INDORE/UJJAIN: Former Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee was known for his speeches that could move millions or fire them up with josh (enthusiasm), but very few people know that he was tongue-tied when he stood before his schoolmates during a debate in Barnagar town of Ujjain district in 1934.
Vajpayee spoke of this ‘life-changing moment’ at a public rally while campaigning for the 1996 Lok Sabha election. He could not finish the first speech of his life. He was booed. “But I learned a lesson that changed my life. I took a pledge that I’d never rote-learn a speech. It was my first speech at AVM (Anglo Vernacular Middle) School,” Vajpayee had said.
Vajpayee, who was admitted to AVM School on August 4, 1934, after his father Krishna Bihari Vajpayee joined there as headmaster from Gwalior, never forgot the moment he stood up to address the audience during a debate on ‘Development of railway line laid down in India by the British’.
The man known for his flawless speeches had said: “I was afraid. I stood up without any preparation. I was stammering while speaking. It was the school’s annual fest and the speech was discontinued midway. I was booed by my schoolmates, who accused me of learning the speech by rote.”
It was the first of his many failures that he later turned into springboards for success. Vajpayee spent nearly a year at the school before being transferred back to Gwalior. According to a biography on Vajpayee, his father, a post-graduate scholar, had once told his friend Gangadhar Rao Valuskar: “I will make sure that my son Atal shines like a star one day.”
Vajpayee, who was lovingly called ‘Atalla’ by his mother Krishna, often spoke of the year he spent in Barnagar. “I have a deep connection with Malwa region. I studied in Barnagar,” he had said, adding with his quiet sense of humour, “My studies are of some use now, this you will have to accept.” The haveli that once housed AVM School is now in ruins.