Slap, Kick, Punch, Spit. Oh, these kids. Snap, crack, bang, grunt. Oh, these rogue kids, I tell you. These so-called students and their so called tarbiyyat. These miscreants. These wrong kids and their wrong, wrong parents.
Looking into the distance, “They ruined our childhood, man”, the bittersweet tone of my now burly bearded school friend says, his eyeballs suddenly rolling around in a pool of a certain salt.
Oh, they must be punished. They must be straightened. They must be fixed, and they must be corrected. Ways must be found. And ways were found.
For example, a certain Mrs Someone would trick ‘her kids’ into sitting on chairs, tie them up, and slap them, left, right, and centre.
I don’t know how true this is, but a little birdie told me that this once, a lady teacher in Mallinson tied duct tape around a girl’s mouth, and kicked her off the stairs. The little birdie also told me that she rolled and bounced like a slinky.
She had to wear a neck collar to school for the next one week.
“It’s nothing mama,” she probably said “I just slept funny.”
Chengez sir was an Urdu teacher. Chengez sir was a rugged, bearded man, and he used to sing the course poems in Urdu. His favorite, and my favorite used to be “Tumhe yaad ho ke na yaad ho”. Those were one of the most beautiful moments of my life. Just a few days ago, after seven long years, I met him near my office and he gave me the warmest hug ever. I could see that he meant it. I meant it too.
However, when my ears started bleeding after he slapped me in school; that felt very real as well. I had made a mono-vowel sound in a class he was controlling. The flush red cheeks with a Chengez sized fingerprint, the ringing ears, the echoing laughter of the audience, and the blood, was very, very vividly real.
After that day, I imagined him sleeping in the trees, eating raw meat, baby birds, and tree sap, while also sometimes singing beautiful Urdu poetry.
Tumhe yaad ho ke na yaad ho.
Another man, (who every person who ever stepped into Biscoe knows) resembled the towering Kingpin in the Spiderman comics. This man was rather round; very, very round, and he would always ask you to get notebooks from a certain shop. Sargam kaafi (copy), he would call it. Legend has it that he had a certain commission in that generous suggestion. Sargam kaafis and their sargam money clinks.
Mr Kingpin was a bulky man with a belly which covered a large part of the space he occupied. Oh, the number of pennies he couldn’t pick. Naturally, he liked sitting. Sitting was good. Sitting on chairs, and tables, and benches, and poles, and the floor, and the kids: the mischievous, vulnerable, and the middle class kids. One instance boasts of Mr Kingpin sitting on a student, forcibly confined to lay down on the ground. With two pudgy hands, or paws, hovering like a hulking gorilla, he would pound on my friend’s body with both his hands. Rawrr, thud thud, rawrr rawrr, thud thud. Even while writing this, I could swear I heard a bone snap somewhere.
Speaking of riding-on-people games, who remembers Tulaay Langur? Tulaay Langur was a game in which players used to pull each other on their backs, with their arms twitched in opposite directions. While playing this game, the players used to chant “Tulaay Langur, Tulaan Chas”.
I remember it in the sinister tone of one of my mentors. There was always a strong boy in the class. Strong boys in schools are made from stolen and snatched, and very rarely offered, lunchboxes of nerds who aren’t muscle enough to defend their territory (or lunchboxes). That strong boy would Tulaan chas, and the mentor would say Tulaay Langur.
Strong boys had several uses. Besides acting as active collaborators for the teachers, they were also used for the Tulaay Langur that I remember. A strong boy would Tulaay Langur the perpetrator and the teacher would take a cricket bat, preferably MRF, or Kukabura, and make sure that the buttocks of the perpetrator were glaringly bulging enough. Making a cricket batsmen stance (one of his favourite cricketer, of course), he would lift the bat high into the sky, and land the plain side on the soft-tight-shorts-ass of the kid who was Tulaay Langur’d.
I remember Tulaay Langur. Tulaay Langur, Tulaan chas.
What kind of a kid doesn’t like superheroes! My earliest memories of Superman were those of me sketching Superman from the Superman comics. I was a weak child. Superman had big biceps. I knew more about Superman’s arms than I did mine. There was also the sketch of a child grabbing the ends of a table, while the prefects would yank him away to the front of the class. More often than not, there would be two hands, gripping uncomfortably the edgy steely legs of the table, and two prefects grabbing hold of his legs. Superman.
Not all superheroes wear capes.
If the grip was too strong for the prefects, the tyrant would himself come to the battleground. In which case, the kid would drop down to the ground, half numb, shit-scared, accepting his fate like the last minute pigeon-cat encounter. Eyes closed.
