Their reporter was already at the house when I arrived. He was a young man, his entire journalistic career ahead of him, rather smallish in build, glasses, and looking very earnest. I could understand how he felt. I thought of myself, at his age and at his stage of career. And he had the plum assignment of interviewing Bal Thackeray, who, in a few days, could be the king of Maharashtra. The equivalent would be my meeting Jawaharlal Nehru in my time, which I never did.
I wish to make it clear, I am not comparing Nehru with Thackeray, there can be no comparison. One created a nation, the other destroyed a city. But assignment wise, they are both equal attractions for a young reporter.
We were called in. The little fellow was a toughie, he pushed his way in ahead of me, introduced himself, took the best seat in the place, from his thela took out a small tape recorder, plonked it in front of Mr. Thackeray, and switched it on. Meanwhile, I was fumbling in my pockets for paper, ball pen, finding that the ball pen had run dry, looking for another one.
The young man had his questions ready, one, two, three, four, five. Before I had sat down, he had started shooting them. And he had done his homework, he had notes, carefully written down in a fine Devnagari script: voting patterns in various districts and talukas of Maharashtra, names of candidates, rival candidates, rebel candidates, highlights of the SS manifesto.
I had a difficult time, keeping pace with the tape recorder, and a ball pen that did not quite work. Mr. Thackeray, possibly, noticed my discomfort, carefully, and in English he directed some of his answers to me.
But the young man did not give him much chance. There were more questions he had to ask. What about Bhujbal? When was he going to Thane? What about the sugar co-operatives and the Maratha factor? How was the reception in Rajapur?
We had been there for more than an hour by then. My hands were paining with all the notes I was trying to take. The tape in the tape-recorder seemed inexhaustible. And so did the questions by the young man. And it was he who finally terminated the interview. “I think, we have covered all the ground,” he told me.
“Yes,” I said.
As we came out, I said to him: “You are from the Sanj Loksatta?”
“Yes,” he said. “And you?”
No, I was not upset that he did not recognise me. Only, a little hurt.
February 7, 1995, published as Interviewing Mr. Bal Thackeray. Copyright: Busybee, courtesy Farzana Contractor
Thank you to all those who have taken the trouble to read the article and share their thoughts. Out of the arguments made here, there are two that perhaps need answering. So here they go.
1. The first part of the article compares outcomes (relative percentages of population of the religions concerned) irrespective of the process that led to those outcomes - whether immigration, relatively faster population growth or conversions. This was for two reasons. One, to put the figure of 2.3 per cent in "numerical perspective", as the article itself explained. The second reason was that outcomes are ultimately what the crux of debate is about. The rest of the article in any case dealt with process - or conversions in this case, from both a contemporary and historical perspective.
2. Some commenters have tried to cast doubts on the reliability of Census 2001. Those who do this should bear in mind that Census 2001 was conducted by a BJP government. Considering the extreme importance that BJP gives to this issue, it would be reasonable to expect that IF it had perceived a problem with the methodology that was distorting the numbers, it would have fixed it. As the article mentioned, BJP or BJP-supported governments have been in power for 10 of the last 40 years, or about a quarter of the time, and the only reasonable conclusion one can arrive at is that any misreporting of numbers, real or perceived, would be marginal and hence, not of importance.
To all other arguments made, my answer is the following: Please read the article again, with particular focus on the quotations of Vivekananda and Monier Williams, and the history of the missionary efforts in Bengal and their outcome.
Mr Vinod Mehta have some shame...least balance out by placing both sides of argument, there are many more admirers of Late Bala Saheb than his critics, you can find at least few old articles in his praise.....sorry to say your magazine stands small in his death for the meanness displayed by series of only critical articles !
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