For Malayalees (those who hail from Kerala, a southern state) living in other parts of India, the neighbourhood ‘Kerala Stores’ is a key establishment in their lives. Living in Mumbai, we have always found one in close proximity.
These stores stock merchandise which are unique to Kerala and Malayalees – foods and beverages, clothes and cosmetics, to just give a few examples.
One such unique product is the ‘chooral’, a bamboo or a rattan cane used by Malayalee parents, specifically by mothers while teaching their children at home and for general discipline. The chooral makes a swishing sound when it splits the air to make contact with your hands, thighs or buttocks. The place of contact on the body generally depends upon the gravity of the error. The place of contact also gets scarred with two parallel red lines, which eventually turn bluish and take days to fade away completely.
This kind of cane also featured prominently in my own childhood. My mother, like almost all other Malayalees, was a firm believer in corporal punishment, due to her strong desire to shape us (me and my elder brother) into what she wanted us to be in terms of behaviour and academic achievement. In her view, the only way to instil the necessary fear make us work hard was the chooral.
She was extremely strict with us and would not show any mercy when she had the cane in her hand. In order to skip the ‘caning ceremony’, us children did make several futile attempts to hide it or break it. When we did, however, a replacement was found in no time. It must have been very cheap and easy to source!
Since my mother was very concerned about our academic results, she would want us to start our revision at least one month before the examination. Since we would have three final exams annually, we would not be able to rest because right after one exam, we had to begin preparing for the next one.
Mother would sit down with us every evening to help us with our studies. Of course, the cane was always by her side on these occasions, and each mistake would be rewarded with a stroke across our palms. My brother would always go first, and meanwhile I would be cold with anxiety, trying my best to recall my lesson and hoping to avoid the sting of the cane.
School report days were especially frightening for us. Mother would study our report cards thoroughly and if the scores failed to meet her high standards, she would call us into her room. The door would be closed, then Mother would scold us, flexing the cane in her hands as she spoke. A sound thrashing would follow, leaving red welts across our bottoms. The cane was only finally retired when we entered higher education.
Today, despite the pain these beatings involved, I am grateful to my mother for teaching me so many things. I am following in her footsteps, as I’m also a no-nonsense mom who believes in the adage ‘spare the rod and spoil the child’. Our only child, a nine-year old boy, was recently introduced to the cane across his bottom when he is naughty or doesn’t do well enough in school.
I recently found a big bunch of such canes at our local Kerala store. These new improvised canes are better designed, with coloured bands along their length and a rubber hand grip. Although a bit costly, I bought two for my son.
The uncle at the stores told me that the canes sold like hot cakes, particularly before school term begins or just before examinations, and most of the purchasers are mothers or teachers.
I must admit this revelation surprised me – I had thought the cane might be more or less extinct by this time. However, in reality it seems a generation of ‘victims’ has now become practitioners.