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Beatings, pinches and ear screws

“A smack on the back administered hard enough, often enough and low enough develops character,” goes an old adage. It was one that many schoolteachers and prefects avidly implemented in the 1950s and 1960s — perhaps a trifle too avidly for the comfort of their students. In fact, corporal punishment back then was the rule rather than the exception in most schools.

In our all-boys residential school in Tiruchi in the 1950s, most teachers favoured the traditional “cuts” that left one with calloused and painful palms, wincing wryly — a cartoonist’s delight. And woe betide the boy who timidly withdrew his outstretched hand as the cane swished down viciously — sometimes resulting in the teacher flogging himself. The hapless lad would then receive a thrashing on his legs, leaving him hopping around like a demented dervish!

Our stern prefect, a stickler for discipline, was feared for his dreaded “three of the best”, as he menacingly put it, administered with a swishy cane. If one wasn’t well cushioned anatomically, the flogging left one with a tender fundament, fervently vowing never to be naughty again. Such was its deterrent effect.

A peremptory summons from the principal was enough to make us quail. One wondered with trepidation whether someone had squealed about the pin one had sadistically planted in a classroom bench — business end up! Or had the principal, while prowling the corridors of the school, seen one playing pranks behind the teacher’s back? Before planning how to talk the way out of a hiding, one found oneself before the forbidding martinet, stuttering and shaky. Mercifully, he wasted no time. One got one’s deserts swiftly — with a rattan cane that had “tanned many a hide” to use our schoolboy parlance. And one usually returned with a pronounced limp, one’s trotters having borne the brunt.

The “ear-screw” was quite popular with some teachers. Irked by stupidity or perversity, they would latch on to one’s ear like a limpet, tweaking it hard as if trying to free it from its moorings. Or, worse, they would try to hoist a student by his ear, forcing him to “levitate” — rise on tiptoe as far as possible to prevent his flapper being yanked out.

Getting us to understand the complexities of Pythagoras’ theorem sometimes reduced our maths teacher to a pythiakaran (lunatic) as he claimed. He would work off his frustration by sharply rapping us on the knuckles with a ruler. It was much like playing a xylophone of sorts, except that the keys were our knuckles and the player woefully lacked finesse!

Our mauling of Tamil syntax often left our painstaking teacher fuming. To jolt one’s memory, he would pinch (or rather pincer) the fleshier part of one’s upper arm, all the while grimacing grotesquely as if he were experiencing the pain he was inflicting! This usually left all the students, except his victim, sniggering — so comically expressive was his face.

Yet, given our high spirits and resilience, no physical punishment, however daunting, could really keep us in check for long.

gnettomunnar@rediffmail.com

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Printable version | May 10, 2021 7:18:51 AM | https://www.thehindu.com/opinion/open-page/beatings-pinches-and-ear-screws/article34344903.ece

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