The day I met Bal Thackeray

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.

Bal Thackeray
When firecrackers interrupted his speech at Girgaum Chowpatty, Bal Thackeray decided to use the opportunity to rest for a few minutes. File photo

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. 

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