‘The shadow of his death hung in the room like silence’

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Illustration: Samia Singh

LAST JUNE, it felt like a part of me had died, just vanished into thin air. The man who inspired me to dance left us. I was six years old when my first encounter with Michael Jackson happened. The Beat It video reigned in the VCR days and Michael’s sleek body movements spoke of something magical from a land far away. My mother was an accomplice in the fandom; she would buy his latest music as soon as it hit the shelves.

Jackson’s music stayed with me through our school days. In the seventh grade, left alone in boarding school, his androgynous voice blaring through the stereo lessened the pain of solitude. In eleventh grade, as a stage-shy youngster, I watched other schoolmates perform and wondered — would I ever be able to take the stage like MJ?

Straight after the following summer break, there were auditions for the annual interschool dance competition. It was the most anticipated event of the year. On the afternoon of the audition, I don’t know why but I simply went back to my dorm and lay down on my bed. I plugged in some music; some Billie Jean… And that did it, that’s when it hit me; I couldn’t wait for a chance to fall into my lap, actually I couldn’t wait anymore! I had to make it happen. So I got up and went straight to the auditorium.

There were so many people around me. I went and stood right at the back of the line; I was nervous. I couldn’t understand why I marched to the auditorium with so much confidence and why it suddenly left me. Then I thought of MJ’s first solo performance in 1983 in Mowtown, he performed Billie Jean and after that he cried because he felt it wasn’t good enough. Little did he realise that this was his big break!

And so when my turn came, I don’t know how it all stepped out — my dancing, my emotions — I was simply myself. I got selected and from then on there was no looking back. Today, it’s hard for my friends to believe that it took me 16 years to find my place on the stage. I started to dance and became more in touch with myself and this passion that was inside me for so long.

The night before Moon Walker, the movie which Steven Spielberg released, I could barely manage any sleep. The next morning I was one of the first people at the store to buy my copy. Smooth Criminal is what got me into choreography, which I later pursued in school and college.

I didn’t need to meet him to know him; his music spoke to me and it spoke volumes of the kind of person he was. All the things he was accused of and blamed for, are things I would never believe because someone like MJ, who has so much to give to the world, would never hurt or humiliate another being. I have been moved by his music and dance so deeply that at first these stories used to trouble me; but it’s his music that taught me to believe.

I had tickets for his show in February 2009. It was my one chance to see him perform, to actually see every move that I had being imitating throughout my life. But he was taken away, he didn’t get a chance to give his final curtain call. I felt it was a gross injustice. I dressed in black and white and sat in a room watching every single performance of his. He was there on the screen, but the shadow of his death hung in the room like silence.

Five months later, at a cousin’s marriage in Dubai, I was in for a very nice surprise. Navi, the world’s leading Michael Jackson impersonator, had agreed to perform at the wedding. The crowd went hysterical — it wasn’t quite Michael himself, but it did feel like closure.

AYUSHI MISRA Is 21. She is studying business administration and is a dancer living in New Delhi

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