Amruta Fadnavis on how it can get lonely at the top
Maharashtra chief minister's wife speaks candidly about her life, goals and aspirations.
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My life could well be a dream — a dream for so many women out there — just to be by the side of a powerful and influential man. And so you may well envy Amruta Fadnavis, the First Lady, the wife of the state’s second youngest chief minister Devendra Fadnavis. You may want her life full of "yes" men all around you, praising you for anything and everything. A "vahini" role that brings with it a lot of respect (even if it is not genuine love), a lot of "power" to make a difference, recognition next to a "star" — a queen’s life, literally! Indeed. But ask a spontaneous, free-spirited real person like me, the new role model vahini and you will sense “irony in paradise”. I can tell you that life has never been tougher for me.
A lavish sprawling Varsha bungalow at Malabar Hill welcomed me when I shifted to Mumbai on January 4, 2015 with my daughter subsequent to my husbands’ appointment as the CM of Maharashtra. And for a person like me who lived in a house back home in Nagpur, with people seamlessly walking in any hour of the day — to meet — with hardly any hidden intentions, just to know that we were fine and to let us know that they were fine too, it was a huge change. Mumbai’s Varsha brought in a peculiar vacuum; a deep silence which welcomed me to the beautiful house. It was new and, at times, also lonely. Not that I could stay home much but whenever I entered Varsha, I missed the presence of the karyakarta, the real people and friends.
So when the bevy of visitors started pouring in at Varsha, I welcomed them all with a sporting and friendly spirit — through all the customary security checks, of course — with a feeling that the hollowness for real people may just find an alternative among some of these new faces. But I had forgotten that I was no more Amruta Fadnavis — I am Mrs Devendra Fadnavis or Mrs CM for them all. They want me to be comfortable on the pedestal carved by them and then slowly their wishes creep out of the friendly mask — some silly, some doable, some not doable and others absolutely unimaginable. I also learnt here that invites for personal programmes need to be accepted only by proper screening by the CM back office as most of the invites turned out to be measures to improve one’s own TRP or credibility in society. The dearth of the true genuine close friends hence remains.
I am a free spirit at heart and mind; I love going out, I love taking off on long drives, I love to unwind with friends. But now, I have bodyguards and drivers who are around me like a shadow. They are around like constant thoughts — in my office, when I shop, at the park, at my friends house, at an event and even outside the public washroom which I need to use at times. They follow me with the same efficiency that a mobile network claims to follow its customers. These dutiful men all around me, and to top that an eclipsed husband, not to be seen due to the mission of stabilising the state of disabled Maharashtra, have all changed my life. I can just be a silent spectator as I see him going off for his duties early morning and returning only by around 3am. And as he catches up with the lost pace of development of Maharashtra, he makes it a point to visit Nagpur at least once a week, a city that has suddenly grown insecure after its two decades plus long association with the man they saw as their own. The day he visits Ramgiri, the official residence of the CM in Nagpur, the bungalow gets packed with people round the clock — with people who want to share their stories, thoughts and concerns with him just like they would until a few months ago when he was just their bhau. They want him to reassure them of the yaari and rishta they once shared. Somewhere in all these engagements and responsibilities, the carefree bubbling hubby exists no more. He is now just the CM who carries with him the task of development, upliftment and running the state. Yes, I do get the privilege of meeting him for “the five minutes” when he is back home at 3am. But I have no option to use these precious minutes to read out the various requests and invites that I have been entrusted with through the day. And then I look back at the carefree days, singing those romantic numbers on stage, sometimes asking him for his help to complete my song "Piya ab tu aa ja" with his "Monica, oh my darling!" But now I have been told by my well wishers that the First Lady should abstain from singing romantic songs or sexy numbers and should stick to bhajans to avoid controversy. You never know who might rake up a controversy!
And yes, now my salwar suits and saris should be more covered so that the respectable vahini stands out naturally, Yes, how could I forget, I need to be careful to not repeat my clothes or a daily newspaper may just cheekily comment on how Mrs CM has no fashion sense! And how can I not update you on my daughter? The six-year-old upper KG student faced a tough time initially to make friends due to her non-fluency in spoken English; after all she had always concentrated on her father’s speeches in Hindi. And back in Nagpur, Hindi scored over other languages. But some kind teachers helped her sail through those initial tough days and now I can proudly say that she has learnt to swim like a fish in these deep and salty waters of the bay and has become a true Mumbaiite at heart.
As far as my journey goes, I am settling in, understanding and learning the art of patience especially when I go through the daily grind of a one hour long travel, through jammed roads. This, against my three minute drive to my office back home in Nagpur. And here I can empathise with the service class and working population of Mumbai — the Mumbaikar who travels long hours to earn a living.
But through all these agonies and complaints, the spirit of Mumbai has struck me, the never say die attitude of the city, the professionalism, the ability to accept the "new" comes to me naturally as I breathe in the Mumbai vibrancy. No matter what, I will go on. It doesn’t matter if today I don’t know where I am heading but for me, I am moving ahead, moving positively towards self-realisation through a transitory phase of vulnerability. No matter how fake a smile comes my way, I will smile back genuinely because I am a real woman and I cannot give away my genuineness. And yes a day will come when the “real” will be filtered from the “fake”, the day when the winds of power change and only the real and genuine friends will remain just like the "forever diamonds".
(Read Amruta's interview here in India Today Woman.)