Fifteen-year old Taylor Santos topped US headlines recently. Or rather her bottom did, which was paddled by her male vice principal. Some are now demanding that a teacher of the same sex should deliver the spanking, that too in the presence of a third person.
Whoa! Is this school life we are talking about? When did it get so complicated?
I know there is this debate about corporal punishment. Spare the rod and spoil the child versus perpetuating the cycle of violence and, possibly, creating a monster. I am not getting into that. No one likes punishment; why complicate it even more?
Punishment? Yes. Bare bottoms? No.
Let us go back to a simple school, in a simple place at simpler times.
We could never imagine our teachers without their favorite tools of punishment—a sleek cane or a thick wooden ruler was the most common. Some used their thumb and forefinger to squeeze repentance out of tender ear lobes.
There was always this war between teachers and student but it was always heartily warm, never nuclear cold. I suspect the tool (and its occasional use) was a deterrent.
Take George Sir, for example. I don’t remember what he taught us. I remember him sitting on his chair, facing the class, reading the day’s newspaper. Try any mischief and instantly a piece of chalk would land smack on your head. We were sure he had X-ray vision, until someone discovered strategic holes in the newspaper. Before he left the class, he would line up the remaining pieces of chalk and flick those one by one out of the window. How we admired his aim!
Caned shins and rapped knuckles
Govind Sir was a newcomer and preferred the cane. He relied on surprise and speed. He would stand in front of you, asking you a question. The moment you answered wrong, his cane would whistle through the air and catch you below the knee.
He lost the advantage of surprise in a day or two. We started dodging the cane with some well-timed twists and jumps. If he persisted, a great show of pain would follow, rolling on the floor in agony, tears staining the floor. I am sure some of my classmates went on to do well in professional football.
We hated Sheela Teacher for her method of punishment. She taught us mathematics and she had a thing for good handwriting. Get your number wrong or fail to write neat and she would use the thick edge of our wooden ruler on our knuckles. It didn’t help if we forgot to bring our ruler. Satya was always ready with his. We hated him too, at least during her class.
Then Chathu happened to Sheela Teacher.
Enter the son of the cowherd
Chathu had joined the class in the middle of the year. Rumor was that he was a cowherd’s son. He left the cows from the village to graze on top of the hill before he ran down to catch school. On the way, he would pick up something to eat—berries, a raw mango or two, some tamarind pods.
His clothes were always torn and dirty and never of his size. His appearance never mattered to us but the goodies he brought, did. He always shared.
One day, he could not resist taking out a delicious pod of tamarind and licking it. Unfortunately, it was during Sheela Teacher’s class. She was on him in a flash, pulled him up by ear and asked him to produce whatever he was eating. Chathu was dumbstruck and just stood there hanging by his ear.
After this little incident, she started paying more attention to Chathu. He had a great head for figures. While the rest of us stumbled through the mysteries of long division, Chathu’s joys multiplied under the teacher’s close attention. Soon, he became Sheela Teacher’s favorite, much to Satya’s chagrin.
One day, Chathu landed in class without doing his homework. “I forgot,” he mumbled. A resounding slap was the answer. Fighting tears that would not stop flowing, Chathu sobbed out the truth, His father was not keeping well. He had to do extra work. On top of it, a cow had trampled on his foot. It had swollen up. He was not able to sleep. In the morning, he had to get up and do whatever chores his father was supposed to do. In all this, he just did not have the time to do his homework.
The teacher asked him to show his leg. He lifted his barefoot, dark, dirty and very swollen. He winced as he put it back down. We all looked at the teacher expecting another slap. We were shocked. She was crying.
We found it rather funny. There was Chathu, crying uncontrollably. And there was the teacher, tears flowing down her cheeks, asking him to stop crying. She managed to ask him, “Have you eaten?” Chathu shook his head. She led him out of the classroom.
We had no tabloids to scream about the inhuman treatment meted out to a helpless little boy. No glossy magazine sang praises of a lone woman, a poor teacher, who went on to adopt countless children, beginning with Chathu, ensuring that they ate at least one square meal a day and completed their school education.
You will do fine, Santos
Taylor Santos, I am sorry you had this terrible experience. I can understand your pain and shame. I shared some memories with you, Santos, in the hope it would make you feel a little better.
Those were simple times. We lacked many things, including the stress and strain you must be facing.
I am sure you will do well and this incident will be just a bad memory, soon. If it is any consolation, after all those chalks on heads, canes on shins and rulers on knuckles, none of us has turned into a monster, yet. We have lived happily ever after. You will, too, Santos.