Almost forgot this one bright sunny day, which brought the good friend out in the worst of us. Two of my classmates were strolling in the playground in the recess break, hands over each other’s shoulders. Two happy boys in short shorts and short shirts and curry stains on shirts and booger flakes on their nostrils and upper lips.
Two happy boys in short shorts and short shirts and curry stains on shirts and booger flakes on their nostrils and upper lips did not see the relentless torrent of slaps and punches that landed on them without a warning. It was almost like a drone attack, they say. It was Chengez.
The most capable intelligence agencies in the world are yet to find an answer to this unsolicited reaction to a ‘purely lovely’ gesture, as some ‘sickulars’ have called it.
However, recently, after a long tenure of studies, a debatable journal was released by the International Community of Common Sense (ICCS), which said that the attack on the two unsuspecting teenagers was (righteously and rightfully) done in the garb of preserving religious modesty.
If Shahjahan sir had not apologised to Chengez sir on behalf of the flesh-touching felony committed that day, two young boys would have probably been turned into two chunks of pounded meat. What were they thinking!
Earthly slaps don’t deserve a mention; celestially lethal slaps do. A friend of mine was slapped. Slaps can be classified into many kinds, and I have seen all of them. The one my friend got is called the Skull Cracker. The skull cracker has two stages: one crack in the skull initiates when the mentor’s hand maintains a split second blasting contact with your face (the optimum force being above or 50 Newtons. Different skull crackers may disagree though), and the second crack seams through when you fall on your side with a force greater than your weight and hit the temple of your teenaged head on a wooden bench with a steel rim. Thud. Bang. Crack.
He spent the next two minutes trying to get back up on his feet, while the teacher walked away proud with his back turned towards the skull he had just successfully cracked. Cool guys never look at the explosions they cause. Justice had been served.
In class 5, we had a silent force of nature called Azeem sir. A man of 5 feet or probably higher, floating over the wooden floorboards of the classroom, sporting thick scholarly spectacles, a white beard, a sweet tongue, and impeccable Urdu, Azeem specialised in pharmacy: Pharmaceutical nomenclature to be precise. He used to name his slaps after the names of the various over-the-counter medicines. Courtes-ly enough, he would dust the chalk off his fingertips before he would give us a ‘dosage’.
Crocin, Calpol, Paracetamol and they came in dosages. 100g, 250g, 500…
He had appointed a junior pharmacist from within the class who would come up with names of boys to slap, every 3 minutes. If he didn’t, his efficiency would be questioned. Inefficiency would not be tolerated. Azeem sir didn’t like inefficient prefects. Azeem sir didn’t like his hands getting cold, either. Every three minutes, the blood from his hands would rush to his head, and that was not healthy, hence needing immediate rushing to the hands. Azeem sir needed to heat up his hands. His doctor had said.
Not all the prefects were inherently obedient. So, when some of the nice prefects were asked to slap us, they would look into our eyes, well up with tears and say “Sorry bhai”. Some of them would. The would-be victim would understand and nod. There was honour in that. If the decibel value of the sound produced in the process of the slap wasn’t up to Mr Azeem’s frequency, he would slap the prefect himself. War discipline.
He was very proud of this ingenious invention. Some of us, with one hand on the chin, and the other on the cheek, marvelled too.
Pankaj sir used to wear pointed formal shoes: the long ones which resemble a Kashmiri Shikara. There isn’t much I remember about him, except his shoes, and that he had a limp, and that his cuss vocabulary was Oxford level, and that my friend made one unforgivable mistake one day, and that the next moment, my friend and Pankaj sir were one. Pankaj sir, on top on my friend, made the alphabet ‘T’ turned upside down. I saw the guru’s knee bending, the formal shoe gleaming in the sunlight, (like Shikaras do) and landing on my friend’s ribs, arms, and head, with the consistency of a jackrabbit. Thud, snap, rib, grunt, crack. Hehehe.
At some point during this impressive balance and consistency, all the smiles turned upside down. One boy actually got up and cried. “Sir, please beat me if you want but leave the poor soul alone”. Ha-ha, what a softie, I thought, as I wiped a tear.
One day, I had a deadly cold. So, I kept asking him to let me go to the washroom. “Sir, please sir look at me.” Sniff Sniff. Snort snort. My nose was running. He would not budge. My eyes were welling up. He did not care. So, after 20 minutes of containing the infection in my throat, I turned around and spat that little ecosystem in a corner. The blob dangled over a thick canopy of cobwebs, slowly trickling to the floor.
Before the first drop could hit the floor, Pankaj sir turned around, and had seen me do it. He made sure I look over my shoulder even now, even if I spit…underwater.
