As of this moment, Bombay has handed over the emotional trigger of my life to Michael Jackson’s brainless remains. These past two weeks, I have been an uninterested witness to a predatory hysteria tearing apart Michael’s anatomy and fumbling about with his reputation, unsure, too excited to be in mourning. I have felt very distant from this; distant and disgusted; distant, disgusted and curious, all at once. The only comparable benchmark I have been able to think of is the death of Rajiv Gandhi, when my mother refused to cook, and I – even at an age when death does not fully make sense – felt a dull ache that our smiling handsome prime minister had exploded into small pieces in such a spectacularly ugly fashion. What has been happening with Michael’s pill-riddled body and his Byzantine mind now is just as nauseating, and I have felt smug in my distance.
Michael Jackson was never my hero. I hoarded a few posters of his as a kid yes, not because I adored him, but because I had a handful of friends who were willing to give good barter value for the glossy centrespreads. I was never a loyal. As a child, the adult world around me in smalltown India taught me to associate a certain feeling of sin and impropriety with the hip-swinging King of Pop. In fact, I have never heard even one complete Michael Jackson song, but I thought my world was none too poorer for it. So, besides the tippling feeling caused by a great and sudden vacuum somewhere farfaraway in the universe, I have not been able to relate to the vocabulary of loss and frenzy all around. I have felt clean and insulated. I knew the man more for his scandals than for his music, so I have understood one part of the postmortem cacophony but not the other. But now, watching Brooke Shields crying while remembering that his favourite song was Charlie Chaplin’s “Smile”, Stevie Wonder searching for him behind his dark glasses, Magic Johnson saying the fondest memory of his life was sharing a bucket of Kentucky fried chicken with him, and a lot many people comparing him to a John the Baptist to Obama’s black Jesus, I feel a lump forming in my throat. Suddenly, the distance does not feel all that happy. Suddenly, it feels like I am terribly alone in my halfhearted mourning, because unlike his millions of fans, I am not equipped to fully comprehend what is being mourned. Suddenly, it feels like I have allowed someone important to slip away without bothering to find out who and how big. Suddenly, I know there are people out there who are frenzied about the “person and not the personality”. Bombay, probably the only Indian city that daily engages with this duality, is surely an American city today, and I a lonely rancher missing all those LPs I never bought, hung up, distant and indifferent.