Beaten, not broken

Each teacher had his own instrument of torture. All of them had fun at our expense.

Setting the clock back by about half a century, I find myself sitting in a class room full of chatterboxes in an elite school in Madras (now Chennai), wide-eyed, wet behind the ears but wise enough to occupy the back bench which incidentally remained my perch right through school and college.

I went from a boys school to a boys college, and in both the institutions a common axiom that really counted was ‘spare the rod and spoil the child.’ With corporal punishment now banned all over the country, a teacher who as much as stares at a student could well be in line for a suspension if not an outright dismissal. But in those days of yore, teachers – though mercifully not all of them – could give you such a hiding that would leave you black and blue, that too for the slightest misdemeanor.

Nodding off during a boring, long-drawn-out history or geography class on a hot summer afternoon in Madras, which is what back-benchers like me engaged in with monotonous regularity, was severely frowned upon, And, waking up to meet the bloodshot eyes of a teacher seemed akin to having been trapped on a one-way street with the Dracula hot on your heels.

The usual question that followed was, “Were you sleeping?” And the answer, inevitably, would be: “No, sir.” A cane would appear from nowhere like a magic wand and come into violent contact with your nether regions. For the next five to ten minutes you would continuously shrieking in agony, till the hand wielding the cane paused and moved on to the next offender for an encore.

Each teacher had his own instrument of torture and, with soft targets like us as receptacles, all of them had their bit of fun, at our expense of course. So while one preferred the cane, another would borrow your foot ruler and break it on your knuckles, while a third would make a fist and bring it down on your cranium with such vehemence that apart from turning your insides into jelly, you would also have your ears ringing like an alarm clock that had been set off.

But I would hardly like to tar them all with the same brush as some of them were kind and compassionate and even those who used the third degree would always feel remorse in the aftermath of the thrashing. I distinctly remember one lady teacher in my class VI who would reach for her handkerchief every time she left an indelible imprint on your cheeks with her well manicured nails drawing blood.
And, come to think of it, not all of them believed in physical violence either.

Williams, my history teacher in class IX believed in appealing to our sense of shame and every time he lost his cool he would thunder: “Bend down your heads in shame, you sillies!” So potent was his rage with nostrils flaring, that none of us had the temerity to tell him that the word ‘sillies’ did not exist in either the Oxford or the Cambridge dictionary and that he would have to mind his grammar.

But the nostalgia of those days long past is also tinged with sadness. For, many of those teachers, especially the older ones, who put me and countless others like me through our paces apart from dinning some sense into our thick skulls would now be resting peacefully in their abode in heaven. Gone forever but not forgotten.

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