Please call me Mukherjee sir, President asks students

New Delhi, Sep 4 (IANS) “I am just your Mukherjee sir. I am not the president of India or a politician now. I would be happy if you call me Mukherjee sir,” President Pranab Mukherjee requested students on a day he took an off from his high-profile responsibilities as the head of state to teach a class on the eve of Teachers’ Day.

A visibly-happy Mukherjee, who taught the students at the Sarvodaya Vidyalaya on the president’s estate the brief political history of India since independence, even asked the children to tell him when they were feeling bored.

Covering a wide spectrum of issues from pre-independence famine in Benga, to post-liberalisation India to the Anna Hazare movement for Jan Lokpal as he saw it, the president’s one hour lecture was dotted with references to Mukherjee’s own childhood and school years in which he recalled how he had to go to school walking through wet paddy fields in his village.

“Whenever I would complain to my mother that I can’t walk five km each way every day, she would say you don’t have any option. You have to do it,” he recalled.

Asked by a student, on who had the biggest influence in his life, Mukherjee replied it was his mother and a school principal who taught him English.

The president, known for his sharp memory throughout his political career, said this talent was also due to his mother who always asked him to recollect what all he had done through the day.

“She sharpened my memory by making me recollect the events of the day chronologically.”

Travelling further into his memories, Mukherjee noted that he was “going back to the role of a teacher after many years”.

“The last time I taught was in 1968… many of you were not even born then,” he said.

The president also joked that his past as a teacher was reflected even in his speeches in parliament when sometimes he felt that he was giving a lecture to politicians.

He also took questions from some students.

To a question on how to overcome teenage problems, the president replied the basic problem in the country was poverty and nothing else.

As another student asked him whether if his parents’ claim that he would not be able to get a job if he pursued his love of music was true, Mukherjee said: “It is partially true.”

Mukherjee was born in the village of Mirati in Birbhum district of West Bengal in 1935. His father was a Congress leader who endured great hardship including being sent to jail several times for his role in India’s struggle for independence.

Mukherjee acquired a Master’s degree in history and political science as well as a degree in law from the University of Kolkata and then embarked on his professional life as a college teacher before joining politics full time in 1969.

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