Ahmedabad: The idea for this column began with Narendra Modi’s victory in December.
This has made him the focus of next year’s election, but not much is really known about Modi, especially his own writing. He’s written three books in Gujarati which reveal something about his character. I will start to translate and comment on them next week, but today I wanted to give you an overview. Here are the top 10 things I’ve learnt from reading him.
He is familiar with three languages — Marathi, Gujarati and English. The last two are not surprising (though he is not particularly good at speaking English and is poor at writing it). The revelation is Marathi, which I discovered through his book Patrarup Shri Guruji. Modi has translated Marathi, showing his familiarity with the Sangh’s mother tongue.
Like the emperor Nero, who wanted above all to be respected as an artist and a singer, Modi wants to be taken seriously as a writer and a poet. Nero was pedestrian and had little talent, according to Suetonius, but his power greatly amplified his ability. In my opinion this is also true of Modi. What else? Nero allowed Romans to persecute a minority, Christians, whom he saw as troublemakers. Another similarity with Nero: Modi also fiddled while Ahmedabad burned.
Beween his poetry and his prose, Modi’s poetry is better. He is observational and alert in real life (I know from experience), but not when writing prose. There are too many adjectives and little information of value.
His prose writing is hagiography, which means excessive praise of the subject. The RSS people he has profiled were all perfect men. There is not a single point of criticism. Of Golwalkar he says it is “impossible to describe him”. Well, he should have tried.
Modi is a confident writer, with a nice easy style. This shows in his ability to experiment. There is a sense of fun and he has written the afterword to one of his books and the foreword to another as poems.
The man he holds in the highest regard is MS Golwalkar. One of his three books is on the longest-serving head of the RSS. The book is a translation into Gujarati of some of Golwalkar’s letters. In another book, Jyotipunj, a series on men (there are no women) he admired, the longest chapter is on Golwalkar.
Modi doesn’t think much of the BJP’s political leaders. How do I know this? In his book of portraits of those in the RSS he looked up to and learnt from, there is nobody from the BJP even though many were old Sangh men.
Modi loves to be photographed in the studio posing. All his books have pictures of him holding heroic and unnatural poses. A book of essays written on him by others, Swarnim Gujaratna CM Narendra Modi, carries on its cover five pictures of him, four in a studio-shot sequence so contrived that it looks like a poster for a stand-up comic.
Modi has written, and continues to write, while in office. His books of poems, Aankh aa dhanya chhe, was published in 2007. Jyotipunj was written in 2008, and includes an essay on a man who died in December the previous year.
He experiments with language in poetry. There is onomatopoeia, there is punning. Modi is a better poet than Vajpayee, even if that isn’t saying much. The difference between them is that Vajpayee is extroverted. Modi is not. A secret burns within.