On December 7, 1986, when he was a BJP worker, Prime Minister Narendra Modi wrote about the exhilaration he had felt at the successful organisation of a shibir, where party volunteers had come together to combine their “discipline with institution” to work for a “prosperous nation”. “…When disappointments engulfs from all sides/ The young, the old and the children/ Instil faith in victory/ In their chosen path, chosen thought/ In their acquired governance/ They exhibit unflinching affection/ Isn’t that amazing? (Supreme Confidence)”
The entry is part of a series of monologues that the young worker had written over years to his “jagat janani (mother goddess)” to make sense of his ambitions and anxieties. First published in Gujarati in 2014, in a volume titled Saakshi Bhaav (Image Publishers), these letters have been translated into English by film critic and writer Bhawana Somaaya and published by HarperCollins India in a collection titled Letters to Mother.
“I was attracted to the idea that the Prime Minister had written this book as a diary in the year 1986 when he was neither prime minister nor chief minister, and that it was written as letters to the mother goddess. The premise was interesting and I was surprised by his transparency of emotions, his intensity and the fact that he did not disguise his vulnerability. What drew me to his writing was his emotional quotient. He feels strongly and writes because he cannot contain himself. He may not be a professional writer but he has vivid imagination and is deeply connected to nature, rather to the universe,” says Somaaya.
In the foreword, the Prime Minister Modi says that he wrote “every single night, for years”. “The intention was never to get published, the jottings were for myself. I am not a writer, most of us are not; but everybody seeks expression, and when the urge to unload becomes overpowering there is no option but to take pen to paper, not necessarily to write but to introspect and unravel what is happening within the heart and the head, and why,” he writes.
He would, he mentions, consign these entries to flames every few months, till, one day, senior RSS pracharak Narendra Panchasara caught him in the act and admonished him for destroying documents that were of value to him. Only a single volume of his writings from 1986 survived. It was Panchasara, again, he says, who convinced him to allow them to be published in Gujarati when the offer came in 2014.
Somaaya says she began her transcreation of the book in early 2018 and finished it by the end of the year. “The reading took a long time and I had to read the passages again and again to fully comprehend the context. There were many challenges. Modi has excellent command over the Gujarati language and uses very unusual words, so it took a while to find appropriate expressions. The manuscript went through several drafts – there was a lot of rewriting until the content, emotion, rhythm was well synchronised,” she says.
The 16 entries in the volume, which loosely resemble poems, are personal deliberations on a range of issues, including society’s increasing dependence on technology, the excitement of organising successful shibirs of pracharaks, meeting political figures such as Bal Thackeray for the first time at one such shibir, his expanding role in the party and the desolation the writer feels at a public meeting where he is unable to communicate his feelings to his audience.
“It feels strange to read what you wrote many years ago, because you are not the same person anymore and your circumstances are different too; and yet, it is all a part of you, your journey, and I will not shy away from my outpourings. I wrote then what I felt at the time and I write now what I feel today…” writes the PM in the foreword of the book, that is slated to be released on September 17 on his 70th birthday.