There’s a fake image of India during this year’s Diwali going around. It is India, just not taken this year — it’s from 2003 — and it’s not an image showing lights — population growth, actually — but it is darned pretty.
The other rumour that’s going round may be less fake. Shiv Sena supremo Bal Thackeray, 86, was declared dead a while back by that authentic source known as Wikipedia. Wikipedia has since undeaded him so at present, at 12.30am, Thackeray’s Wikipedia entry doesn’t have a date of demise. At one point, there were two sources reporting Thackeray was dead: Wikipedia and actress Payal Rohatgi. I got messages like, “Balasaheb almost dead. Payal Rohatgi said so.” Well, if that’s not confirmation, I don’t know what is. And “almost dead” is almost as good as “a little bit pregnant”. I loves it.
Thackeray is famous for a number of things, notably campaigning to change Bombay to Mumbai and for wanting to boot out non-Maharashtrians from Maharashtra in general and Mumbai in particular. He’s also, as far as his family and team of doctors are concerned, still not dead.
The word on the streets of Kalanagar — unrelated to Rohatgi or Wikipedia — is that Thackeray passed away earlier this evening. So far, though, there has been no formal announcement. Close family members are, however, at Matoshree, his residence. Amitabh Bachchan just vroomed in, the media has reported. As many have observed, that’s almost confirmation that Thackeray has indeed left the land of the living because really, why else is Bachchan going to Matoshree in the dead of the night?
Despite an editorial on Monday in which Thackeray said he wasn’t on a ventilator, there have been rumours going around that Thackeray has been on life support for a while. The Shiv Sena’s members make a lot of money from Diwali stalls and this is apparently the reason that no one was going to declare Thackeray dead before Diwali. Also the day after Diwali is when printing presses are shut, so there was no way the old man would be allowed to die on a day that there’d be no newspaper coverage. However, on November 10, the chap who is supposedly one of the doctors looking after Thackeray put up this tweet:
Which sort of sticks a tongue out at both grammar and the Saamna editorial in which Thackeray declared he’s fine. (Saamna is the Shiv Sena paper.) But, if there’s any truth to the POA that’s going around in whispers and SMS-es, then the Shiv Sena is actually being rather smart and sensible about his death. Smart because today the printing presses in Mumbai are shut, so it’s really not a good day to break news. Also, this means they can make the money that they do from their Diwali stalls and then beat their chests in violent grief. So, rather than announce it while the crackers are bringing joy and deafness to the city, they decided to up the ante by announcing Thackeray’s state is very critical and that he’s suffering respiratory problems. This way, the flammable objects that have been gathered by all and sundry can’t be “put to misuse” as someone put it. It also lessens the possibility of Shiv Sainiks going on a rampage because they think someone is disrespecting their leader by lighting crackers when it’s more likely that a vast chunk of the city is simply enjoying a mid-week, day-after-Diwali holiday.
Delaying the official announcement also gives time for the state government to set its chessboard in order. Not that there’s much faith to be placed in the Mumbai Police. Earlier tonight, some Shiv Sainiks attacked the tv news crews outside Matoshree. Some cameras were damaged. What do you think the police did? Nothing. The situation was actually calmed down by other Shiv Sainiks who brought their comrades in arms under control.
The official announcement, though, for most people in Mumbai is a formality. The auto rickshaw drivers, cabbies, paanwallahs, they’re all sure that Thackeray has died and that tomorrow, the city will be locked down. Thousands are gathering outside Matoshree. Restaurants are dimming lights and night clubs in Bandra at least are shutting down. The boom of crackers has become almost sporadic (yesterday, at this time, it sounded like we were in the Gaza Strip. Tonight, eerily, Israel is bombing the bejesus out of that area. Sigh).
Now to see how long before we get some real news about Thackeray from sources that can be named and quoted.
Update at 1.16am — No official word yet, but apparently Shiv Sainiks are tweeting and sms-ing that Thackeray is dead. Officially, he’s on life support. I don’t know any Shiv Sainiks on Twitter, so I can’t confirm this. My timeline is divided. One half is terribly saddened by Israel’s strike and the other is frantically wondering whether the Swedish House Mafia gig will be cancelled if Thackeray’s death is announced. At least you can’t accuse anyone on my timeline of taking their eyes off the balls they’re interested in.
Update at 1.30am — Actor Sanjay Dutt, politician Chhagan Bhujbal have also shown up at Matoshree. According to the Hindi news channel, Aaj Tak, about 20, 000 people have gathered outside Thackeray’s residence. The crowd, apparently, isn’t a peaceful one. The Twitter account of Indian Express mentioned that Amitabh Bachchan was “injured” by the surging crowd. In the list of things most critical to Mumbai so far as Thackeray’s ambiguous condition, Bachchan’s injury is probably number one now, followed by the status of the Swedish House Mafia gig. In other parts of the city, reports are coming in of Shiv Sainiks telling people to switch off Diwali lights. In my neighbourhood, everything is dark (the lights were on till at least 11.30pm for sure) and there are no cracker-y explosions.
Update at 2am — These are the times when I don’t feel too bad about my insomnia. I’m like Lix Storm in my head, as I go around reading news reports and rubbish rumours. More importantly, this waiting for the announcement of Thackeray’s death reminds me of how the state media kept quiet about Indira Gandhi being assassinated back in 1984. Fat lot of good all that caution and suppression of the news did us. Horrible anti-Sikh riots followed for the next few days and thousands were killed. At present, the crowd outside Matoshree is hollering for a glimpse Thackeray; there are slogans being chanted and the fact that speakers are being put up on trees probably isn’t helping lower the adrenaline levels. Reports are coming in about Shiv Sainiks having “attacked” vehicles on the Western Express highway. Because somehow, driving is disrespectful to the dead or dying. It’s the clear, irrefutable logic of Shiv Sainiks that I find most engaging, so far as Thackeray’s legions are concerned. On a separate and more serious note, clearly Raj and Uddhav Thackeray asking Sainiks to be calm hasn’t made much of an impact.
Update at 2.15am — Uddhav Thackeray has made an announcement saying he hasn’t lost hope that his father will crawl back to life. He said that efforts are being made to revive him. This is possibly supposed to calm Shiv Sainiks down and buy the state government some time to get its arrangements sorted. Considering the crowd outside Matoshree (as seen in pictures and on television news), I’m not sure how they’re going to maintain peace, law and order until tomorrow morning, if that is indeed the plan.