Raising the rod

Raising the rod

A recent report about a school student being physically punished reminded me graphically of my own school days in the 1950s — the heyday of corporal punishment. Sparing the rod was practically unheard of then.   Many teachers believed that nothing ensured discipline better than a stinging whack on the rump. It raised a conspicuous weal but seldom any eyebrows, as it would now.

Some teachers favoured unconventional forms of punishment. One in our boys’ school preferred to give the dullards in his class a hard thump on the head with a clenched fist. Termed a ‘kottu’ in Tamil, it was ostensibly intended to galvanise one’s grey matter into action — and it certainly did.

Another teacher manually ‘pincered’ our ears crab-like till the appendage reddened alarmingly and threatened to come unhinged. Or he would try to ‘hoist’ the wrongdoer by his flapper, treating the class in the process to a gamut of grimaces — on his face as well as the student’s!

Searching for a deterrent to mischief, a short-fused warden in our boarding school found that the most vulnerable part of a boy’s anatomy was his tender underarm — where a hard pinch administered long enough would make him squirm and writhe better than a worm impaled on a fish hook.

“A switch in time saves nine” appeared to be the guiding principle of another irascible warden. And this martinet’s cane usually did leave angry, red welts that even a lavishly applied emollient called Cibol couldn’t soothe. So to take the sting out of a caning on the posterior, some smart alecs donned two pairs of thick-fabric shorts — only to be rewarded with two additional strokes of the cane when caught.
Thus, we boys often sported the ‘trademarks’ of corporal punishment — usually, legs ‘striped’ like a zebra’s. Or a ear that ‘drooped’ from the ungentle ministrations of punitive fingers. Or knuckles that appeared to be prematurely ‘arthritic’ from far too many raps with a ruler. And once a classmate’s palms were so calloused from viciously administered ‘cuts’ that they confounded a roadside palmist whom he consulted on his academic progress — or rather, a woeful lack of it!

Boys, of course, will be boys and need to be disciplined and corporal punishment was considered the unfailing panacea then. So, in trying to mould a boy’s mind, our teachers sometimes unwittingly tended to ‘mould’ a bit of his anatomy, too, reminding one of Mark Twain’s empathetic observation, “It used to take me all vacation to grow a new hide in place of the one they flogged off me during school term.”