Monday, November 19, 2012

BAL KESHAV THACKERAY 1926 - 2012

Today was a holiday.
No, not because it was a Sunday as usual, but for another reason.
Normally Sunday's are busy days, filled with the personal agenda's, filled with things one couldn't have done on week days.
Sundays are days when you wake up in the morning, maybe slightly later than usual, get ready and go, ending the day sometimes well spent.
However today, it was declared a complete holiday.
You couldn't go shopping, to spa, neither meet friends nor go for a general stroll through a new store at Phoenix or Raghuvanshi Mills or even go check out a restaurant at BKC.
And most of all, you couldn't watch TV, or atleast those channels you would've liked to serf through since you were stranded at home with nothing better to do.
Today was a day of mourning.

Bal Thackeray passed away last evening, and from the time I heard the news from my friend Salim Asgarally, who called to tell me to get home as soon as possible, it was barely 30 more minutes later, that the entire city had shut down.
My first instincts were to stock up on ciggerettes, but my local baniya was closed by the time my maid went running to it and so were all the paan shops in my area which perhaps were the first to shut down.
She managed to pick up a bottle of Vodka for me though, from the local liquor shop which was downing its shutters at the time she reached there, so I was happy that I could replenish my bar with my most preferred drink before the streets went empty and it became dark and lonely.

Now I sat in front of the TV set all of Saturday evening as well as the whole of today, and switched between news channels, since they were all that was running on the box, watching the proceedings of a funeral which was huge, the biggest I have witnessed in all my years.
At first I was kind of disinterested but it didn't take me long to get involved with the funeral as crowds around the cortege swelled and the anchors started stating numbers in as much disbelief as I was in.
There was a surge of 2 million people around the Sena Chiefs body which was being carried from Bandra to Shivaji Park, where the final rites were going to be performed at sundown.
I was intrigued. I was mesmerized. I was stunned to see the devotion, the pain, the anguish and the sheer loyalty at display of lakhs of people towards their leader who had formed the Sena 46 years ago and had been the single head of the political organization throughout his life thereafter.
From Mumbai is orphaned, to Mumbai has lost it's soul, one celebrity after another, industrialist and common man, spoke of the loss, the void their Tiger had left behind.

I have lived in the city for over 25 years now, and been at the receiving end of bandhs, been in complete disagreement with Balasahebs brand of politics.
The fiercely secular me had always been repulsed by the Hindutva agenda adopted by his party in the '90's and had been critical of the encouragement he gave his men to riot and wipe out Muslims from the city then.
I had also read a lot about the man and personally disliked his attitude towards outsiders in Mumbai, counting myself as one, because I am not a Marathi Manoos.

Yet, I have never hated Bal Keshav Thackeray.
I admired his personality, loved his oratory and was impressed with his consistent pride in Maharashtra, which the Sena called Marathi Asmita.
Also, everytime I came to the point of hating the politics of Shiv Sena, I was always reminded of 1987, the 31st of August, when my father had died due to a sudden seizure, and when we used to live in Setalvaad Lane in Napeansea Road.
It was the time of Ganpati and there was a Pandal right opposite our building with music blaring right through the day until late in the night.
That night when my father died, and his body was brought back in an ambulance from Bombay Hospital, the Pandal shut down the loud music.
For the next couple of days, they did not play music at all.
After the chautha ceremony, three days later, my mother went up to the Pandal to thank the Shiv Sainiks for being considerate and asked them to go ahead with their celebrations, to which the head of the Sainiks turned around and told my mother that she was like his mother and her grief was his.
They didn't play music until the last day, and when they took Ganpati for visarjan, it was the first time after my fathers death that they got the band and went with His idol, dancing to the music.
So in the years thereafter, all my angst against the Shiv Sainiks would always get dissipated by the memory of those times which had convinced me that like all other people in the world, the Shiv Sainiks also had a heart.

