Mumbai from the Eyes of a Delhite: Part 10
[This is the tenth in a series of blogs about Mumbai]
So one fine day, shortly after Diwali, I was heading to my workplace in the morning musing over how empty the roads. I guessed that many were probably on extended leave, making the most of the holiday season. On reaching office I discovered, to my great alarm, that the reason Mumbai was keeping off the roads was far from an innocuous holiday.
With Bal Thackeray, the Shiv Sena chief of dubious fame, on his deathbed, his devoted Shiv Sainiks had gathered across the city to violently lament his demise the moment it was declared. The city was on High Alert- policemen’s’ leaves had been cancelled, contingents on their way to Gujarat for the elections had been called back and forces were deployed across the city. Pray, what reason does someone’s natural departure give to his disciples to unleash terror onto a city, I wondered. Only to remind myself that this notorious faction’s forte has never been sound reasoning or logic.
Colleagues, meanwhile, having returned from a long Diwali break and in no mood to work, were beginning to rejoice the ‘Maharashtra Bandh’ that would be declared the next day if the man did indeed pass away. As terror in the city mounted and people began hibernating indoors, my anxiety grew in leaps and bounds. The situation was exacerbated by my unfortunate discovery that the Thackeray residence, which was seeing fanatics and policemen growing around it in competing numbers, lay barely a kilometre from office. Escaping homewards meant driving right past the hotbed of fire.
Shortly after lunch, encouraged by other colleagues who were beginning to head back home, I got into a cab, rolled up the windows and prayed to the Lord that I may survive to see another day. As the vehicle began approaching ‘Matoshree’, Thackeray’s residence, I could see vehicles parked on either side of the road. Visitors, the cab-driver explained, were coming from far and wide to park themselves outside his gates.
The entire Kalanagar area was milling with thousands of men and women flying the party’s saffron flags high in the air, while law enforcements were struggling to outnumber the mob. We zipped past, the cab-driver vowing to flee in the opposite direction as soon as he had dropped me off.
Once indoors, I bolted the door, sighed in relief and settled down to await news of the grand man’s health, which was about to determine the fate of a city. People’s heartbeats rose and fell to the fluctuations in his condition. Next morning, I dropped my usual jog to avoid a situation where I may end up with crazed activists running after me in Joggers’ Park. The news channels were most unhelpful in their ambiguous declaration that Bal Thackeray’s condition was “critical, but stable.”
Two days later, Thackeray’s death was announced. The Shiv Sena appealed for calm and by some miracle, riots did not breakout. Those were, however, some of my most stressful days spent in Mumbai, as I made my way to and back from work, constantly on the edge. The fact that I lived alone, and in Bandra, which was one of the Sena’s strongholds, did not help my nerves.
A few tense days later, Bal Thackeray’s mortal remains were carried from Matoshree to Shivaji Park for the cremation in a procession of unprecedented proportions. I remember being absolutely dumb-founded to hear that lakhs of mourners from across Maharashtra had made their way to the capital to join the cavalcade and express their grief.
While Mumbai and I survived the event, I was forced to accede that whatever the man’s means may have been, he had undoubtedly done good for many of the Marathi multitudes. How else could you explain such ardent hero-worship?
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Piyushi Dhir is the author of 'In Search of Love', 'I'm Yours, The Next Time', 'Silent Promises' and 'Enmeshed Evermore'. She is a contributor in 'Nineteen Tales of COVID-19', a collection of short stories. A voracious reader, a keen traveler, a businesswoman and a mom, Piyushi currently resides in Canada. A nomad at heart, she loves to discover new places and capture the hues of life with her pen.