Sunday, November 18, 2012

"Love you like I hate you": Bal Thackeray(1926-2012)

Tiger goes silent, is how TV channels announced the death of Balasaheb Thackeray . Last few days city of Mumbai was anticipating Balasaheb's death. In fact the rumor was Saheb as he was called was dead two days ago i.e. on the last day Diwali ; the day of Bhajubeej an auspicious day for Mahrashrtians. But the city administrators were  afraid to announce it to public as they anticipated violence in the city. Therefore they requested the family to delay the announcement till an appropriate time. Now that Diwali is over and city of Mumbai is going to take a break for weekend holiday administrators decided that the appropriate time has come. So Balasaheb 'died ' for Mumbai on saturday 17th novemebr 2012 at 3.30 pm .

This blog recounts strange love story of our times. Man called Balasaheb Thackeray and city of Mumbai. It is a love' affair' that everyone loves to hate.

As the folk tale goes, Balasaheb applied for a job at Times of India for the post of cartoonist. But unfortunately the job went to a South Indian guy ( now famous cartoonist RK Laxman) . It hurt Thackeray's pride. He went on to form a regional party called Shivsena  in 1966 to  restore the hurt pride of Maharashrian manoos ( marathi  man) who were getting marginalized in their own city. Rest is history!

He decided to reclaim the city. Reclaim its pride. Reclaim its culture. This mission became  an obsessed lover's passion for his lover. To reclaim the city he did every possible act of a mad lover, he violated her by burning, torching,  throttling... and finally rechristened her to 'own' her. ( a custom among the maharashtrians to rename the woman he marries to show ultimate ownership). He bragged that "any one who touched him  then whole of Mumbai will burn". This kind of madness only a possessed lover can display.  He believed  he was the protector of the city guarding her from 'other forces' like  South Indians, Gujratis, Marwadis, Biharis and Muslims. He was her( Mumbai's ) man and she was his bride.
He was a true Hindu /Husband. Hindu hridaya samrata as he called himself.

Balasaheb adored Adolf Hitler and emulated Shivaji a local Maratha King. Secretly he craved for this image of Hilter created through fear and terror. He was a demagogue. This is how he wanted to claim his status of demigod for naive local populace. Balasaheb's politics was formulated through principles of hate and violence. Whether it was late sixties, when Balasaheb first burnt the city in protest of South Indians , then against Gujratis, Upites or Biharis and in 92 against Muslims. He used the weapon of terror to control Bombay. As a result he deeply polarized the citizens of Bombay into those who belonged and those who did not belong to the city. The Shivsena campaign of mee Mumbaikar( I am a Mumbaite) was the result of narrow regionalism that went against the grain of Mumbai's cosmopolitan culture. It was 92 riots Shivsena's hate politics reached the peak when he ruthless burned the city and the Muslims to justify his Hindutva agenda. What he failed to see in his narrow vision of great Maharashtra dream that he had unleashed an unending cycle of violence over the city which went beyond his control. The woman he loved so deeply and tortured for the sake of love was now being raped repeatedly by his own enemies.
Did he ever regret that love stories should not be inked in violence?

Yet, Balasaheb was a man of contradictions. No one could challenge his nationalism and patriotic fervor as a fake political stance. Like Hitler , he mesmerized people through his political speeches. He spoke from heart. He spoke fearlessly. What he spoke is what he meant And what he meant was what he spoke. People loved him for his honesty and he loved to perform before his people. It was a pure theatrics more then politics. And he won every time. This was the charisma of Balasaheb Thackeray. Even when he preached politics of hate among communities; he loved individual persons irrespective of religion , state caste class and community. He stood by them in times of great difficulty and he was a man of integrity which is such a rare quality of a leader in Indian politics. The doc who served him till his death was a Muslim man. And he vouched for Balasaheb's affection. Isn't this ironical?

Balasaheb was first an foremost an artist and a political cartoonist.  This is how he called himself.  "I am not a politician but a political cartoonist". It was so evident from the sharp wit and humor laced in irony that emerged through his speeches and his cartoons. As an artist his personality changed from his politics. He loved all arts and artists from all genres. Singers, musicians writers poets, cricketeers and if you are an achiever in any field, Balasaheb made a point to laud him or her for their achievements. He invited them home and treated like a personal guests. ( remember Michael jackson?). This was his humane side. So contradictory to his ruthless politics.

Balasaheb had cultivated his public image very carefully. In the political propaganda images he was alway portrayed along with growling tiger which was the political symbol of his party Shivsena. His early images show him delivering his political speeches in white clothes (a kurta and chudidar) and his hands extended in a forceful gesture or sometimes even the gesture that seemed a threaten his political opponents. This particular gesture of his hands and his body language and even his white clothing i.e a white kurta and chudidar seemed to be based on the character of Shivaji a regional king and a hero of Maharshtra. Most of Balasaheb's political ideas were derived from Shivaji's politics of resistance towards Muslim rule. As Balasaheb acquired the role of a supremo and an dictator his images changed from a dynamic hero to a Hindu ideologue seated on a huge chair wearing orange robes and rudraksha chains around his neck he appeared like a saint/god . He courted a a long flowing beard and a dark glasses that gave him the anonymity to command dictates of violence .

This is Balasaheb and Mumbai's strange love/hate relationship. On one had he violated the city with no mercy like a mad lover. On other he remained trapped inside Mumbai like her imprisoned lover . ( he never traveled as far as Delhi)

As I write this blog, funeral procession of Balasaheb is on the way. Mumbai has shut down with fear. The city has stopped. There are no taxies or autos plying on the roads, Cablewalas have shut all entertainment channels. There is no milk delivery. No news papers. Shops cinemas, malls are closed. Roads are deserted. Even the stray dogs on the roads have disappeared. It feels quite eerie . For once the city has stopped. More out of fear than respect.
 There is a moment of poignant pause.

The 'Love 'story of Balasaheb and Mumbai ends here. Call it madness. Call it cruelty. Call it dictatorship. Some love stories go horribly wrong. This is one of them. Man and his city
Mumabi is battered in this relationship and  has lost her sheen. But she will move on.
Will she be able to heal her wounds and return to her old glory?