‘Is Modi a good actor, or is he really so genuine?’
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‘One very interesting thing happened when I was going around Vadnagar. One lady was there, doing some domestic work. The people who were taking me around introduced me, saying I was writing a book on Narendrabhai. So she said warmly, ‘Oh, come to my house.’
She said she also knew him well, that her son and Narendrabhai were in the same class and were very good friends. She told me how Narendra would come for all their family functions. Every marriage and every family occasion, he would be there. In short, she said she knows him much more because he was a good friend of her son.’
‘Yes, she was a Muslim.’
Rediff.com‘s Sheela Bhatt unearths some never revealed before details of Narendra Modi’s early life. Read on!
Read the first part here: ‘Modi’s marriage is a Shakespearean tragedy’
The concluding part of Sheela Bhatt‘s exclusive interview with Dr Kalindi Randeri, co-author of The Man of the Moment: Narendra Modi, presenting never known before details of Narendra Modi’s marriage to Jashodaben 46 years ago.
Why did he marry her? Why did he walk out of it?
Read it all only on Rediff.com, in this interview with Modi’s co-biographer.
Why did you and Mr Kamath decide to write a book on Narendra Modi?
Neither Mr Kamath nor I knew Modi as such. But one day, the publishers, who were quite young, came to Mr Kamath and said they would like to publish a book, they have approached Mr Modi, and he is ready to cooperate.
In fact, the publisher had approached Modi before meeting us. Modi inquired about the author. They said they haven’t decided yet. Mr Modi told them, ‘Bring 10 names to me and I’ll select’ — in the sense, if he likes any of them. So they took 10 names to him and he selected Mr Kamath’s name. He showed his readiness to cooperate with Mr Kamath.
When the publishers met Mr Kamath he agreed, but he said he would like to consult me.
Mr Kamath said he wouldn’t like to write the book alone because it involves many things that as a colleague I was competent to help him with.
We had only heard about Modi, we did not know him. He had become CM in 2001 and in 2002 the riots happened. The English media was bombarding Modi then, Mr Kamath and I felt that this was something going really wrong.
We always felt the people were not getting the right picture. So, when we got this opportunity to write the book on him with his cooperation, we thought fine, now we will have an opportunity to personally look into these matters and can write what we feel.
In 2002 and after, our instinct was that Modi was not doing anything wrong and he can’t be made responsible. That is how we came into the picture.
Did you meet Modi to write this book?
Yes, at that time we met him often. In fact, initially, we had three proper interviews with him, Mr Kamath and I met him for two, three hours at a stretch and we discussed many things with him. Subsequently, I met many people around him.
Also, if I needed any supplementary information, I used to meet him since I have family in Ahmedabad and I had to also visit Ahmedabad to do research in the archives there. During all that time I used to meet him alone, without Mr Kamath.
What was your first impression of Modi?
We were extremely impressed. In our very first encounter, Mr Kamath said, ‘Mr Modi, if you think this book is going to be all praise of you, then let’s end it right here. We will drink coffee and leave.’
‘Mr Kamath,’ Modi said, ‘don’t I know you and your reputation? You are free to write whatever you want.’
In one interaction Mr Kamath asked Modi, ‘Do you hate Muslims?’ ‘Let me ask you, are you a Hindu?’ Modi asked. Mr Kamath said, ‘Yes.’ ‘Were you ever brought up as a Hindu to hate Muslims?’ Modi asked.
He asked me this, too. When we replied in the negative, Modi said, ‘The same is the case with me. Why should I hate them? I have nothing against them.’
Then, we started talking about his childhood and the chronology of events in his life and all that.
Did you visit Vadnagar, his hometown?
Yes. I went to meet Rasikbhai, specially because he was one of Modi’s oldest influences. We went around, and I specially wanted to see the house in which Modi lived.
Modi’s family no longer lives in that house; in fact, his family is no longer in Vadnagar, they moved out and somebody else stays in that house. But still, I went to see it.
My god, it is made of tin-sheets! It is like a row of rooms, it has only one door, that is all there is to see in Modi’s house.
When you enter there is one room, then there is the second room which is the kitchen, and then there is the third room which is like a storeroom. It is completely dark inside his home.
They had built a first floor with bamboo-like material with a tin roof which would get hot in summer.
Earlier, when they were staying there, there was no toilet. But now you see a little corner to drain out the water in the front room, which they had covered with curtains. The women used to take a bath over there. But all members of the family had to go out in the open or to the field to answer nature’s call.
Narendrabhai always went to a nearby lake for his bath. That was the kind of life in his early years. Now, his house in Vadnagar has an Indian-style toilet just outside the house where you carry water whenever you want to use it.
He went to a government primary school till the fourth standard. Then he went to a private secondary school — only one high school was there, where everybody went and so did Narendrabhai.
