Michael Jackson, who died of suspected cardiac arrest on Thursday, discovered India in 1996 but some Indians used to go the extra mile to not discover him.
An unstated but perceptible cultural ceiling made many discerning lovers of music in India view him with affected disinterest.
If Jacksons moonwalk and the corkscrew strand of hair over the forehead smashed language barriers and made countless hot-blooded young Indians do the break dance at the drop of a hat in classrooms, canteens and dead-end alleys, another class went into a deep denial mode.
A group of Presidency College alumni recalled how they would make it a point to steer clear of the Jackson hype, at its peak then with his album Thriller. Brought up on a staple of Jethro Tull, ELP and Styx, and of course Floyd and Zeppelin, we would sneer at folks who seemed to have discovered western music via the break-dancing of MJ, said a one-time drummer for the college band.
Gradually, as the Jackson style struck deep roots and beat-it posters in teenagers rooms became the symbol of cool in the eighties without the angst of Vietnam and a million other mutinies that vexed the preceding generation, there seemed to be grudging admiration for some of his songs. But it was never meant to be articulated.
One of us actually recorded Eddie Van Halens crispy lead break in Beat It — not the entire song — on an audio tape only to replay and marvel at the great guitar lick (the solo slice), recalled the 40-year-old ex-Presidencian, having long given up on musical ambitions.
The idea was clear: we dont think much of the track, but the guitar solo is awesome. Seems ridiculous and a bit childish now, but that was how MJ was regarded by true-blue music buffs, he added.
Was it unfair? Perhaps.
But he still has not forgiven Paul McCartney for teaming up with Jackson. The Girl is Mine is perhaps one of McCartneys most forgettable tunes. But more than that, how could John Lennons songwriting alter-ego in Beatles think of such collaboration?
Such sacrilege was not on many Indians mind when Jackson landed in India on October 30, 1996, for the Michael Jackson History World Tour Mumbai.
He was greeted at the airport by actress Sonali Bendre, who performed aarti and applied tilak to his forehead. Then a 20-car cavalcade took him to Bal Thackerays residence, Matoshree, in Bandra. On the way, Jackson stopped to meet clusters of children by the roadside.
He stayed at the Oberoi Hotel, where he charmed staff and left a departing message, I love you, scrawled in lipstick on his room mirror. His appearance in the evening at the Andheri Sports Complex lived up to expectations.
Journalist and theatre promoter Suman Bhuchar, who had travelled from London for the concert, said: I had gone for (British Asian artist) Bally Sagoo who was the warm-up act for Michael Jackson. It was a great evening. I remember him emerging out of the darkness in his silver space suit. I have kept the brochure from that concert.
Three years later, Jackson asked the London-based head of the Hinduja family, Srichand Hinduja, for advice on how to restructure his finances to stop people ripping him off, the businessmans daughter, Vinoo, revealed today. Michael had heard about my father. He sent a message to our New York office saying he wanted to meet dad.
Jackson apparently felt that Srichand could offer him dispassionate advice on how the singer could protect himself against people in his own organisation. He said, They become my managers, they become my financiers, they take my money. After that, the family met Michael and we became friends, Vinoo added.
In 1999, Jackson was holding a concert in Munich to raise money for deprived children on behalf of Nelson Mandela. Michael said, I have every country involved — except India. My father said, We cant have that. We requested A.R. Rahman to come and flew him to London, locked him in a house for four days and got him to write the music for Ekam Satyam which was used at the concert in Munich.
What a great man, said Srichand, taking over the story from his daughter. Srichand took Jackson to the Swaminarayan Temple in Neasden, north London, on July 25, 1999, and later to the Bhaktivedanta Manor, the Iskcon temple in Watford, Hertfordshire. Jackson was clearly taken with the whole ritual of taking off his shoes before entering the temple and the Hindu form of worship.
From France, Srichand remembered his first meeting with Jackson, which had taken place in Houston, Texas. Something we had in common is that we were both vegetarians.
I feel we have lost a great star. He saw the extremes of life — the good and the bad. Today, we are hearing about the good. He was hoping that after his concerts in London, people would look at him in a different way. He was too young to die, Srichand added.