the HooOoooOOoOOHHHH shredded through delhi’s summer heat, it shattered the afternoon and splintered into me. it screeched into my ears and ripped right under my skin. that’s the DEVIL, my grandmother said walking in.
my cousin played me the song that blew me when i was ten. he was thirteen and unquestionably the cool one. i was merely good, i read books all the time. he’d flown in from mumbai after jusssst grazing past the ninth standard and he had a walkman plugged into his ears 24x7. he ate with it on and went to sleep with it on and woke up with it on and from what i could make out, he even bathed with it on. he never, ever, let me touch it. he had a bunch of tapes in his suitcase but he played only two. over and over and over again. off the wall and thriller in a loop. he’d be sprawled on his stomach in the veranda, picking at the grass, with his chin in his other hand, eyes glazed over. every half and hour or so, he’d mechanically turn on his back, pick up his walkman, flip the tape, glance at me, hit play and roll over.
i was burning up by day three. will you let me listen, i finally asked him. he thought about it for a minute. ok, but not on my walkman. ok…i said, a little disappointed. so he took out the tape and put it in the recorder, he maxed the volume and pressed play.
my grandmother was right. i was never the same after listening to michael jackson. he put the devil in me. my mother put her foot down when she saw the poster up above my bed. it had mj clutching his crotch as his body spasmed into an orgasm that had him up on the tips of his toes.
THAT comes OFF, she said her eyes as hard as steel.
don’t touch it, i said, looking her in the eyes, my voice colder than steel.
when i was fourteen, i had a friend who had cable and watched mtv. cable tv was my big carrot for ‘doing my best’ in the tenth boards. it pressed down on me like a numbing heat wave the month before the exams began. dangerous was out and i was DYING for cable! my friend swore to call me the minute she saw it on tv. she lived nine floors above and one afternoon, just when my dad had got the car out to take me to math tuitions, she called.
i dropped the phone, dropped my bag, SLAMMED the door and RAN. i simply FLEW up nine floors. and i crashed through her front door…bang into the middle of black or white. i was no use in math that afternoon, and i floated through the next 45 days until i got cable tv.
the summer i was twenty, the one thing i knew was that i didn’t want to study for an mba. so i got a job at air fm, playing songs on the radio instead. i watched mtv and channel v the whole day long and twice a week i’d head to the station. the first time i played mj to chennai was a religious experience for me. this was my god, and by god, i was going to make the world listen. i began with ‘the way you make me feel’ (it’s my favourite too, AGG) and i played every mj song i’d managed to lay my hands on through the next hour and a half. i didn’t say a word except, good evening chennai, this is michael jackson. i just spliced one song into the other and played until the hour and thirty minutes was up. i almost got sacked for skipping all the ads and all the call ins. but the programming chief liked me i think. you’re a freak, he said, and let me go with a warning. i felt like a goddess that day. the next afternoon i went and shaved my head. my mother still hasn’t got over it.
over the last decade or so, i’ve gotten used to not having mj around. only the hawaiian shack plays him these days. he pops up in the newspapers every once in awhile. he’s bankrupt, he’s run away from america, his nose has fallen off, he’s dangling his baby from a balcony, he’s a freak, a changeling, a demon who plays sex games with children, he’s recording with will.i.am. when you see him on tv, he’s wearing a mask and behind it peter pan’s been irreparably broken.
he’s made quite a come back in the newspapers and on tv over the last couple of days. michael jackson’s dead they screamed and started beaming a kaleidoscope of him. i keep flipping until i reach a channel that’s playing the videos and shutting up about what happened and whether he’s bigger than elvis or not. like the last few minutes of cinema paradiso, all the mj that’s been censored over the last decade goes on in a loop. it’s tragic…but it’s magic, that he’s dead but not yet.
i was watching ‘dirty diana’ just now and when the crowd roared back at him and my heart wHoomPHed in response, i realized something – that an era fed off this body in the flimsy white shirt, that rises up on its toes, arms spread wide, offering itself like a sacrifice to the spotlight. that we’d fed off everything. from his music to his tragedies and the giant comedy of his life. he is michael jackson and he is ours to kill, or to hold up and to throw down and kick into the mud and pick up again for having pulled off a classic celebrity exit. it’s the drugs, it’s the pressure, it’s mental illness, it’s the doctor…it’s true, he’s dead and for a whole week again, i’m sure he’ll be BIG.
in the end, it’s dying that’s brought him back to life for all the freaks. the ones that love him, the ones that laugh at him, that condemn him, that use him, that cry and pray for him, and me. he belonged to nobody. he belonged to everybody. and we all know that never ends well.
thirty, female, single, living in mumbai. i drink copious cups of filter coffee, collect the mandatory festival packs of chocolate, negotiate with the cats for a corner of the couch by the window and squash in between a pile of books, my lap top and a bowl of pop corn. then i have a long think about life. i get paid to do this. my remaining time i spend acquiring the life experience necessary to mastermind my mid life crisis. this i do not get paid to do, and can therefore do absolute justice to.