The Indian prime minister, Narendra Modi, joined Bear Grylls on the latter’s survival TV programme Man vs Wild to talk about his relationship with nature and growing up in a poor family, all the while crossing a freezing river on a flimsy raft.
In the episode broadcast in India on Monday, the two men were filmed on the riverbank of the country’s Jim Corbett National Park, with deer and a herd of elephants seen in the distance.
Grylls’s remark that the river was full of crocodiles prompted Modi, wearing a cap and mackintosh, to tell him how as a poor boy, with no bathroom at home, he used to bathe in a pond every day. Apparently, one day, he found a baby crocodile and took it home, but his mother scolded him and told him to return the animal to the river.
It was one of several childhood anecdotes related by Modi. He also recalled how his father used to celebrate the occasion of the first rain of the season by buying 25 to 30 postcards and sending them to relatives, writing simply, “Today it rained in our village” to express his joy.
Modi went on to speak of how his uncle once suggested that, given his parents’ straitened circumstances, they could try selling wood to burn for cooking. But his grandmother vetoed the idea: “My grandmother said no to selling wood. She said wood has life in it. The environment is intrinsic to our lives.”
The main task of the episode was for Grylls and Modi to cross the river. Grylls attempted to drum up some drama by breathlessly pointing to some tiger tracks in the mud and then making a spear out of a branch that he offered to Modi as protection. Modi politely declined and fashioned a makeshift raft from branches, reeds and some conveniently located tarpaulin.
The two men got into the raft, and Modi seemed unfazed when it started pouring with rain. Grylls proceeded to dial up the deference and asked Modi how he coped with fear or nervousness. Modi replied that such was his “positivity”, he had never experienced those emotions.
Modi also told Grylls that his love of nature had begun when he left home as a teenager. “I went to the Himalayas since I liked nature. I met people there and stayed with him. I got to learn a lot from them.”
Indian viewers might have been taken aback after seeing this side to their recently re-elected prime minister as, in the public consciousness, his image is that of a strongman – iron-willed, stern, and boasting a “56-inch chest”, a claim Modi once made to project the idea of a macho leader who gets things done.
Other famous personalities that have featured on Man vs Wild are tennis player Roger Federer and former US president Barack Obama.