Why Varanasi's Children Want To Meet Modi

12/12/2015 12:58 AM IST | Updated 15/07/2016 8:25 AM IST
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PRAKASH SINGH via Getty Images
An Indian worker hangs posters of Japan's Prime Minister Shinzo Abe (L) and India's Prime Minister Narendra Modi (R) along a road in Varanasi on December 11, 2015. Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe will look to seal a deal on building India's first bullet train after he arrived in New Delhi on December 11, for talks with counterpart and conservative soulmate Narendra Modi. Abe will meet Indian business leaders in the capital before taking a tour with Modi on December 12, of India's holiest city of Varanasi and the prime minister's parliamentary constituency. AFP PHOTO/PRAKASH SINGH / AFP / PRAKASH SINGH (Photo credit should read PRAKASH SINGH/AFP/Getty Images)

Shivsharan Pathak has an unenviable job. He mans Narendra Modi’s Jan Sampark (constituency outreach) office in Varanasi, where Modi’s constituents flock with their various problems. It’s not as crowded as you’d expect. Police barricades outside the office are to prevent protestors. The district magistrate has banned protests outside this office anyway, as they’d cause traffic jams.

Behind him is a large Modi poster with logos of ten of Modi’s trademark initiatives, from Swachh Bharat to MyGov. The people who come in have more basic requests, however, relating mostly to bijli-sadak-pani. Pathak can’t fulfil all requests. There are Sangh Parivar workers asking for some favour or the other, people from neighbouring constituencies asking for some files to be pushed, ticket seekers for the assembly elections of 2017, and so forth.

Sporting a white tilak on his forehead, Pathak has the typical smile of a satisfied RSS (Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh) worker. There is perhaps no other way to handle a job as stressful. These days, however, he can’t conceal his amusement about a new kind of visitor--fathers coming in requesting a meeting for their child with Narendra Modi when the prime minister comes to Varanasi.

Varanasi’s Lok Sabha MP is scheduled to spend exactly 4 hours and 35 minutes in Varanasi on Saturday

Varanasi’s Lok Sabha MP is scheduled to spend exactly 4 hours and 35 minutes in Varanasi on Saturday, along with Japanese prime minister Shinzo Abe. In this short schedule, he is likely to find some time to meet a select few citizens of Varanasi, as he does each time he visits.

This time, Sunil Parikh is insistent that Pathak tell Modi to meet his son, Sarang Parikh. Sarang, a 17-year-old class 12 student, has created a device called VANI--Voice Artificial Neuro Interface--which he says can convert thoughts into text. All you have to do is think of something, and the device will “read your brainwaves” and write it. It’s a great boon for those with hearing and speech disabilities. The device has been submitted for a patent.

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Sarang Parikh, who has created VANI.

“Every time you promise me but you are unable to make my son meet Modi,” an angry Sunil Parikh says to Shivsharan Pathak. Parikh starts counting the occasions. Pathak points out that he shouldn't include the times when Modi’s trip was cancelled.

“I am trying my best,” Pathak says, “Can you write a one line summary on this piece of paper on why he wants to meet?”

While Parikh senior is working on several drafts of that one line summary, another father is playing music on his cellphone. DP Gupta, a doctor, insists we must hear all five songs his daughter, Priyanka Sehwal, has recorded. They are about the rights of the girl child. The melodramatic songs, with loud wails for Maa, are studio-recorded with appropriate background music. “My daughter is in first year of Music Honours at Banaras Hindu University. All she wants to do is to dedicate her life to Modi ji’s Beti Bachao Beti Padhao campaign. She is inspired by Modi.”

When Modi last visited Varanasi in September, he had spent 12 minutes with Kshitij, listening to his ideas for technological innovation, and mentioned his enthusiasm for technology in his Mann ki Baat

While the songs are still playing, enters 12 year old Kshitij Pandey, wearing a Kendriya Vidyalaya sweatshirt, requesting for time with the prime minister. “Where’s your father?” asks Pathak. “He’s waiting outside.” Pandey gives a handwritten note.

“Oh but you have already met him last time, right?” Kshitij nods sheepishly. “You were even mentioned in Mann ki Baat. This is not fair,” says Pathak, “others also need a chance.”

When Modi last visited Varanasi in September, he had spent 12 minutes with Kshitij, listening to his ideas for technological innovation, and mentioned his enthusiasm for technology in his Mann ki Baat. Kshitij became a celebrity overnight. With help from his father, a technician at BHU, the class 7 student is now working to create ‘free energy’, a ‘robot with feeling’ and even nuclear technology. He later received encouraging calls from the prime minister’s office, asking him to submit proposals for research.

Along with Kshitij, Modi had also met Sonam Patel, who had recited sholkas from the Bhagwad Gita and their translations without batting an eyelid. She, too, got a mention in Mann ki Baat.

modivaranasi

Cricketer Abhay Kumar.

These two celebrity children have now made every child prodigy in Varanasi yearn for similar fame. Some try their luck even when they have no distinctive skill or innovation to show off. Like 17-year-old cricketer Abhay Kumar. Pathak asks him why he wants to meet Modi, and Kumar mumbles, “Cricket. I play cricket.”

“Ok, but why do you want to meet (Modi)?”

“For cricket.”

“What about cricket?”

“For equipment.”

Anyone can get you equipment, Pathak tells him, why do you need to meet the prime minister for it. “I want to meet him,” is all Kumar can say. Embarrassed seeing much stronger contenders, he leaves.

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