I was 18. I had fared poorly in Std. XII and somehow got admission into an Engineering college because my parents wanted me to. I understood nothing - maths, BEE, mechanical engineering, engineering drawing… even computer science. I flunked miserably (13 out of 16 subjects in the first 2 sems). If this was how I would fare in the first year (which is the easiest), what was I going to do in the coming years. More importantly, how would I complete the first year? Something unfortunate had happened in my personal life that compounded my bad mood. Each day I woke up hating the world, hating myself, and feeling invisible.
That’s when, one afternoon, in our college library, Huzefa introduced me to Metallica. The album in his walkman (yup, it was a cassette) was ‘Symphony and Metallica I’. I liked what I heard. And then Master of Puppets blew my mind. In the days when Enrique and Britney dominated the charts, here was some music that I liked. I bought some cassettes. My friends started sharing their MP3 collections, through which I got all of Metallica’s albums. And I loved them! I was also introduced to Iron Maiden, Judas Priest, Black Sabbath and Guns N’ Roses. And then, I wanted to play guitar.
Huzefa had a guitar, and he didn’t play it. So he lent it to me. I kept playing the guitar for about 8-10 hours a day (when I should have been studying for my KT papers). Then I met some pro musicians trying to put together a rock band. They offered me the role of a bassist. I was ecstatic. My mom wasn’t. She said “If you want a bass guitar, either clear your papers or buy it yourself.” I wasn't going to clear even 1 paper, let alone 13. So I did something that horrified everyone in my family. At the age of 19, I quit engineering and started working at a call centre. With my first pay, I bought a bass guitar and amp. Huzefa was there with me again. Unfortunately the band disbanded even before they could play a show.
Until I was 18, people said that I behaved like a 10-year-old. Within a few months of turning 19, people said that I sounded like a 25-year-old. I will never know how it happened, but am glad it did. I kept achieving at work, which started repairing my damaged self-image. I got promoted, changed jobs, got rejected by girls I really liked, made stupid decisions, failed, succeeded, laughed, cried, rose, sank... I really lived. Life tested me, and each time I came out stronger. Whenever it punched me off my feet, I got up before the count of 10. Sometimes at 9 1/2, but always before 10. Today I look forward to life more than I have in the last 31 years. I hope the only time I won't get up before the count of 10 is when I am dead.
All this time, I never stopped listening to Metallica and watching their videos (I’d watch them on CD initially because we still had dial up internet and YouTube didn’t exist). I was captivated by James Hetfield’s (Metallica’s frontman) stage presence. He stood at 6’2”, broad shouldered, blue eyed, blond hair and a trademark mullet, holding a black guitar, the first button of his black shirt always open. He ruled the stage like a Alexander ruled the world. Undisputed dominance. I wanted to play guitar like him, to have a stage presence like him, I wanted to be like him. My pseudo name (we have to use them in call centers) was James - spelt ‘Jaymz’ because that’s how Hetfield spelt his. Hetfield was my hero during the most troublesome years. He kept me going long after I felt like I didn’t have any strength left.
Today is James Hetfield’s birthday. Happy birthday rockstar! God knows how many lives you have touched and made a difference in. I don't know why but the last 14 years of my life are flashing in front of me today. If it wasn't for you, who knows where the f**k I would be rotting.
Huzefa is no more. It’s been over 4 years now. Every year, on his birthday, I post a message on Facebook and hope that wherever he is, he is happy. He introduced me to Hetfield. He was the only person who encouraged me to stay true to my dreams when all others thought I was crazy. Maybe I was, and Huzefa was too. It takes one crazy man to recognize another. Heard of the Butterfly Effect, a principle in the Chaos Theory? The effect states that a butterfly flapping its wings in New Mexico can lead to a hurricane in China. A small change in one state of a deterministic non-linear system can result in large differences in a later state. Huzefa, with his walkman, that afternoon in the library, was a butterfly who flapped his wings. He unknowingly helped me evolve as person, helped me find my true calling. He set the wheels in motion in my life. R.I.P. Hufu. Return If Possible.
image courtesy: Metallica