The Man in My Mirror


The Man in My Mirror

Illustration: Akshita Monga

Do you fondle children?

Have you been called the most successful entertainer of all time?

Did you win 13 Grammy Awards?

Do you fondle children?

Have you supported more charities than any other entertainer, living or dead?

Do you fondle children?

First things first, I do not fondle children. I once traced the contours of a fully grown-up Gabriela Sabatini poster with honourable schoolboy fingers, but I think the jury will let that pass. So I shall consider myself capable and worthy of writing about the one man who contributed the most number of seismic shifts in my life, as I was growing up.

Michael Jackson was a black man screeching he is “Bad” when I first encountered him. A rainy, economically conservative Calcutta evening saw me fingering (sorry, browsing through) the cheaper cassettes in a derelict “music-cum-fancy” shop, when I suddenly came across a curly haired, pretty-looking dark-brown cutlet wearing heavy black-fitted jazz and staring down any Bengali boy with a fumbling grip on the language with a stare so smouldering, it could have easily poached a Bhetki. His claim to the game? Nothing more than a simple, one-worded declaration – BAD.

It was stirring at first sight. I got the Bad boy home and played both his sides on my dad’s SONY two-in-one until neither he nor I could look anyone else directly in the eye. It was something.

With “Man in the Mirror” and “Liberian Girl”, MJ assured me there were higher ideals to live for and different goals to chase than schoolboy fights and wild groping with the Queen’s you-know-what. My Bad boy crooned a breed of confidence with his wild gyrations and sudden screams that no amount of “Hail Mary” and “Our Father in Heaven” could ever manage. The corridors of St Xavier’s and walls of Ms Bose’s classroom couldn’t have been more stifling but MJ made it all expand. With ecstasy and without the pill.

“Black or White” and “Heal The World” were words melting into meaning and re-forming themselves as character inside me. The early ’90s for me was a period of deep turmoil and inner searching, packed with a plethora of alien discoveries and ruthless realities. Racism and classism used to be rampant, dealt with in the coolly nonchalant way that only schoolboy cruelty can muster. The Muslims, the poorer kids, the darker kids with shabby shorts, and the kids with boring tiffins were innocuously made to feel like persistent pariahs. We learn to hurt early and then stay surprised for the rest of our lives. Fucking amazing. It also took me a long time to discover, there is no linkage between your confidence and your father’s net worth. I did not discover all this by myself. MJ’s songs, MJ’s words, MJ’s moves, and MJ’s mistakes made me look deeper than the obvious. They made me question the popular fallacies and prevalent inequities of the time long enough and hard enough until I found enough steel inside me. Just for that alone Jackson can have my right thumb.

When the combined might and madness, that is a lawsuit-happy media circus called America, wants to taint your Bad boy, you have a choice to make. It’s Black or White.

And then the world burned in 1993, when news of his supposed sexual actions with a kid surfaced. Paedophile, deranged, drug user, diseased – there was no dearth of names called. In a matter of months, the world’s greatest entertainer, the man in many people’s mirror, the crooner who would sooner withdraw than take on grasping opportunists, was reduced to a heap of talented neurons – propped up by expensive drugs and round-the-clock supervision. The man, who moved countless people and got them to discover their most treasured selves with his music, his dance, his presence, and his chutzpah, was made to stand on a stage –naked, while a battery of lawyers and investigators, cops and photographers took pictures and probed to corroborate whether his privates matched the description given by the victim.

The order that stated that MJ was to let officers examine, photograph, and videotape his entire body “including his penis, anus, hips, buttocks, and any other part of his body”, and that refusal to comply would be used in court as an indication of guilt could well have been an order for him to slit his throat. But he didn’t. He stood naked for 25 minutes on a platform in his ranch as the men crawled over his body and he got out of there and belted out a “Scream” with sister Janet, told people in love “You Are Not Alone”, told us all to fucking wake up and hear the “Earth Song”, and cautioned discotheque punks there was “Blood On The Dance Floor”.

And that is the deal with MJ. No matter how many times his nose changed, his hair changed, his face changed, and his friends changed, his insides never did. The same “Billie Jean” with lightning-fast epileptic moves, the same moonwalking “Smooth Criminal” asking the punks to “Beat It”, the same larger-than-life apparition living a “Thriller” life was a destroyed man who died of medical overdose leading to a cardiac arrest in a rented mansion in LA.

Incidentally, the photographs never did match and the case of Evan Chandler was abandoned. Incidentally, another one came along, this time in 2003 when seven counts of child sexual abuse and a few more were brought as a charge against Jackson – all of which was disproved. The jury found MJ unanimously not guilty of any charge. Incidentally, another one came along – this one in 2013 after his death. It was thrown out of court.

How long does it take before the world notices your millions not your music? How long is the bill for fame and how high is the price of popularity? There was alleged evidence of books with pictures of boys in little or no clothing found in Jackson’s bedroom that fit the narrative when the witch-hunt failed. The evidence was never released, but it did its job for a world hell-bent on dropping a hero from grace.

When the combined might and madness, that is a lawsuit-happy media circus called America, wants to taint your Bad boy, you have a choice to make. It’s Black or White. For a faltering Bengali schoolboy with a poor accent and limited means for who Jackson’s music was a wardrobe door, his dance was a magic carpet, and his entire life was a thriller, the choice was clear.

Michael Joseph Jackson was not a black man who fondled a child, but a white knight who saved one.

And that is his epitaph.