities are now being celebrated by Chinese communities around the world. The festival—the most important in the Chinese calendar—runs for fifteen days starting 7 February 2008. This is the year of the rat; those born in the rat years are said to be leaders and conquerors.

I greeted my colleagues this weekend with an SMS message: “Gong xi fat cha! (Read as Kong hei fat choy!) May the new Chinese year of the rat be cheesy and anything but mousy for you and your loved ones. Rattily, Paul”

Some of the replies I got were not cheesy, but they were cheeky . . . and fun to read!

#1: “Chank chu. Read as Thank u.”

#2: “Same to you. Read as Same to you.”

#3: “Happy new year Jerry!”

#4: “I don't know how you would say it in Chinese but have a great year!”

#5: “Thanks and wish you the same. Cheeeeeese through the year!!”

To all of you, san nin faai lok (happy new year!)! Kung hei fat choy (Congratulations and be prosperous)!

06 February 2008

FOCAL POINT : Marie Phillips, “Gods Behaving Badly”

Gods Behaving Badly by Michelle PhillipsI'VE NEVER laughed this hard while reading Greek mythology! In her first novel “Gods Behaving Badly”, London-bred Michelle Phillips (b.1976) brings together ten Olympian gods to exist in dingy circumstances in modern-day north London. And being gods, they also interfere with the lives of humans—in this case, a nondescript engineer in a star-crossed love affair with a meek house cleaner. With egos the size of the universe and clout the size of an atom, the immortals are forced to eke out a living and struggle to revive their ancient vainglories while getting the star-crossed lovers back in each other's arms. With hilarious results, Ms Phillips succeeds in talking about man’s mortality and blind faith without moralizing. Watch for that colorful episode about a trip to the underworld.

See more about “Gods Behaving Badly”.