A meet with the Backstreet Boys Skip to main content

A meet with the Backstreet Boys

 Okay, tell me who is this one. I plugged in one earplug in his ear, rewind the song, and asked my friend. That's Nick? He said in a rather "I am not sure" voice. Ah! No that's AJ. Isn't this song great? Yes, it is really! We listened to the song "Show Me the Meaning of being lonely" together on my Sony Ericsson phone which had only 200 MB of space. It could accommodate only four songs if I could balance the weight of pictures and other files. All those four songs belonged to the Backstreet Boys. The four songs I listened to before sleeping and after coming from school.

While the mobile phone did not get me enough freedom, the computer I had hosted 80 GB of space. This was enough to satiate my new exploration. I couldn't care much about the lack of internet at my home and just a simple question "Do you know any internet cafe?" to my friend in school gave me a quick answer! "Near the shopping center on the main road". I was looking for an internet place to download more of the songs sung by the group. The summer of 2008 was hot but my bicycle had enough juice in it to drag me along the whole city where I lived. The place was all orange and in those days, nobody asked about IDs from you. I entered and the guy signaled towards a PC. A PC that was grey and old but those two computer icons on the bottom-right with blinking lights was all that I wanted. 

"Backstreet Boys", I searched on Google to see first how the band looked. I had never seen their face but listened just to their voice. The loading sign popped up and stared at me for five minutes. Those days large loading times did not bother people in India. When the internet was rare, some people would use it from 12 AM to 6 AM when only 20 INR was charged per day for around 10KBPS speed. But this was even slower than those standards. The page did open up and I did see them but all I could do in half an hour was to see their face and struggle to open a website where I can download the songs. "Table no. 2, 30 minutes are over." I did not have enough money to stare at the loader anymore. I stood up and went to the guy to pay the money. I saw the internet source at his table which was a BSNL SIM card set into a dongle. "This won't ever work", I thought and peddled my way home.

"You know the place you told me is shit," I told the same friend who advised me to go there. "I think there is another place beside Sheel Computers", he told me and I noted. The same afternoon I went to this place which was much bigger than the one before. "ID number?", asked an old man with a lot of small holes in his head and face. "What ID number?", I asked him.

"Are you coming here for the first time?"


"I will assign you an ID number and this is what you will tell me when you come in the future." I nodded to this preposition which was a little more complex than before but all I needed to do was memorize a number. "365", he said and continued, "Just like there are days in a year." "Okay", I said and he gave me a paper slip with a computer number written on it along with the number 365. 

My eyes went straight to the bottom-right corner and saw those two computers blinking. The Internet is fine. I opened up Google Chrome and typed "Backstreet Boys". The loader must have been busy with its own work as it did not appear for more than a second this time. The internet is not fine, it's much much better. The place became my de facto internet space for the next four years. "Do you have a pen drive?", I asked the old man. He looked at me and his lips trembled. He was gathering all the curse words and aligning them in a straight line so that they would make some sense. "Bring your own pen drive. Is this a shop?", he did not curse but I filled in the gaps myself.

After that day, I never had to speak about my ID again. I believed he said "365" to remember himself. Whenever I would enter his sanctorium, he would say, "365 days...just like they are in a year!" and smiled. I was happy. The only responsibility I had was taken off from me by that old man. My evenings turned into early afternoon when the man introduced a new scheme of 10 INR per hour from 2 PM to 4 PM. That's perfect! I now had twice as much time and paid the same amount. Even though the heat challenged me and ACs were rare in those days, I never thought about these things. 

I filled my PC with all that I could find over the internet. I didn't know that bands released albums as a collection of songs. All I knew was to search "Backstreet Boys" on youtube, search "Youtube downloader" on another tab, download the video, and converted the audio right away. "Youtube Downloader" was an application of a couple MBs that I always used to download first. Unaware of malicious intruders, I had wiped out all the systems unknowingly with that application once. "Did you download anything?", the old man asked me when I came after that unfortunate day. I said "No." within a fraction of a second. From that day onwards, I left no trace of my browsing history or downloaded files on any of the systems. I am sure the man had become more vigilant and I did not want to lose a good internet place.

Within a couple of years, in 2010, my PC had filled with all the concerts, audio, videos, radio recordings, and much more. I had moved from Sony Ericsson to Nokia 6306 Classic with an expandable memory. None of my friends understood the songs that I was listening to and the same was the case with my parents. They were just happy that the songs are in English and that maybe it will improve my English someday. But my mother saw all the videos I had put in and she still remembers each band member.

 While going back to my classroom from games period, I met one of my seniors who was going to the ground. "A new album has been released!", he said to me. He knew me from a small program we did together a year before. That sentence distracted me all day in school. I just wanted to go to my home, drop the bags, go to the cafe, and download the songs from the new album. Those weren't the days of Apple Music, Amazon Music, etc. It required a real struggle to find a website where songs could be downloaded for free. "Ah! This is us!" I read the name of the album, quickly downloaded them on my Moser Baer pen drive, and listened to each of them all night. This was one of the best albums of the band till that point in time and the last one that I downloaded for free. After that, I always purchased the songs and supported the artists in the small ways I could.

It's 2011, and I had come to know about an old album of the band that I never listened to. I took my bicycle and got ready to roll down my way to the internet cafe when my neighbor stopped me. A policewoman had started living in my neighborhood. "Can you bring two Frooti for me? Here, take the money for three Frooti, one you can have for yourself." 

