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Narendra Modi’s journey began in the by-lanes of Vadnagar, a small and nondescript town in North Gujarat’s Mehsana district. Born on 17th September 1950, 3 years after India attained freedom and within months of India becoming a Republic, Narendra Modi was the third of the sixth children of Damodardas Modi and Hiraba Modi. Vadnagar is a town that is steeped in history. Archeological excavations suggest this was a vibrant centre of learning and spirituality. The Chinese traveller Hiuen Tsang visited Vadnagar. Vadnagar also has a rich Buddhist history with as many as 10,000 Buddhist monks inhabiting the town centuries ago.

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Vadnagar station, where Narendra Modi's father owned a tea stall and where Narendra Modi also sold tea

Narendra Modi’s early years were far from what a fairy tale upbringing is like. The family belonged to the marginalized sections of society and had to struggle to make ends meet. The entire family lived in a small single storey house (approximately 40 feet by 12 feet). His father sold tea at the tea stall he set up in the local railway station. In his early years, Narendra Modi too lent a hand to his father at the tea stall.

These formative years left a strong imprint on Narendra Modi. As a child, Narendra Modi balanced his studies, non-academic life and his contribution at the family tea stall. His schoolmates recall Narendra as a diligent student with a penchant for debating and reading. He would spend hours and hours reading in the school library. Among the sports, he was very fond of swimming. Narendra Modi had a wide range of friends from all the communities. As a child he often celebrated both Hindu and Muslim festivals considering the large number of Muslim friends he had in the neighbourhood.

Humble Beginnings: The Early Years
As a child Narendra Modi dreamt of serving in the Army but destiny had other plans…

Yet, his thoughts, and dreams went way beyond a conventional life that began in the classroom and ended in the environs of an office. He wanted to go out there and make a difference to society…to wipe tears and suffering among people. At a young age he developed an inclination towards renunciation and asceticism. He gave up eating salt, chilies, oil and jaggery. Reading the works of Swami Vivekananda cover to cover took Narendra Modi to a journey of spiritualism and laid the foundation for his own mission to fulfill Swami Vivekananda’s dream of a Jagad Guru Bharat.

If there is one word that characterized Narendra Modi’s childhood and stayed with him for the rest of his life, it is service. When floods wrecked havoc in the Tapi River, 9 year old he and his friends started a food stall and donated the proceeds for relief work. When the war with Pakistan was at its peak he set out on the railway station and served tea to the Jawans who were going and coming from the border. This was a small step but it displayed his firm resolve to answer the call of Mother India, even at a remarkably young age.

As a child Narendra Modi had one dream- to serve in the Indian Army. For many youngsters of his time, the Army was seen as the ultimate means of serving Mother India. As luck would have it, his family was dead opposed to the idea. Narendra Modi was very keen to study in Sainik School located in nearby Jamnagar but when the time came to pay the fees, there was no money at home. Surely, Narendra was disappointed. But, fate had different plans for this young boy who was disappointed on not being able to wear the uniform of a Jawan. Over the years he embarked on a unique path that took him across India in pursuit of the larger mission to serve humanity.

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Seeking the blessings of his Mother

Pariksha Pe Charcha with PM Modi
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April 09, 2021
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His core remains rooted in ground realities. His practical knowledge emanates from the earthy wisdom that forms the bedrock of Indian civilisation.

One wonders how one of the most powerful men in the world, dealing with numerous important decisions at any given point of time, still finds time to share a piece of his life’s collected wisdom with children. He has, in the truest sense, been a guide and a mentor, giving booster shots of confidence, year after year, to students preparing for exams.

Pariksha Pe Charcha has become a breath of fresh air for students. With everyone around them in a deep frenzy about exams, results, and a career, Prime Minister Narendra Modi comes across as a man with a sense of balance and farsightedness. The life lessons he distils for children come from his lived experiences.

Be it the PM’s memory hack of involving, internalising, associating and visualising a lesson than just trying to memorise it, or his formula for parents to not only stay young but also reduce the generation gap — these are things he has observed in his vast experience of living all across India. It seems simple but is actually the result of a lifetime spent observing human behaviour. The way Modi is able to observe routine interactions and bring out such insightful lessons from them is extraordinary.

During Pariksha Pe Charcha 2021, in order to allay the fear of a student regarding difficult subjects or questions during exams, PM Modi took a leaf out of his own book. He said instead of running away from tough topics, why not take them head-on first thing in the morning? As chief minister of Gujarat and now as prime minister, he applies the same principle to his daily routine, he said. Anything that requires extra effort or seems complicated, he picks up first thing in the morning with a fresh mind. What he finds easy and has a marginal scope of error, he leaves for later. This goes against our usual instinct of picking up what is easy first and then moving on to difficult parts. But it could be because we are instinctively scared to deal with hard tasks and are more likely to procrastinate or sit on them indefinitely.

The examples he quotes give an insight into a man who has risen to the top, but only after going through his fair share of struggles and disappointments and eventually finding a way through. This is the reason there is an instant connect people feel with him as he dissects human behaviour and motivations at a deeper level.

Take, for instance, his answer when a seemingly distressed parent from Punjab asked PM Modi how to ensure that kids do what is expected of them without having to run behind him. This is, in fact, a common refrain among parents, often leading to children withdrawing into their shell or acting out in a way that bewilders parents. But the PM’s reply to the question gave enough food for thought to parents regarding where the problem emanates from.

Instead of realising a child’s unique potential, parents try to box them into pre-existing societal norms and structures. He rightly pointed out that we tend to neglect an extremely important step — training the mind towards self-motivated action. Training cannot take place in isolation. It is part of a child’s daily experience at home. By introducing children to the benefits of inculcating a habit in creative ways instead of constant nagging, parents can lay the ground for moulding their mind in a certain way. This opens up the possibility of a child feeling motivated enough to make it a part of his routine. This would not only save parents’ energy but also create a positive, more open environment for children to engage with parents without feeling stressed or threatened.

Often, to have such insights into a child’s mind, one has to be a child psychologist or someone who has children of his or her own. But PM Modi does not belong to either of these two categories. Yet, his knowledge is not derived from books, but is earned through a lifetime of lived experience, especially from his pre-CM days, when he travelled extensively all across his state and the country. His discernment of human behaviour is reflective of having spent a considerable amount of time studying families closely.

Despite holding the highest office in the country and enjoying wide-scale popularity that is achieved once in a century, PM Modi does not indulge in impractical grandstanding or complicated jargon. Even after being at the centre of the most powerful circle of people, he has a rare ability to think like a person who’s a part of every family in India.

His core remains rooted in ground realities. His voice is the voice of a common man. His values are reflective of the best values of any average Indian family. His practical knowledge emanates from the earthy wisdom that forms the bedrock of Indian civilisation.