In the minutes before she was to meet her classmate of four decades ago, Tanmayee Bisoi was seized with a gnawing worry: “What do I call her? After all, you don’t call a President by her name, do you?”
Bisoi’s concerns melted away the minute she met her classmate, Droupadi Murmu, during an interaction that the President had with 12 of her friends from the Batch of 1974 on Friday. “She received me warmly and asked in Odia, ‘Chuni kain (Where is Chuni)?’. Chuni is my twin sister. I told her Chuni could not come as she is not in the city,” says a beaming Bisoi, 64.
Now a grandmother to four, Bisoi lives in Bhubaneswar with her family. But all those years ago, she lived at a tribal hostel, where her mother was the superintendent. “My mother had an official quarter, which was adjacent to the hostel where Droupadi and the others stayed. After school hours, we would all play together on the campus. Then, too, Droupadi was disciplined, sincere and diligent. She hasn’t changed much though she now occupies the highest office,” says Bisoi.
On Friday, the President visited her alma mater, the Government Capital Girls’ High School in Bhubaneswar, and the tribal hostel where she stayed during the four years that she spent in the school — from Class 8 to 11 (matric then).
At the Kuntalakumari Sabat Adivasi Girls Hostel, Murmu turned nostalgic as she entered her room in the Tulasi Munda block and sat on the single bed and later, by the study table. She also took time out to go through black and white photographs from all those years ago. Murmu last visited her school and the hostel in 2018, as Governor of Jharkhand, when the school celebrated its diamond jubilee.
Dangi Murmu, another batchmate of the President, says though she has stayed in regular touch with “Droupadi” even after she became President Murmu, the reunion at the school was special.
“Droupadi was very happy to see all of us. Though we could not talk much because of her busy schedule, she asked about each one of us. Going back to school after so many years is very special,” says Dangi, who retired from government service a few years ago.
While the school, decked up for its most famous alumnus, now has colourful walls, tiled-flooring and lawns, Dangi remembers it as a concrete structure with thatched roofs. “That was our school… See how different it is now,” says Dangi.
Chinmayee Mohanty, another batchmate who met Murmu on Friday, was, however, a tad disappointed. “I wanted to spend more time with Droupadi. She was barely here for 20 minutes,” says Mohanty, who retired in 2018 as a reader in Zoology from PN College in Khurda, 20 km away.
Earlier, the President visited Tapoban High School in Bhubaneswar, which is managed by the state SC/ST Development Department. Interacting with the students, she recalled her earlier visits to the school. “I have visited your school several times during my college days and even later, during my service days, to enroll my relatives here. The situation then was very different,” said President Murmu.
Talking about the primary school she attended in her village, Uparbeda, in Mayurbhanj district of Odisha, Murmu said, “Even the condition of my village school may have improved now. But back then, it was a mud-structure with a tiled roof. We would sweep the floor every day and, once a week, apply a slurry of cow dung to the floor.”
At the end of the President’s visit, a tweet shared by the Rashtrapati Bhavan handle read: “It was a nostalgic moment today when I visited my alma mater Government Girls High School and Kuntalakumari Sabat Adivasi Girls Hostel in Bhubaneswar. The visit brought back many fond memories from my student life. I was delighted to interact with the students, teachers, alumni and inmates of the hostel. It was truly a journey down the memory lane. May the school and its students achieve new heights of glory.”