According to the Right to Education Act, that was enacted across the nation from the first of April this year, there are some major changes that are to take place in our education system. Primary among them is abolishing corporal punishment for children.
Like most of you, I thought it was laughable to imagine being a student in Parthi and not getting a few knocks now and then. How I wish this law was enacted way back in the 90s.
Or may be not. I mean, what would be the fun if every teacher was sweet and kind and nice? The world would have been beautiful and everyone would be form boys. Not fun.
Fact is, life for me was going from one knock to another. When your entire life is dictated by a bell, you cannot be a slow coach. I was always late for everything., dunnapotha or slow coach as we were called. And no, my birthday is in April, so I could not even be f'irst for lunch'. So right from Suprabhatam to Night Prayers, my body was undergoing tough physical kung fu style training.
The day would begin by Suprabhatam, for which I would be late. Even if I was on time, I'd doze and somebody would 'write my name'. This meant that in half an hour, I was going to get a tight whack with a cane on my hand. The Praveena Hand Whack (PHW).
The PHW was generally doled out after the morning Yoga session. For best results, it was conducted in cold, winter days on the terrace. A minder would read out all the names of the sinners who had the audacity of dozing during a prayer session that could put an owl to sleep. You were asked to stretch out your hand, and...
WHACK!! A thin cane came whipping down on your palm. The trick to minimise the pain of the PHW was a scientific process. You had to bring your hand down at the exact moment when the stick came down on you. Morning shows the day, and without doubt, more such endearments would be in store for me through the day. We were given 30 glorious minutes to finish breakfast, bath, and get ready for school. As usual, I was late. Once the dreaded Second Bell went off, I would rush to school. Without doubt, the prayer would have started and I would be among the others to sit outside the hall. Once the prayer was over, it was time for Bitex.
I dont know why its called that. Bitex. Sounds like some scabies ointment or something. But bitex would be used on us a lot. It was the usual uthak-baithak, but sprinkled with some creativity by Principal Sir. So you had to do a hundred of them, and each with Aamir Khan like perfection, while he would personally count. Here again, the easier way was to keep your hands on your knees, so it was easier when you were standing up, somewhere in the Nervous Nineties. So by the time you reached the class, your hands and knees felt like Shane Bond's. And then, you missed the first few minutes of class and got a few mottikayis for that.
The mottikayi was an indigenous home-bred torture weapon that could give foreign imports like Bitex a run for their money. The teacher would roll his hand into a fist, knuckles pointing down. And then raise his arm in a backlift, and wham, it came crashing down on your head. Though the mottikayi involved no sticks, two or three of these could leave you wondering if your head had become a golf ball.
But these were just physical punishments. They would heal in a while, and if they dint, you could always go to the dispensary and hope Ram Mohan Sir didn’t stab you with an injection. But the worst tortures are the mental ones. The ones that break you from inside. I have been subjected to three levels of such tortures.
Pantry Cleaning was the first of them. I have been subjected to it not once, but twice. The trick to seeing the quality of food in a hostel is by seeing the dust bins. The amount of stuff in the dust bin clearly indicated the students' opinion of the food. Now, the punishment involved cleaning the dust bin and then taking a stick and making sure none of the food particles got stuck in the pantry. If you were faint-hearted, you could faint somewhere in between due to the stench. Thankfully, John would give you a few whacks to render you senseless and so you couldn't make out the smell too much. There was no way you could escape this punishment, and there were no shortcuts, as John would personally come and check if everything was in order.
Cleaning the toilets was the next one. This one sucked, really. This punishment was given when other people were away for darshan, so at least you were saved of the embarrassment. This was reserved for crimes committed for which you were deemed unfit of a darshan. You had to take a pipe and go about washing all the toilets in the floor. While you thought you could get away with just spraying the entire place, John, whose brain works faster than Chacha Chaudhry’s, would come to check up on you. Grindingly, every bathroom, every lav, every wall, would be microscopically inspected before being approved.
The last level was the worst sort. It might seem harmless on the surface, but ask one who has undergone it, and he will tell you the extent of trauma your body has to go through to withstand it. This was one was called ‘Splitting the channa’.
Now, in HS, we were always told that PS had lots of money so they could give us awesome food, while HS was the poorer, more boring cousin. So there were efforts to maximize production by minimising costs. Primary among these efforts was sorting out the channa. Channa was stored in large drums, and after a few days it gave off a nasty smell. Some rocket scientist masquerading as a cook would add new channa to the drum of old channa. To sort out the old channa from the new would be the work of a poor soul like me. I have been subjected to this torture method not once but twice.
I don’t remember the first time. But the second time is vivid. Me and The Dude were caught roaming near East Prashanti during bhajans. This senior who was a maintenance guy (meaning he licked John’s ass a lot) caught us and took us to his master. John, without thinking twice, sentenced us to 2 hours of rigorous channa sorting. The drums of channa were rolled out and we were made to sort the good channa from the bad, in two heaps, while the others ran out to games.
I got to work, sorting out the channa while using extremely high levels of Pranayam. The Dude obviously dint give a rat’s ass, and sat with the calmness of a Zen monk. Calmly, he put his hand right in between the lump and like Moses, divided it into two lumps. I was shocked.
“But that’ll mean everyone in the hostel eats stale channa for lunch”
Calm smile, and The Dude walks off.