The image of a simple, frail old woman to whom great leaders were seeing bowing in respect, will remain etched in memories forever. Heeraben Modi’s simplicity and the aura of spirituality that she exuded were her greatest strengths.
Heeraba died Friday at the UN Mehta Institute of Cardiology and Research Centre in Ahmedabad at 3.30 am, two days after she was hospitalised. Prime Minister Narendra Modi arrived early in the morning for the funeral rites that remained largely a family affair. Hiraba’s other sons – the oldest Amrutbhai, Sombhai, Prahladbhai and Pankajbhai, with whom Hiraba stayed – were also present. Her last rites were performed at a crematorium in Gandhinagar’s Sector 30.
Born in Visnagar near Vadnagar, Mehsana in 1923, she has always been described by all who knew her, as “simple and affectionate.”
According to Modi’s social posts, Heeraba lost her mother to the Spanish flu as a child. “She does not even remember my grandmother’s face or the comfort of her lap. She spent her entire childhood without her mother. She could not throw tantrums at her mother, as we all do. She could not rest in her mother’s lap like we all do,” read his blog.
Heeraba never went to school and amid a childhood of “poverty and deprivation”, she would “wash utensils at a few houses to help meet the household expenses,” he penned earlier.
In his blog, PM Modi had mentioned says his late father Damodardas, would also have celebrated his 100th birthday a week before his mother. “A few youngsters from the society dropped in. My father’s photograph was kept on a chair, there was a kirtan, and Mother was immersed in singing bhajans while playing the manjeera. She is still the same – age may have taken a toll physically, but she is as mentally alert as ever,” Modi wrote.
According to Modi, his mother never accompanied him to any government or public event. The only other time she was seen at one, apart from his swearing-in as Gujarat CM in 2001, was when he returned from Srinagar after hoisting the national flag at Lal Chowk on completing the Ekta Yatra in 1991.
Heeraba did not attend his swearing-in as Prime Minister in 2014, but visited him later at 7 Race Course Road in 2016, photos of which were shared by Modi on Twitter. In the same year, when Modi, as Prime Minister, announced the scrapping of the Rs 500 and Rs 2,000 notes, videos of Heeraba at a bank exchanging demonetised currency went viral.
She would also regularly cast her vote, and was last seen turning up in a wheelchair to vote in the recently held Assembly elections in the state. On September 17, his birthday, PM Modi would often come to Gandhinagar to seek Heeraba’s blessings.
Former CM Shankersinh Vaghela, who was among the first to arrive to pay respects to the departed centenarian early Friday morning. “I have known her from the time I know Narendrabhai, that is 1984-85. She was always healthy. A real gruhini (homemaker) and very warm. Her first question when we met her would be ‘have you eaten? Will you have something?” Vaghela and Modi were together in the RSS, before he quit the BJP to launch his own party and then joined the Congress.
“Mother did not have much of a childhood due to her own struggles – she was forced to grow beyond her age. She was the eldest child in her family and became the eldest daughter-in-law after marriage. In her childhood, she used to take care of the entire family and manage all the chores. After marriage too, she picked up all these responsibilities. Despite the onerous responsibilities and everyday struggles, Mother held the entire family together with calm and fortitude,” according to the blog.
Modi added that his mother was a “Kabirpanthi” and one of her favourite hymns was the Narsinh Mehta composition: “Jalkamal chhadi ja ne bala, swam amaro jagse…”