On being discharged from the hospital, my wife's paternal aunt came over to stay with us for a few days. She was convalescing and had to be closely attended to, but she had her wits about her and could converse happily if some one did!
My wife became her attendant and then began the flow of visitors, who came over to look up the good old lady. An occasion of responsibility became one of gala get-together with each visitor recapitulating his childhood exploits with gusto.
As kids, without the modern day conveniences and worries, we were carefree, had tremendous energy and were perpetually hungry with avid tastebuds. To steal an eatable, raid an unguarded fruit-laden tree, tug out sugarcane from a moving tractor, climbing on one another to remove a container with favourite savoury or sweetmeat from the kitchen loft, etc., were common mischief at home. When caught the punishment was swift — an accepted price to pay — it made us more cunning, observant and determined to execute our acts flawlessly.
Punishments stand out in memory and seem like medals of bravery to proudly reminisce about. At home, punishments ranged from our getting thrashed like a cricket ball in a T20 match to being consigned to solitary confinement for a few hours. We had another type of punishment which put the complete household under tension similar to Indo-Pak diplomatic relations — when either of the parents decided not to speak to the mischief-maker for a few days or a few weeks.
In schools, crimes like not doing homework, eating/talking/sleeping during a class, not being attentive, making noise, eating each other's tiffin made the teacher wield the rod.
The punishments were wide ranging and depended on the personality of the teacher. One type was when the nail side of the finger tips was struck hard against the desk. A variation was to hit either side of the palm with a wooden scale held perpendicular.
A ‘pinch' specialist would catch the thinnest part of the skin on the thighs and squeeze the life out of it. Another punishment was when the distal phalange and intermediate phalange of the ring finger were pressed inwards and brought together with such force that within milliseconds one would accept even a fault that one may not have done. It is a wonder and proficiency on the part of the teacher that there was no fracture. An innovative variant was to press two fingers together with a pencil held in the midst. The pressure increased with the decibel of the howl.
Even before we got our driving licences from the RTO, we learnt how to ride ‘flying scooters' and ‘standing scooters' in the classroom. The flying scooter differed from the standing scooter in that our hands were kept stretched like wings of a bird while the legs bore the weight of the body in a half squat.
The ‘chair position' required one to pretend to be sitting on a chair, without a real chair beneath. The sadistic ‘easy chair' made you stand on one leg in a half-squat position with the other leg crossed over as if you were sitting easy. In a few moments, all the ‘navarasas' of Bharatanatyam would be seen on the face of the person enjoying these positions.
An artistically inclined science teacher loved his students mastering the Nataraja position. The maths teacher, fond of Carnatic music, inflicted the art form on an unwilling audience. The ‘professional ones' would coolly ask you to do ten times the same homework that you did not do once.
Serious crimes like puncturing the tyres of the principal or teacher's bicycle set the ‘trouble shooters' into action — they nailed the students with as much precision as an investigating agency does to fix political enemies of the ruling party. They would ask one student to slap the other or take a written statement from one and hold it against the other and force a confession from the other, effectively trapping both.
The ‘social' type would just walk into your home, apprise your dad of your exploits over a cup of coffee — enough to fix you for the month. A couple of classmates earned the lifelong sobriquet of dwarapalakas for they always stood like watchmen at the door during the science class for never doing home work.
In the north, the ‘Murga' position is popular which in Hindi means a cockerel. It involved your bending forward and putting your hands between the legs from behind and catching the ears and crowing cock-a-doodle-doo. Thus ‘Murga' had both audio and visual effects.
A new student's ignorance of ‘popular positions' would surprise the teacher and the audience alike, as if he didn't know the Sun from the Moon. The most experienced and skilled mischief-maker will then initiate the accused into the exercise by dramatically demonstrating the grotesque position.
Years later, when I joined college, the famed ‘Murga' again came alive to the delight of seniors. Funny practices never die, they just fade away just to be remembered by the perpetrators at the most helpless moments.
For all the trees climbed, fruits stolen and glasses broken, we have one thing to be thankful — no one shot us down — we were safe as children. (Remember the Chennai incident when an army officer shot a boy for intruding into the living quarters?)
(The writer, an ex-Army Captain, can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org)