Not all of them used extreme measures. One of them was respectful. He would walk up to you, lean in close to your ear, and then whisper mysterious profanities; something to do with your mothers and sisters.
“What did he say?” my friends would ask.
Half shrugging, half smiling, I would say, “Can’t tell you”, following it with a wink, a moment too late.
Mallinson was another parallel reality I could not quite ever comprehend. For example, a friend of mine was beaten ‘ruthlessly’ in class five, when she spelled the word “Mango” wrong. Ruthless? I mean, how did she manage to mess up a word as easy as Mango, and what exactly did she expect? Serves her right.
Morning assemblies used to be what I imagined modern day Auschwitz would have been like. Some petulant Muslim girls actually thought they could get away with wearing Hijabs in a catholic school. (Not like Nuns wear something similar). Hijabs were very important; important things to be gotten rid of. Sometimes, when the girls made the lives of the teachers difficult by wearing Hijabs despite warnings, they were snatched from the heads of a select few, who disrupted order.
The oddest thing ever, though, was the morning underwear check. In Mallinson. For those who don’t know, Mallinson is a girls’ school. There was apparently a certain length of underwear that was admissible, permissible. And to make sure the admissible was administered, the staff (thankfully female) used to ‘check’ what went under the upper layers of clothes and whether it was long enough. And if it wasn’t long enough, it would follow with a long healthy therapy session of slaps and expulsion threats.
Moving swiftly on, there was this one instance. It was the month of Ramadan of a certain year: must have been 2008, or 2009, following the Amarnath land row and the anti-state sentiment was still running warm. Spontaneously, one afternoon sparked a small bout of anti-state slogans, very much in humor. I remember giggling. The staff room was nearby and a state-loving, non-local mentor in an authoritative position stormed out, and marched us out into a file. Women with boyish haircuts were to be feared.
Some of us were fasting, and some of us were pretending, but all of us were famished. Along a fence, in the blistering heat, facing the famous +2 block of our school, we were made to sit in the chair position for over an hour. Learned a great deal that day.
A similar incident had happened in another school; a parallel reality. The kids there, however, were just locked inside a dark room with no ventilation and no food and no water, and threats of rustication. To make sure the anti-state could be sucked out of them through the lack of basic elements of life, they weren’t let go even after the last school bell rang. It was to be a long day, until one boy plunged to the floor and feigned a cardiac complication.
“Hassi aa rahi thi magar bach gaya us din”, (It was funny, but, hell, it saved me that day) he tells me.
One very dapper maths teacher, who loved speaking in metaphors, and who would love reminding us how the Americans had landed on the moon and how Kashmiris hadn’t, every time we asked him a question he deemed stupid, had slapped more kids more times than the kilometres between the Earth and its moon. Infuriating the Dapper man was the worst thing you could do. I remember it as if it just popped up on my Facebook feed.
First, his teeth would protrude. To this day, I believe he thought it was a smile. Then the dapper man would brush his hands off the sides of some cloth and his teeth would protrude some more.
He had two kinds of slaps: the ones that hurt (according to us), and the ones that didn’t (according to him). He was very proud. He was very dapper.
One friend of mine had gotten into a fight with a batch-mate which had turned rather ugly. The matter was taken up by the staff room. Justice was due. My friend was called to the staff room, and in the presence of every staffer, and a few prefects, made to prostrate, and dip his nose in a pool of spit that was placed there for him, (before it dried) to express his deep apologies. They called it nasrik.
This was done in the presence of a certain senior chemistry teacher, the nickname of whom was the name of a famous Chemist pertaining the modern atomic theory. He also happened to be a house in-charge of a ‘champion’ house. They never lost. He made sure they didn’t. I never understood why that name offended him.
He split more jaws than his scientist counterpart split atoms.
Back in 3rd grade, our Urdu teacher would take comics (source of Superman biceps) from us and promise us that she would return them by the end of the class, or at the end of the session. She never did, for the greater good. After a point, she denied ever having them. For our greater good, of course.
One day, she had me carry a big load of notebooks to the staffroom for correction. The passively aggressive voluntary labour. Her very cute lil’ daughter was sitting cross legged in a corner grinning, and reading from a pile of roughly piled stock of comic books. One of those belonged to me.
What is it with Urdu teachers, anyway, saving a child’s life every other day!
One man, partly mongoloid, partly aggressive, who also used to be a part time ski coach, was the terror of his times. His forte was pulling sideburns. I still cringe from a memory of my friend’s sideburns in his hands, with the friend a few feet away, blood trickling from what used to be his sideburns.
