In the narrow lanes of the Vadnagar Taluka there are a series of old, dilapidated and worn out houses. In the midst of these structures, a newly constructed double story building, built over a small, roughly 20 square yard plot, stands out.
There is no sign of history or even a sense of contemporary legacy attached to that building. If any such signs were there earlier, they have been removed to create space for a new family.
The previous occupant of the house left it over three decades ago to find a new place for himself under the sun. His family too left the place some years ago. But he, Narendra Modi, currently the Chief Minister of Gujarat, is still very fondly remembered by the members of his extended family and almost everyone in the village. The family which bought Modi’s ancestral place from his brothers some years ago have put up a new building there, but are quite shy of talking about the most talked about person in the state.
Though Modi has four brothers, Som, Amit, Prahlad and Pankaj, his only link with his family is his mother who moved out with his younger brother to Ahmedabad. On his birthday recently, pictures of Modi seeking blessings from his mother were widely published. The Vadnagar residents cite those pictures as an example to suggest that he is still the same Narendrabhai they once knew and played with.
Narendrabhai may or may not be coming to Vadnagar, but its people still feel an emotional linkage with him. When asked if Modi has taken any special care for the place or if they have approached him to seek favour, young Zahir Abbas says with pride, “it is not required. The fact that we belong to this place automatically opens all doors concerned for us. We feel so proud of it."
He then goes on to list the developmental work that has taken place, schools, polytechnic, medical, engineering colleges, a lake that has been developed with boating facilities... and then with a certain sense of pride, says his father had been childhood friends with Modi. Others that had also gathered in front of what was once Modi's ancestral home started speaking in a chorus.
But they were cautious to add that it was not Vadanagar alone, but the whole of Gujarat where development was taking place. Like his other hard core supporters, they too believe that the ongoing Gujarat assembly election is just a stepping stone for him to achieve his final ambition of becoming the Prime Minister of the country.
Modi’s first cousin, Arvind Modi is a small time businessman who still lives in Vadnagar with his family. He has fond memories of Modi. Though he has not met him for many years, he is still elated by the very mention of his name. He quickly changes into more sober attire, and earnestly talks of their early years.
“It's not that he has not met us since the time he left home or since the time he became Chief Minister. Some time back he had come here to attend a function. We keep on meeting his younger brother Prahlad. Now that he is going to be the BJP’s Prime Ministerial candidate in the next Parliamentary elections, we hope and pray that he becomes Prime Minister."
Prahlad Modi is not alone in this belief and hope. Almost all the inhabitants of Vadnagar share his feelings. They mistakenly believe, in fact, that Modi has already been declared the BJP Prime Ministerial candidate. But they can’t be blamed for that. It’s all a part of the hype that surrounds Vadnagar's most famous son, who rose to command the state for the last 11 years and could well be re-elected for another five-year term in office.
Gani Bhai Mansuri, one of Modi's childhood friends, lives six houses away from Modi's ancestral home. The two went to school together from class one to class eight, first to Prathmik Kumarshala and then to the Badnagar High School.
A young Modi would turn up at Mansuri's home almost every evening without fail for what Gani bhai calls "joint studies", because his then newly built house had electricity. He is now retired from his job as a conductor at the state road transport bus services.
He says that when Mansuri had been away at his work, Modi on some occasions spared a moment or two to speak to his mother and ask about the wellbeing of his friend. After all the lady shared a special relationship with him in his childhood days. That’s enough to keep the family praying for him: "Allah unko Bada Pradhan Banaye (may God make him Prime Minister)."
Two things stand out in all the childhood tales about Modi. The first is that like any other child, he was full of pranks and did some reckless things, like getting into a well to fetch water after playing in the fields after school. The second is that he had an active interest in cricket, both playing in school, and also sitting with friends around a transistor to hear Indian test match cricket commentary.
Dashratbhai Dayal Modi who was a year senior to Modi in school, and his next door neighbour in the village, has also met him one or twice on official public occasions in Vadnagar. But his face lits up the moment he starts talking about him. He eagerly presents a souvenir, “Modi Darpan” containing a goodwill message by the Chief Minister on the opening page. "His interest in cricket was tremendous but now when I hear him speak I wonder how has he transformed into a profound orator” Dashrat Bhai says.
Mansuri says he loves watching and listening to him, remembering how even in his early years, Modi would at times speak very assertively.
For Modi the journey that he began over three decades ago from Vadnagar continues. If that journey will eventually take him to Delhi will only be known on 20 December, when the results of the Gujarat assembly elections will be declared.
But come what may, the residents of Vadnagar are behind him, praying for his success.