Yes, in Vadnagar. I met his teachers at the school. He was always considered a good student, not brilliant. He never came first or anything like that, but was an intelligent student.
He had lots of interests. He was reading all the time and active. He used to read a lot at the Vadnagar library which still stands. He read almost all kinds of books and magazines.
At a very young age he brought a book of seven hundred pages on Shivaji and read that. He was known as a voracious reader.
He was always willing to help others. Everyday, after school, he would go to help his father at the tea stall near the railway station. But in between, if there was any political or social activity coming up, he would attend it.
Later, he joined the shakha when the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh arrived in the village. He attended it because all the children, his friends and everybody, were attending the shakha. In the evening, due to the shakha, the villagers got something to do. There also, he would prove that he was different.
I met Dwarkadasji, the person who was looking after the Congress party in Vadnagar. Even though he was a part of the RSS, he remembered whenever there was a Congress function Narendrabhai would come as a volunteer with his friends. Because, his idea was always to help people without any discrimination.
When he was five or six years old he went to Dwarkadasji and asked, ‘Can I sell badges?’ He told Dwarkadasji, ‘You give me, I will sell it to the people.’
Yes. He extended help to the Congress or any other event in the town. Even though he was so young, he was active. In his early years he made an application to join the military school. He was very keen to go there because he wanted to serve the country. But his father put his foot down, so he could not go to military school.
Right from the beginning he wanted to do something for the country, for the people.
Modi’s school compound wall was broken at many places. It badly needed repairs, needed to be reconstructed, but there was no money. So, he told his friends, ‘Come, let’s raise the money.’
He staged a play. Narendrabhai wrote the play, acted in it, directed it, he did everything — it was a one-man, one-act play. The name of the play was Peelu Phool –the yellow flower.
The whole theme was based on untouchability. In the play a woman was in need of one yellow flower for her sick child, but because she was an untouchable she couldn’t enter the temple.
People in Vadnagar, his friends, still remember how well written and well acted the play was. At that time he was hardly 13, 14 years old, but he had shown all this talent.
Once there was floods in Surat. He told his friends, ‘Let us collect funds for Surtis.’ So at Janmashtami Narendrabhai and his friends got together, cooked the food, sold it, made a lot of money and contributed it to the flood victims.
What about his higher education?
There was no college in Vadnagar, so like all his friends, Narendrabhai migrated to Visnagar and joined college, but only for a few months.
Because he was not interested in sansar. He wanted to become a sadhu.
Yeah. During his childhood also, he showed signs that he would remain detached from worldly things. If any sadhu would come to town he would go to help.
Once a sadhu was staying in a mandir at the end of the street where he was living. He had grown jwara (wheatgrass) all over his body and so needed help with food and all. Narendrabhai would go there in the morning and help him.
Once the family was going somewhere for some festival, and he said he won’t join them because he has committed himself to the service of this sadhu.
Anyway, if you visit his village, lots of neighbours will tell you stories about how Narendrabhaiwas not interested in material life, I mean sansar.
As I said, from the beginning, he wanted to serve society. That was his inclination.
But, then, he was not clear what can he do. He thought at least he can become a sadhu.
When he was about 13 or 14 a sadhu had come to their house for food, like they used to go door to door in the early decades of the last century. His mother gave him food.
Then the sadhu said, do you have the kundli (horoscope) of any of your children? Heeraben(Modi’s mother) showed Narendrabhai‘s kundli to the sadhu. He said this man would be either like a chakravarty maharaj (emperor) or he will be like Shankracharya, a big sadhu.
Modi’s poor family could never imagine that he would be a shahenshah or a chakravarty.
So they thought he would become a sadhu?
Yeah. He was already showing such an inclination. Everyday Narendra would do jaap (chanting of mantras), meditation. He would meditate for hours. So the family got very very worried, decided to take control of his life and get him married.
The family got together, found a bride for him, Jashodaben, image, left, took him to her village and got him married, then quickly brought him back.
Narendrabhai insisted that he didn’t want to (marry). His elder brother was also married at a young age, so nobody listened to Narendrabhai.
That was the tradition in his family, like elsewhere in India some 50 years back. Nobody thought it was being done differently or awkwardly.
After marriage, Narendrabhai passed the matriculation exam and he was old enough. So the family said they would like to get the bride home (from her parents’ house).
Narendrabhai said he was not interested. They said how can that be possible? He kept refusing. He told his mother, ‘I want to go to the Himalayas. I want to become a sadhu, so you don’t call her.’
It took some time and lots of effort on his part to convince his parents. He told his mother, ‘Unless you give me your blessings I won’t go either. But I am also very sure that I don’t want to start sansar.’
Finally, his family gave him their nod to walk out of the marriage that they had forced upon the young boy.
His mother gave her permission because she thought he was really not inclined to start life like ordinary sansaris. He wanted to devote himself to the service of others.
