Sunday, June 28, 2009

The Michael Jackson I knew

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.

Sunday, June 21, 2009

JACKASS of a fruit

Have you ever had a jack fruit? Its a big fruit whose outer surface looks like it has had a bad case of acne. The inside is sticky and yellow with big seeds. Some people eat the fruit as it is. Some cook the seeds to make it a curry.

I have always hated the fruit. I remember during the summers in my childhood, our house would always reek of a strong smell of jack fruit. I felt like I was in a concentration camp. Jack fruit is probably the only fruit that has got such a terrible smell. And flaunts it so that anyone in a radius of fifty feet can smell it. I had to bear the smell as my mother loved it. She used eat entire jack fruits herself.

How she got hooked on to jack fruit is a very interesting story. My mom is Telugu and had never been to my dad's village. When she went there for the first time, she was tensed. She did not know if the people would accept her or not.

She was made to sit in the centre and was surrounded by women. You know how it is in villages, there is no privacy. Your business is the business of the entire village. So my mom was sitting there surrounded by the women. After the initial niceties, they brought a huge thing and placed it in front of her.

"Eat", was the instruction.

My mother had no clue what the thing was. The ladies had a hearty laugh and then cut it open for her and gave her a piece. My mother loved it. Without a word, she proceeded to eat the entire fruit as the women watched with their open mouths! It took about two hours but she finished it. The jack fruit broke the ice with them. From then on, my uncle would send jack fruits for us every summer. People still refer her in my village as 'that jack fruit eating girl".

I have not met another single person who likes jack fruits. Near our house in Unit-9, there was a man who was very stingy. He had a lot of trees and drove us out if we tried to pluck any fruit. But there was one exception. Every summer, he would land up at our doorstep, with a fake smile on his face and a huge, ugly jack fruit that looked like the carcass of an alien baby. I'd be asked to bring the damn thing inside. My attempts to suggest that guavas and mangoes were tasty too always failed.

Thursday, June 4, 2009

That first crush...

I got in touch with a friend of mine, Mrutyunjay Praharaj after 14 years. We exchanged numbers and were talking about the old times.

“Do you remember any of the guys?” I asked him.
“Not very clearly, I can just recollect your face vaguely”
“You don’t remember anyone?”
“Yeah. There was one girl, Disha Dixit. She was very thin and had nice eyes. She was from Bhopal and had a brother in our class. She was good at studies and the monitor of our class”

Great! I dint know whether to compliment him on his memory or curse him for not remembering the rest of us.

But he had a point. Disha Dixit was a major feature of my childhood as well….


I had joined the new school. I was in Class 1. She was in my section. She always sat in the first bench. She was attentive and never blinked an eyelid when the teacher was explaining something.

She was a ‘good’ girl - the teacher’s pet. She was thin. But her eyes made her look powerful. Her eyes could drill into you when she looked at you. Her hair was just a little curly. She had long eyelashes and brown eyes that I never had the courage to look into. She had misaligned teeth. But when she smiled, everyone else’s seemed imperfect. And her laughter. She had a slightly boyish laughter. It was Mozart to my ears!

There was nothing that Disha Dixit couldn’t do. She was a very good student. Academics, speeches, drama, dance, you name it. The only flaw was that her singing wasn’t exactly melodious, but such trivial things could be ignored. She was a slow eater. Which was perfectly fine for me. We didn’t get to talk to girls after the 2nd standard, so the only time I got to see her was during lunch and dinner. She’d eat in slow motion. Pick up a morsel of rice and look at it as if she was inspecting every grain for bacteria. And then put it in her mouth. And chew. And chew. And chew.

She wasn’t the prettiest girl in the class. There was Suman, who was very cute. But Disha was by far the most attractive. I couldn’t take my eyes off her. The only problem? She was Varun’s sister. Varun was my best friend. When the two of them would be talking, I would butt in with the lamest excuse.

“Hey, Varun. Wanna play?”
I knew he wouldn’t, but that was just so she would look at me. As a kid, you do stupid things without knowing exactly why you do them. Like, if the teacher asked me to stack some notebooks in the cupboard, I would first search through all the books till I found hers, and then after lovingly caressing it, would put it on top of the pile!

The teachers generally arranged our seating in such a way that a guy and a girl would be seated on the same bench. Each time, I’d pray that she sat next to me. But that never happened. So all I could do was admire from a distance. She was hot property in the class, only a few guys spoke to her, and I was never among them. Everyday I used to make up my mind to start talking to her the next day but that day never came.

She was the monitor of the class, and she meant business. Whenever any of us misbehaved, we were made to wear frocks for the entire day. And since she was Varun’s sister, it was pretty convenient. The teacher would say, “Disha, go bring a frock of yours”. And she would run up to the dormitories and come back with a bright, colourful frock. MP was made to wear frocks on a regular basis. I still remember them. They were always in hues of bright yellow, orange or red. Though the idea seems revolting now,
I used to wish I got to wear them. Wearing her frock would be worth all the thrashing that came before the frock-wearing ceremony. But I never got the chance. I was always made to wear the frocks of other girls I cared two hoots about!

From my description, you must be under the impression that she was a sweet, cute girl. She was not. Another punishment that was meted out on us was this. If a guy misbehaved, Nishant Reddy (the strongest guy) would hold his hands behind his back. And Ms. Disha Dixit would be asked to slap the guy. Now, normally you’d expect a person to slap the guy lightly.

But not Disha. How could she be like others? She had to be extraordinary.

She would raise her hand; take it a few feet, and…… WHACK!!!!!!!!!!!!! Right across the face. For someone so frail, I wondered where all the energy came from. She would keep slapping the guy till she was asked to stop. It was all done with clinical precision. She’d be sitting on her bench, the teacher would call her, she’d alter the colour of the cheeks of the poor guy, and then quietly go back to her desk and continue writing!

But this did not change my feelings for her. They were my friends, but they deserved it, I thought. During the games periods, she would be having running races with some of the guys. I would be playing stupid game like Ramayan and watching her, strengthening my resolve to talk to her. I was never able to talk to her freely. Maybe a ‘Thank You’ or a ‘sorry’ once in a while. But the fact that I’d see her everyday made the entire grind of the morning prayers and ayah bath worth it.

Yes, Disha Dixit was something else!