There’s a restobar in Kolkata called Trincas that was the hub of live pop music until a few decades ago. It brims with legends of a sari-clad Usha Uthup crooning Little Willie John’s ‘Fever’ and stories about Sunday jams that had everyone swaying to ditties from The Beatles to The Bangles. It was in the mid 1980s that I walked in with my dad. When he wasn’t looking, I told the house band that I was a famous singer from Bombay, grabbed the mic and belted out Madonna’s ‘Into The Groove’. After I sang, my father, my closest ally back ago legend s ties dad then, gave me some well-meaning advice: “Son, you will make a great entrepreneur someday, but do not try to sing again!”
I just had to figure out another way. I dyed my hair orange, wore clip on earrings and strung crucifixes around my neck. It was the whole package. I was a committed super fan and the Queen of Pop was my saviour! I was suffering from depression back then and her music articulated her struggles so beautifully that it gave people like me hope to do something, be somebody.
Things changed when my sister got her first Barbie doll and I started dressing it up as Madonna. I used to repurpose my father’s socks to create tiny outfits. That was the first time I used a sewing machine and learnt how to tailor clothes. Growing up middle-class in Kolkata meant getting a good education, then a job and so on. Life was meant to be lived a certain way. But Madonna was my gateway to self-expression.
In high school, I started organising fashion shows during the inter-school festival. I remember my first ‘catwalk’ soundtrack—a remix of Madonna’s ‘Vogue’ and ‘Tanha Tanha’ from Rangeela (1995). At the last minute, one of the girls pulled out. So, I shaved off my moustache, dressed up as Madonna and walked our amateur ramp. My school won its first fashion show award and even got written about in a local newspaper. It was my first taste of stardom.
Crazy for you
I went on to study fashion design at NIFT and my first collection was made with latex, condoms, leather and safety pins—Madonna was all over my mood board. She was my muse even before I knew it. She was a constant for the longest time but, somewhere in the middle, life caught up and my obsession faded. But not for too long.
Cut to 2008, I was showing at New York Fashion Week and representing India. The pressure was palpable. I was going through a bad break-up and sulking at home. I was unproductive, convincing myself that I was not good enough for any of this. And then, serendipitously, I got to know that Madonna was doing the ‘Sticky and Sweet’ tour and her first show was in Cardiff. On an impulse, I bought a ticket and next thing I know I was watching Madonna live! I remember sleeping in a church that night because, in my excitement, I hadn’t even booked a hotel. It was the first time I experienced pure freedom. I came back home, finished my collection and went to New York.
Why does she remain my ultimate muse? These days, Madame X plays on loop. ‘I think I, finally, found a way to forgive myself’ is playing in my head as I think about her influence on me and my work. She sings about self-acceptance and it empowers me. She doesn’t shy away from calling out religion and pop culture. She stands proud for sexual liberation and constantly sticks the middle finger to a society that cannot look away from the stereotypically narrow. And that audacity cannot not be respected. In all my years of diligently following Madonna, I cannot claim to know who she is because I have never met her in person, but she has been a comrade throughout—that’s her genius. And I hope to someday collaborate with her, maybe even dress her. – As told to Rujuta Vaidya