The city of Mumbai witnessed a virtual shutdown yesterday, with streets and flyovers wearing a look of eerie desertion, and shops having firmly downed their shutters. Outside Matoshree, Thackeray’s Bandra home, however, unprecedented crowds of his faithfuls had started converging from the preceding night, ready to accompany their Saheb in his last journey to Shivaji Park, a spot almost synonymous with Thackeray’s inimitable, contentious rhetoric.
As the cortege rolled down from Bandra to Shivaji Park via Mahim, a sea of humanity descended on the streets, choking them. Thackeray’s last ride to Shivaji Park — a landmark fondly named Shiv tirth by him — was scheduled to commence from Matoshree at 7.30 am.
The swelling crowds however forced the retinue to delay its departure, and a multiple axle vehicle carrying the mortal remains of the departed leader set out only at 9.15 am. Balasaheb’s son Uddhav, daughter-in-law Rashmi, grandchildren Aaditya and Tejas accompanied the patriarch to his final resting place. Other family members like Smita Thackeray and her sons, late son Bindumadhav’s children were also part of the retinue.
The atmosphere was charged with grief. As soon as his body was placed on the vehicle, there was a spontaneous outpouring of anguish from his Sainiks, many of whom burst into tears. Slogans in praise of Thackeray rang in the air. While some Sainiks were heard crying out ‘Parat ya Parat ya, Balasaheb Parat ya’ (Come back, Balasaheb come back), others chanted more jingoistic slogans, shouting, ‘Ekach Saheb, Balasaheb, ekach zenda, bhagwa zenda’ (‘Only Saheb, Balasaheb, only flag, the saffron flag’).
The van, with about three-dozen of Balasaheb’s family members and close associates on it, moved on at a sluggish pace. Lakhs of supporters jostled each other to catch a last fleeting glimpse of their leader, their fervour impeding the movement of the van. The stretch between Matoshree and Sena Bhavan – a distance covered in about 20 minutes on wheels on a regular day – was covered in six hours by the van yesterday. At intervals of 100 metres, petals showered the convoy. Sena representatives were heard announcing that over 40 lakh people had congregated, requesting them not to impede the movement of the procession.
Inevitably, the crowds wreaked havoc on the schedule for Thackeray’s cremation. The van was to have reached Sena Bhavan at 9 am and proceeded to Shivaji Park an hour later. After five hours of darshan, the last rites were to have begun at 5 pm. Instead, the van rolled into the Shiv Sena headquarters only at 3 pm, from where it reached Shivaji Park only after 5.30 pm. The cremation rites commenced at 6.30 pm, as dusk set in.
The final rites were performed by Uddhav Thackeray, who was assisted by elder brother Jaidev and cousin Raj Thackeray. The doctors and nurses who treated Balasaheb, his personal bodyguard Thapa and personal assistant Ravindra Mhatre, also stayed by the side of the pyre while the last rites were being performed, even participating in some.
In Mumbai everyone gets to see Balasaheb often, but we who come from outside Mumbai wanted to catch a last glimpse of our leader. But we didn’t get to see Saheb during the procession.
— Akhil Chinchole, who came from Jalgaon
We wanted to see Balasaheb at Matoshree itself, but we were not allowed, as the crowds were so huge.
— Vinod D, who came from Sinnar