Cobbled narrow lanes, curious onlookers, friendly people, historical gates and Torans, dated ancestral homes with decorative exteriors, ancient temples, an impressive lake at the heart of the town… this is the first glimpse of Narendra Modi‘s home town – the ancient , somehow somnolent , religiously fervoured town of Vadnagar. A small and nondescript town in North Gujarat’s Mehsana district.
The life’s journey of Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi began in the dusty by-lanes of Vadnagar.
A Little Bit Tourist Info
The ancient town of around 27,000 is located at a distance of 112 kms from Ahmedabad.
The coolest and the cheapest way to reach the town is to board a Gujarat State Transport bus and reach the town in around three hours, via Gandhinagar and Visnagar.
Despite its historical importance the place has not grown as any tourist spot yet, so it has very few places to stay comfortably for an outsider. There are few passable guest houses, but don’t expect too much.
‘Toran’, the Guest House run by the Gujarat Tourism Corporation is perhaps the best option available. But this place is far from the city centre and if you don’t have your own vehicle, there is hardly any regular means of transportation. Food option is almost negligible and mostly you have to walk till the highway.
Chai is available everywhere, Farsan stalls can be found at every corner, but for a decent meal you have to search around the main Bazaar area or near the Railway Station. Nutan Restaurant at Station Road, Piyush Restaurant or Kapil Restaurnat near Bus Stand and locally well-known Prithvi Resturant can be tried for pure vegetarian food.
For Gujarati Sweets and snacks, give a try to Chinubhai Mithaiwala in the Baroti Bazaar area. When Modi became the Prime Minister in May last year, Bhavnesh Sukhadiya, the proud owner of Vadnagar’s Chinubhai Mithaiwala stood here personally and celebrated by distributing Sweets for free!
A Sleepy Town
As one heads towards Vadnagar from Ahmedabad, one can easily mark the difference. The urban and industrial landscape changes into rural setting. Farmers busy working in the field like any other part of India. No trace of Gujarati business environ…just simple, pristine way of enjoying life!
As one enters from the Pithori Gate side, after an enjoyable journey, it’s the first glimpse of a quaint little town.
Apparently, lonely stretches of lands, cows roaming leisurely in groups through the lanes, the elderly people sitting in front of their houses greeting with open smiles.
Never to miss, the distinct and old Nagar Brahman Havelis, which seems just come out of the sets of old Hindi films!
Not the uniformed type, but ever loitering , a bit suspicious and curious children follow candidly, people easily form a circle around you, when they come to know that you are a journalist and volunteer to guide for directions or tit bit information.
And surprisingly enough, anyone you meet here, either knows Modi’s family and his brothers quite well or distantly related to him!
Narendra Damodardas Modi
Narendra Modi was the third of six children born to Damodardas Mulchand Modi and his wife, Heeraben.
The family, from the Ghanchi caste, lived deep inside the narrow and winding alleys of the town, at Kala Vasudev Ni Chali in Vadnagar.
The Ghanchis of Gujarat have traditionally been the pressers and sellers of vegetable oil. The family belonged to the marginalised sections of society and had to struggle to make ends meet. The entire family lived in a small single storey house (of approximately 40 feet by 12 feet area).
Father Damodardas Modi, to provide some betterment for his large family gradually tried his hand in running a teashop in the vicinity of Vadnagar Railway Station, while the mother Heeraben and the children operated the oil mill at home.
While Damodardas ran the tea stall for his regular customers, the young Narendra would take it in a kettle to sell it to passengers at the Vadnagar Railway Station platform.
Not too many trains stop at Vadnagar, except the one Mehsana-Taranga Hill MG-DMU, which comes in twice daily. The hustle and bustle is not at the station, but on the street nearby. Damodardas, popularly known as Damoba, was a known tea seller there.
“Narendra used to help his father in the mornings at the Railway Station, and when the bell rang at the school, he just crossed over the railway track to come to class,” remembered Dr Sudhir Joshi, one of Modi’s earliest schoolmates, who now practices traditional medicine in Vadnagar.
Narendra Modi had studied at B.N.(Bhagavatacharya Narayanacharya) High School, a Co-educational Gujarati-medium school, right next to the Vadnagar Railway Station.
Prahlad Patel, who taught Narendra Modi at the School, recalled: He was an average student. But he showed much interest in Debates and Theatre. I set up the Debating Club at or school, and I still remember, Narendra was among the regular students in the Club.”
Jasud Pathan, one of Narendra’s closest friends at the school can remember that Narendra was a good Kho Kho player. And while other students were more concerned about studying for better marks at exams, Narendra used to read a lot of non-curricular things and done fairly well in the Debates at School. Pathan says that he is still in touch with Narendra Modi and often writes letters to him.
Arvind Modi. A cousin of Modi remembers that while all other students were more interested to be in the good books of the teachers, Narendra was more interested in extracurricular activities, in debates and drama clubs.
Kanubhai Bhavsar, who lived near Modi’s parental house and taught him at B N High School, narrated his recollections by saying that: He was very brave even as a child. He was among the few boys who would swim in the Sharmishta Lake, which was known for having crocodiles, He once brought home a baby crocodile the size of chameleons, just for fun”.
No Family Bond
Someone recalled that: A famous local astrologer once predicted that Narendra would either become a saint or a big official one day.
He somehow developed an inclination towards renunciation at a young age. He gave up eating salt, chillies, oil and jaggery. Started Reading the works of Swami Vivekananda in Gujarati translation, seriously.
