I have been a witness to the rise and rise of Balasaheb Thackeray. I was introduced to him on the day I joined The Free Press Journal. "This is Thackeray, the cartoonist," I was told, or words to that effect.
He did not look much different from what he looks now, except that in those days he wore a shirt and trousers. Thick black hair, which he has retained, sad eyes peering out of glasses, and a cloud of smoke created by a cigar. There were two persons on the staff who smoked cigars, Natarajan, the editor, and Thackeray, the cartoonist. The editor's were expensive and had a fine aroma, the cartoonist's were cheap, and stank.
Mr Thackeray also smoked a pipe, this was when he was doing his drawing work. He rested the drawing paper on a piece of wood, held it at an angle, and drew in thick black strokes.
He had no special room, as I later found Laxman had, soundproofed, and with his personal sepoy outside to see that he was not disturbed. Mr Thackeray's was a large room, which he shared with the film page editor, Ajit Merchant, and an office clerk. We used to call the room the library, because it was filled with books that had over the years come for reviews. People moved in and around it all the time, Mr Thackeray was never disturbed. And he did not talk much, he was both shy and timid.
But we were all proud of him, two of his works had been included in a British anthology of cartoons. Laxman's had not. Either behind that timid front a volcano had been raging, or everything that happened afterwards happened by chance and accident. Mr Thackeray left the paper in rage, or at least as much rage as his then gentle nature could command. An American newspaper had reproduced one of his cartoons and sent him a cheque. The management had kept the cheque, claiming that the cartoon was its property.
The management was South Indian, and hence his first attack, when he started Marmik, a sort of Marathi Punch, was against the South Indians. It was mainly directed against the Malabari hawkers, who used to, and still do, crowd Bombay's pavements and sell smuggled or fake goods.
The Gujaratis were attacked next, and then the Muslims. The basic thinking behind all these attacks was always that the non Maharashtrians (non-Marathi-speaking) were the haves of Bombay, and the Maharashtrians, to whom the city geographically belonged, were the have·nots. It was a way of thinking guaranteed to make Mr Thackeray popular.
I do not know if the entire scheme was worked out in Mr Thackeray's mind or it just happened. I don't think even Mr Thackeray knows that. Still, I find today that more and more people are saying that whatever has happened has been good for the city and the state. I neither agree nor disagree with this. And I wish him a happy birthday.
January 28, 1997. Published as The Rise Of Tiger Thackeray. Copyright: Busybee, courtesy Farzana Contractor