Dear Swargiya Balasaheb,
Pranaam! You might think I am trying to make a career out of the death of our celebrities and other such events. It is certainly true that footfalls on my blog significantly increase whenever I write on celebrity death – be it that of Bin Laden or you, Balasaheb (in your case, I am simply assuming) – I assure you I am trying to earn my bread and butter by peddling in the mundane/ordinary.
Balasaheb, you must be feeling proud thinking how the city of Mumbai has come to a standstill after your death. You must be proud that the Congress government in Maharashtra has taken over your legacy. Do you know they have arrested two young women for writing rubbish about you on facebook wall? Do you know what they wrote: “People like Bal Thackeray are born and die daily and one should not observe a bandh for that…” How dare they utter such nonsense about the one who owned the city for decades? And who says our political class can never break bread together? Do you realize how your death has already brought political parties with distinct ideologies together? Sirji, this will stand out as your outstanding contribution to Indian history and politics.
Sirji, you have given nationalism a respectability that it had lost after the overzealousness of your idol, Adolf Hilter. And you have proved how ideas can travel from one part of the globe and prosper in other parts. Your politics has also proved how tolerant Indians can be. While it will be almost impossible in the west to avoid jail and punishment for declaring Hitler is one’s idol, every time you took his name, people just loved it and roared: you are a sher. Sirji, eh sher-ji, you have made Hilter cool!!
Balasaheb, let me tell you how I first met you so many years ago. Do you remember? Oh, sorry, how would you? You have been staring down hard with your sher-look, eh, sorry, cooling-glass mediated sher-look, from the wall of my hostel. Yes, from the wall. I mean from the newspapers stuck on the wall. In our Ramakrishna Mission School Hostel, the daily newspaper was always stuck on the wall so that 120 of us could take our turns to read it. I vaguely remember you roaring when Pakistan came to play the 1986-87 series. You wanted to send your boys to dig the pitch. Unfortunately, they had to wait for more than a decade to do it in Kotla Stadium in 1999. And they did a fabulous job, if I remember right. Do you know those days I was seriously considering cricket as a career? Oh, sorry, how would you? Sirji, you made digging cricket pitches so cool!
Like every summer, I came home the summer of 1990 for spending the vacation. Those days, I used to causally glance through the newspapers and never quite read it, despite my father’s insistence that I must know what’s happening around me and also as a way of learning to read and comprehend difficult English. Did you know the Statesman used to be the epitome of chaste English in Bengal those days? Sorry, see how I digress. Ok the point is: you were never very far away from me those days. My father used to come home for lunch and narrate to us how you roared in your sher-like voice that all Muslims must go to Pakistan. I never noticed my father getting very agitated about it, though. As if he found your roars amusing. Even if he was, my father was not the emotional type. See how I digress again. Whenever my father conveyed your missives, my mother had this incredulous look. She could not understand why we should go back to Pakistan when we decided against it in 1947. And then she would get agitated and mutter: Oi lokta puro pagal (He must be a complete madman). I must admit you were always a part of our life those days.
Sirji, do you know I was really shit-scared during the December of 1992 and the following January? Your boys along with the boys from your trusted political ally went out to amuse themselves and I almost peed in my pants. I had never experienced a riot until then. Always read about so many butchered in such and such place. Now it was happening very close: in Liluah, in Kolkata. When my Hindu landlord and his son, who was my age and my friend, told me that a few heads had been chopped off a couple of kilometers away (I was living in Uttarpara those days, doing my +2), sirji, I shivered. Your boys did a fabulous job in Mumbai and tried their hand elsewhere. Sirji, it must have been your regret that your boys could never replicate their feat outside Mumbai. Anyways, my father fetched me home. It took me days to shed off the fear. But you see, sirji, I could talk of a riot from then on without having to lose my head or other body parts. Thank you, sirji, for giving such an invaluable lesson about living life in India.
Sirji, you must have been very upset when that fool Srikrishna submitted that stupid report to the Maharashtra government. You showed exemplary courage and dignity in making it absolutely clear that you don’t give a damn to such nonsense. You kept on roaring. You must have been a satisfied man to see the Memons get what they deserved: death sentence! How could they mess with your Mumbai? In your Mumbai, you are the sher. You are the one to decide when to start a riot, when to vandalize properties, when to teach the young things a lesson about Valentine’s Day. Who the hell are these Memons and Dawoods? How could they even dream of dismembering Mumbai, your city?
Ok sirji, I won’t prolong my letter. I know you are a busy soul. In your absence, people have started calling you an extremist, a fascist, a terrorist and what not. Rest assured, for me, your lasting contributions would be: teaching how to play on a cricket pitch without a bat and ball; making my mother agitated with the thought of going to Pakistan; teaching me how it feels like in a riot situation; preaching values to the young ones who corrupted Indian culture; giving certificates for being a true Maharashtrian (Sunil Gavaskar was; Sachin Tendulkar was not); and, the most important of all, popularize Hitler and his ideologies and making sure other political parties imbibed those values.
You are a true nationalist, Sirji. You will be missed. My only regret: I could never meet you in person.