What Modi thought before he became 'the Modi'

Updated: 20 September, 2020 07:42 IST | Jane Borges | Mumbai

A new book carries the translation of Narendra Modi's jottings from 34 years ago, offering a peep into what the PM thought as a party worker

A file photo of PM Narendra Modi penning his thoughts in the diary at the Australian War Memorial in Canberra. Pic/Getty Images
A file photo of PM Narendra Modi penning his thoughts in the diary at the Australian War Memorial in Canberra. Pic/Getty Images

Long before Prime Minister Narendra Modi went public with his monologues on the radio show, Mann Ki Baat, he was a private person, furiously recording his daily impressions on paper. Some were introspective, some self-deprecating, and some plain laments, but mostly they were disconnected ideas about life, people and politics. This stream of consciousness writing has made its way to Letters to Mother (HarperCollins India), a translation of his collection of Gujarati verse, originally titled
Saakshi Bhaav.

These are not letters to his 'ba'. Even though, the title may say so. The pieces here go back 34 years, to December 1986, when Modi, 36, was a party worker, and in the habit of writing letters to the Mother Goddess, whom he calls Jagat Janani, each night before he went to bed.

"… This exercise had a strangely calming effect on me. I looked forward to everyone falling asleep, so that I could retire to a quiet corner with my notebook," he says in the introduction. As much as these jottings felt cathartic, he never intended to publish them, which is why he "systematically tore all the pages and threw them into a bonfire". It was on one such occasion that his RSS colleague Narendra Panchasara happened to visit him, and admonished him for destroying his writings. By then, only one diary remained. And this is the one that eventually got published, first in Gujarati and now "transcreated" to English, by Bhawana Somaaya.

The 112-page slim book comprises 17 pieces of verse, written over a period of two months. It also appears to be a time, where the leader experienced a multitude of emotions. Like Somaaya says, his passages are "raw and hurting, often uneven and unchiselled". But Modi makes no attempt at presenting himself as a poet—he is a man in conversation with the metaphorical ma, or what one could describe as the universe. In one of his first verses, titled Purpose of Life, written on December 1, he questions is own presence in the world: "Human life is a constant, while the universe is about speed. So, where do I fit into all this?" There is a sense of disconnect with his present life, and often the pain is very glaring—"Quietly, dreams return to roots, Quietly, expectations affect defeat, Quietly, the heart axes desires." He makes a fervent plea, for things to change, but hopelessness and disillusionment keep creeping in. Mother liberate me, he pleads. Modi doesn't fall short of calling himself, "an ever-bankrupt trader, seeking new loans, your blessings". One also gets a sense of his patriotic spirit. In Supreme Confidence, written on December 7, he appears euphoric after an event put together by him and his volunteers: "We inaugurated the shibir, what an unusual ambience... There is faith and therefore a possibility, there is commitment to motherland (sic)." Among other things, he ponders over the lost art of letter writing.

Bhawana Somaaya has "transcreated" Modi's original work
Bhawana Somaaya has "transcreated" Modi's original work

What might make this an interesting read even for those who don't agree with his politics, is that it's the thoughts of a party worker, who was still unaware of his destiny.

What: Letters to Mother
Where: Amazon.in
Price: Rs 299

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First Published: 20 September, 2020 07:28 IST

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