November 29: The founder patriarch of Shiv Sena, Balasaheb Thackeray who passed away on November 17 at the age of 86 was a controversial politician regarded as Mafioso and don by some but God and Supremo by most Maharashtrians, and did not care to be politically correct. He was a man who loved his daily glass of wine and was not hypocritical about it unlike most politicians in power, who love their wine in private but are afraid to imbibe in public.
Ace photographer Raghu Rai recounts his shoot with him for The New Yorker in the late 1990s. Reminiscing that day, he reportedly says, ‘at 12 noon he looked at the clock and said, “Ab to mera cigar aur wine ka time ho gaya hai”. (It is now time for me to have my cigar and wine)’, adding, ‘He lit a cigar and brought a glass of wine and was very comfortable with getting clicked. No other politician would have agreed to get clicked like that.’
Apparently he preferred white wine to red. During an interview, when questioned by a reporter if he drank wine in the afternoon every day, he said ‘Yes... and in the evening, after nine.’ Did he take it as wine or medicine? ‘Actually, medicine. I have constipation. The doctor advised me to drink red wine, but I don’t like the taste of it. I like white,’ was his reply. He had a good sense of humour too. When the reporter said that red wine was good for the heart he interjected, ‘But as the media says, I don’t have a heart, I am a heartless person. So white is good for me.’ He admitted to liking ‘French or Indian wine-sometimes champagne, a glass or two.’
Then there was the late Rajesh Khanna, the Bollywood super-star of the late sixties, who would always be armed with two bottles of champagne whenever he visited him - one for himself and one for Thackeray. "The two would talk till past midnight," according to another report.
But this Champion of the Marathi Manoos drank his white wines too warm. A reporter from daily.bhaskar.com, who interviewed him several times, recalls his last interview (Cigar, Wines and Balasaheb) in which the Shiv Sena Supremo offered him a glass of wine while sipping one. He writes, ‘I accepted a glass of wine. It was dreadful! White wines are meant to be served at room temperature, yes; but European room temperatures which range between 10 and 18 degrees C, not this 32 degrees C that it was in Bandra east that day! And Balasaheb did not believe in chilling his wine,’ writes this journalist, who ducked the question when he politely asked him, ‘How is the wine?’ (White wine should generally be drunk chilled from 7-12 °C and champagne and sparkling wines at 6-10° C-editor)
Shekhar Gupta, the editor-in Chief of the Indian Express was so impressed by him wielding a glass of wine whenever he interviewed him that he started his long winded article last Saturday traversing the life and times of Balasaheb, with a heading - National Interest: Through His Wine Glass, Darkly.
Whatever his traits were, Balasaheb was bindaas in his outlook on many things including wine. As a contrast, one is almost ashamed to think of a current senior minister who was clicked by a journalist photographer holding a glass of wine in his hand one evening as he quipped, ‘this is perhaps the last time you have seen me as a minister.’
RIP- Balasaheb Thackeray!