Wednesday, August 22, 2018

Marcia Barrett - From stardom of Boney M to triumph over cancer

Photo courtesy: BBC
Remember the songs, Daddy Cool, Rasputin, Belast, Ma Baker, Bahama Mama .... ? Yes, who can forget Marcia Barrett, the world famous lead singer of the 1970s disco band Boney M?

The latest episode of Outlook Weekend on BBC World Service -- 'The Making of a Disco Star' -- was on the life of Marcia.

I grew up listening to Boney M during my school and college days (I am sure many of you have too); and last Saturday, it was so enjoyable listening to Marcia talk to the programme presenter, Emily Webb.

Marcia was born in Trinidad in 1948, and as a child, she moved along with her mother to London, as part of the "Windrush generation" (the people who migrated from the Caribbeans to the UK between 1948 and 1971).

Marcia speaks about the culture shocks during her formative years in England, how she discovered she was pregnant when she was in school, how her life changed as she entered the music scene, her life with Boney M, and then about her superlative world of stardom as the band became a household name across the world.

Photo courtesy:
The band was formed in Germany in 1975 by people who were looking for singers and dancers from the Caribbean. It was initially called Boney, and then an M was added to it. No one really knew what M stood for. Macia says, "It could be music, it could be magic, it could be Marcia! ... (she laughs)."

At the peak of her career, she had to often leave her son and mother back home in London, and those were hard days for all of them. "You can't be the breadwinner and be there at the same time," she says. 

After the group split, one would think, it would have been easy for Marcia to find a new career. But in spite of all she achieved, life as a singer wasn't easy.

Then her fight with multiple attacks of cancer which was first detected in 1994. Things got so bad at one point that she had to actually learn to walk again!

She says it was her optimism and faith in recovery that kept her going .... and her husband Marcus. She says there was no one for her, during those days, other than her husband.

Boney M, led by Marcia Barrett,
performing in Bangalore, India, on
March 8, 2008. Photo courtesy: The Hindu
Marcia will be 70 years on October 14. What a life she has had!

Emily asks Marcia: "What is your life like now?" She replies: "O, it's gorgeous."

Emily: "Looking back, is there anything you'll change?"

Marcia: "Not really, not really. I want to carry on... do this as a soloist. But not so hectic. No, no, no. One must not forget, I am not a teenager anymore, even though I look like a teenager (she laughs)."

Emily: The timeless spirit of Marcia Barrett.

You should listen to this 27-minute programme, if you get the time for it. Because she is full of passion, laughter and joy, radiating the indomitable spirit that she is full of, which has helped her sumount the hardships, and reach the pinnacle of musical glory.   

You can listen to the programme here on BBC.

You can listen to the greatest hits of Boney M here on Youtube.

Her autobiography, Forward: My Life With and Without Boney M., is just out, in English as well as in German.

Her official website is:

Friday, August 17, 2018

Atal Bihari Vajpayee - poet, orator, politician, statesman, Prime Minister

Photo courtesy: The Hindu
India is in mourning. The nation lost one of its greatest leaders, Atal Bihari Vajpayee, yesterday evening at 5.05, at the age of 93.

He straddled the Indian political scene for nearly 60 years. He was elected to parliament for the first time in 1957; he was the foreign minister from 1977 to 1979, and later the Prime Minister thrice between 1996 and 2004. In 2005, he retired from all public activities and politics.


One reason why the sense of loss is extremely heavy is because Vajpayee was the type of politician, we all miss today, not just in India but in many other nations. He belonged to a political party, the BJP, which has always been perceived as radically nationalist, sectarian and divisive.

But, he transformed the image of that party, and made it acceptable to a huge majority of people. As a result, not only the BJP came to power, but Vajpayee, leading a coalition of over 20 parties, completed his tenure of five years - the only non-Congress party prime minister ever to do so.


There are multiple reasons he endeared himself to a vast section of people.

He used his deft diplomacy, poetic way with words and arresting oratorical skills to powerful effect turning adversities into strengths, and setback into success.

He was a great consensus builder. And he was a politician last.

He was willing to give respect and space even to his arch political rivals. The way he fought elections without indulging in personal, below-the-belt-level attacks on his competitors is well known. He proved that politics can also be practised by adhering to certain basic human values. There is no need to make it crass and ugly.


There are many anecdotes that illustrate the person Vajpayee was:

When India got its first non-Congress government in 1977 (after 30 years of rule by Congress party), Vajpayee was appointed as the foreign minister. When he entered his office, he found that a photo of the first prime minister Jawaharlal Nehru (of Congress party) had been removed. Evidently, someone thought that it was only appropriate the photo should be removed as the Congress had lost power. But, Vajpayee got the photo back in place.

