Monday, October 27, 2008

San Francisco, heaven on earth

San Francisco is small, quaint, lovable, unusual, friendly, happy, hilly, sunny (well, I missed the famous fog!).

I lost myself in the trams and cable cars, the cruise around the Alcratraz and Capt Nemo's introduction to the prisoners, the huge Petco petshop, the ride up and down the Golden Gate bridge, the undersea aquarium where I stroked a leopard shark behind his dorsal fin and similarly touched a couple of bat rays, and the wharf, the wharf, the wharf, where the seals barked and the gulls cried, and the clam chowder said to Oliver's granddaughter, "of course you can have some more".

I found myself in the Muir Woods, where the tallest and oldest living creatures in the world (the magnificient 2000 year old redwoood sequioas) wrap you up in a woody leafy herbal scent as the words of David Wagoner's "Lost" bring you back up to earth while the markets plummet further.

Stand still.
The trees ahead and bushes beside you
Are not lost.
Wherever you are is called Here,
And you must treat it as a powerful stranger,
Must ask permission to know it and be known.
The forest breathes.
Listen. It answers,
I have made this place around you.
If you leave it, you may come back again, saying Here.
No two trees are the same to Raven.
No two branches are the same to Wren.
If what a tree or a bush does is lost on you,

You are surely lost.
Stand still. The forest knows
Where you are. You must let it find you.

The purpose of my trip was professional. Hosting a client to meet the Chairman/CEO of IPG for breakfast, followed by a meeting and dinner with 25 agency heads from around the world, was a privilege in itself. However, the outcome of the trip is thankfully personal. I had been talking to the lady in the mirror for the past few months, telling her that I was not happy with the distance growing between her, and the image peeping out of the business pages much too often. She told me that I was being sent to San Francisco for a reason......

Within thirty minutes of landing at the airport, I found myself standing before the relics of St Francis of Assisi, the patron saint of animals, after whom the city was named in 1857 - a year after Italian and Spanish settlers in search of gold set up the chapel there, now the National Shrine on Columbus Ave.

A solemn simple church, not quite as beautiful or imposing as the 12th century basilica in Assisi, but enough to give me some much needed moments of peace and enlightenment. For those who don't know, St Francis of Assisi was a rich merchant's son who gave up a life of wealth and fun to live au naturel in the forests. Besides founding the Franciscan order, he was well known for his ability to communicate with animals and his love for all God's creations. On the left is a mural of the saint with the Gubbio wolf, whom he convinced to give up his ferocious ways and live in peace among the villagers of Assisi. Our Torda hospital was founded on October 4, his feast day, and is dedicated to him. I bought a parchment of his famed Canticle of the Creatures, where he tells the Sun, moon, water, fire, earth how much he appreciates them.

His sermon to the birds is depicted in the mural on the right.
My little sisters, the birds, much indebted are you unto God, your creator, and always in every place you ought to praise him, that he has given you liberty to fly about everywhere, and has also given you double and triple raiment; moreover he preserved your seed in the ark of Noah, that your race might not perish out of the world; still more are you beholden to him for the element of the air which he has appointed for you; beyond all this, you sow not, neither do you reap; and God feeds you, and gives you the streams and fountains for your drink; the mountains and valleys for your refuge and the high trees whereon to make your nests; and because you know not how to spin or sow, God clothes you, you and your children; wherefore your creator loves you much, seeing that he has bestowed on you so many benefits; and therefore, my little sisters, beware of the sin of ingratitude, and study always to give praises unto God.

Let me now leave you with his famous prayer sung by Sinead O'Connor in this version.

Wednesday, October 08, 2008

A morning to remember

Driving past the Bandra Talab this morning, I encountered a sight that stirred my soul as much as it chilled my stomach. A bespectacled young gentleman, dressed in a checked blue shirt and navy slacks was striding along the footpath, the blue water and green palms offering a picturesque backdrop to his confident yuppie stride. He looked like any young executive on his way to work, minus a briefcase.

His left arm was severed a few inches above the wrist.

As he swung his arms unaffectedly back and forth, a crisp white bandage at the end of the left stump (just above where a hand should have been) stood out in stark contrast to the rest of his dark blue draped persona. I looked down at my own two hands. This Sunday was celebrated as thanksgiving Sunday, and the sermon at mass was about counting one's blessings instead of sheep, as a good cure for insomnia. I do not suffer from insomnia, and I have hands that can write, play, chop, stir, massage, sew, and sometimes heal. Thank you God.

Later this morning, I went over to the Aaren Initiative office in Worli to participate in the traditional Dussera puja and blessing of all the equipment. An office full of bright young people, dressed in traditional dark blue, shared in the chanting and clapping while the arti was performed in a room filled with the sweet scent of camphor and incense, and warmed with the gentle glow of the burning oil. As I silently offered up prayers of my own for this resilient team who have displayed so much maturity and strength of character during turbulent times, just like the Pandava princes, I realised that despite the stock market crashing and the rupee getting thrashed, I really do have much to thank God for.

Lunch was with an old friend and a plate full of tisrios. We talked about his Mudhol hounds. After which I bought a skirt, a pair of trousers, a t-shirt and a blouse at Marks and Spencer. JLT.

I came back to office and sanctioned a midterm increment for 73 people, something that's never been done in the Lintas group for the past ten years at least. When you are grateful, you should show it. And share it.

Happy Dussera, readers, here's wishing you reclaim your kingdom as joyously as I did mine.