x Abu Dhabi, UAESunday 23 July 2017

Growing up with Michael

I admit that I attempted not just the moonwalk but all kinds of other moves...It ended in all kinds of injuries.

It was a phenomenon everyone in my neighbourhood was familiar with. Grandmothers, uncles, even the local grocer knew which children were doing it behind closed doors. Especially in the summer, when the going got slow, the stack of Michael Jackson cassettes came out and all kinds of tunes blared from homes. I am going to have to admit that I attempted not just the moonwalk but all kinds of other moves, including trying to slide on my knees, and most embarrassingly, trying to stand on my toes. It ended in all kinds of injuries.

Then there was a time when someone stole my Dangerous cassette and replaced it with MC Hammer. My mother was convinced it was a family friend's son who was always up to no good. But this was the 1980s, and there was no way I was getting extra allowance to replace the precious tape, so I did what all the other kids were doing: begged around the neighbourhood for someone to make me a tape and went back to unsuccessfully practising the moves.

We even organised a dance party in the neighbourhood. We rehearsed for the entire summer to get a dozen skinny, awkward 10-year-olds to dance - or rather sway - to We Are the World. Even before MTV came to India, Jackson was a well-known performer. His music sold alongside Bollywood soundtracks and a small collection of generic rock from America and pop from Britain. A measure of his influence can be seen in the fact that at least a dozen Bollywood films from the 1980s copied his music, style and dance - at least as much as a middle-aged, pot-bellied actor with an impressive moustache could.

As radio stations in the UAE play Jackson's hits non-stop following his death, memories have come rushing back. My cousins, all crazy about the singer, once made a list of birthdays in the family to see who was born closest to Jackson. Disregarding age, I won by a difference of a month but was promptly disqualified for being a girl. I remember huge tears streaming down my face as I begged to get back on the fan list. My cousins now deny it, but I remember.

One of my cousins, now a balding and respectable father of two, only remembers our dance-offs. Apparently he dressed as a zombie from Thriller while I played the female lead. But halfway through the performance, I changed my mind and decided to be Michael. I tried to slide on my knees and ended up breaking my mom's favourite vase. My mother confiscated my MJ collection. I remember feeling absolutely gutted. Last week, I woke feeling even worse: it was the day pop music died.