‘He was fiery, formidable, but funny too...’
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"Balasaheb had a particular habit of caressing his beard right before he made a satirical comment or a sharp observation," said Sudhir Gadgil, a well-known figure in Marathi journalism and culture, about the late Shiv Sena supremo who he had interviewed 11 times in his career.
Gadgil was recounting his experiences with Thackeray and his style of giving interviews. "To interview such a great orator, I had to prepare well in advance, and make sure that I was up to date with all the latest news," said Gadgil. "He would not only know everything that was happening around him, but would immediately spot your errors as well."
Recalling his first interview of Thackeray, Gadgil said: "It was at the Doordarshan Mumbai studio in 1974. My show was about what my guests did and who they were at the age of 25. We chatted about his cartoons, his experiences working with R K Laxman in Free Press Journal, and how his father gave him tips about public speaking."
Having interviewed Thackeray so many times, Gadgil said he felt lucky to have got an insight into his unique character and the lighter side. Stating that Thackeray liked to be interviewed at his home, Matoshree in Mumbai, he said: "During the later years, Balasaheb's health was not good. He preferred to be interviewed in his study, sitting on his throne-like armchair."
Describing his room, Gadgil said: "His room had a lot of books, and he used to stretch his feet on a small ottoman kept in front of his armchair." Thackeray would keep framed photographs of his late father Prabodhankar Thackeray and wife Mina Thackeray. "He was extremely gracious and always had a joke or a funny comment to pass — but he was also a sentimentalist," said Gadgil.
Remembering his last public interaction with Thackeray earlier this year, Gadgil said he had the opportunity to read out a speech written by the Sena supremo. "It was a public speech and Balasaheb was not well those days. He told me that he might run out of breath while reading the speech. He gave me a copy of the speech and asked me to continue if he stopped. And so he began and I had the opportunity of sharing his speech twice," says Gadgil.
Uddhav Thackeray had called on Gadgil in November 2011 to request him to interview his father for a private archival video. "Balasaheb was comfortable with me and that's why Uddhav asked me to interview him," said Gadgil. "Balasaheb told me that he liked to read autobiographies and that he listened to P L Deshpande's dramatised reading cassettes every night before he slept," he added.
'Balasaheb was fond of biryani and fish'
Saturday was as sad a day for the Vadke family here as it was for the Thackerays in Mumbai. The family shared a strong and emotional bond with Sena Supremo Bal Thackeray who died on Saturday after a cardiac arrest.
Pandurang Savlaram Vadke, popularly known as Kaka Vadke, was among the first Shiv Sainiks in Pune and his association with Thackeray dates back to days when Shiv Sena was yet to be established. Vadke had been Shiv Sena's Pune face for over three decades — till his death in 2000.
According to his family, though Vadke was the Sena office-bearer in the city, the relationship between him and Balasaheb was beyond that of a party worker and its chief.
Snehalata, Vadke's wife, reminisces, "Their relationship was not limited to the political needs. It was a more profound one. There was a brotherly love. Whenever we went to Mumbai we used to visit Balasaheb. Whenever he came to Pune he would visit us. He was fond of non-vegetarian food. While in city he would convey to my husband that he would drop by to have food. He liked biryani and fish. As he was averse to spicy food, we had to be careful while cooking."
She adds: "Before the Sena was established, he used to reside in a much smaller bungalow in Dadar, where we had gone quite a few times. Then the Sena chief moved in to his present residence in Kalanagar, which was much smaller in the beginning and was later renovated and expanded to the bungalow which is now called Matoshree."
The first time Balasaheb visited their residence in Shimpi Ali in Kasba Peth was in 1964 when Vadke had invited him to inaugurate a Ganpati Exhibition organised by his trust. "He came and had food here," says Snehalata, pointing to a space in her living room.
The affection between the two families has continued in the next generations. While Raj used to accompany Balasaheb whenever he visited the Vadke residence, Uddhav also makes it a point to drop by if he is in the city.
"Balasaheb's last visit to the family was when Kaka Saheb passed away in 2000. For the last few years, Balsasaheb had also not been keeping well. Besides, there were security issues, which was why his visit to the family never materialised. Many a times Uddhav and Raj have come on their own. Soon after Minatai's (Thackeray's wife) demise, Uddhav was in the city. He told Kaka that he would come to have biryani with the family. So the bond of love continues," said Senhalata.
Bhalchandra Vadke, Kakasaheb's nephew, adds, "While leaving, Uddhav touched Kaka's feet. Kaka tried to stop him, arguing that Uddhav was a big leader while he was an ordinary party worker. But Uddhav said he called him Kaka (uncle) and thus had every right to touch his feet."
Unbiased analysis of Balasaheb did not happen: Gorhe
"The Hindutva that Balasaheb founded Shiv Sena on, was not narrow- minded. It was modern, all-inclusive Hindutva. Uddhav Thackeray with his management skills and networking abilities will carry forward that legacy to give a national appeal to this concept of Hindutva," said Neelam Gorhe, MLC and Shiv Sena spokesperson.
Gorhe said an unbiased analysis of Balasaheb Thackeray's personality did not happen during his lifetime. "He would always tell party workers that actions should speak louder than words. But I feel that most of the time, he was compelled to spend more energy on explaining what he did not mean to say, rather than what he actually wanted to convey. As a result, he became more specific and straightforward. Unfortunately, very few in the country analysed or tried to analyse Balasaheb Thackeray's words by giving due consideration to his feeling and attachment to a particular cause that he commented on," she said.
"In 1998, when I started party work, I did not personally know Balasaheb Thackeray. I respected him and was curious about him. I went and frankly told him that I have started working for the party and that I do not carry any family legacy or the money and muscle power, which are the so-called prerequisites for making it big in a political party. He told me that what he valued more was my work towards social justice and my influence on women. The very fact that he felt like taking a note of my work at that point was enough to encourage me to continue the party work that I had started," said Gorhe.
Narrating yet another experience spread over a decade's association with Thackeray, Gorhe said: "Uddhav Thackeray had undertaken a tour to address issues pertaining to farmers in the state and I was accompanying him. Wherever he was scheduled to go, I would reach a little before he did. He told this to Balasaheb who then called me and asked why and how I reached before him. He would enquire about the mode of transport I took. Small incidents such as this were enough to show the keen interest he took in common party workers."
Handling the responsibility of Shiv Sena spokesperson was yet another task given to Gorhe. "He would introduce me as the spokesperson of the party. But what was precious was his advice that I got while projecting the party's stand on a particular issue. Be it firing on shopkeepers in Shirdi or the Mandhar Devi mishap, or for that matter the latest incident of Baba Ramdev's pandal catching fire. He told me how to take stand on a particular issue. His approach was analytical and realistic," she said.
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