Atal Behari Vajpayee, who also wrote in verse. Both men reveal something about themselves through their poetry.
A file photo of Narendra Modi and Atal Bihari VA file photo of Narendra Modi and Atal Bihari Vajpayee in Bangalore. AFPajpayee in Bangalore. AFP
I translated some of the Gujarat chief minister's work a few years ago. These are the opening lines of Modi's 2007 book, Aankh Aa Dhanya Chhe (Our Eyes Are So Blessed).
"This earth is a beautiful place
Our eyes are so blessed
Sunlight does not spill over the lush green grass
Try as hard as you might, you can't hold it in your hand either
The earth is a beautiful place
Our eyes are so blessed"
The rest of the poem is equally pedestrian. This aspect of Modi's lack of talent has escaped the attention of national media. This is because Modi writes in Gujarati. He has also written short biographical sketches of Hindutva leaders (not a particularly interesting work, I must confess), and a portrait of MS "Guru" Golwalkar.
Personally I find Modi more entertaining when he is not being formal. He said once American President Obama's name reminded him of a child crying out for its mother in pain (Gujarati children say: "O ba! O ma!"). I found that quite funny and original. But the problem is that, with all things about Modi, he takes himself seriously as a poet, even though that is not his strong suit.
Here is another translation of his work.
"At sweet sixteen, melody of a cuckoo within
On whom showers romance, the flowers of spring?
Appearing poor, but rich within
From the heart of autumn, Rises the cooing of spring
Who's getting wedded in woods? Each tree is lit in festive moods!"
This is worse than the first, and one reason might be that it has not been translated by me. It was posted on Modi's official website by one of his fans who translated it for Basant Panchmi. The main problem however is that the text is inherently weak. It has little original by way of descriptions or thought or composition. This is where Modi is similar to Vajpayee. Have a look at some of the former prime minister's works.
Prithvi par Manushya hi aisa prani hai
Jo bhid main akela, aur,
Akele main bhid se ghira anubhav karta hai
(On earth, among the living
Only a human being
Feels alone in a crowd, and
Besieged by crowds when alone).
Kya khoya, kya paya jag main,
Milte aur bichadte mug main,
Mujhe kisi se nahin shikayat,
Yadyapi chala gaya pag-pag main,
Ek dhrishti beeti par dalein, yaadon ki potli tatolain
(What have I lost or gained on earth?
In this journey of meeting and separation
I've known deception at every step,
But I have no grievance, no complaints,
As I appraise the past, sift through memories. Translations by Pavan K Varma)
Perhaps if you said it with Atalji's impassioned delivery it might become better, but I doubt it. To be a poet one needs more than just the demeanour. One needs detachment, and perhaps tragedy. On the night of February 28, 2002, rioters ripped out the little grave of Wali Muhammad Wali, Urdu's first poet, just outside the Ahmedabad police commissioner's office. Wali wrote beautiful verse on his love of Gujarat. One poem was on my city, 'Dar Taarif-e-Shehr Surat'. Another, Wali's most moving, is called 'Dar Firaaq-e-Gujarat'.
I read out 'Dar Firaaq-e-Gujarat' to Narendrabhai one evening and asked him to guess who the poet was. He could not say. I told him, and asked him to consider restoring Wali's shrine. His response was that the evidence that the demolished grave was Wali's wasn't clinching enough for him.
(Aakar Patel is a writer and a columnist. The views expressed are personal.)