Retired school principal Rasvihari Maniar is in the habit of writing down his ‘mann ki baat’ and sending them across to his favourite pupil. Last weekend, the pupil – Prime Minister Narendra Modi – acknowledged the efforts of the teacher in his own “Mann Ki Baat”.
In his radio talk show, Modi did not refer to Maniar by name, but other former teachers of the prime minister who still live in his hometown of Vadnagar insist he meant the 88-year-old Maniar, now residing in Kandivali, Mumbai.
“He also gives his comments on what he deems correct or otherwise in whatever I have done during the month. It is as if he is, even now, teaching me in the class room,” Modi said of the teacher on radio.
Sitting in his spartan home, Maniar says he loves to write to Modi. “I write when I feel like writing. I don’t think about replies or anything. I just love writing,” says the retired principal of Gujarat’s BN Vidyalaya where Modi once studied.
So, does the teacher give his student any advice?
“Once, when he made a speech somewhere, I noticed that he only had one pen in his jacket pocket. I took my pen and paper and asked him to keep two pens instead of just one, in case one doesn’t work, or if he needed another ink colour,” recollects Maniar.
Having shifted to Mumbai from Vadnagar in 1966, Maniar keeps himself busy writing poetry in Gujarati and English under the pen name, “Anamaya Chakrabarti.” But he takes particular pride in his pupil’s meteoric progress.
“A small town man from Vadnagar meets Obama and talks like they are two brothers. That, in itself, says a lot about the man. It is his determination and hard work that he has put in for over 25-30 years that has brought him here,” points out Maniar.
“The change is for good. His maturity level has shot up and scaled new heights.”
He remembers evaluating the prime minister’s ninth standard answer sheets. “He was a good student. His handwriting was a bit bad but he was good in studies. He was every active in field activities. He was a disciplined child and could not bear undisciplined behavior,” Maniar says.
His health is failing, but Maniar’s memory is still sharp when it comes to recollecting episodes concerning Modi. “My house was just about two-three minutes away from Narendra’s residence. He used to always go for bath in a pond nearby. Once …he went home with a baby crocodile in his hands and showed it to his mother. His mother, of course, got scared but later explained him to leave it from where he found it. She said its mother must be worried and waiting for it.” Modi apparently complied.
Maniar’s praise for Modi is shared by two other former teachers, Heeraben Modi and Prahlad Patel. Heeraben taught the prime minister all subjects when he was in class IV. Patel taught the prime minister Sanskrit and Gujarati in Class X.
Heeraben says Modi was the only former student to have met her after having completed schooling. “He has become such an important figure in Indian politics, yet he remembers us. In November 2005, he invited all his 28 teachers to Gandhinagar and sent a car for each of us. Which student does so much for a teacher?” points out Heeraben.
Patel says Modi is doing a good job as a prime minister.
Meanwhile, Maniar in Mumbai is readying to pen more letters to his prime minister-pupil. “I have had two heart attacks last year. But nothing is happening to me until Narendra wins his second election.”