However, today was another day to go deeper into the relationship, or lack of it, that I, as a Mumbaikar shared with Bal Thackerays Shiv Sena.
The closest I've been to a Thackeray is having met the lovely Smita Thackeray a few times when I was a co jury member with her for the Annual Screen Awards in 2004.
Then one meeting with Raj Thackeray after he had broken away from the Sena and founded MNS.
My friends Shobha and Chaitanya Sant had taken me to meet him after I had expressed my desire to do so because I had wanted to work with him and I thought that a young political party like MNS could do a huge deal for the city if the right kind of people joined it and supported him in his endeavors.
When I met Raj Thackeray he asked me why I wanted to work with him, and I said to him that I want to work with him because I liked him. He asked me how long I had been in Mumbai and I told him that I had been in the city for about 20 years.
Then he asked me if I spoke Marathi, in Marathi. That was the end.
At first I didn't understand what he said, and then I told him that I couldn't speak Marathi.
I am a Panjabi but I can't speak Panjabi either.
I can only speak fluent Hindi and English, but it was not the time to tell him that and therefore it was where the meeting with Raj Thackeray had finished.
I knew that my working with him was not going to happen, although both Shobha and Chaitanya told me that it wasn't over yet.

However, today there were two million people, 20 lakh out there in the city that I loved and lived in, and I wasn't one of them.
Nobody, none of my friends, whom I knew closely, were amongst them either.
And the first big question that arose in my mind was, WHY?!

None of us, all my friends and I, were either in politics or industrialists of the stature of Anil Ambani, Rahul Bajaj and Veenu Kumar Dhoot. Neither were any of us, despite being integral parts of the Industry of Entertainment, stars of the stature of Mr. Bachchan, the Kapoors or the Khans.
None of us had ever needed to go to him to pay our respects to him.
And none of us were, even if Maharashtrians, 'the Marathi Manoos'.
So where did we fit?
The answer was that, we didn't fit!

Yet my eyes were glued on to the ocean of people which followed and led the cortege and merged like a tidal wave with the Arabian Sea in the background as it seemed in a top angle shot which was being shown again and again by the channel which I was watching.
Who are they? Why are they there? Where have they come from to converge and confluence like waves overlapping each other?
Their feelings are genuine, but why is it that I am not feeling what they are feeling?

Their emotions were real and their collective grief was palpable.
I knew the instant that the questions arose in, that it was the identity which Bal Keshav Thackeray had given them that was making them feel the sorrow and share the pain with his immediate family.
The power people feel is because of the connection their leader has with them and Balasaheb was a leader who was one with those multitudes I was watching on TV.
Then where had his politics gone wrong?
Why am I caught in this schizophrenia, impressed with him but in complete disagreement with his politics? Why would I never be one with the crowds that wept at his funeral today?

And then I realized that most of the very impressive men, educated, erudite, humble and smart, most politicians in our country are trapped in the politics of helping people find their identity which when associated with religion becomes divisive and none of our leaders, secural or right wing have found a way out of it yet.
I am a Hindu and proud to be one, I don't hate Muslims, Christians or any other and I don't want to desecrate their places of worship.
I want to be free to practice my own religion while they practice theirs.
I do not believe that to be a true Hindu I must stop my friends from being Muslim, Christian or any other religion than mine.
I am educated, I have shelter, I have a job and in that I have an identity therefore I am secure.

Bal Thackeray's Shiv Sena was formed for the right reasons but has lost its way for the wrong.
To give identity to people, our politics has to free itself from religion.
People have to be empowered with education and employment and the role of politics is to make them secure by providing both.
People must uphold their right to the religion of their choice themselves, and not allow the ideology of one political party or another to confuse their identity with their religion.

Like in the rest of the world, people following different religions coexist and respect each other, Indians must do the same or else we are doomed.
To uphold its glory and to give it permanence in the land of its birth, we can convert Hinduism into a monumental pageantry like the British have done to uphold Christianity in the customs of their monarchy, or the Catholics uphold theirs in the theater of the Vatican.
Or else we can even create a space like the Muslims for whom the house of their Allah is in Mecca.
Such a place where Hindu's from all over the world can come and visit to worship their Gods, but our politics has to be far away from it.
There are Mosques and Temples, Churches, Gurudwara's and Shrines everywhere in the world, so must they all be there in India as well.
We can position Hinduism and give it the place we want, but lets not make it so shallow that to make it stand out we have to destroy the practices and places of worship of other religions.

And lets not confuse our religious beliefs with the basic rights of men, women and children in our country which every political party has to ensure they get through education and by providing them access to quality health care.
The identity of our future generations will come from their individual successes and the identity of our nation will come from their collective joy.
Hinduism will and should only be the religion for those who choose to follow it.
Islam, Christianity etc. for others.