NEW DELHI: "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.
Dressed in a formal grey bandgala, The President recalled that while he was abroad a foreign journalist had asked him about Anna Hazare movement which was demanding Jan Lokpal bill drafted by them to be implemented in the country.
"If the people feel that MPs are not doing their jobs,governments are not doing their jobs, the law which isrequired, they (people) cannot simply sit idle and they have no way to express their views.
"Through media, and powerful medium -- the social media twitter, facebook. These are powerful mechanisms of conveying opinion, carrying opinion, creating public opinion. All these are off shoots and outcome of our healthy democratic development and that is the contribution of Indian democratic system," the President said.
Mukherjee said, "Many amendments have been made in the Constitution. Three important organs -- judiciary, executive and legislature and fourth organ I am talking of civil society, including media, NGO and powerful public opinions which are being created. So how to run these systems smoothly?"
"Change is constant. Change is virtual democracy," he said as he quoted line from Robert Browning's epic poem 'The Patriot' which the protagonist says when he goes to gallows, "Thus I entered, and thus I go!".
The protagonist of the poem was loved when he rose through ranks but people abused him and send him to gallows for misdemeanour, he said.
"That is essential part of the democracy. But we shall have to keep system moving on. If we can. If we can for maintaining the balance," he said.
During the hour long class, Mukherjee touched upon various facets of political history including the changes in the Economy under the then Prime Minister Narsimha Rao, Finance Minister Manmohan Singh, the entitlement of employment given through MNREGA by the UPA Government, growth of India from a food importer to food exporter, phenomenal growth in production of steel, cement and electricity and history of the Constitution drafting.
Mukherjee said Indian Constitution is a flexible document with many changes incorporated over the years. He said the words 'secular' and 'socialist' were added through 44th amendment in 1975 in the Preamble of the Constitution.
The President asked students to look around neighbouringcountries which got Independence along with India and how many still have multi-party democracy still.
"Every Rupee that India spends, 93 paisa comes from our own savings and not from borrowed resources," he said.
Talking about introduction of MNREGA, Mukherjee said empowerment through entitlement and entitlement backed by legal guarantees is the new dimension of Indian democracy.
He said in comparison to first elections in 1952 when 17.5 crore Indians voted 2014 polls saw more than 55 crore people cast their votes.
Giving a glimpse of his difficult journey to attend school daily, the President said he was an average student from a backward area.
"My school was very far, a little more than five km. I used to walk through paddy fields. I used to tie a towelaround my waist and another on my head to protect my books and belongings. I did not want to go to school because I had to walk five kms every day," he said.
Responding to a student who asked him whom does he want to give credit for his success, the President said he was an"unparallelled naughty boy" who used to trouble his mother, as he credited her for all the success he has achieved.
"My best teacher was my mother. As I have said I was anunparallelled naughty boy. I was a trouble for my mother... after a day's of mischief and other things, I used to receive a good deal of thrashing from her.
"And after that she used to come and fondle me with all love and care and ask me what I had done from the sunrise to sunset, which I had to tell in a chronological order," Mukherjee said saying it was the mantra of his good memory.
Deepansh, from vocational education stream, asked about solution to tackle teenaged problems which are hindrance to path of success could not get answer to his question so he has decided to write to the President.
Shraddha a class XI Commerce student said her take away from the lessons is the mantra of hard work as the President said if he, belonging from a poor family from a far flung district, can reach Raisina Hills any one else can but one will have to do "hard work".
After the event, Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal said his government was committed for supporting teachers and making Delhi a world class education hub. He cited doubling of educational budget.
"It was a wild idea when Manish asked me if President can hold a class in a Delhi Government school. But President immediately agreed when we conveyed it through his Secretary Omita Paul," Kejriwal said.
Sisodia said by assuming the role of teacher today, President has given a new honour to all the teachers.