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Why Michael Jackson Brings Back the Happiest Memory I Have of My Mother

In memory of the King of Pop, the original Moonwalker, and the happiest childhood memory.

Parth Sharma |

Updated:August 29, 2018, 6:19 PM IST
Why Michael Jackson Brings Back the Happiest Memory I Have of My Mother
Image credits: Michael Jackson / YouTube
My late mother was infatuated, besotted rather, with MTV in its golden days – the 90s -- when MTV played English songs and not multiple marathons of Roadies and Splitsvilla. My after-school routine did not involve my mother pleading with me to sleep in the afternoon. Rather, she casually instructed me and my toddler brother to imitate Michael Jackson’s dance steps from his hit song Smooth Criminal EVERY SINGLE TIME it played on MTV. It’s not even a carelessly magnified approximation for the sake of it. If the age of clickbait internet existed 20 years from now, my brother and I would have been viral sensations.

My dear, dear mother would make us ‘bop’ until, “Bass, Mummy. Ab hum thak gaye.”

At the age of four, I did not know who Michael Jackson was. Frankly, the Moonwalker had not captured my fascination outside the everyday living room routine. It was only in 2002 when my mother passed away that the Sharma children stopped shaking it off to Jackson’s songs. Maybe it was serendipity that MTV too stopped airing English songs altogether soon after her death.

It was in late June 2009, I was in 10th grade and finishing a test paper on Trigonometry when Smooth Criminal started to play on MTV. I was surprised, shocked rather. It had been seven years since I heard that song. First it was Smooth Criminal, then Thriller, then Black or White – it did not stop. Would my mother magically appear from heaven and command me to start dancing too? Well, to 14-year-old me, it seemed quite possible.

While my mother did not pull a ghost of Christmas-past on me, the Michael Jackson music videos did not stop playing.

I was scared. I quickly changed MTV and then multiple TV channels. Michael Jackson was everywhere. Michael Jackson had died.

I continued writing the practice test paper but I could not concentrate. “How could he die?” I wondered.

Large tears were dropping on my notebook and the pen’s ink spread all over, ruining my perfectly cursive sin ϴ and cos ϴ. I did not know why I was crying. Did I miss my mother? Yes. Did I miss that one connection I had with my mother – a connection that now did not exist anymore? Definitely yes.

My brother saw me crying when he came into my room to ask if I wanted to have steamed momos from a stall in our neighbourhood market. He saw the news channel playing the story of Michael Jackson’s death. He said, “How can he die?”

“Exactly,” I sobbed. “Why did he die?” My tears did not stop.

We had no answer. We watched the news anchor talk about the great Michael Jackson – the biggest pop star of the century, the original Moonwalker, a man who bleached his skin and got hundreds of plastic surgeries, and the man who dangled his son from the balcony for the paparazzi.

The man, who until now was a forgotten reminder of perhaps the strongest and maybe the happiest memory I had of my mother, was now dead.

I switched the channel back to MTV. Maybe it was happenstance or a universal conspiracy, but Smooth Criminal was back again. It would play 40 more times that night.

I got up from the bed and held my brother’s hands and started to dance. “EVERYONE’S WALKING, EVERYONE’S WALKING, THEY ARE WALKING, HONEY,” I screamed. True, I did not know what Michael Jackson was singing. He sang too fast for me to ever catch up. For 22 years of my life I sang “Annie, are you ok? Are you ok, Annie?” as “Everyone’s walking. They are walking, honey.” I did not even know why the song was called Smooth Criminal. I had never heard him croon that phrase.

But it did not matter. The 14-year-old boy had already teleported to the golden age. For him, it was 1998 all over again.

Annie was going to be ok.

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