13 August 2019
New Delhi: British adventurer Bear Grylls, who hosts the popular Discovery Channel show "Man Vs Wild", has mentioned about how Prime Minister Narendra Modi has actually spent time in the jungle as a younger man, citing the experience as the reason why he showed no apparent discomfort when he was out shooting for the extreme adventure show.
Indeed, in a special episode of the show shot at Jim Corbett National Park in Uttarakhand and aired on Monday, Prime Minister Modi remained calm in the face of the adversities that nature tossed at him.
For the 45-year-old adventurer, Prime Minister Modi's composure despite extreme weather might have been a revelation. However, those in the know, recall his sturdy phase in the younger days - the two years he spent in the Himalayas in search of God - which Grylls mentioned as his time spent in the jungle as a younger man.
Not much is known about those two years. Now, some details have emerged about that time in the Prime Minister's life. According to Kalindi Randeri, author of "Narendra Modi: The Architect Of Modern State", he was irked by family issues, which is why he decided to embark on a journey to the Himalayas to seek the truths of life.
Randeri writes in her book: "One dark night Modi left his home and simply vanished away."
For the next two years, Modi stayed in the caves of Himalayas as a monk, she writes, and during this time, he met another monk there.
The monk asked him his reason for wandering in the Himalayas and Modi replied that he was there in search of God.
Then the monk told Modi he was too young, and that he did not need to wander in the Himalayas in search of God. He could find God by serving people and society.
So, Modi returned among people, but not to family life.
At the age of 17 in 1967, he went to Belur Math and became an ascetic. There he met Swami Madhavananda.
The Prime Minister terms those two years in the Himalayan wilds as an urge to understand the spiritual world.
"I was 17 or 18 when I left my home and was thinking about what to do next. I was trying to understand the world and wanted to see the spiritual world. Then, I stayed in the Himalayas, amid nature. It was a wonderful experience," he said.
Subsequently, Modi started his political career and joined Bharatiya Janata Party. The rest is history.
On Monday, the Indian secret service had closed the airspace at Corbett so Grylls had to get down from his helicopter at one point and walk for 6.4 km to meet Modi. He waited for two hours to meet the Prime Minister, and was anxious about taking him into the jungle, given its wet and cold conditions.
Prime Minister Modi, however, was in no mood for anxiety. Out on his jungle adventure, his calm demeanour all through made one think that, perhaps, memories of those two years of his youth in wilderness, searching for God, played in his mind all along and egged him on in his new adventure.
"The strength that I gained after my stay in the Himalayas is still within me. I met people who believed in minimalist living and leaving no carbon footprints," Modi said at one point.
He said he was happy to spend time with Grylls and go for a new experience.
"Bear is taking me to a Jim Corbett mission. It is a wonderful journey. Jim Corbett is perfect for people looking to spend time with nature, mountains, river and wildlife. There's so much ecological diversity. India is a diverse country with over 100 languages, and 1,600 dialects," he said, finding the essence of the multicultural motherland in the diversity of nature.
Trekking through the wilds brought back flashes of Modi's childhood. He recalled his humble beginnings.
"I come from a small place in western Gujarat. I was born there, grew up there, studied there and then started working for public welfare. I hail from a normal family - a small life with mother and father. We were not financially strong and I studied in a government school. But there was always connect with nature."
Bear asked if he was a good student, to which the Prime Minister laughed and said: "I can't say I was a good student."
Modi's connect with nature, even at a young age, was not just about his personality. It was about survival, too, as is evident in an anecdote he shared, revealing how his family at times did not have money to buy soap. "We lived in a dry region. During winter, dew gets gathered and forms a layer of salt in such places. We used to collect it and soak it in warm water and use it as detergent even for taking bath," Modi said.
The Prime Minister also said that he didn't have a great life growing up.
"Dirty clothes were normal for me, but for school, I used to dress up perfectly. We didn't have an iron, so I used to iron my school uniform by collecting coal and burning them, and then putting them in a utensil to use it as an iron on my uniform," he said.
"My father had a small tea stall. I used to help him by going to the railway station to sell tea before going to school. The railways played a very important role in my life."
There were the fun moments, too, as Prime Minister Modi made an improvised spear along with Grylls. "Oh, so this is your weapon!" he chuckled at Grylls.
Was he scared? "God takes care of you. Sab uparwaale ke bharose chhod do (leave everything to the almighty)," he said.
Clearly, he was enjoying his oneness with nature. It was, in his own words, his first holiday in 18 years, since he had taken over as Gujarat Chief Minister all those years ago.
"I was CM of a state and worked for the state for 13 years. It was a new journey for me. Then the country decided to do this (the Prime Ministership) and I am doing. My focus is on development and I am satisfied to see where it is going. If I treat this experience as my vacation, then this would be my first vacation in 18 years," he revealed.
Does he think about his powerful position? "In my mind, I never think of what I am. Whether I am a CM or a PM, I only think about my responsibilities and work, not my position," he replied.
The talk once again veers back to his childhood and, quite in sync with the wild rendezvous, come up the mention of the time when Modi, as a boy, took a crocodile home.
"We used to take a bath in a pond, and once I found a baby of a crocodile and for it home. My mother asked me to take it back, so I took it back," he reminisced, adding: "One should never fear nature. When we think of conflict of nature, the problems start. When we were young and it used to rain, my father used to get 25-30 postcards despite our financial crunch and used to write to relatives about the rains in our place. We used to wonder why he used to do it. We understand the importance of rain today."
His childhood, he added, taught him to love nature. "Nature was a big part of life. In fact, my father's mother, who was uneducated, once asked my uncle, who wanted to start a business of selling wood for the stove, not to do that business. It was because she believed that there are living creatures in wood. 'We will die of hunger and work hard, but not sell wood', she told him. Environment was an intrinsic part of growing up," he said.
Did he ever get nervous? "My problem is that I have never felt this emotion. So, I can't explain it. Kabhi nirash nahi hota," he said.
His message for the younger generation? "Don't look at life in pieces, but as a whole with ups and downs."
As Modi crossed the river in an improvised raft, Grylls exclaimed he would probably be the first Prime Minister in a 100 years to do so!
The Prime Minister seemed to enjoy every bit of his wild experience at Corbett. Although he did mention this did not feel anything new, since he had lived in the Himalayas this way.