Throughout my childhood, MJ was a colourful bundle of rumours. Being cut off from the outside world, I used to hear from friends who watched videos of him during holidays. He was supposed to be a very popular singer. A popular book in our library, “Guiness Book of World Records” mentioned him for his records and also his donations to charity. When I first saw him, I thought he was a girl. Rumours were always floating when MJ was involved.
Some said that he was black but got a total skin transplant. Some said that he was a eunuch. He apparently went to sleep in an capsule of Oxygen. Others said that he lived with children, monkeys and other animals. When MJ visited India in 96, there were those (now) laughable rumours of Prabhudeva challenging MJ to a dance duel. They also said that girls fainted upon seeing him.
Then Victory James came along. He was from New Zealand and a devotee of MJ. I remember listening to tales of greatness, sympathy and largesse sitting in the last bench. Victory would hum some of his songs and we would listen. I don’t think he was a great singer, but it sounded like music to our ears. I watched a few videos of his on TV when I went home.
When we went to the senior hostel, we had a little more freedom. While the rest of the school was in the Ashram singing bhajans in praise of different gods, we would sneak out and go to internet cafes outside the ashram. The internet cafes used to charge 60 Rupees an hour. The cafe owner was a smart businessman. We were hard to miss, with our white shirts, white pants, and no chappals! He knew how starved we were of any sort of entertainment. He used to store videos of film songs in Hindi, Telugu and English, which included MJ’s videos. We were allotted cabins in the small cafe and given headphones.
The first video I watched was ‘Black or white’. I remember being blown away by it. I watched it about 5 times. The fact that we were watching the songs while our friends were singing bhajans gave the experience a feeling of sinful indulgence. After watching every video, Victory would give us a brief lecture on the many virtues of MJ. So we would watch with tears in our eyes when he said “All I wanna say is that they don’t really care about us”. And with amazement when he implored us to “save the world”. Initially, the idea that we got was that he only sang songs that had some larger altruisitic message. For us, he was a hero. Someone who was fighting a lonely battle for the forgotten and the marginalised. We would learn his songs and hum them in front of our friends, waiting for them to ask what song it was, so that we could say “Michael Jackson” and then narrate the glorious tales that Victory had told us.
After a few years, we got to see reports of other stray incidents. Reports of him being a paedophile, and addicted to painkillers. Victory would have none of it. “All rubbish…. they are just doing it to tarnish his image”, he would say. Gradually, we started sneaking out on our own to watch MJ’s videos. We watched a lot of his earlier songs. They din’t have a social message, but they were pure visual spectacles. Thriller, Bad, Blood on the Dance Floor. We had always seen fat heroes dancing around trees with coquettish heroines. This was something else. We stared open-mouthed as he glided on the stage, did the Moonwalk and whatever else he did in the videos. When there was no one around us, we used to secretly try the ‘moonwalk’. I remember slipping and falling many times in the bathroom.
After we passed out from school in 2002, MJ faded in and out of the headlines for a variety of reasons. There were talks of his huge ranch ‘Neverland’. Tales of his numerous surgeries and makeovers. I still remember the spine chilling image of him dangling his newborn baby from a balcony and thinking that the poor guy has lost it. When he was cleared of paedophile charges, I was a little happy. I could imagine Victory having tears of joy.
A few months back when I heard that he’s making a comeback, I was looking forward to them. His death came as a shock. His death, like his entire life made the headlines. I do not know whether he was a good man or not. I do not know whether I can be called a die hard fan. But the name Michael Jackson brings back memories. Paying 60 rupees, sitting in a ramshackle internet cafe, putting on the headphones and getting transported to another world altogether.
Thank you, Mr. Michael Jackson.