There wasn’t a dry eye in the audience when Prime Minister Narendra Modi first choked up and then wept while talking about his mother, with Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg looking on.
Their town hall had just turned personal and emotional as never before. The two men, it seemed in the end, had come prepared to put it all out, turn themselves inside out.
Zuckerberg set the tone talking about a phase in his life he said he had never spoken of ever. The time when just after starting Facebook, he seemed to have run out of ideas.
He went to see his mentor, Apple’s Steve Jobs, who, drawing from his experience, asked Zuckerberg to go to India like him and to visit temple he himself had been to.
Zuckerberg spent a month in India and went to the temple. And look what that visit did you, the Prime Minister teased him later in response to a question about the endless possibilities in India.
The Prime Minister went back to that revelation from Zuckerberg several times during the interaction as they covered subjects as diverse as technology, economic reforms and life itself.
But this town hall will be remembered for the emotional exchange between the two, who have clearly taken to each other — Modi called Zuckerberg “Mark” as elders do in India.
The Facebook CEO triggered the longest and most public emotional breakdown ever by the Prime Minister, who has spoken emotionally of his mother, Heeraben Modi, before.
This time, he let himself go.
Zuckerberg asked him to talk a little bit about his family, saying he knew the Prime Minister was a great believer of family values. Zuckerberg then pointed to his own parents in the audience.
Modi congratulated them for giving the world a son like Zuckerberg. And then began speaking of his humble beginnings — selling tea at railway stations – and his parents, starting with his father.
“My father …,” he said, beginning to choke up, “my father is no more. Mother is there … she is older than 90, but does all her own work herself.” His voice began was breaking.
He said when he was young, his mother worked in neighbours’ homes — washing utensils, fetching water and did “mazdoori (manual work)”.
He was now speaking in bursts, a word or two at a time — not full sentences. “You can imagine how much kasht (difficulty) she underwent to raise me.”
The Prime Minister then stopped — for a while — as Zuckerberg looked on. “And this is not true for Narendra Modi,” he said recovering his voice, and composure.
“There are lakhs of such mothers in India.”
They ended the town hall with a hug, fittingly, for such an emotional exchange.