Tiger, by his pen

P. T. Jyothi Datta
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When former Maharashtra Chief Minister Y.B. Chavan faced criticism, in the aftermath of an agitation for a Marathi-speaking State of Maharashtra, support came from a cartoonist in Free Press Journal.

Bal Thackeray, in his cartoon, showed people throwing stones, wood pieces and cement at Chavan. And the then Chief Minister is depicted as a worker, collecting these missiles and using them to build the State of Maharashtra, recalls M.K.B. Nair, the cartoonist’s then colleague.

Those were different times, when Mumbai was Bombay, and Chavan was the new Chief Minister of the Bombay State. His predecessor had to go, after security forces fired at people agitating for a separate State, at Flora Fountain in South Mumbai. In their memory, marked now by a lamp that burns constantly for the martyrs, the location is called Hutatma Chowk.

And later in 1960, the Bombay State was eventually divided into Maharashtra (with Bombay as its capital) and Gujarat.

Thackeray, in his inimitable style, used his cartoons to show his support for Chavan, or his lack of support, as was the case, for S.K.Patil who championed making Bombay a city-State.

“Simple lines, beautiful and meaningful lines, especially black lines, embellished the cartoon with new power,” says Nair, of the Chavan illustration. Nair “had the privilege of shoulder-reading Thackeray’s cartoons even before the Editor had seen it,” he recalls.

Lunch treats

In the late 1950s Nair, then a sub-editor in FPJ, worked with Thackeray — who was one of three cartoonists at the paper. Nair had given the title “Chichi” for Free Press Bulletin’s pocket cartoon, to which the cartoonists including Thackeray contributed. And the two often travelled together by train from Dadar to VT (the still popular name for the Victoria Terminus Station, now rechristened Chattrapati Shivaji Terminus), recalls Nair, who eventually retired as Deputy Editor, with a business daily.

The young Thackeray’s cartoons were largely political in nature, though there was the occasional social cartoon. The shy and simply dressed Thackeray was, however, a live-wire of sorts, when it came to holding the attention of his colleagues. A great mimic, lunch hour at the FPJ was a sheer treat for the entire FPJ staff, recalls Nair.

Thackeray’s favourite target was S.K.Patil, many-time Mayor of Bombay. Through his cartoons and ideas supplied to those who wrote, Thackeray annihilated the concept of a city-State for Mumbai, a cause close to Patil’s heart.

In fact, Thackeray held onto his objection to making Bombay a city-State till the very end, even as his party, Shiv Sena, spearheaded the name change from Bombay to Mumbai.

Regaled with wit

Besides being a good mimic, Thackeray also had the art of punning, recalls Nair --- the cartoonist (in his pre-political days) regaled fellow colleagues with his wit and anecdotes, making every lunch hour something special!

Thackeray, Nair and a few other idealistic friends later quit FPJ to start their own paper — Newsday. They were involved with the editorial content and marketing of the paper. And though the venture had its high moments, it later had to fold up.

Incidentally, around that time, FPJ saw the entry of another young cartoonist, R.K. Laxman, recalls Nair. If Laxman had his “Common Man”, as a vehicle to air the aam aadmi’s woes, Thackeray had his Kakaji.

As the 86-year-old Thackeray was laid to rest on Sunday, media tributes to him re-ran several of his cartoons. A particularly striking one is that of an extinguished lamp, with the trail of smoke tracing India Gandhi’s profile, after the then Prime Minister was assassinated.

A people’s man, ideas man and formidable political organiser — such supreme power has rarely been concentrated in one man in Maharashtra, says Nair, reflecting on his former colleague, the cartoonist-turned-politician popularly called Tiger.

(This article was published on November 18, 2012)
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