beat that thrill(er)

Let me tell you a story of a young girl living in Madras back in the mid-80s.

She went to a very famous school known for its high standard education it imparted to the few girls who were lucky enough to make the cut; in kindergarten. The school was run by catholic nuns and had its high standards of learning, discipline, and a good share of the affluent. The quarterly tuition was a little more than what an average middle class income family living on a single income could afford. Yet, there was no compromises to be made on the quality of the cornerstone that such families build their lives on. So she went to school there, wearing a white uniform and a red tie and learnt to speak flawless British English, how to eat with a spoon the right way, and how to cross your legs every time one sits down. She got to peek into the lives of chauffeur driven daughters of celebrities and business icons from her place on the road as she stood for the bus that would take her back home.

Sporting two well oiled long braids she trudged on, her only consolation being that she scored well in her subjects and if not for being completely lost and missed in a sea of Lady Di and Dimple Kapadia’s hairstyle and perfect white uniforms, folks (especially the teachers) would remember her for those answers to the questions. She was quiet and shy for the most part, speaking only when spoken to and to an extent enjoyed the anonymity of her existence. It was not like she was a sad girl, just quiet, and withdrawn and not visibly happy. Wearing a slight tongue thrust, she lived in her own imaginary world, waking from her reverie only when necessary. She had a few friends, very few. One stayed with her from when she was in 3rd grade and then there were a couple who joined on in 5th grade. She was the most comfortable with her 3rd grade pal. They came from different communities and lifestyles, but it was like they knew what each was talking. She felt the need to be nurtured and the friend nurtured.

Every year there would be an excursion. She would go, because one just goes for excursions. Her mother would pack her loads of pulao or tamarind rice and she’d bring it all home because no one really wanted to eat the boring stuff during an excursion. Some did, but mom packed more than what was necessary. The food was always exciting, with sandwiches and other luxuries and unheard of snacks were brought out during that day. Girls were nice for the most part and she enjoyed them. That was the fun part. Then they’d take out their portable tape recorders and play music. Music she was clueless about. She’d listen to them play and jive anyway. She’d wish her mother would allow them to play those tapes at home. Friends offered to make her copies, that she refused. What was the point? Her mother did not appreciate screaming music and so it was not allowed at home. Indian, traditional kinds were always welcome. Even her dad had to give up on his small valuable collection of BoneyM and ABBA, because of the noise it created. The only songs she would remember for ages to come.

9th grade came and she was becoming a teen, where the pressure to fit in seeped up onto her and knowing fully well that a haircut was out of question and silently thanking the nuns for the leveling white uniform, she hoped to at least broaden the scope of music. From what she heard during lunch break, a young African American had made some amazing brilliant music and had won the Grammy awards for the same. Thriller, they called it, true to the music that it was made of. The hums were everywhere. The bathrooms, the benches across the lined driveway, the assembly lines before the prayers, the evening walks out of school towards home. She desperately wanted to be a part of it all. Especially considering that yearly excursion was coming up soon and she knew the music that would be played relentlessly. She heard bits and pieces of it, but could never make out the words. One girl told her during last year’s excursion: “If you put your ear close to the speaker and listen with your eyes closed, you’ll get them soon. American accent isn’t too hard.”

It was time she did her homework. But how does one do homework without being taught, or without doing research or picking up a book? Perhaps a tutor?

So gathering nerve and willing herself to walk outside of her corner seat, she walked up to another classmate of hers who knew the songs well and asked her during the lunch break: “V, this song that comes in Thriller that all of you are talking about? Do you think you can write the words out for me?”

V: “Oh, which song do you want?”

She in a stupefied voice: “Which song? Oh, I don’t know.”

V with a smile: “The popular ones are ‘Beat It’ and ‘Thriller’. Will bring it on Monday.”

Monday she received this ruled notebook paper with V’s scrolls, filled both sides with a different song.

That excursion, she sang at the top of her voice and had the best time ever. People started noticing her.

She still isn’t sure if it was MJ, the lyrics, V, or the age that she decided to break free, but in 10th grade, she slowly came to be recognized as the one who makes all girls laugh, cracks a joke, is witty, breaks into accented perfect French and will one day become a linguist, and was even nominated for the House Vice-Captain. Despite her oiled two braids, her pimpled brown skin, and unwaxed arms, folks knew her by name.

No one wants to be defeated
Showin’ how funky and strong is your fight
It doesn’t matter who’s wrong or right
Just beat it, beat it
Just beat it, beat it

She’d never forget those lyrics and what they mean to her. Thanks MJ. May your soul rest in peace with the comfort that you sure saved some lost souls out here.