Worried that he might renounce the family, his parents got him married in a hurry, at an early age.
But at the age of 17, Modi left Vadnagar to join the RSS as a full time member, rarely ever returning home. Since then, he never looked back.
In India, where the relatives of Netas are often most privileged and generally get wealthier as the politicians rise. But even after he has won consecutive four Assembly elections and had been the Gujarat Chief Minister for 13 years, the financial condition of his kin in Vadnagar have remained the same.
Arvind Modi, his first cousin and a close childhood friend still lives in a small house in a narrow bylane of the town. Two wooden cots occupy most of the room. No Television, no Telephone. No vehicle or fancy item at home, in all these years!
Narendra Modi has rarely returned to Vadnagar. Though Vadnagar is a BJP bastion, Narendra Modi last visited here in 2012, and that also for a Gurukul Utsav at the local Swaminarayan Temple.
His family members say that he is rarely in touch with them. Send wishes for marriages and such occasions in the family, but never visits them. He visits his mother, who lives in Ahmedabad with his younger brother, only once a year, on his birthday.
The RSS Shakha in Vadnagar had been established in 1944 by Babubhai Nayek a nationalist school teacher. He was one of several Sangh activists from Maharashtra who moved across India and involved themselves in various educational institutions to recruit young men into the RSS.
In the period after Gandhi’s assassination, when RSS was a banned organisation, Nayek kept a low profile, concentrating on his job but occasionally hosting Vakil Saheb, the state leader, Lakshmanrao Inamdar to address new recruits.
On Diwali day in 1958, one of the young boys who lined up to take the oath of Bal Swayamsevak (child volunteer) from Vakil Saheb, was Narendra Damodardas Modi.
Lakshmanrao Inamdar was popularly known as Vakil Saheb.
“Narendra Modi’s formative years were spent in RSS and Vakil Saheb has had the greatest impact on him,” says Seshadari Chari, member of the BJP national executive.
“Modi attributes his entire personality to Vakil Saheb,” said Prabhat Kumar, who has published four of Modi’s books, including the Inamdar biography.
“Narendra always wanted to do something different. Something more than what we did on a daily routine at home and school. And the RSS Shakha just provided him that,” Sombhai Modi, Narendra’s oldest brother, described.
“In the evening, after the classes, we used to dump our books at home and run straight to the Shakha,” Modi’s childhood friend Sudhir Joshi, who practices traditional medicine in Vadnagar, told.
“Between assisting father, mother, and being at the school, it was his Shakhas that he really took the most serious of all,” his elder brother said. “Narendra gave up eating salt and oil, and we thought he was on a mission to become a Sadhu.”
His anxious parents had arranged him a marriage in keeping with the traditions of the community in Vadnagar. Narendra Modi was engaged to a girl three years younger than him, Jashodaben Chimanlal, from the neighbouring Brahamanwada. The shaadi was performed when Modi was only 13, brother Sombhai narrated. After staying some time with Modi’s family Jashodaben left for her parental home.
At the age 18, Narendra Modi decided to set off and wander, leaving his engaged wife and the family behind.
One of the Modi family’s neighbours in Vadnagar recalled: Before Narendra left again, his mother wanted to set him up with his wife, so they asked Jashodaben’s parents to send her here for Gauna. On the day Jashodaben arrived for Gauna, Narendra fought with the family and left home, never to return again”.
He then left for Ahmedabad in search of a career in RSS.
Modi told his biographer MV Kamath “There were about 12 to 15 people living together at Hedgewar Bhavan, the RSS headquarters in Gujarat. When Vakil Saheb invited me to join…
I started working in the Sangh office then, and decided that’s where I belonged.”
“He gave up his family life to join the RSS. Even today his ties with his family are not as they should be,” his brother Prahlad Modi has said.
Modi has never tried to promote his family ever or done any favour. His mother, 85, still lives in a one-room flat with his brother in Ahmedabad. One of his brothers is a clerk at the State Secretariat and Prahlad Modi runs a grocery shop. The cousin Arvind sells gunny bags in his small shop at Vadnagar.
Vadnagar Has Changed
Despite Modi’s absence, Vadnagar has changed. And the credit obviously goes to him. Its transformation is quite visible.
A ring road that connected the entire town of 27,000 residents, brand new street lights, a government polytechnic, gardens, water tanks, an industrial training centre to produce a skilled workforce, India’s largest food processing plant, and an open air theatre on the banks of the Sharmistha Lake in which Mr Modi used to swim every day as a young boy before going to school.
Today, Vadnagar could perhaps be fittingly rechristened as ‘Modinagar'(not to be mistaken as the UP one). Located 112 km from Ahmedabad, the township owes almost everything, from regular public works to sizeable projects, to the State Government’s keen observation.
Pothole-free streets paved with concrete, solar-powered light posts, the 8-km long ring road that conveniently links all parts of the town.
Vadnagar now has a civil hospital that can be easily compared to any private hospital on equipment and cleanliness. A spanking new medical college-cum-150-bed hospital is also on the pipeline.
Local lakes and parks have been beautified and turned into lively recreation spots. Himalaya International runs a food processing unit worth Rs.175 crore that includes India’s biggest mushroom producing unit, and employs 1,500 men and women, nearly 15 per cent of the city’s eligible workers.
Vadnagar is grateful to its ‘prodigal’ son!
By: Deep Basu