I have been told I am very lucky that I had the chance of meeting Thackeray only four years into covering the Shiv Sena as a beat.
It was a memorable experience for a young political correspondent like me. I got to spend about 20 minutes with him, and had a five-minute chat with him too. Even at 86 he was extremely sharp.
I was categorically told not to ask him any questions, as it was his birthday. But being a journalist, I could not stop myself as soon as I saw Thackeray and decided to ask him a question. I moved closer to him and sat on the floor with my hands on his lap. ‘Thap’ I felt his hand on my back and even though he didn’t appear strong, his pat did feel heavy.
Seeing this as the perfect opportunity, I whispered for permission to pose one question. When I got no response from him, I assumed he hadn’t heard me and hence, I took the liberty and asked him whether I can ask two questions. “Ekach bolala na, vadhvaycha nahi (don’t increase the number of questions),” pat came his reply.
I asked him whether he thought he would be able to retain power in the BMC. His expression said it all — it seemed to suggest that his party would induct the mayor at the BMC. And that is exactly what happened.
While I was waiting to meet him, there were some girls with short hair in the room. Seeing them Thackeray jokingly asked whether they were girls or guys. He then narrated a joke and said, “I remember I was with PL Deshpande and we were talking about how girls keep their hair short and boys keep their hair long. How to differentiate between a girl and a guy? Deshpande immediately responded, “Go and pinch the person. If the person shies away then he’s a boy.” I had heard about his sarcasm, but this first-hand experience would stay with me all my life.
Thackeray’s grandson Aditya introduced me to him as a Mid Day journalist who writes negative stories about the Sena. Obviously that was a joke, but sitting so close to Balasaheb Thackeray itself was a huge achievement for me and at that point I didn’t bother whether I had written stories that he found negative or positive. The only thing in my mind at that point of time was whether I would be able to see him again. I was happy that I got to meet him, talk to him and even touch him. My only remorse today is that I wasn’t able to interview him. Now with his death, this wish will never be fulfilled.