In my school days in the 1950s parents used to be in close liaison with the teachers to maintain a uniform standard of discipline for the kids. The adage -'Spare the rod and spoil the child'- was sometimes stretched to an unpleasant extent. But Dr. Himadri was an exception.
The doctor's daughter, Lila, returned home one day from the school pathetically crying her heart out. She had been grounded within the confines of the classroom as a punishment. Her hand-writing and neatness had to improve, the teacher had warned, or worse would follow. “Either you write neatly in Class III, or never ever write in your life,” was the urgency.
The doctor took it up with the school authorities, and made unnerving statements on the possible psychological repercussions of such distressing action. This was the first case of hitherto unheard of parental interference in school affairs. It ended in the daughter getting exiled to the last bench permanently. “It is even more fun,” she confided to me, leaving me jealous to the core.
My ardent endeavor to get a passport to the last bench to join Lila bore fruit quicker than expected. I was charged with not only having used a dirty eraser, but also spit to smear the hand-writing book. I also qualified for and suffered from detention in the classroom during play time without, however, consigned to the back bench.
At home I waited till my father appeared settled and relaxed after having come back from work. Then I placed my trump card. I related the whole event with well rehearsed anguish, adding the Dr. Himadri part with as much excitement as I could master. But my tears failed to match my wailing.
He held my hands fondly. “Where did you learn to complain against your teachers at home? Don't ever do that again,” he said in a menacingly quiet tone, crushing all my hopes and expectations.
My next stop was Dr. Himadri himself. He gave me a patient hearing. But that was all. “But my father doesn't want to take it up with the school,” I lobbied. He shrugged off dismissively. My morale was at the lowest ebb when I returned home.
All connections got wired up the next day. Apparently, my father met both the teacher and the doctor during his evening walk that enabled him to tie up all the loose ends of the episode.
A day later the teacher caught me in the school, “How dare you complain against me at home? I am going to make an exemplary case out of you,” she roared. I was made to stand up so that the whole class could see my dismayed face. “That's nothing,” she roared again, “your father has permitted me to do anything I want to teach you neatness and discipline. All fathers are not the same.” Lila, particularly for whose benefit all this teacher-power was beings exhibited, now sat bolt upright with baleful eyes at the disgraceful comparison of fathers.
At home my father made his point, “I am surprised at your audacity; you had the nerve to complain against me to Dr. Himadri!” Was there an edge in his menacingly quiet voice? By that time I was past caring about my welfare. “Why doesn't anybody care about me?” I asked in amazement.
My father seemed to pause and ponder. “We all care about you. But you must treat elders and teachers respectfully,” he said soothingly, and promised to take me to my first ever cinema – Tarzan – as an incentive to remember the lesson.
The back bench along with its reigning queen, Lila, paled into insignificance as the wilderness of Africa galloped into my mind's firmament. But as I look back on those days, while wishing all children trouble free schooling, I know that I for one would not have made it without the rod.
BY TAPAS MUKHERJEE