CHENNAI: Film critic, biographer and journalist, Bhawana Somaaya has spent more than four decades in showbiz, documenting the lives of several Bollywood stars. But it was his new project that made the talk. His book, Letters to Mother – a translation of the Gujarati book Saakshi Bhaav, which is a collection of letters from Prime Minister Narendra Modi – is released today.
The book contains letters written by a young PM to the Mother Goddess, whom he addresses as Jagat Janani, and explores his most intimate anxieties, thoughts and observations. “Journalists can be sensitive to certain people they write about. There comes a time when we are told to stop being sensitive, as if being sensitive is a crime. But here is a man overflowing with sensitivity, who is not afraid of being judged and being vulnerable.
In fact, after I finished reading the book, I couldn’t believe the intensity of it, the way it had bared himself, ”Bhawana tells Kaveree Bamzai of the Prime Minister’s letters. , during the recent edition of Indulge Time Pass. The author and cultural commentator, who has written sixteen books, explored several other relevant questions during the engaging conversation.
When it was time to translate, when I was taking a break and turning on the TV, I wondered if this was the man I’m writing about. Even when I was working on a book on Amitabh Bachchan, meeting him or watching his films was so distracting for my process. Translation is much more difficult than writing, because when I write I am only responsible for myself, but it is a double responsibility. Although Gujarati is my mother tongue, I had never studied Gujarati; I just know that well enough.
Also, I have to synchronize my voice – a female voice – with the voice of the Prime Minister, a male voice. I’m damned if I do this book, I’m damned if I don’t! It comes out today; not many people read it but i really don’t care what people think i never asked for feedback even from people i write about. I am not a political journalist, it is not a political interview that I am documenting. I’m translating a book… that’s all. There were many lines in the book that moved me.
So when the language got too complicated, I took the help of a few friends to understand it better. There was a line he used to describe the sea and the river; it was beautiful. In fact, I felt he got lost in the translation. I think if there is a Gujarati actor with a great voice who could read them, that would be adorable.
On nature and politics
Mr. Modi discusses different experiences and topics in his book – from talking about the planet to his mother’s emotions to him. When he talks about nature, how he characterizes nature, details, the river, the moon, the constant dialogue with nature… I was introduced to his careful observations. His imagination is overflowing and he uses it to camouflage his sensitivity and tackle larger issues.
If I have to ask the PM a question then I would ask him – why do so many people love you and why do so many people hate you? I was very curious to know more about 1986, politics, his life, on RSS. I know the emotions of success and non-success well enough to be able to activate it accordingly, but it was a new world for me; his suffering is constant. He does not reject his suffering; it’s collective, calm and meditative and used productively, and had been put into these passages. It is the same for anyone who thinks too much, he is never at peace.
I would hear stories about him, of course, about how he would fast for the goddess during Navratri. We all have a god to whom we relate; for him, it is the mother goddess. Even in the cinema, Dilip Kumar and Amitabh Bachchan always addressed Shiva, Meena Kumari always cried in front of Krishna, the female protagonists of the cinema spoke to the mother goddess because she is Shakti. For the Prime Minister, I think that these are the first influences that shaped him because the idea of a goddess is born from our mothers for most of us.
In 40 years, I haven’t experienced anything like it, it has become so complicated. I have never met any drug addicts or parties like that; maybe i lived in a different world. I applaud Jaya Bachchan for what she said in the Rajya Sabha. But for a few rotten tomatoes, you can’t blame the whole basket. Whether it is crime or suicide, it happens everywhere; it’s not just cinematic fraternity. My friends wonder if this is really a world of sin, but it is such an exaggerated perception.
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