Tanya Chauhan and Mansi Rana, both 10-year-olds, were sitting next to each other as Prime Minister Narendra Modi began his Teachers’ Day speech. They were with at least 150 students of Kendriya Vidyalaya, NCERT branch, cramped together in a hall. But the two girls were obviously happy in each other’s company, their attention on the large screen where a projector was beaming the prime minister’s speech.
Tanya, with a swishy ponytail and a ready smile, summed up what the country’s most powerful man was saying: “Teachers are good and we should become teachers,” she said, as Mansi listened to her friend attentively.
Tanya is a bit young to decide her career path, but halfway across the city, a group of 14-year-olds was much more decisive. They were clear that despite the prime minister’s speech extolling teaching as a profession, very few would take it up.
“In today’s day and age, children want to be lawyers, doctors or engineers,” said Amaan Raza of Sardar Patel Vidyalaya, munching hungrily on a Subway sandwich after being let out of school. “There are very rare ones who say they want to become teachers. Let us see what impact the speech will have.” His friends- they were together as a group of five in uniform- agreed. Their take-away from the speech seemed to be Modi’s leadership skills, especially now that they knew he had not even been elected class monitor in school.
“PM was very friendly today,” said Raza’s friends, speaking in a chorus. “He told us about his childhood.”
Most Delhi schools had called in students to hear the prime minister’s speech within school premises after a written order from the education department. Modi’s desire to address schoolchildren on Teachers’ Day created controversy, many state governments countered it.
Outside the Kendriya Vidyalaya where Tanya and Mansi were listening to Modi, a group of mothers waited to collect their children.
Tulsi, who uses one name, said her two kids had assured her the prime minister was visiting the school and would give a speech there. “I told them he cannot humanly visit each school, he must be on TV,” she said.
Inside the school, the projector broke down twice as children accidentally stepped on the wire. But they clapped at all the right places, growing restive only as the prime minister’s answers to questions from a group of pre-selected students grew longer.
Himanshu Kumar, another 10-year-old, was pleased he had read Modi’s biography after the prime minister asked students to read more, especially books on other people’s lives. “He used to sell tea,” he said. Kumar added he had also read books on the lives of Salman Khan and Shah Rukh Khan, two Hindi movie stars.