In a first, Prime Minister Narendra Modi today turned a teacher interacting with lakhs of school children across the country through video conferencing, laying emphasis on girls' education, cleanliness and the need to protect environment while describing himself as a "task master".
Choosing the occasion of Teachers' Day, the birth anniversary of late philosopher-statesman S Radhakrishnan, he gave a pep talk to the students as well as teachers, stressing on building respect for the profession of teaching, character building and skill development.
For the 90-minute interaction arrangements were made in lakhs of schools across the country even though governments in states like West Bengal and Tamil Nadu did not show much enthusiasm.
The event also brought out the lighter side of Modi who confessed to being mischievous in his childhood and regretted that childhood was being lost in the current age.
During the interaction with a gathering of children, telecast live across the country, he narrated anecdotes and faced questions from the floor as well as from six cities from Leh to Thiruvananthapuram through video conferencing.
"Your style conveys an image that you are a head master. Are you tough like a head master or are you sweet," asked a girl student from Delhi.
"I am a task master. I do a lot of hard work and extract hard work from others. I told officers in my first interaction that if you work for 11 hours, I am ready to work for 12 hours, if you work for 12 hours, I am ready to work for 13 hours," Modi said.
His gentle query to the girl whether she was accompanied by her head master evoked laughter in the audience that had a good sprinkling of teachers.
A boy from Manipur asked how to he can become the Prime Minister. In response, Modi said he hailed from a humble family and never thought of reaching the top.
"That is the beauty of our democracy and our Constitution-makers. Anybody can become the Prime Minister if you win the confidence and love of the people," he told the questioner.
"Start preparing for 2024, Till then I have no threat," he said, adding "I hope you will call me for your swearing-in", in remarks that again sent the audience into peals of laughter.
One girl asked Modi what change he feels on becoming PM after having been a Chief Minister.
"Not much change between the CM and the PM's work. Only the responsibility is a little more. In the person's life, there is no change. I continue to rise early and work till late in the night.
"But there is one difference. One or two words here and there would make no difference in the state. But I will have to worry that no harm is caused to the country. I have to be conscious," the Prime Minister said.
"I have no difficulty in getting work out of officers. With ease, I can get work out of them," he said.
To a question, he said experience as well as education are important in the making of a person.
Asked what kind of a person he is in real life, he replied, "I am yet to discover myself. I have not been able to know who I am. I am not able to decide who I am."
In his remarks earlier, he said there was a need to develop scientific temper, discipline and good habits.
Modi also said children should develop responsibility towards nature and environment by conserving power, water and other natural resources.
Asked what type of students would he like if he were a teacher, he said a good teacher does not discriminate on the basis of ability. Like a mother who treats all children alike, a teacher should also not discriminate on the basis of ability or super ability.
One student asked what kind of mischief he used to indulge in during childhood. He confessed to doing acts like stapling clothes of a man and a woman and distract 'shehnai' players in marriages.
But he extracted a promise from the students that they would not indulge in such acts.
Lauding girls for excelling in all fields, Modi said educating them means educating two families - parental as well as in-laws but regretted the high drop-out rate.
"Educating girls is my priority," he asserted.
Referring to his Independence Day address in which he talked about providing toilets in every school, he said the initiative was aimed at curbing dropout.
"I have noticed that girls drop out of schools by the time they reach class 3rd or 4th just because schools don't have separate toilets for them. They don't feel comfortable. There should be toilets for boys and girls in all schools. We should concentrate on girl students not quitting schools," he said.