Here is another one. India embarked on its historic economic liberalisation during Congress rule in 1991. Economist Manmohan Singh was the finance minister. In a parliament debate, Singh faced harsh criticism of his liberalisation policy from the opposition, especially Vajpayee. Soon after, a hurt Singh went up to Prime Minister Narasimha Rao and submitted his resignation. When Vajpayee got to hear about this, he called Singh; and advised that in politics such debates and criticisms should not be taken personally, and urged him to stay in office.

How many politicians today would have such magnanimity.


The five years he was the Prime Minister from 1999 to 2004 was momentous. Some of the significant events during those years were:

  • The rise of India as an Information Technology super power; 
  • The nuclear tests, and how India survived the international sanctions without a scratch
  • Strengthening of India's relations with the US and many other countries
  • Vajpayee's outreach to Pakistan by extending a hand of friendship even though it was fomenting trouble in Kashmir.
  • Kargil war, and Pakistan's defeat
  • Hijack of an Indian Airlines plane, planned in and directed from Pakistan
  • Overthrow of the civilian government by Pak army
  • Pak-sponsored terror attack on India's parliament. 
  • Vajpayee's continued efforts at friendship with Pakistan, by agreeing to a summit with Pak President Gen Musharraf, who had engineered the Kargil war.
  • A host of development schemes for different sections of the people across the country.

In spite of Vajpayee's popularity and good performance, his party BJP lost the 2004 election to the Congress, and Manmohan Singh became the PM.

In 2005, beset with multiple old-age related ailments, he retired from politics and public life.

Vajpayee was, more than anything, a good human being. He had his fair share of successes and setbacks; but there was never any doubt about the spirit and objectives of his actions. He played straight from his heart. A glorious life, of multiple hues, has come to an end.

Rest in Peace.


The news in BBC, The New York Times and The Guardian

"Never Thought I Would Be A Politician, Always Wanted To Be A Poet"

Atal Bihari Vajpayee Wasn’t Jealous, Or Insecure, Says Arun Shourie

Vajpayee's Best Speeches & Poetry

Vajpayee's "Here Comes My Resignation, Mr. Speaker" speech in Parliament

Pokhran II- Atal Bihari Vajpayee's major nuclear initiative

Vajpayee's speech in Parliament after Pokaran Test

Wednesday, August 15, 2018

Reduce pollution with seed flags on Independence Day

Photo courtesy: The Times of India
Today is Independence Day in India. It's 71 years since the British left the subcontinent in 1947. Like in any other country, here too the air is awash with patriotic fervor, with parades, speeches, songs, cultural programmes, etc.

During this time, it is common for many people to buy small and medium-sized national flags. After a couple of days, they just end up in garbage bins. And since they are usually made of plastic, all of that add to the pollution.

Now, a biotechnology engineer in New Delhi, Krithika Saxena, has come up with the idea of flags made of paper which have seeds embedded in them. The obvious intent is that instead of just throwing the flags, you can plant them.

Ever since she spread the word on social media, there has been a huge demand from schools and corporates. She says she has so far sold 14,000 such flags to people in Bengaluru, Hyderabad and Lucknow.

A good, positive step towards reducing the growing pollution around us.

Monday, August 13, 2018

Friends, spouses, parents on hire

Photo courtesy: The New Yorker
Yes, one can get a husband, wife, father, mother, boyfriend or girlfriend on hire .... in Japan.

I didn't know this, until I heard a documentary in the Outlook Weekend programme on BBC World Service. This family rental business is thriving in Japan, where this extraordinary practice of getting a fake relative began in 1990s.

The programme features Yuichi Ishii who runs a company called Family Romance. Over the past nine years, he has been a husband to a hundred women and organised 8,000 fake weddings.

This is a perfectly legal commercial arrangement, and the actors ensure that everything goes off perfectly, with no chance of the impersonation ever being exposed.

At the end of the programme, there is an interview with a mother who hired a father for her little daughter, who was missing her real father since he had been divorced by the mother.

Though this is common in Japan, it's not an easy business: one, the moral issues arising out of living a real life based on a lie, and two, the emotional complications ensuing from the real-fake relationships.

This 30-odd minute programme on BBC World Service is very well made, and is worth listening to.

Later, I did a web search on this amazing phenomenon, and found that there have been articles on this in many publications like The Atlantic, The New Yorker, and The Sydney Morning HeraldThere is also a Wikipedia page on Rental family service.

Saturday, August 11, 2018

Kerala Diary 2 - Ordering food in Hindi

Most people in Kerala (the small state tucked away in the southern tip of the Indian peninsula) speak their local language of Malayalam even if they know English. Many locals might understand Hindi (the most widely spoken language in the country) but they aren't comfortable speaking it. Which means, basically it's Malayalam that's the predominant language of communication in Kerala.

