I grew up in India during the 1970s, when corporal punishment, both at school and at home, was extremely common. My dad was a busy banking professional while my mother was a school teacher.
In many ways, Mom was a lady of modern outlook – in fact, she was way ahead of other contemporary ladies of those days. She was modern in her style and dress sense too. She had shoulder-length hair and usually wore a sleeveless blouse, without the customary saree.
In one thing, though, she was old-fashioned, and that was the discipline of children. She was both a strict teacher and a firm mother. She taught English at my own school, a boys-only higher secondary. This had a reputation for excellence, but also for strict discipline. All the teachers had canes in their classrooms and my mother was no exception.
She was a senior English teacher in our school, a higher secondary school exclusively for boys. There were plenty of lady teachers though.
By the time we left for college, most of us boys had become proficient in English, thanks to her excellent teaching. However, the canings she gave us during the course of our studies also contributed to our performance. She normally used to punish us on the open palm, and sometimes on the legs, with a minimum of two strokes of the cane, which could go up to eight depending on the gravity of the mistakes we committed.
Perhaps because I was her own child, I think she was harsher on me than the other children, and I was really quite scared of her when we were at school. Again, perhaps because I was related to a member of staff, none of the other teachers ever went easy on me. Indeed, she used to take feedback from the other teachers about my progress in other subjects.
At home, Mom kept a long, thin, flexible rattan cane with which to punish me. I have to say this was actually rarely needed, perhaps because I was so well disciplined at school.
Mom would generally only cane me at home if I got bad feedback from another teacher, although I did feel the rattan on several report days too, if my marks had turned out below her expectations. I still remember the day that I got a ‘fail’ in mathematics. For my punishment, I got the worst caning ever from my mother. My whole body was reddened with cane marks, with welts in places, which remained visible for the next couple of days. If the punishment seems harsh, I have to say it did the trick – I never scored less than 80% in maths thereafter.
Normally, though, I was well behaved at both home and school. Usually, if I stepped out of line, Mom would simply stare at me sternly, her nostrils flared in disapproval, and that would be enough for me to go back to behaving myself.
By the time Mom retired from that school, she had risen to headmistress. She has also authored many books and received many awards and other recognitions of her excellence as an educator. She is an old lady now, in her 80s, but her personality is still as strong as ever, and she is still a firm believer in the old adage of ‘no pain, no gain’.