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.
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.
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:
T 932 - Balasaheb Thackeray : a fighter all his life, fights his life !! Prayers needed now !— Amitabh Bachchan (@SrBachchan) November 14, 2012
T 932 - When I fought for my life after 'Coolie' accident, he came to visit me in hospital, with a cartoon he had drawn - Yamraj defeated !— Amitabh Bachchan (@SrBachchan) November 14, 2012
T 932 - Yamraj - God of Death, defeated by me..wish I was as proficient a cartoonist as he, for tonight I would wish to draw that for him !— Amitabh Bachchan (@SrBachchan) November 14, 2012
T 932 - Yes both Abhishek and me were injured with cuts, but are fine and back home ... the doctors at 'Matoshree' attended on us !— Amitabh Bachchan (@SrBachchan) November 14, 2012
T 932 - When Jaya and I married, he called us to his house .. and the rituals that were conducted was of the 'bahu' coming home !— Amitabh Bachchan (@SrBachchan) November 14, 2012
T 932 - From that day on he always treated us as family ..— Amitabh Bachchan (@SrBachchan) November 14, 2012
T 932 -When I was flown in to Mumbai from Bangalore in semi conscious state after 'Coolie' accident, it was his ambulance that took me to BC— Amitabh Bachchan (@SrBachchan) November 14, 2012
T 932 - BC : Breach Candy Hospital— Amitabh Bachchan (@SrBachchan) November 14, 2012
T 932 - When the Bofors Scandal accusations on us were at its peak, he called me home and asked "tell me the truth, are you involved ?" ....— Amitabh Bachchan (@SrBachchan) November 14, 2012
T 932 -When I said "NO !", he said "Then do not worry about anything. I am with you. You are an actor, go do what you are best at".— Amitabh Bachchan (@SrBachchan) November 14, 2012
T 932 - The night will be long tonight !!— Amitabh Bachchan (@SrBachchan) November 14, 2012
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.
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.