The beauty about life is that you will always end up learning, and especially learning not to be a smug, superior, self-righteous prick.
You think you will never have an affair with a loserly, married man, no, not you with your values and with your staunch distaste for clichés.
You think you will never date someone whose English language skills are clearly always going to be a work-in-progress.
Life makes you fall in love with a few Germans or worse, many Malyalees.
You have seen the ‘Annavaru’ fans, and recently the ‘Amma’ fans, wailing and weeping when their idol passes on, torching things and immolating themselves in their grief, and you shudder and think, “What weak people! What absurdity this is!”
And then, George Michael dies.
On Merry Christmas day.
On the same night you stay awake all night, inexplicably, with a migraine and a sadness that can swallow the universe.
‘What?’ you think as your best friend calls you, crying audibly, at the ungodly hour of 9 am just an hour after you have finally managed to sleep, “Did you hear? It’s George Michael. It seems he died.” She can barely get the words out.
How can that be, you wonder. Didn’t you have this compelling urge to listen to Faith, just last night? You subjected your tiny Christmas party to a loud performance of Father Figure in the guise of checking the music controls as you and your best friend laughed and shared a knowing look because George Michael isn’t just about music if you were a girl growing up in the 1990s in Bangalore.
He is fun, and sex, and sanction.
He is the ultimate lover with a voice that makes your toes curl for the very first time, the one who writes soulful music but creates seductive videos, the sorts you are uncomfortable watching in front of your parents.
Yet, it is his poster, blue, hairy, signed, intense, looking slightly pained and hurt, that you wake up to in the mornings – a perfect gift from your then best friend.
That’s the intensity you are looking for in the many hapless boys that flit into your life, the poetry you want from the lovers you deign to kiss.
It’s a trend that never stops.
After school, when you come home and try to hover around the ubiquitous ITI telephone so you can answer the calls from the boyfriends and the girls without parental screening, you use George Michael as the excuse.
You play his hits one-after-another loud, crooning, singing along, even embarrassingly saying, “I want your sex” and knowing the parents will avoid your eyes, your corner, and just let you be for that one hour you play an entire tape loudly, almost in meditation.
The boys in your life capitalise on his power of seduction.
Birthdays or Valentine Day gifts in college from the richer boyfriends include cassettes and CDs of George Michael.
They think misguidedly, poor sods, that the 90s Bangalore girl will now unshrug her jacket and walk straight towards them, lean back in challenge for that kiss just like in Father Figure on the television.
The girls may kiss but they are thinking of George Michael.
The newspapers erupt one morning with news of his coming out.
It’s the first time you actually understand that it is possible for a man to not desire women. Yes, George Michael, yes, after all that!
You are saddened, confused, shocked, but the hope lingers.
You only half-joke to your friends, “I will convert him. He only needs to meet me and then we will be married.”
Wisdom, life, friends and family with excellent musical tastes have led you to discover other gay geniuses – the raw masculinity of Judas Priest and the unadulterated orgasm that is Freddie Mercury. You can now stand to have an idol who is gay.
It’s selfless, somehow. It makes your love purer.
What could you offer George Michael other than your devotion?
Thing is, you couldn’t have not devoted yourself to the lilting, high-pitched saxophone riff in the 1990s in Bangalore. The riff was soon followed by a voice that will always define molten for you. On the 12 pm show on Sunday on All India Radio, George Michael first entered middle class Kannadiga households.
While young, you thrilled at the pure music it was; older, you whimpered at the pathos in the poetry, the voice, the diction. How his voice shattered your heart when he sang ‘Pain is all you find.’
You discover Last Christmas.
You set about uncovering his lightheartedness in WHAM.
Someday, you would dance to Wake Me Up and wear white shorts. You would too do that.
You love the sweetness in If You Were There.
Club Tropicana is a summer vacation.
You are grateful to your cousin who has photocopied all the lyrics from an Archies lyrics book so you can sing along to all his songs.
The first time you ever enter a pub as a cowering, excited gang of girls in college, the riff of Careless Whispers immediately puts you at ease amidst the assault of beer, smoke, and strange men in dark, purpled corners. You know then that you can handle Queen, Metallica, The Doors, Led Zep, all those roots of yours that are slowly foot-holding your soul along with the alcohol and cigarettes, and, of course, the men.
But it is in Faith that you find religion. An album replete with messages for the converts. Kissing A Fool breaks you. This is a man who knew pain, and passion, and still cared about the world, about society, who advised how you were to listen without prejudice.
A man who told you repeatedly to chase passion and the heart and have fun while doing it.
This is a man who defined sexy for you in high heels, leather, smoky eyes, and lipstick that looked like stains.
This was the man who told you again and again that he would be your father figure, that you gotta have faith, and that sex is natural, sex is good, sex is fun, sex is best when it’s one-on-one.
A message everyone in your society neglected to give you, but a message that was now etched into your consciousness so you would never be awkward around bodies, sexuality, and love.
His own life and his scandals taught you that in an unfair universe, you were right to seek your bliss, stake a claim, and look sexy while doing it.
You learnt too that celebrity could be good, bad, vulnerable, maligned, confused, but essentially human.
Most of all, you learnt to bring genius and passion into your work because in the end, true worth in the work is what always stayed.
This was the man who first taught you to look outside the reality of middle-class, urban, Indian existence so years later in clubs in Berlin, walking around international airports, meeting people around the globe, you were never awkward, weirded out, or intimidated. No. This was the world that you already knew.
So you could give of yourself with the same energy with which he paid a tribute to Freddie Mercury and sang Somebody to Love (Best tribute ever!) in any city in the universe and bring your own brand of sexy while doing it.
George Michael is dead.
Yet, you are always looking in other people, for the man that emerged in the music you first fell in love with.
And when no one matches it, there’s George Michael and his music, compiled best hits in your favourite stage phrase, Ladies and Gentlemen.
Another righteous bubble gets pricked.
You spend the day in bed weeping and grieving this man you never knew, but one who changed your concepts of life, love, and sex so irrevocably.
Life, we know, always goes on.
It will continue in loving lesser mortals.