Mumbai was in mourning now. The high and mighty, the rich and the poor, men and women professing many faiths and hailing from all parts of the country were there to attend the cremation of the great man who moved Mumbaikars the way the national situation demanded. The mortal remains of the Hindu Hriday Samrat, equally venerated by people of other regions and religions who have had a chance to know him from close quarters, were being brought in a procession with the Maharashtra Police band playing mournful marching tunes for the Great Maratha who was no more.
Anyone who mattered in Maharashtra was present there for the Antim Sanskar of the Tiger, as he was lovingly called. Union Ministers like Sharad Pawar, Maharashtra Chief Minister Prithviraj Chavan and senior ministers like Chhagan Bhujbal, BJP senior leaders like LK Advani, Sushma Swaraj, Arun Jaitley, top echelon actors like Amitabh Bachchan,Sanjay Dutt, and, of course the family physician of five years standing, Jalil Parkar and Congress party’s union minister, Rajiv Shukla were there right in front of the platform where funeral pyre was erected.
When the mortal remains arrived, the national tricolor was ceremonially taken off the body, folded and handed over to a police officer. The chanting of the Ved mantras by many Purohits and pundits lent an aura to the occasion. As the body was placed on the pyre, both Udhav and Raj Thackeray broke down and tears rolled down their cheeks. On completion of chanting of the Ved mantras, the Maharashtra Police contingent fired blank rounds thrice in the air as a mark of respect to the deaparted soul of the tallest of all Maharashtrians who had stood for and chanted Jai Maharashtra to boost the sagging morale now and then. The police buglers sounded the last post to denote mourning and after a brief maun shraddhanjali, the police buglers sounded rouse to denote that tomorrow will be another day – a day of hope when the sun will shine bright.
Time to consign the body to agni, the ever present flame of life. The vedas say that after the soul has departed from the body, the mortal remains must be consigned to flames; bhasmantam shariram.
Mukhagni was given by Uddhav Thakre, Balasaheb’s son. Raj Thakre, the nephew was standing by overwhelmed with grief. It was Balasaheb who had brought him up after his father’s demise and shaped him as a political leader of future.
The mood of millions of men and women assembled there was somber. Many were crying and many sobbing for the great man who never said no to anyone who went to his house, Matushree for help. No request for help was ever turned down, be it a street vendor or a film star. Sanjay Dutt ever was grateful to Balasaheb for having got him released from prison when he was charged with TADA for illegally possessing weapons. Many a nubile girls were given financial help to have a wedding solemnized and wear a mangal sutra.
Born in Pune in 1926, Balasaheb inherited the art of journalism from his father, Keshav Thackeray. It was under the paternal guidance and encouragement that Balasaheb, basically a cartoonist, expanded his field of activity by launching a weekly paper named MARMIK. Besides the political and social cartoons that Balasaheb himself drew, he also published word pictures, sketches, humorous stories and clean jokes. The weekly soon had a large clientele and was read by the political bigwigs, financial giants and,of course, the middle rung citizens.
Balasaheb had acquired a standing as a journalist much before that as he used to draw good and humorous cartoons for the Free Press Journal. When he launched the MARMIK, it was inaugurated by the then Chief Minister of Maharashtra, Yashwantrao Chavan. While analyzing Balasaheb’s writings, cartoons, sketches and so on, it must be mentioned that his sense of humour was superb. It was admired by the political class and the youth of schools and colleges. Even when in advanced age when he had withdrawn from active politics, he had kept in touch with the new generation. No wonder the youth had turned up in large numbers at the Shivaji Park for his antim sanskar.
Balasaheb never forgot to look up a friend in hospital or visit his house after bereavement. When Amitabh Bachchan was injured during shooting of the movie, Coolie, Balasaheb went to look him up and carried a self drawn cartoon. It depicted that the Yamraj, on his black buffalo, had turned back from Amitabh’s doors without taking his PRAN or life. Amitabh ji mentioned this in the present context and wished he could return the Yamraj from Matushree now. Unfortunately that was not to be.
Balasaheb Thackrey never held an office nor contested an election to the state legislature or the Parliament of India. He kept his activities confined to the state of Maharashtra but never took his eye off the national scene. Truth was indeed his forte. He felt that Pakistan harboured inimical thoughts against India and was exporting terrorism to the country and he minced no words in saying so. He was convinced that playing cricket with Pakistan, would not be in the national interest and he said so in so many words. He chastised the home grown terrorists for succumbing to pressures of sorts of the ISI of Pakistan. Balasaheb never compromised on the principle of national security and saw to it that Mumbaikars followed suit.
We miss Balasaheb Thackrey as a leader, as a nationalist and above all as a patriot par excellence. May his soul rest in peace.