So today evening, at a restaurant in Ernakulam (in central Kerala) when I had to speak in Hindi to order food, I could not help thinking how drastically this state and its people have changed.

Over the few years, there has been a number migrants from the north of the country (who know only Hindi) moving in to Kerala because of increasing job opportunities.

It's only a few months since this waiter in the restaurant, who is from Darjeeling, in West Bengal state, has been in Kerala. He says he can understand Malayalam but not speak fluently. I switched to Hindi when he replied to me in that language.

I spent some time talking to him, a very affable person. And for a moment I wondered if I was in some north Indian city!

I am sure he will soon learn to speak Malayalam, just as many locals, who know only Malayalam, can now speak Hindi very well.

Incidentally, I spotted menu in some small hotels, written in both Malayalam and Hindi.

This shows how a society enriches itself with migration and consequent intermingling of people of diverse backgrounds and skill sets.

Rains abate

It was a relief to see sun shining bright today morning while I travelled by a bus from North Paravur to Ernakulam. News also came in that rains have abated, water levels in dams across the State of Kerala have seen a drop. That's a major consolation.

However, the National Disaster Management Authority of India has warned that there are possibilities of rain in as many as 16 States across the nation in the coming few days as a depression develops over the Bay of Bengal.

Friday, August 10, 2018

Kerala Diary 1 - Raining misery

It's an eerie feeling being in North Paravur - about 120 km north west of Idukki reservoir. The shutters of the Cheruthoni Dam in Idukki (central Kerala) have been opened, following incessant rain, letting out huge quantities of water into Periyar river which is now overflowing into some human habitations.

While grim visuals of the havoc caused by the rain are rolling on the TV screen, here it's mostly only overcast sky and an occasional heavy rain but water seeping into earth.

I have been here since Wednesday night when the clouds opened up unleashing a fury not seen in recent times. I was woken up around 2 am by the sound of the strong force of the downpour. Didn't quite realise then what it had wreaked mainly in north and central Kerala.

Next morning onwards, the only news on local news channels has been the mounting death toll and untold hardship of whoever was in the way of the recklessly gushing torrents of water.

Such has been the downpour across Kerala that shutters of 24 of the 40 dams in the State had to be opened. Twenty two people have lost their lives in the last two days. Idukki area is still witnessing heavy rain.

Tomorrow, I am scheduled to travel down south to Ernakulam, which is closer to areas that have been badly hit. Hopefully, the ferocity of rain would have abated by then, and situation is better.

Sunday, August 5, 2018

Friends and so-called friends on Facebook

Photo courtesy: BBC
In many nations, including India, today (the first Sunday of August) is celebrated as Friendship Day, though the United Nations General Assembly has dedicated every July 30 for celebration of goodwill and affection among people. Not quite sure why different nations celebrate the same day on different dates.

I got a few Happy Friendship Day greetings today. But I saw plenty of them, quite strangely, floating around on social media.

Whenever I think about the word "friends", I wonder if Mark Zuckerberg spoiled that word. Imagine, people having hundreds of friends!


I don't know if there is an exact or true definition of it. But I guess, a friend is someone with whom we don't have any inhibitions in sharing something that is personal; with whom we would open up and show them our personal albums; whom we readily trust; and with whom we have a healthy give-and-take relationship of wise counsel and support.

Can we actually have hundreds of such people as friends? I really don't think so.

According to a Pew Research study in 2014, an average Facebook user has 338 friends. But are they really 'friends'?


Well-known British anthropologist Robin Dunbar made a correlation between the size of our brain and the size of our social group. He then came up with what is called the Dunbar Number which is 150. That is the maximum number of people we can have in our social circle. Our brain simply doesn't allow us to have more than that.

Dunbar also said that these 150 fall in four layers or circles. It is called the Dunbar Layers. At any point of time, the innermost or intimate circle of friends has just five people. The next circle has 10 more; the next another 35; and the last layer of a person's social group has another 100 - altogether making up the total of 150.


Since Zuckerberg is counting everyone in my Facebook contacts as 'friends', I have created a separate List, called Close Friends, in which there are just about 50, who form my friendly social group. Any personal posts are shared only with them. The rest are all acquaintances, colleagues, schoolmates, professional contacts etc.

Sometimes, when I look through my contacts (so-called friends) on Facebook, I find some whom I can barely recollect, who they are, or where I met them. I check the so-called mutual friends. And if I am still clueless, I remove them from my list.

I guess, Robin Dunbar is right. What do you think?