My best friend, when I was a little boy of seven growing up in India. was a boy named Biju. He was about a year older than me and lived in an apartment on the floor above us.
Biju was a lovely little boy who was always full of smiles, slightly dreamy yet full of energy. However, his mother always complained that he was lazy, disobedient and messy. She also said that Biju was naughty and prone to back-chat.
However, Biju’s mother was not the sort to ‘spare the rod and spoil the child’. Supple rattan canes were hung strategically around their tiny apartment, so that naughty behaviour could be dealt with instantly.
She even convinced my mother to follow a similarly austere regime of discipline. She told my mother: “The cane is a formidable weapon to ensure the little ones are kept in line.” And indeed, even today the cane is often proudly displayed in households here.
My mother soon brought home four or five thin rattan canes, easily available in local grocery shops. She hung them around the apartment, on the kitchen wall and on the backs of doors etc.
With such an effective instrument in her possession, any misdemeanour on my part – being rude to my parents, telling lies, disobedience, bad performance in school or refusing to do homework – was a reason to bring out the cane.
In our tiny one-bedroom flat, there was no space to run and hide. The caning always left red welts on my body. My mother always aimed for my legs and arms so that the wounds would only be superficial, but still visible. The stinging pain of the rattan cane on my bare skin was nothing compared to the embarrassment of walking around with the angry red marks that took days to fade.
My mother would say: “Those welts are your badges of shame. People who see them will know that you misbehaved for me and you were disciplined. The shame will remind you to behave yourself in future.” I continued to receive the cane occasionally even after my school days were over, until I left home for higher studies.
Until recently, most Asian moms – like mine – did not have any qualms at all about caning their children. “They are naughty and they should be disciplined” was my mother’s view.
Her logic was simple – she wanted to make sure I didn’t turn out to be a spoiled brat. She was convinced that, like Biju, I needed to be thoroughly caned when I stepped out of line. Discipline in those days meant scoldings and beatings.
I think I turned out OK. I’m certainly not a spoilt brat – and neither is Biju. Our mothers are still good friends and although they live miles apart now, they regularly speak on the phone, and my mom still often thanks Biju’s mother for her wise advice on child discipline, given so many years ago.