Bal Thackeray: Media and Discourse

There was near stampede in Dadar railway station, an hour after Bal Thackeray’s demise was made public. People, I found, moved at a frantic pace. Home is where they wanted to be at the earliest. It was around 5:30pm when the Patel grocery store near my house called it a day. By 7:30, Mumbai roads drew a grim look with few undaunted souls in their boxers looking for cigarette joints. That was not respect, you see. That was sheer fear. It was written all over their faces.

Next day, news channels gave out the verdict. Over 2 million people (they put it in a refined way – “sea of humanity”) accompanied Balasaheb on his final journey. Never before did Mumbai see such a huge coming together of people. Now that can’t be fear. That was unadulterated affection. That reflected the grand old man’s reach and level of penetration into Maharashtrians’ hearts.

Having said that, I find it somewhat parochial the way panelists and the news anchors carried on with the discourse. Their collage of anecdotes about him led to an imminent conclusion- Bal Thackeray was a straight talker who respected differing views and criticisms. He championed the cause of Marathi people and displayed immense courage in taking every hurdle head on. He was never seen losing his temper in the face of uneasy questions and hostile developments.

Some panelists, who claimed having closely observed Balasaheb’s political activities, talked about the need for holistic approach to understand the man. According to them, the lion-hearted leader of Shiv Sena was a complex character who cannot be assessed by mixing his personal and political report cards.

But how can you divorce Bal Thackeray the person from Bal Thackeray the politician. That is how he made himself known. It would be like studying Charlie Chaplin without taking into consideration that he was a seasoned satirist and a staunch socialist. You cannot recognize a figure like Bal Thackeray in isolation – isolated from his ideologies, political expletives and his doings. If you eclipse cricketing career from Tendulkar’s life, he will be reduced to near nobody. The world doesn’t know how he fares as a husband and father. We rather know him for his unassailable spirit and class.

“He could feel the public pulse and he worked that way”. This statement had become hackneyed by the end of the day. Businessmen, singers, analysts, politicians lent their views and very euphemistically narrated their fond remembrances. I am yet to form any opinion about him and so I should not have any qualms about these narratives. What I gathered from the discourse is that superlatives about Bal Thackeray’s role as a crowd puller, his wit and artistic élan as a cartoonist didn’t give even an outside chance to his not-so-rosy traits that people had complained time and again.

I understand that funeral day is not the ideal occasion to dig up someone’s past, but then don’t you think that any reasonable discourse in media on a political figure should come as a balanced rhetoric.

Yes, he had played hosts to personalities from different walks of life. There is no denial that he has been hospitable to people and entities, against whom he had spewed venoms in public.  But that is perhaps what his principle was. He could not treat his guests as adversaries despite having mountain of differences on matters close to his hearts. He preferred it that way. He didn’t make Matoshree his slaughter house, and he should be admired for such thoughtful gesture.

The panelists on popular news channels talked of his generosity, but they didn’t point out the fact that he made truce and shook hands only when a hand is offered from the other side. Where is the humility in this? He may have acted as the “benevolent dictator” he wished India to have, and I don’t criticize him for that. I only urge responsible media of this country to include all elements while discussion about an individual in question. Include the affection and acrimony, the fear and respect, the benevolence and the tyranny – in all fairness.

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A Doll’s House: Ibsen’s Take on Dark Crevices in Society

“It must be delightful to have what you need”, says one Mrs Linden in Henrik Ibsen’s ‘A Doll’s House’. The delight that the lady talks about seems to be a prerogative of the male protagonist of the play – Mr Helmer – Nora’s husband. Helmer is a prototype of masculine self-importance under the veneer of a caring and protective partner who calls her wife a ‘song-bird’ but also sets a condition – the bird “must never sing false notes”.

But that was exactly what Nora was doing. She was forcing herself into believing that she “should not think of doing” what her husband disapproves of. Yet, her friend Mrs Linden’s widowed and solitary existence made her remark “how free your life must feel”.

Nora is the Doll in the play who accepts the attires of rules and ethics her husband buys for her and she tries to fit into those apparels so that she remains “sweet little lark” to her husband. She accepts her “subordinate position” but continues with her agility just “to live and be happy”.

She remains the most misunderstood character of all, which makes her throw questions at people around her. “You all think I’m fit for nothing really serious”, is a statement that came from a rather docile woman. She has been treated like a mere prop whose duty is to raise children and listen to every sermon her husband delivers.

No one has an iota of idea of the sacrifice she had made for her husband in the past and she feels unimportant, unattended and unwanted. Nora is in search of reassurance from Mr Helmer; she wants some space in their marital episode. Nora seems to live with the fear that “worse things might happen”.  In a fit of anxiety, Nora puts forth a significant question to her husband: “Isn’t it good of me to have given in to you”.  Mrs Linden, who claims to be a friend, thinks Nora knows “so little of the troubles of life”. This is a cause of disquiet in readers’ minds because they know the truth.

But Nora knows that “there is something glorious in waiting for the miracle”

The dramatist shows a 19th century housewife in Nora who is ready to pay any price to keep a ‘grand secret’ a secret. She pleads her husband to listen to her suggestion for the greater good, but Mr Helmer rubbishes her pleadings as “incredible obstinacy”. According to Helmer, going by wife’s will is like being under “petticoat government”. He prefers her woman to remain “helpless and bewildered” because then only she becomes “doubly dear in his eyes”. He calls Nora his “own little lark again” and “wretched woman” at same breath.

The final act of the play is a where climax and denouement stood in a queue. The tension builds upon the fate of the secret, which made way for Nora’s realization that she is being used by both her father and husband. It strikes her that she is treated like playthings. Final call is taken and Nora is seen breaking all fetters of conjugality and going out in the open to figure out a way for herself.

Unlike Mr Helmer, Nora does not believe that leaving husband is like forsaking “holiest duties” since she has other “duties equally sacred” – the duties towards herself. She vents out as she says, “you can’t teach me to be a fit wife for you”.

Ibsen, the Norwegian playwright, penetrates deep into a European family, which has secrets to hide, truths to conceal and relations to reveal. His play in three acts is a well-spun manuscript of codified society with morality dictating term to marriagehood.  It is through Nora’ rebellious rebuttals (although belated) that the playwright takes a dig at the self-serving nature of correctness and rectitude. He elicits the common facets of the culture of 19thcentury world when “people go rooting and snuffing around in search of moral rottenness”. The can of hypocrisy is opened and exposed.

If you tag this play as a feminist one, you are partly right. You are partly wrong because you look at feminism as an easy tool to launch scathing attacks on male clan. It is rather an effort to send egotists to correction homes where they learn a lesson or two on mutual respect and mutual admiration.

Ibsen gives Nora the time to choose between society and I.