During my childhood, discipline was a common affair in most households. I always connected strongly with maternal discipline and one relative in particular captivated my thoughts profoundly.
Raji was a straight-faced, stern-looking woman who hardly smiled and carried herself with an air of strictness. She was a doctor and single mum, with a reputation in the family for being very strict. Her son was my classmate and embodied the perfect child everyone in the family wanted.
Raji was a strong proponent of corporal punishments and certainly went the extra mile with her collection of half a dozen disciplinary implements. These included a wooden rule, a steel ruler, the base rod of a plastic hanger (which she used as a handy cane), a rigid bamboo cane and a traditional rattan one.
She also had a homemade strap which she put together by cutting a belt in two, separating the buckle and cutting that half into three equal parts, which were stacked and duct taped to the lower end of the other half.
Raji put these implements to use frequently and effectively. Mom and other ladies in the family often discussed how Raji disciplined her son and agreed that her punishments were quite severe. To attest to this, it was not unusual for her son to show up at school with red marks on his legs and hands.
My mom told me that Raji had this concept of instant obedience, whereby her son had to obey the rules and follow her instructions instantly and without question. Every time he failed to so, she would punish him.
Raji always carried one of her rulers or the handy plastic cane in her handbag when coming to family gatherings. If her son stepped out of line, she would simply take him to the restroom and punish him. My stomach would be in a knot as I watched her sternly drag her son to the restroom.
Raji was also deeply involved with her son’s academic studies. She was demanding and pushed her son hard. She enforced long study hours and forbid any playtime on regular schooldays. Her son had no option but to be the top student. Raji would come to school regularly and check with teachers on how her son was doing. If she heard any complaint, her son would return to school the next day with red marks.
I would long to see Raji. At family gatherings, I would sneak and gaze at her for as long as I could. I would observe how obedient and well behaved her son was around her and fantasise on how strict she must be with him at home.
When we visited her, on the occasions she allowed her son to play with me, I would go to his room where I could see the instruments of discipline. They always caught my attention and I would feel a cold chill run through me just seeing them resting on the shelf or study table.