Let me just begin by saying I was never a fan of Bal Thackeray. I do not agree with his ideology or methods. I call the city ‘Bombay’. Always have and always will. I did not mourn Bal Thackeray. Anyway, this blogpost is not about the man or his actions or his role in the Bombay riots of 1992-93. There are several others who have written with more authority and erudition than I ever could on that subject. This blogpost is about his followers.
I was at Apollo Bunder with a few friends on Saturday evening when we heard the news that Bal Thackeray was no more. We were extremely lucky to get a cab to get back home (to Andheri) – and well, more than a little unlucky to get a cab-driver who insisted on talking a very long route through Mohd. Ali road and Byculla, through to Mahalakhsmi and onto the Western express highway via Tulsi Pipe road. In short we went through almost the entire length of Bombay and everywhere we saw the same thing. We saw Shiv Sainiks forcefully shutting shop for the bhel sellers and balloon sellers and the Victoria riders. We saw Shiv Sainiks forcefully shutting down Leopolds and slowly the entire Colaba Causeway. We saw Shiv Sainiks clearing things out all along our route. Hundreds of people with bags (presumably to catch flights or trains) were stranded and there was no transport. We saw cab drivers fearfully refuse all these people. They did not want to go anywhere close to Matoshri. There was panic everywhere – people all around were answering phones and telling their families that they were on their way home. Certainly the most tense I’ve seen this city in my short time here.
Once we got home a good two hours later, all the shops were closed. Even the medical stores. We happened to get lucky a second time in the day when our grocer agreed to open his store for 5 minutes to give us a few packs of Top ramen for dinner. He told us that nothing would be open for the next couple of days. Everyone has been threatened to have their shops forcefully closed, vandalised or both by Shiv Sainiks. Even today, the same situation. Everything was closed. One restaurant opened its kitchen but behind closed doors telling us that they would shut shop as soon as they saw anyone from the Shiv Sena approaching.
The point of sharing these experiences is – that no one should think even for a second that this bandh was out of “respect for Bal Thackeray”. Get this very straight that this bandh was purely out of fear and that this bandh was enforced, not called for.
Shiv Sainiks on social media have been going on about how “they have the right to grieve” , how “Bal Thackeray was a family member to us” etc etc. There were 20 lakh people at Bal Thackeray’s funeral today. Does the Shiv Sena not realise that there are another 150 lakh people in the city whose lives were shut down today? 150 lakh people, a majority of the people in this city, who could not care less? 150 lakh people whose lives were put on hold because of an immature reaction to the natural death of an 86 year old? That these people may have had something important to take care of ? 150 lakh people a majority of whom are poor – the roadside bhel sellers, the ballon guy or the grocer- who lost a days worth of business? Is “some guy we don’t know died” a good enough reason to give your kids for not bringing home food for the night?
Bal Thackeray may have been a lot of things to a lot of people while he was alive – but in death, he has been nothing but a nuisance to almost everyone. But I’ll say this, unlike all the heinous acts and words he is responsible for in his political career – this was not his fault.