Sunday, Sep 24, 2023

Mumbai Musings

Mumbai Musings

Bal Thackeray's worsening health and rumours about it kept Mumbai tense but calm, as every little sign from his residence Matoshree, and Sena Bhavan, were subjected to serious scrutiny

Ekta Tiger
Couple of months ago after the release of Salman Khan starrer Ek Tha Tiger, one poster was sprouting in some pockets of Mumbai and Maharahstra. It had a picture of bal Thackeray, ailing and a shadow of his younger personality, with a caption "Ekta Tiger" (the only tiger). At that time i wondered if it was a rather lukewarm attempt at garnering publicity. But last night as the news of Thackeray's critical condition spread, shutters came down rapidly. Equally swift was assembly of Shiv Sena supporters outside Matoshree, his fort-like Bandra residence. Perhaps he still is the only tiger, though ailing and frail, having the same impact on the city as he did in his younger and more active days...

Like the Old Times
A call for bandh by Sena used to receive full support many years back, but the last few times, similar "success" had actually gone to Bal Thackeray's estranged nephew and MNS chief Raj Thackeray. The economic slowdown had already triggered a mellow Diwali this year, and the news of Bal Thackeray's health only precipitated it. As the mob swelled at Matoshree and attacked OB vans and snatched and threw mikes and tripods, I was a little surprised by this spontaneous violence. It was a characteristic of Balasaheb's Sena but one had perhaps become complacent after Uddhav took charge and Raj split. As media persons huddled together one was reminded of the hold 'Ekta Tiger' still has on his supporters.

Pragmatic Precautions
Padwa (the new year) and Bhau Beej, especially latter, see tremendous enthusiasm with brothers and sisters across the city travelling to meet and exchange sweets and gifts. But today the trains were empty, roads free to zipzap, and in many parts of the city no shop open for even a cup if tea, let alone funky Diwali gifts. Many taxis and autos stayed off roads. One of the taxidrivers told me, "Madam, it takes two seconds to break a taxi and it would cost us several thousand rupees to fix. No one has called for a bandh but who can risk their livelihood in the middle of Diwali? It is a peak time for all shopkeepers hotels and us, but we would rather suffer this loss." The administration too wasn't taking any chances: there was heavy deployment of police presence including teams of rapid action force deployed since morning. A constable just said that leave of police force has been cancelled.

Bollywood Calling

Balasaheb Thackeray's relationship with Bollywood is not unknown. And since last night, when news of his critical condition broke, several personalities have paid visits to enquire about his health. Amitabh Bachchan who came with his son Abhishek, met the family. Reportedly he had to literally jump over the barricade to reach Matoshree. He tweeted a series of emotional messages about Thackeray that included the following:

Through Sarkar, loosely based on Thackeray's life and family, Bachchan immortalised Thackeray's classic wave of hand to pacify supporters and perhaps added a filmy aura to the mysterious and perhaps scary workings of the Thackeray household. 

Then came Sanjay Dutt. The relationship with the Dutts has been much talked about ever since the late Sunil Dutt visited Balasaheb when Sanjay was arrested after the 1993 blasts. 

The other filmy family to pay a visit was Salman Khan who came with his father Salim Khan and brother Arbaz. A small crowd also gathered to see Agent Tiger even as Sena workers continued to shout slogans. 

The Kapoor brothers — Randhir, Rishi and Rajeev — were the other prominent faces, apart of course from Shah Rukh Khan

Not Just Sena
From political opponents like the Maharashtra Chief Minister Prithviraj Chavan to central minister Sharad Pawar, to BJP allies like Nitin Gadkari, to corporate honchos like Rahul Bajaj visited the Thackeray residence. Not just MNS leader Raj Thackeray and family visited, but many MNS supporters also thronged Matoshree and mingled along with the Sena supporters. Meanwhile, prayers and pujas were organised in faraway Pune and Pandharpur as well but, at nearby Shivaji Park, a stone's throw-away from the Sena Bhavan, there were a few teams playing Cricket as usual.

Rumours Rule
When any celebrity or an important political leader falls sick, apart from his treatment the family and medics need to deal with another collateral disease— rumour mongering. Every few hours, sometimes even minutes, there would be hush of rumours about Thackeray's deteriorating health, medical bulletins and miraculous improvements and different religious/superstitious factors. Not to forget the rather technical discussions on ventilators. Even the official line used to deny all rumours —"" stable but critical " and " critical but stable" —was subjected to intense scrutiny, trying to read between the subtle shifts in terminology employed. Perhaps what triggered the violence against media was also because of reading too much into the removal of Diwali Kandil (decorations) opposite Matoshree and in Dadar. Finally, today evening as the lights were switched on at Sena Bhavan, that too led to many speculations about how it was a sign acknowledging that the Sena leader was out of danger.


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