My feelings about Mr. Bal Thackeray’s latest triumph are mixed. As his former colleague, I am happy at his success, as I would be at the success of any old colleague. As a citizen of Bombay (Mumbai), I am not quite sure.
To reassure myself, and a few readers, let me reflect on all the nice things about him. For instance:
The little, modest corner that he occupied at 21, Dalal Street, from where he functioned as the staff cartoonist of The Free Press Journal. The caricature which he once drew of me, and which, not aware of its worth later in life, I have lost.
I remember him as a quiet, soft-spoken gentleman, a little timid, sad-eyed, peering at the world through large glasses. There was something very melancholic about him, a sort of a Maharashtrian Woody Allen.
He used to smoke cigars then (now he smokes pipes, which he does not know how to pack and light and keep going), or deshi cheeroots, since none of us were particularly rich on Free Press salaries and could not afford Havanas, though at that time they were available in Mumbai (Bombay) for 50 paise a piece.
Winston Churchill was his favourite cartoon character, a John Bull figure that he used to draw with rapid strokes. Perhaps, his fondness for cigars was because of Churchill. There were other figures he used to draw; Nehru, looking like everybody’s uncle, C. Rajagopalachari, in dark glasses, like a flying fox.
He used to let us watch him drawing, doing his daily cartoons. Probably he could not help it, because he was sitting in such a public place, nobody had bothered to give him a cabin. His desk was next to the commercial desk, Shantilal Shah and son Kirit Shah, the all-Gujarati commercial desk of the Free Press. It made a strange combination, the Maharashtrian artist and the Gujarati share bazarwallas.
At the end of the day, he would pass through the reporters’ room, a halo of cigar smoke round his face. And he would joke and laugh, because unlike most cartoonists he had humour in private life also. All the reporters were very proud of him and very loyal, we used to say he was better than Laxman. Which he was, for a while, though no longer.
People do not change, they only reach different stages of life. Possibly Bal Thackeray has not changed, he is still the cartoonist who likes to draw Winston Churchill. If that is the case, it would be good for Bombay (Mumbai).
April 29, 1985, Published as Humour, Bal Thackeray Style
Copyright: Busybee, courtesy Farzana Contractor
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