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Far from forecourt, a town in Gujarat celebrates its native son
As Narendra Modi took oath as Prime Minister on Monday, his home town Vadnagar was euphoric. The ancient capital of Gujarat is said to have crumbled seven times in its history, only to resurrect itself each time — and the astonishing rise of the little boy whom some still remember playing in the dusty alleys seems an apt metaphor for the town itself.
Every corner of Vadnagar was celebrating on Monday. BJP flags fluttered from doors, boondi and prasad were being distributed, and the posters of Modi were everywhere. In the evening, every home lit a lamp, a repeat of the celebration of May 16, when the election results were announced.
At Kala Vasudev Ni Chali, where Modi grew up in the household of eight, residents offered tea to visitors, served along with nuggets of facts mixed with myth on the greatness of their town, and that of “amaro gaam no putra” (the son of our town).
75-year-old Kanubhai Bhavsar, who lives close to Modi’s home and taught the Prime Minister from Class 2 to 7 at B N High School, narrated his recollections to swarms of reporters.
“Modi had called 25 of his teachers and their families in 2005 for the launch of his book in Gujarati, where he got very emotional and shed tears,” Bhavsar said. “He was very brave even as a child. I remember him climbing a tree once to free a dove stuck in its branches. He was among the boys who would swim in the Sharmishta Lake, which was known to be full with crocodiles. He would sometimes bring home baby crocodiles the size of chameleons, just for fun.
“A famous astrologer who had looked at Narendra’s hand, had prophesied that he would either become a saint or a big official one day. Worried that he might renounce the world, his parents got him married in a hurry, hoping to tie him down to a family life,” Bhavsar said.
At his sweet shop in Baroti Bazaar, Chinubhai Mithaiwala celebrated by distributing upma for free. Elsewhere in the town, 101 kg of jaggery was consumed as shagun.
In the Muslim neighbourhood of Sebarwada, Brahman Sheri, Faridaben Khan described the atmosphere as that of a giant wedding. She would be watching Modi’s oath-taking on television, she said in the afternoon.
Closer to Modi’s home, the Prime Minister’s cousin Ashok Modi had organised a maha aarti at the neighbourhood temple. Ashok, who ekes out a living by selling toys, asked reporters how he might be able to reach Modi.
“I want to write to Modi about my financial condition. Where should I send it?” He said there was a possibility that Modi’s elder brother Somabhai might drop by on May 30 for a havan, and he would try to plead his case then.
As evening — and the time for the swearing-in — approached, the entire town headed for Lake Sharmishta. On the island in the lake, a huge LED screen had been put up to show the ceremony live. The Rs 5 entry fee to the lake had been waived.
Sunil Mehta, chief of the Vadnagar BJP, said 100 kg of boondi and peda would be distributed to people. On June 4, buses carrying satsangis from the local Swaminarayan temple would leave for Ayodhya, from where they would embark on a barefoot pilgrimage to pray for Modi.
19-year-old Ajay Prajapati, who studied in the only ITI in town, and his friend Pragnesh Limbachiye, who works in Ahmedabad, spoke with pride about Modi becoming PM. “It is only because of Modi that we have this complex on Sharmishta Lake… To invite the heads of our neighbouring countries for his inauguration was a great way to begin,” Prajapati said.
Sitting among the 2,000-odd people by the lake, Bela Modi, a close relative of the Prime Minister, flashed a ‘V’ sign. “V is for Victory, Vadodara, Varanasi, Vadnagar and Vadapradhan (PM),” she said.
As Modi appeared on the screen, there were loud cheers, along with dhols and nagadas. And as the ceremony came to a close, the crowd broke into an impromptu garba.