Friday, 13 July 2007

A Jabbed Trip Down Memory Lane

The last post reminded me of an incident where, yes folks, I too was punched by a teacher. It was in 1975, the fourth lesson after recess; music class. We loved that "period" as we called it because all we did was sing songs. When we heard students from other classes singing we just could not wait our turn and opening our pencil box, we would refer to the next music class in our timetables. It was my second favourite period after P.E. Music class and P.E. were the two lessons one could participate at our school without having to learn anything.

Anyway, the school bell had rung and we diligently waited for the music teacher to arrive. He was a scruffily bearded guy attempting to divert attention from his well advanced male pattern baldness. I could say we never really liked him and some of us feared him due to his short fuse. He would always fold his sleeves mid way between his wrist and elbow and stroll in with his bell bottoms and just-legal belt buckle. It was the 70s, he had to be hip you see. A good 10 minutes passed and he was a no-show. Put 40 kids in a classroom without supervision and you know the outcome. We had our restrained fun knowing full well of this teacher's talents for destruction. Someone started tugging me and till today I don't know who it was but it felt funny so we had this test of strength of sorts. I did not know the name of the game and probably there wasn’t one but it was fun so a few others joined in as umpires. If it was a co-ed, I'd put all muscles into action.

A contender joined in and started pulling the other arm. Wait a minute! Is this supposed to happen? Maybe this is the rule I forgot to observe, I rationalised. Two fully-fed billy goats tugging at a chihuahua. I was a small framed boy, you see, but I didn't mind the roughhousing as it was fun.

By then half the classroom took interest. And just then, the familiar bark froze the festivities. The teacher, face red and eyes wide with terrible anger. I inherited his colour in fear and embarrassment. And without warning, he picked the smallest student in the whole class, pulled back his arm in an 'L' shape and unleashed his fury in a fist into my stomach. Silence; sickening and sterile. I was trying hard to breathe. My head felt as if it had rolled away right after the punch and it could see the rest of me in white shirt and blue shorts, trying to locate my seat in obedience. The more I tried to straighten my body, the harder it felt to breathe and the pain was so intense, I had tears in my eyes. I did not know what went on after that but all I could remember was that I had one hand on the desk to rest my forehead and the other to rub my tummy. I heard the bell rang and I remembered the next teacher asking other students about incident and how he left me alone during the rest of his lesson.

You can never and I repeat never underestimate the maternal instincts of the one who carried you for nine months. They ought to be employed to oversee the interrogation and intelligence work in every possible organisation in the country. I usually enjoy my ride home in our Toyota KE-10 and usually my mother picks me up. If my dad drove, it would be he's in a tremendously good mood. She noticed I was pale and in visible discomfort and confronted me, I denied any wrong-doings, whatever she was conjuring in her mind; I did not want a part of it.

Thinking that was the end of it, I went about the usual after-school activities that would not amount to much but I was confronted again about something that must have happened in school that my mother was convinced about. This time the Gestapo used the correct sentence: "Did a teacher punch you in school?” leaving me dead in my tracks and set off a chain reaction of melt-down. Remember the intelligence posting I mentioned earlier? How she knew I don't know but the whole matter got escalated and the headmaster, Mr. Jeyarajasingham, our family friend was notified. My eldest brother Mohan and his son, Allen were of the same age, studied together etc.

I did not go to school the next day which was a torture because my mother fired Scud missiles to my general direction, convinced I was at fault. But I knew better, she was very fond of me and was very upset over the whole incident. My dad was hunting for a reason, any reason to expel me from this life. He left to my school to investigate the whole matter at around 10am. I remembered the time because he'd "slip away" during his tea breaks from the office where he was a chief clerk at the welfare department. Anyway the office was walking distance to our house but come to think of it, everything was near to our government quarters that was, in the middle of Raub town.

I dreaded the footsteps leading to our wooden house late that morning as the verdict was about to be delivered by my father. "He is very naughty at school," Mr. B. George started. I looked down on our Linoleum floor of our living room, seeking new designs not previously discovered. "But the teacher cannot punch a student like that and he apologised" What is this? My dad is on my side, defending me? Mr. Jeya will suspend him, I remembered my father said. Suddenly I was no longer considered a victim and was order to school the next day. I really was not looking forward to make a star appearance since the last boxing bout but orders were orders.

A week lapsed and guess what? Music class again and the same teacher again. I expected a tongue-lashing and a defiant show of fist from him for my role in his suspension. He was on time that day and ordered everyone to line up outside the class, two-by-two, you know the drill. I could feel daggers on my back from the glares of my mates. Everyone is going to pay for what had happened, never mind I was at the receiving end. We were marched past other classes, students and teachers alike turned their heads towards this band of eight year olds in curiosity. Our class was the first one right after the flag poles near the entrance of the school, parallel to Mr. Jeya's office.

It was a quiet parade with the teacher leading the way. This was good as it allowed the boys to chit-chat without having to be punished. Yes, it was very regimental but that was school then. We were walking towards the toilets and could almost smell the whiff of blinding acidic urine left unflushed and uncleaned by the school janitor. We took a left towards the arts and craft room by the school field. I loved that place because of the sports shed hiding many sport equipment and other interesting stuff and the large trees surrounding the area. It was also very quiet. Perfect place for an execution I thought. The teacher made us find a place to sit under this big tree and we found places on the protruding roots. We could see the bright blue sky and the dance of clouds. He was quiet for a while and we mimicked. He quickly looked at me and then looked away. Can I pee now, I thought? Right now, in my pants. It’s due to be washed anyway, we have a new washing machine. He was saying something but unlike the confines of a classroom, only the ones sitting closest to him understood.

Later, we were singing, just like any other music class only this time it was outdoors. We sang song after song, under this big tree. For that moment, I felt free and happy. It was such a wonderful feeling sitting with my friends in the evening atop gargantuan roots without a care in the world. I never wanted the bell to ring, never wanted this moment to end, and never wanted to go home. Suddenly the sun that was hiding behind the clouds broke free but the tree stole the glory. Streams of golden rays poked through leaves and painted our faces. Some squinted, others turned away but it was the most beautiful sight if there ever was one.

After that tree serenade, I never saw the teacher again. I felt we made our peace of sorts. Music class was a free lesson after that episode that left us more time to goof around. I really missed that outdoor session and was pining to do it again. I guess that was his last gesture to us and especially to me before his departure. In fact none of us ever saw him again in our small town. Life went on, but the ache of that last music class near the sports shed, lingers on decades after.