Monday, November 19, 2012

Time to strengthen ourselves with nerves of steel and move on


He liked to call himself a political cartoonist and, according to an interview on a television channel, he believed only in two divides – the rich and the poor. Caste and community did not figure in his scheme of things, he said. That must be saying something because, after all, he was the “emperor of Hindu hearts” who had the ability to trigger extreme emotions in people, be it love or hatred.

It’s difficult to pigeon-hole a personality such as Bal Thackeray. To those in the Shiv Sena he was a demigod, to many others he was far from it. His party has often hit the headlines for the wrong reasons - intolerance, vandalism and creating terror - and today’s generation isn't particularly reverential or forgiving. This is evident from the kind of comments that flooded social media soon after he passed away. 

In death as in life, some would say. I am reminded of Mark Antony's speech (in Julius Caesar): The evil that men do lives after them... the good is oft interred with their bones... so let it be with Casear... Innocuous comments on Facebook, and two girls are having to pay a heavy price for it. And a clinic destroyed.

For all that, Thackeray comes across as quite a likeable person when you see and hear him in television interviews and you really can’t find fault with some of his answers. As a cartoonist he always brought humour to the fore. His close friends included Lata Mangeshkar, Big B, Rajinikanth and Sachin Tendulkar, people you couldn't dream of pointing a finger against. He donned the role of father-figure to Sanjay Dutt not so long ago, had a Muslim doctor for years as he did a man-Friday Gurka. So surely, there must have been another side to him, a side that most people hardly knew existed.

Also, you simply cannot ignore the record crowds that swelled around his lifeless body at the funeral. Very quickly, Thackeray won a place  in a rare pantheon inhabited by Mahatma Gandhi, Pope John Paul, Jawaharlal Nehru, Princess Diana... Fear alone would not have propelled so many people on to the streets. Charisma...? Mystique? Romance? Undoubtedly, bits of all that. Admired for his openness, tough talk and boldness, a raw courage that rubbed off on his followers and allowed them to brazen it out times without number. A Robin Hood sort of figure who had once said India needed a Hitler. 

Even as I write this, news has trickled in, about the two girls who were arrested for their comments, having deactivated their Facebook accounts fearing fresh reprisal. Such a shame! Intolerance. It’s been the bane of Indians for some time now. What sort of democracy are we living in? In the age of social media, the ugly head of intolerance is likely to surface again and again unless the government is strong and does what is expected and what is right. Like The Economic Times says, Thackeray’s death is perhaps the right time to firmly close the chapter of hate and division. It’s also time we strengthened ourselves with nerves of steel and moved on, and developed a more tolerant attitude towards each other.