Whether he would do it as a social worker or sadhu, he didn’t know. But he had heard that Swami Vivekananda had gone to the Himalayas for some time. And he was a big bhakt of Vivekananda by that time and had read everything possible about him.
There was a resident in Vadnagar who had a big library of books on Vivekananda and he had read them all.
We have written about it in our book. Narendrabhai would borrow from him to get all he wanted to know about Vivekananda. The monk was truly his idol, so Narendrabhai left Vadnagar to go to the Himalayas.
But he first went to the Ramakrishna Mission in Rajkot. But there also they would not keep him for long so he went to the Belur Math (in Bengal). But there, to become a full-time member, they needed certain education.
Narendrabhai was not a graduate. From Kolkata, he left for the Himalayas.
Where in the Himalayas?
To different places…
What did he do there?
He would roam around with sadhus. He would eat whatever the sadhus would eat. He would discuss with them philosophy or whatever he wanted to. Essentially, he was in search of purpose. He said he was searching for the truth.
What was this life all about? He was too young to even realise. He was not tutored to become a sadhu. He was on his own, searching for meaning in his life.
In fact, with one of the sadhus he stayed for a longer time, but after two years he was disappointed that what he was looking for, he did not get. Maybe because he did not know what he was looking for.
So why did he come back to sansar?
Because he realised something after he met so many sadhus. He understood that after becoming a sadhu you do not serve people all the time. And param satyani shodh (the search for the ultimate truth) that he was after, he could not see in the lives of many sadhus he had met. He didn’t see that they had achieved it or attained param satya.
He was not satisfied with spending his time thus. He said no, I don’t think being a sadhu is going to satisfy my life. So he came back.
To start his marriage?
No, not at all. He came back home to Vadnagar after wandering in the Himalayas. His mother was home when he gave her a surprise. She was very very happy.
He told her, ‘I have come only for a day, the next day I will be leaving for Ahmedabad to stay with my mama (maternal uncle).’
By that time, the family had reconciled that he doesn’t want to lead a married life. In fact, they had already informed the girl that you please feel free, we are very sorry. They said we were extremely sorry for the girl, but he was so adamant about it.
As a matter of fact, Sheela, when I met Heeraben, she told me with tears in her eyes, ‘This was a huge mistake of my life. His father, too, till he died, regretted very much that we forced the marriage upon Narendra.’
So, he did not come back from the Himalayas to start his married life. But he knew he had to earn his living, so he went away to the city. He came to Ahmedabad because his uncle was running a canteen there.
Near the Geeta Mandir area?
Yes, Narendrabhai agreed to work there. While working there and helping his uncle, he couldn’t draw a salary. But he could manage a living.
He used to go, in the evenings, for RSS discourses. Then slowly a point came when he got closer to the senior workers of the RSS headquarters in Gujarat. Around the age of 19 or so, this was his life.
One very interesting thing happened when I was going around Vadnagar. There are two neighbourhoods near his old house. One lady was there, doing some domestic work.
Naturally, in a village they get curious about who the visitor is. The people who were taking me around introduced me saying that I was writing a book on Narendrabhai. So she said, warmly, ‘Oh, come, come to my house.’
She said she also know him well. She said her son and Narendrabhai were in the same class and were very good friends. She told me how Narendra would come for all their family functions. Every marriage and every family occasion, he would be there.
In short, she said she knows him much more because he was a good friend of her son. So, you see, this also indicates…
Was she a Muslim?
Yes, a Muslim.
Then there was another friend, he had two Muslim friends.
While writing this book I once had a common meeting with 28, 29 friends of Narendrabhai. I met all his school friends in Ahmedabad who had come for some function. I had a group meeting with them, and when I met his other friends, his classmates, they all said when they were growing up, there was nothing like ‘Hindu-Muslim’ in Vadnagar.
They had all been brought up in such a harmonious setting. It was such a quiet town. There was always harmony. And they said they never thought of who was Muslim and who was Hindu, they always mixed with each other.
So that is Narendrabhai‘s background. In the RSS also he said they were never told anything against Muslims.
Interestingly, we asked him about Mahatma Gandhi. He said I did not know much about Mahatma Gandhi. No one in the RSS also talked much about him. He said he knew about him as much as any Indian child of his age would know.
He said he used to read magazines, whatever came in his way. The RSS was neutral in projecting Mahatma Gandhi.
When you interviewed him, did you think he would become a prime ministerial candidate one day?
This reminds me of your first question, what we thought of him.
See, after the first interview, he was so cordial all along. He would come up to the gate to see off me and Mr Kamath.
Once, Mr Kamath told me, ‘See Kalindi, I have interviewed prime ministers, presidents, princes, anybody you name, business tycoons, all over the world. But, I really don’t know what to make out of this man.’
‘Is he a good actor, or is he really so genuine?’
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