‘Spare the rod and spoil the child’ was their favourite proverb. And when a boy was lax in his studies, their favourite words would be “show me your palm” and when a reluctant palm was offered to them, the cane would be raised into the air and the boy would receive a stinging thrash.
Without exception all the boys had been at the receiving end of one particular master’s cane. That was our Tamil master. Apart from Tamil, this teacher was also in charge of the ‘Cultural Association.’
On the last hour of every Friday, all the boys from standards ten and eleven (SSLC) were gathered in one hall. We were asked to showcase any talent that we had. Many of us came from small villages, and our talents lay in doing things out doors. We could climb the tallest trees, swim the ragging floods of the river, drive a bullock cart, catch fish using only our flimsy towels as nets or trap birds. But once we were inside the ‘cultural association hall’ we clamed up.
Our Tamil teacher had a hard time trying to make us perform. He would give a topic and ask the boys to talk extempore on the topic. Some of the bolder boys went to the front and stammered a few words, most of the time making absolute fools of themselves.
My friend Rehman, (I wonder where he is now!) was a timid boy. He was so scared of the master that he would always hide himself behind other boys and never ever opened his mouth in the cultural class.
But our Tamil teacher was made of sterner stuff. One day he hauled Rehman forward and told him to speak on any topic he liked. Rehman begged him and pleaded with him to let him go and that he could not ‘give a speech’
The master was in a foul mood that day and his cane fell repeatedly on Rehman’s palm, his legs and even his back.
Rehman began to sob. He said, “Sir, I can sing. I am not able to give a speech”
“Alright” said the master and gave him permission to sing.
Rehman began to sing haltingly , a song that was quite famous at that time.
It was a Tamil film song which went “kadavul yaen kalaanaar…” which translated literally means: “Why has God turned to stone? Because there are stoned hearted men around.”
And every time he sang the line about ‘stone-hearted men’ he turned towards the master, albeit unknowingly.
The hundred odd boys gathered in the room gave great whoops of joy. A timid boy had unwittingly got the better of a stern master. The students’ clapping and whistling came long and loud that afternoon and took quite some time to subside.
When Gulsum Basheer @ talkalittledo asked me to share my school memories with her, this incident came immediately to my mind, even though it had happened many years ago.
Story by : Dr.Abdul Kader. Chennai… Written by : Gulsum Basheer @ talkalittledo.