'Bal Thackeray called us up two days before he died'
Kamala Laxman, wife of RK Laxman, recounts to MiD DAY the couple's last conversation with the Shiv Sena chief, and how the loss of an old friend has, of late, left her husband, a generation's humour icon, quiet on the subject
RK Laxman’s biting observation has given voice to the disquiet of millions for decades. Of late, his reticence over the death of Bal Thackeray, a long-time friend and former newspaper co-worker, is markedly noticeable to his wife, Kamala.
MiD DAY got to hear of the now-withdrawn illustrator’s silence over the subject of the passing away of the Shiv Sena supremo from his wife Kamala. The couple was in Mumbai to attend a college event, and in a tête-à-tête, she revealed the extent to which the senior Thackeray’s demise has shaken her husband, who “doesn’t speak much these days and rarely makes a public appearance”.
Perhaps it doesn’t come naturally to a famed humorist to articulate the emotional turmoil that bereavement sets off.
Relating the last conversation the couple had with the Sena chief, Kamala said, “Two days before his death, Bal Thackeray spoke to both of us over the phone. After he heard our voices, he told me, ‘Now, I can leave peacefully’. I told him that’s not going to happen and he would have to come to Pune again to meet us, the way he had earlier.” Thackeray had made a very rare visit to Laxman’s house in Pune earlier this year. “But he said emphatically, ‘It won’t happen’.
“Soon after, we got the news of his death. Since then, Laxman has not spoken a single word about Bal Thackeray. The news has distressed him so much that he doesn’t talk about him anymore,” she said.
Pedalling down memory lane, Kamala recalled the friendship she shared with Meenatai Thackeray, the Sena chief’s wife. “We weren’t close to them in a political sense. It was a different bond, very different. There was nothing remotely political between us. It was friendship that both the families shared,” said Kamala.
She added that over the years, the families had exchanged many souvenirs, memories and presents.
The Laxmans couldn’t meet Bal Thackeray before his death, and this would always nag at them, Kamala said. “Whenever we would come to Mumbai, in spite of so many invitations from Matoshree (the Thackeray residence in Bandra) we barely ever made it to their home. Our schedule would be tight and the trips seldom lasted beyond a day,” she said.
“We did recently go there to meet Uddhav (Bal Thackeray’s son) and family, but he (the Sena chief) wasn’t there,”
she said, the regret in her voice palpable.
Kamala, an author herself, said she still insists that the cartoonist sketch. “I keep bullying Laxman every evening to draw something or the other, so that he doesn’t lose touch with the art,” she said.
Throughout the conversation, a reclusive Laxman looked fixedly at his wife, as she answered all the questions for him.