Some boys play in Vadnagar town, Mehsana, when their ball falls into the Sharmishta lake, full of crocodiles. One of them, Narendra, jumps in, swims to the ball and picks up a baby crocodile on the way. He takes it home to his mother, who tells him about the pangs of separating a mother from its child. The boy puts the crocodile back into the water.
Narendra is Modi, and the story is one of 17 depicted in a recently released 45- page comic book, Bal Narendra — Childhood Stories of Narendra Modi. The episodes show him as a tea vendor, a theatre actor, a kabaddi player, an animal lover, and the swimmer who braved the crocodiles.
One story shows four schoolboys beating up a fifth. Narendra outwits them by spraying ink on the backs of their shirts and telling the principal how to identify the bullies.
No author is named for the glossy compilation. The epilogue, also anonymous, says: “These 17 real life stories give you a glimpse of the formative years of Narendra Modi — a leader the entire nation is looking up to with great hope.”
The illustrations emphasise a modest background with pictures of exposed bricks in the walls of a one-room household of six members. The patriot chapter tells how Narendra, dressed in a darned shirt, served tea to Army soldiers travelling by trains through Vadnagar during the 1962 Indo-China war.
According to the comic, when the river Tapi in Surat was flooded, Modi as a child helped raise funds by running a tea stall at the village carnival. Years later, in 2006, his government would be criticised for mismanagement leading to the flooding of the Tapi that killed nearly 150.
One story describes how Narendra staged a play to raise money to build a broken school wall. Another is about how his father Damodardas struggled with the rush of customers near the railway station and how Narendra helped him brew tea and wash utensils.
Modi the perfectionist comes out in stories of how his uncle gets him a pair of white shoes which he shines with pieces of chalk collected from the classroom, and of how he ironed his uniform with the bottom of a jug filled with burning coal.
The story begins with the birth of Modi and how his parents decided to name him Narendra, “Lord of Men”, who grew up to help his mother cook, clean her ayurvedic store run from home, and feed his little sister (none of the siblings have been named.)
Hammesh Modi of publisher Rannade Prakashan says people close to Modi thought of a book on the lines of Amar Chitra Katha comics and started working on it some six months ago. “We wanted an easy and quick book on Modi to reach people across India. Bal Narendra with its pictures and 40 pages is an easy and quick read,” says Hammesh Modi.
According to the publisher, “The incidents were put together by those who know Modi. So there is no particular author. But the authenticity seal has come from the office of the chief minister.”
Illustrator and designer Jignesh Gandhi said the biggest difficulty was that only two photos from Modi’s childhood were available.
“They were front-facing. The rest of the profiling was based on our imagination,” said Gandhi who has sent Modi a copy.