"Yeah, sure", I said. 

"Where are you going?", she asked me knowing that just handing your neighbor a job directly is merely not enough. Small talks are necessary! "Internet cafe", I said. "Oh, so you know how to browse the internet?", she asked me which was a common question with the elders. The Internet was new and intimidated the elder generation. "Okay", she said and I went on my way.

Two days later she came down to my house and asked me if I could bring images of certain things from the internet. She handed over 10 rupees for one hour charge. "A free ride to download the songs and explore a bit of Facebook", I thought and nodded right away. "I need them to stick to the board in the police station", she continued even though I had stopped listening after taking 10 rupees from her. "So do you want printouts too?" I asked her. "No, printouts are free in the station, I'll print them there."

She shouldn't have said this to a kid who could get an idea that would cost her heavily. I wanted to get printouts of the Backstreet Boys myself! I tried my luck and downloaded 5 photos of the Backstreet Boys to the pen drive. While handing her over, I requested that she could print them also, if it's free. She smiled and said, "Sure, yeah, no problem". But she knew now which door she had opened. Every time she wanted me to get to the cafe now came with an additional cost of photo prints. The count exceeded 20 photos once, a day for which I am not so proud of today.

On the other side, in school, my classmates have started to explore English music, especially girls. A group of girls is now always singing Miley Cyrus and they think they are the only ones that does that. My group listens to English music now and then but is hooked more towards Punjabi music except for me and Siddhant. My friend Siddhant is hooked on Eminem and shows similar admiration as I do for the Backstreet Boys. But he is more expressive and so his admiration is more widely visible compared to mine.

"What is this?", I asked a Miley Cyrus fan in my class. "I am writing song lyrics for Party in the USA", she said proudly. Little did she know I too had written lyrics at home. The Internet was not as fast as it is today and handy lyrics always worked. But I kept these things within the boundaries of my home while the girls liked to show off in school. I went home and listened to "Party in the USA" and my respect for the Backstreet Boys and their music increased many folds after that.

It's 2015, and I am in college. My circle now listens to English music regularly but their taste varies widely from me. No two people have a common interest. On one side Rohan is listening to the Beatles and the other people are listening to just guitar sounds. My friend Raman comes to my hostel room and sees a guitar supported by the corner of the wall. The guitar belonged to Amit who left it here as people were playing it all the time in his room. So now nobody knew where his guitar is. Raman says he can play a  Linkin Park song on this. I have listened to Linkin Park and have liked their couple of songs like "Numb" and "In The End". I requested him to play "I want it that way", to which he gets up and puts the guitar back. He is listening to hard rock metal these days and he has always admired Linkin Park. I can see that when he talks about them. It's like we are both standing on opposite sides of a river. His side has lush green grass while mine has sand with huge palm trees. I can see that grass but can't feel it beneath my foot. He can see the sand and the trees but can't feel the shade and the cool breeze. But the thing is, he doesn't want to feel that sand right now. Maybe later. And the same goes for me. The lead singer of Linkin Park died a couple years later by suicide. I could only think of the emotions he would have gone through. 

It's 2023, and I am standing in a queue. I am the first person in this queue. I hear the scream from a couple meters ahead from inside a white conical tent. A guy comes to me. He is not Indian. He points his hand to my right in the direction of the tent and says, "This way sir". I walk up to the tent, set-asides the shades and I see a big bald guy. Too bulky. He was wearing a black t-shirt that would rip off if his muscles were a couple millimeters more. A headset was attached to his ears and a walkie-talkie in his hand. "Please start with Howie", he says. I turn around and Backstreet Boys are standing right in front of me. Howie's hand extends toward me and he smiles. I shake hands with him and suddenly the earth moves a bit. I don't understand. Am I dizzy? 

"What's up man?", he asks. I see in his eyes but move my eyes away quickly. To his left is AJ. "Hey, man", he says. I told him that my friend likes his voice. "And what about you?", he says. "I love it." I smiled. Then I shook hands with Kevin who was already smiling. "How was Mumbai?", I asked. "It was great man". He started saying something but the tent started shaking heavily. I don't understand. Feels like an earthquake. But the backstreet boys and the bodyguards are smiling. They don't feel it. They don't feel anything. I move towards Nick but the earthquake is too shaky now. My steps tremble and I trip but hold on to Brian for support so that I don't fall. It was unintentional and a reflex. He smiles and asks me a couple questions. I hugged him. I always liked his voice. This is the only chance I get. The Backstreet Boys are engaged in me now. They are asking questions of their own and are smiling all the way. The tent's roof shatters down. The bodyguard still doesn't move. The band is still conversing. What's happening? I don't get it. A large wave came at last and tripped us all on the ground. My head collides with the pole in the front and I fall down. 

I open my eyes. My mother is shaking me. "It's 6:15 already, don't you want to go to school?". I opened my sleepy heavy eyes and turned to my Sony Ericsson phone. 12th April 2008, 5:50 AM. "Wow! That dream was quite real.", I thought to myself. "What is that Backstreet Boys? Is that a real band? Maybe I should find it on the internet. I'll ask one of my friends in the school today if he knows an internet cafe around."

Harish Rajora

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  1. This made me emotional, yet very inspirational. Thanks for sharing.

  2. Speechless! This journey seems quite eventful and relatable.

  3. ramblings of fan lost in the wave of nostalgia. I love it !


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