Corporal punishment – My own mixed emotions on the issue (Part I) by John Chiramal

A former teacher weighs the pros and cons of this hands-on method to discipline students

A quiet start – The lull before the storm
The first formal learning I had — and I say this without a blush — was at a girl’s school.  It went by the mouthful of a name ‘Our Lady, the Queen of the Missions’.  In truth, it was coed up to class two.

There are two things that stay with me about the place, which was a short walk from my home, and a long way back in time.

That is, besides having the big girls pull my cheeks daily to say, “So cute”.

And these were, first, Mother Amy, an old Irish nun whom I loved to death; and, next, the fact that I did three classes there (KG1, KG2 AND KG3), all in one year.  Not that I was a child prodigy.  Ha!  I’d been home-schooled pre school and so had a head start.

And, more germane to the subject, I did not get smacked, cuffed, caned or strapped in the idyllic time I spent there.

A first taste of the school of hard knocks 

My next school was more of the real thing, if you know what I mean.  Another mouthful of a name, though – St Xavier’s collegiate school, it was called.  The ‘small’ (cl. KG to V) school was how we knew it, as opposed to the ‘big’ one across the road (cl. VI to XI).

Not a girl to be seen on campus either, save, that is, for the lady teachers.  Fr Debruslais, the headmaster, was the only man around, and a more gentle soul would be hard to find.   That is, if you don’t count the Santhal malis and darwans, who, by the way, were whizzes at hockey; their forte was deep defense.

On my first day at school, as I walked from assembly up to my class, III ‘B’, in the wake of our young class teacher in high heels, Miss Petersen, God rest her soul, the boy beside me, who was from my ‘hood, said sotto voce that the size of her calves, scared the hell out of him.

He was right to be fearful; for that very day, he got a smack from her over some silly thing that made the rest of our ears ring.

That was the intro on my first day there to the rule of the iron hand (no kid gloves here), which our misses (not madams, as we say here in Bhutan – so droll, that; rather redolent of the bordello) were quite free with.

It seemed to me they’d slap one at the drop of a hat.  Drop your pencil – smack!  Run down the hallway – whack!  Talk in class – crack!  Sing out of tune – splat!

Singing the blues

This last would take place in our so-called music class, where the sole instrument we learnt to use was our voice.  The teacher (whose name may have been Miss de Cruz) played piano, had a nice voice, and taught us a string of old songs like Way Down Upon the Swanee River, Whispering Hope, Old Black Joe, Funiculi, Funicula and the like.

But god help you, if you were tone deaf, as were most of our school football stars, I recall.  Out on the field, they were our idols; in singing class, they were slapped down to size!

I don’t think all those ‘sweets’ they ‘ate’, as we’d say, did their voice any good.  In fact, poor chaps, I’m sure they were traumatised by the rough treatment.  I can see them wince, even now, should they hear any of those oldies but goldies, say, play over the radio.

And then there was dear old Miss Cressy, a veteran teacher, who was truly a holy terror.  She’d been honoured with a medal from no less a personage than the then Pope, for her decades of meritorious service.  This worthy’s weapon of choice was the humble ruler, wood, plastic or stainless steel, whatever lay at hand, which she’d use to telling effect on the errant boy’s calves and shins.

Out of the flaying pan …

One thing these lady teachers would say as they laid about us was that, if we thought what they dished out was bad, just wait till we got to ‘big’ school, where the teachers were all male, then we’d know what’s what.

The thing is, when we got there, that old Punch and Judy show, we had got so used to, soon became a thing of the past.

There was an official, termed the prefect of discipline, Fr Camille Bouche (Mother Teresa’s confessor, by the by); whose sole preserve it was to dish out the leather on the hand for minor faults, and the cane on the buttocks for major ones.

So, if a student acted up in class, all the teacher had to do, if he couldn’t deal with it, was to send him down to the prefect’s office.  It was a system that worked, as the punishment was meted out as a last resort.

In an odd way, it became a sort of badge of honour to be able to say, at least once a year, that one had visited Fr Bouche’s office!

The late Siddhartha Shankar Ray, former West Bengal CM and ex-Xaverian, once had a dig at the late Jyoti Basu, another alumnus, over the matter; when he said at a debate to mark the school’s 125th year, in response to the latter having stated that he’d never once been caned, that ‘only pricks didn’t get sticks’!

The sole ‘sir’, who took recourse to corporal punishment, was our Hindi teacher, whom we called ‘Taxi’ since, as per the rumour mill, he moonlighted as a cabbie.  This gent, if peed off with a pupil, would bellow out, “Undergo the punishment!”  By which he meant, get down on the ground in the Sydney harbor bridge posture of the push-up, and stay that way; at times for the whole period.

Now and then, he’d grab a boy by the forelock and shove his head back and forth in tempo with his words.  So, it was like, “Why (pull head) have (push head) you (pull) not (push) … and so on.”

Once, he tried it on the wimp of our class.  The boy’s hair was so short and well oiled that the teacher couldn’t get a hold of it.

This made us all laugh and made him all the more mad.

He snatched at the boy’s side-lock and yanked it up.  This made the kid collapse in tears.  And that was the straw that broke the camel’s back.  The whole class walked out and didn’t come back till assured they’d never be taught by that ‘sir’ again.

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