It was a midsummer’s morning, I vividly recall. I reached school. I went to the sports room and took out the marching drums for the morning assembly. After the assembly was over, i was beating on the drums. It was the time for students to go to their classes. In the midst of the dust that kept flying in the air at the footsteps of the students. I saw Mr. J’s face and my face turned blue. The drumstick started slipping from my sweaty hands, my knees started shaking and panic set in my heart. My other friend replaced me on the drums. I left the podium and went to the toilets.
I put my head under the taps to put off the fire in my head. My heart was still racing and my hands were still shaken. I tried to visualise what would be the consequence of my actions in Mr. J’s class. Was it the humiliation i feared the most or was it my lacerated body that scared me. I had become used to the hair pulling, slapping, beating with a switch or just a crude humiliation.
I had become so used to caning and beating on my hands with a stick that i had created a mechanism to make it hurt less. So if i folded my hands 45 degrees and with a loosened grip, it hurt less. If i turned with the force of the stick or a slap, it would hurt less. The trick was to release the force and not to absorb it. But about humiliation i couldn’t find a way to make it hurt less.
All this was because i couldn’t complete homework on time.
Homework my Achilles heel in otherwise a good school life. I just couldn’t find myself writing and repeating the same words what i had learned in class. There was no sense of purpose to it. I found it better to run and work on my footballing skills or just read a book that talked about the universe not quadratic equations. Yes, i was careless with it. But i didn’t find it exciting to put my time to focus on homework.
In the early days after a punishment i would go home crying myself alone in the room. Holding my shirt up and looking at the marks that the slapping, switches and kicks had done on my body. I would count them and then i would look at myself in the mirror. That’s when it hurt the most. Looking into my eyes on the mirror as if i was looking at the depth of my soul that was hurt with the humiliation at school. I would start doing my homework. But i slacked again. So the beating became a habit until i told myself, screw it. I would rather not do this. The early teens of my life.
It’s not like i was a bad student. I was a good student, the most active in class, part of the school committee and even the sports captain. Just that homework wasn’t my thing. Especially maths, enduring all of this just dropped my mathematical aptitude that today i need a calculator for a complex sum.
Mr J. taught us maths. He was tall with a moustache and would be wacky while teaching. But his beating was one of the worst. He would humiliate you to the point that the beating would feel like a child’s play. So that day, i forgot to finish my homework. I tried to finish it in the classes before his class but it didn’t get completed. So i was ready physically for the beating but mentally i was not.
Mr J came to the class when the bell tolled. My heart was sinking and i was suffocating under my breath. He called my number. It felt like the Nazis calling the Jews by their number to the gas-chamber in a concentration camp. He looked at me with his black-raven-eyes and told me to stay behind. I kept looking at the students in the class and they stared back at me. They knew and i knew that this is going to end up bad. My other friend Imad was also to told to stay with me at the blackboard which smelled of chalk and chalkdust.
Mr J after checking all the notebooks comes up to me. Asks me a rhetorical question, “Where’s your homework?”, i said “I forgot.” He stretched his arms and pulled the waist of his pants. Bam! came the first slap of many. I lost count until i heard my ear ringing. Thankfully that ringing of my ears blanked out his humiliating words. The entire class shrieking with each slap, some of the girls wistfully tearing up and pleading for mercy for us.
Mr J wouldn’t listen to any plea. He took out a steel scale as if something had spurred him on. He started beating both of us up with the steel scale until the scale bent. The 20 minutes of hell were almost over when he asked both us to turn our hands. He started to beat our hands not the palm side the other side while vertically holding the steel scale. One. Two. Three. Blood splatter on the floor. Like a criminal who knew he had done a crime, he asked us to wipe our wounds at the toilets. The tears were falling from the edge of my eyes as i took those never ending steps to the tap.
It wasn’t the beating that hurt me most but the humiliation that killed my spirit every single time he raised his hands on me, slapped me or kicked me. After the class was over. Imad started crying on the bench while the others comforted him. I went to the principal’s office in tears. I was fourteen then, i was hardly breathing, to complain about him. I told the principal, i remember the words, “If you don’t put him on the leash, he will go on doing this genocide.” He asked me what genocide meant, i had no answer. I just remembered Anne Frank. Said nothing. He gave me a glass of water to calm me down.
I told nobody about it at home. You know if one did, the reply would be “He’s a teacher and this is your fault.” This condoning of such violence and humiliation would make my pain trivial. So i rather shut up.
Two years ago, i went back to that school to teach the little kids creative writing. Things had changed. I was told there’s no corporal punishment anymore. But i wondered if the humiliating students has stopped. Mr J was still there. He greeted me. I gave him a cold reply. I still think he feels normal about the ‘punishments’ he gave to us and to those we never knew about. He never apologised to Imad or me. But that mark of steel scale is still there on my fingers.