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28 October 2009

Barbra's record

YOU MAY have heard that Barbra Streisand made history this month with her latest album, Love Is the Answer. She topped the album charts in the US and the UK, shocking industry observers who predicted tough battle for #1 between new releases by the younger Mariah Carey and the much younger band Paramore. (To make things more relevant, Madonna's new album also showed up near the top of those charts.)

By topping the charts, Ms. Streisand—who remains the female singer with the most #1 albums—created records as the only female artist with #1 albums in each of the past five decades, and as the female artist with the longest span of #1 albums. This enhances the legend of Ms. Streisand, as I'm not sure if this feat can be repeated again by any other female singer in our generation.

Now comes the news that Love Is the Answer debuts this week on Billboard Top Jazz Albums at #2! I'm not sure if Ms. Streisand has ever shown up on jazz charts during her 47-year career, but this certainly becomes the legendary pop singer's highest jazz-charting album ever. She's not really known as a jazz artist (cabaret singer? lounge diva, perhaps?), but I do recall a Playboy magazine poll back in the late 70s, and her name showed up on "favorite jazz vocalist" list.

Love Is the Answer has become Barbra Streisand's best received album since 1985's award-winning The Broadway Album. Critics all agree on one thing: Love Is the Answer sparkles with the shimmering finesse of a glorious singing voice. I got my copy last week, on the eve of my overseas travel, and I agree with what the critics have assessed. I'll post up my further thoughts on the album when I return next week.

Congratulations, Ms. Streisand! Here's seeing you collect your next Grammy Award in February!

"Love Is the Answer" TV commercial
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27 October 2009

Pluto (2006-2009)

Image source: Paul Ancheta at Flickr

IT'S BEEN a month since Pluto's death. The day he left—1 October—ended a sad, tragic week in familiar places: the floods in my hometown Manila, the tsunami in Samoa (home of the Baha'i Temple of the Pacific), the earthquake in Sumatra. The circumstances weren't easy. They weren't welcome anytime.

Pluto died of complications from acute renal failure, which I learned to be a genetic disease common to most Persian cats. The illness was swift: he was diagnosed two weeks before his death, and he spent the last 15 days of his life hanging onto intravenous treatment. Other complications arose, including inability to pass urine, and in the end, he was simply too weak to carry on.

He lived a short life (3 years and 2 months), but the delightful moments with him were endless. He was the only living creature that literally shared my bed in India, watching me as I slept, him crouched on my pillow, and saw me wake up, him tugging at my hair, a childhood habit he never outgrew ever since that night I brought him home from Pune, a curious two-month-old bundle of energy. He was a silent witness to my life in India, having been there when I moved houses in Mumbai, relocated to Kolkata, hosted gatherings in my flats, and fought with service providers on the phone!

It's tough to connect the Pluto of those heart-wrenching dying hours with the Pluto that brightened my days and nights in India. The only thing that remained constant was the thick, golden, furry coat of silky, life-infused Persian cat hair.

This is the Pluto I'll always remember.

Related Sites: Pluto comes home | Pluto turns 1 | Pluto turns 2

20 October 2009

Sad About Kolkata: 
How I survived BSNL

AFTER 32 days of hounding BSNL (Bharat Sanchar Nigam Ltd., supposedly India's top telecommunications company), I got my Internet broadband service back at home. What I went through has been the most ridiculous carousel of office referrals that I've ever encountered in the service industry in my entire life. It's not enough that I could all each of them only through a BSNL land line (I use Airtel and my office uses Tata). But the worst part is that none of these officers could give me the name of the person directly responsible for customer care--hence, the carousel!

The service was disrupted on 19 September, and I immediately contacted the Customer Care Desk. For a while I called this the "Customer Wear and Tear Desk" as the agents neither spoke English nor offered any satisfying resolution to my plight as a customer. In fact, at one point, a female agent simply hung the phone while I was speaking. She probably thought I was over-acting with my endless patter.

After two weeks, I learned why my service was cut: there had been an underground cable problem. And for this, I had to wait until after the Durga Puja holiday season (read: one week) for servicemen to attend to me. What they didn't tell me wast that after this celebration of the goddess Durga, there was another weekend holiday that involves another goddess, which meant I had to wait for yet another week.

The cable was finally restored this week, and I finally got back my Internet (and my sanity) on Tuesday evening.

In living all these years in Kolkata, I've found that such customer care ineptitude is common in most service providers based in this city. It took me two weeks to get the Godrej refrigerator team to inspect my appliance, and one month for my car to get delivered after payment was received. It's sad to see that the Bengalis, who I think have the most innovative minds in India, have service workers who cannot innovate processes that will deliver rewarding results in customer care.