‘I have not lost...’
Pune-based Neela Desai (84) distinctly remembers the time when 10-year-old Balasaheb Thackeray shifted with his parents as a tenant to Desai's father's house in Shivaji Park, Mumbai. "He was very friendly so we immediately became friends. Together, we and our group of friends used to play several traditional games like tikkar, choukadi and pakda-pakdi." But, whenever he lost, he used to get very angry and insist on continuing the game and would say Mee Haarlo Nahi...(I have not lost)," recalls Desai, who shifted to Pune around 12 years ago and is staying in Shivajinagar.
She says both the families, Desais and Thackerays, developed a special bonding and never behaved like a landlord and a tenant.
Remembering her childhood friend, she says that as he grew up he developed this leadership quality and an aura around himself which attracted people and made them listen to him. She still has vivid memories of how he would gather people at nukkads or chowks and lecture them on various important and social issues. She said he was always eager to help people in need and reach out to them. "Since he was two years elder to me, he treated me like a younger sister," says Desai, breaking down into tears.
Desai says by the time he was around 20 years old, he got busy with the groundwork for his magazine and was hardly at home, though his parents and other members continued staying there. "Once they (the Thackerays) built Matoshree, they shifted out. It was a very sad moment for our family. Matoshree was not like how it is currently, it was a tiny place when it was built. Now, it is no less than a palace," says Desai.
A few decades ago, Desai had some work and had gone to Matoshree to seek help from her childhood friend. She says he not only helped her but also played a perfect host and treated her extremely well. "We chatted and shared about our childhood memories. Instead of the guest room, he made me sit where his family stayed and introduced me to his family members, including Meena tai (his wife). She was alive then," says Desai.