The other day, I had gone to interview Mr. Bal Thackeray. Since Mr. Thackeray was hard pressed for time, he asked me if I would mind sharing the interview time with another reporter. Since the other reporter was from a Marathi paper (Sanj Loksatta) and our interests did not clash, I had not objection.
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