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65 thoughts on “beat that thrill(er)

  1. Mikey!!!! May you rest in peace and more importantly be at peace after your short sojurn on our island called earth. You have given us all, hours of joy listening to you and seeing (when I got to the US) on tv. Sniff…

    Your writeup reminds me of the times when my younger brother would go to Alsa Mall, which was brand spanking new then in the eighties, and get cassettes recorded. He would bring it home and we would listen to it! My mom also loves music and we would listen and sing along :-). Ofcourse many of the words were made up!!! My Dad was on deputation to the North and he would probably wonder which planet he had landed on when he used to come home :-)

    • ha, Alsa Mall. Yes, Fountain Plaza more like it no? Alsa came in justa bit late me thinks..89-90? Either way, yes, I know my friends used to go get tapes done. :)

      • Fountain Plaza! Radsssssssss
        You GOT to do a post on that. I loved that first store on the left. I have bought my first nailpolish there. My cotton sarees from a store toward the back. Don’t remember the name. After that I would drag my poor sainted mother to eat paav-bhaji and pick up samosas from Agarwals… Sigh. I am already awash in nostalgia and it is barely 8am!

        • lol, I totally remember the first store. Went there this trip too, just didn’t buy anything :)

          Are you sure it’s Agarwal and not Ajnabi? Coz Ajnabi rocks even now. :)

        • Mea culpa! Yes. Ajnabis. Agarwal was the sweet store in Parry’s Corner area? WAAAAAAHHHHHH :-( I need a trip to Madras, pronto :-(

  2. Identified with the beautiful story. Except that at that age, I didn’t know what ‘African American’ meant!

    “…she decided to break free”
    Loved that part. The highlight for me.

  3. I love the story. It’s the best story about Michael Jackson in the whole mass of stories printed all over the newspapers and the Internet. In my eyes that’s the way he should be remembered. Thanks for sharing.

  4. wow..such a lovely post…nice tribute to MJ…though his music has become too old and he was known as the Wacko Jacko by the time i was in my 10th he was still the famous pop star that everyone admired for his guts and the amazing dance moves…may he RIP

  5. was in 3rd std when MTV debuted in India. All I heard was dad’s pink floyd tapes and a dangerous tape he’d got for me.

    But after watching the free willy video, it was never the same again!

  6. Hey you have been awarded the International Bloggers’ Community Award by me :)…chk my blog for the rules to pass it on to other deserving bloggers.

  7. What a nice tribute to the legend.
    Did up watch the memorial yesterday? i watched bits and pieces and my heart broke when his daughter came up to speak.

    • Thankfully, I was at work and so saw just the highlights. In my frame of mind, the farther I stay from angst-ridden events, the better! Yes, the daughter’s talk was heart-breaking.

  8. Beautiful post ….I was’nt born when thriller was released but when i was 4 or probably 5 would always hear it in our White Fiat sitting along with Dad..beautiful memories of wonderful MJ and Dad…RIP both

  9. i thought church park too.. this could be any gal or quite a few gals without even michael jackson(or something else). as usual well written.

    i am just discovering michael jackson(but have obv heard his music earlier coz u cant escape it), but every single person i have met in the past week seems to have good things to say about his music.
    ps: i went to college with quite a few good shepherd gals but..

      • they werent mean or anything. just that their main focus in life was high heels. talent – command over english. we went to an engineering college:) completely different perspective from my co-ed school experience.
        ps: and i cant imagine any of them writing a blog like this with varied topics, full of life like you do. so i was mentally picturing you among these gals:)

        • lol, we were a mixed lot. Then again, high heels are lot more visible than flats :-)

          We all develop differently depending on environment and situations we make or thrust ourselves into. I guess I turned this way. :)

        • Watcha got against good ole Kohlaps???? Thats ALL I wore until recently when I had to get into shoes for the sake of my spinal cord.

  10. Superbly written! Enjoyed this. BTW my wife is a big MJ fan too. She cried when they were showing his funeral on TV. Apparently she sang We are the world on stage somewhere.

  11. Good piece. And glad to see so many MJ posts coming up now… I was worried I was the only one :|

    Hopefully, for some time ppl will stop rolling their eyes when they hear MJ is one’s favorite artist.

    • haha, you should write what you want and not care if it fits in with the rest.

      It’s your blog and your thoughts after all, just like you like MJ the artist despite all right?

  12. Long time reader, first time commenting. This reads like a fable, wistful and lovely.

    Talking of which, what’s happening at cesmots? Did you make it private or what?? It’s not fair to shut down such fine writing. :(

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