A history teacher, a lady, would dig her nails in the cartilage of your ears. She made a funny face when she did that, like the one you make when you pop a pimple. She had stopped for a while when a poor boy’s ear contracted a pus infection. But I guess old habits die hard. So, one fine morning she woke up and decided that nothing should come between her long nails and nubile ear cartilages.
A particular teacher in the plus-two department, known for his magical math skills, having once cancelled 2 and 2 in 21, hence becoming 1, once kicked a kid in his ribs so hard that the kid was seconds away from internal bleeding.
Holding his guts in his body, and his tears in his eyelids, and his slurs in his larynx, he jumped over the ten-foot school wall, and into the Kothi Bagh police station where his complaint was laughed at.
But, one can’t blame the guy. He just had to beat one person a day. His doctor had told him he would not fix his restlessness until he had a few fresh cheek cells of kids on his hands every 24 hours.
One day, while taking a ‘toilet break’, hopping like Little Red Riding Hood before discovering that her granny was in fact the wolf, I was happy. He saw that, and he slapped me. I felt a trickle of blood, and then a stream of it Niagra its way through my nose.
The Chemist-champion-house-in-charge told me it was ‘for my betterment’ when I ran to him, crying.
A horror of our times before middle-school started was a lady dark in complexion, and stout in stature. On good days, she would extend out her spongy clammy foot, which seemed to be two sizes larger than her footwear, and summon slaves for massage. Septic-tank foot, we would whisper. It would have probably been easier if she provided gloves and camphor. After 3 minutes of Hindi lecturing, she would extend her foot on the back bench, and ask some ‘volunteers’ to massage that thing. If you didn’t do it, or anything that she wanted you to do, she would drop her punch line, “Mai chamdi khench lungi”, roughly translating to – I will fillet your skin in its entirety. She would also point to a hypothetical nail in a wall and suggest that she’d hang it there.
She would also place pencils in between your fingers and squeeze till (her) satisfaction, and her satisfaction knew infinite bounds. Oh, and this one time, she did it to a friend right before an exam and said, “Now let’s see how well you write your exams.” Too bad the kid was a stoic and did too well for broken fingers.
She was someone who believed in using the Nettle plant for correction.
Foot massages and Nettle plants take me to a very famous genius/mathematician/artist of our school. Unlike the former, he would employ passive aggressive methods of getting his feet massaged. “A certain-someone will massage my feet, won’t he. I mean, he wants to,” he would say out loud.
This multi-potentialist was also in the habit of stripping naked those who he suspected of having smoked a cigarette that day or probably anytime in their lives. This: while he used to smoke a Capstan cigarette every other hour, in front of his students.
“In retrospect,” an ex-student of that school tells me, lighting a cigarette, with his neck bent like those cool guys, happy tears trickling down his face, “Most of us learned smoking from him.”
This prodigy also had a hair-fetish. An other-people’s-hair-in-his-hands fetish. He would surprise boys (with silken tufts of hair), with a pair of old scissors and chop craters out of their heads. Tug, pull, snip, snap, drop.
Tears were necessary, though. Or he would keep cutting. Tug, pull, snip, snap, drop.
He also believed in using those scissors to cut pants. First he would slice your pants all the way up to your thighs. At his zenith, he would strip you naked to your brown lux cozi and make you stand outside on the inner school road. To outdo himself, and the competition, one day, he got students from a few other sections to look at the naked. Imbibed from probably the best ‘intelligence’ agencies that sprouted in the post 9/11 era, stripping a boy bare naked all the way to his V shaped lux cozis (Sunny Deol’s favorite ) was sure to produce results. The brave ones, the strong ones came out of it alive. Naked sitting. Naked walking. Naked running. Naked running under the sky. Naked running under the sky near the Mallinson girls’ school. Naked sprinting to make time fly.
The naked parade and the general capitalisation of the nakedness of a child was the forte of our Ustaads and Ustaanis.
Naked running used to get boring sometimes. So, the legendary and indigenous, easily available Kashmiri Nettle plant (Soi in Kashmiri) used to keep up the entertainment. Nettle or Soi is also called the common nettle or the stinging nettle. Stinging because they inject histamine (and other chemicals) when touched. Histamine (and other chemicals) produce a stinging sensation in the skin of humans and most animals.
He also used to ‘borrow’ fruits (mostly) from kids every other day. After a while, cigarettes were less contraband than fruits. The moment he would enter the class, whole chunks of fruit would be swallowed, donated, or thrown out the window.
An honorary mention goes to a teacher who used to take money from the ‘rich kids who didn’t need it’.
Little did they understand that all this was for the betterment of the child.
(Illustrations by Tabish Rafiq Mir)