I hate Sunday evenings. It is a long story. They bring back a lot of memories of yore school days. Those were the days when teachers used more canes than words to teach and discipline the students. It was sticks all the way and no carrots. Some of our teachers and seniors were really merciless, a few of them going even to the extent of being sadistic. Sunday evening meant a lot of things; end of the weekend or the beginning of another new week, which meant facing the canes of our great learned teachers and a host of other things that were not necessarily pleasant. Ever since I hated Sunday evenings; this dislike have got into my system so deep that even today and even when I am on holidays, I still get this creepy feelings on Sunday evenings.
My Sunday evening blues date back to my school days in the eighties, when teachers and student captains used to roam the school with canes in their hands and only God would have helped those coming at the wrong end of these canes. Of all the teachers, we had a particular teacher, the headmaster, whom we used to call ‘Gathpu’, meaning the old man. He had a head full of grey hair, I mean shiny white hair, that did not have any trace of black in it. We did not know his age and if were made to guess it, we would have guessed it at the wrong side of seventies. He was a very dark man and if we met him in the corridor – we didn’t have electricity then – only his white hair and the white teeth, which he miraculously had the full set on, would be visible. And of course, if he wore his white dhoti and white shirt whole of his being would be visible. He had no family with him and we did not know whether he had them back home or not. He resided in a single room right next to his office. He had a piece of half inch diameter polythene pipe, about four feet long, that he used as cane to cane our bottoms. I am yet to come across any person, as dedicated as him; he single handedly ran the school, from supervising the morning and evening prayers and study periods to social works. He was omnipresent. But of course he used to be accompanied by his ‘pipe cane’. It was his only ‘family’ or ‘acquaintance’ that we knew of. He was very liberal in using the ‘pipe cane’, which he used to employ at a slight opportunity. Not a single student, who studied in the school during his time, would have gone untouched by his magic wand. The ‘Gathpu’ was feared by all, though he looked a frail old man. He was also sometimes referred to as ‘Woong Bang Gathpu’, the reason behind which I came to know the harder way. When he swung his ‘pipe cane’ to hit your bottom – it was only the bottom he hit and not any part of the body – the hollow pipe and the air movement created a sound ‘woong’ and when it finally landed on your bottom, the ‘Bang’ sound. So he became ‘Woong Bang Gathpu’.
Other than the headmaster himself, we had many other creatures that we had to fear. They were mostly our very own home grown Lopens. Some of them had fine tuned the art of punishment to such an extent that a mention here is a bit too heavy. The nettle plants on your bare bottom became unbearable when dipped in water and a pencil in between your fingers and a gentle pressure made the pain even more excruciating. The list is endless. What matters here is that many a student left schools for good due to the fear of these so called “corporal punishment”, some of which may be termed third degree torture by international standards today.
There was another person, whom we feared even more than the ‘Gathpu’ himself. He was a captain, not the type you find in the military ranks, but a student captain, one of us, the students. Without naming any names, let me call him “Captain X”. He was feared even by the parents back at home. I don’t know how he managed, but he remained captain for about two and a half years. He had a free reign of sort in the school. He once even chucked one boy out of the school, for reasons I didn’t know and did not wish to find out. This was only the official record. Unofficially many students, especially the boys, left the school fearing his merciless canings. I still do not understand who gave him such a free reign, but he did reign freely and fiercely. The boys from his village enjoyed under the aegis of this great leader, if I may say that. Those of us, who were not very fortunate to have such popular and powerful mentor, had to bear the brunt.
We used to witness most of the beatings during Sunday evening prayers. Saturday afternoons would mean a number of students, especially the boys, bunking hostels and going home for the weekend. Everybody wanted to eat a proper and a satisfying meal at least once a week. Not only did the food in the hostel tasted terrible, the quantity dished out was also miniscule. (It did not take much to guess from where the huge amount of leftovers came, which our cooks would carry back home after every meal. We were told that later on at home these leftovers were fermented and converted into ‘changkoe’. That may have explained why they always reeked of alcohol, even early in the morning. The school cooks used to be very powerful and no one could raise a finger at them. Secretly we named a particular cook “Mr Earthquake” for the very reason that he used to shake his hands like earthquake while doling out our share of food. After the quake the amount left in the serving ladle was just a few grains, which would go into our plates.) So we used to take this chance of going home. But eventually we would be caught and there was no rocket science involved in finding out. All boys, about a hundred plus, lived in a very big hostel, which did not have any beds. So, it was easy to miss those missing. After the Sunday evening prayers, those who were found missing, usually no one escaped, would be separated. Then the canings would begin, in front of the whole school. I had the opportunity of being in this separated group, quite a few times, and understand the pain and the humiliation of being canned on your bare bottoms, right in front of the whole school. The thought sends a chill up my spine still. (On many occasions I thought of quitting school, but the image of my parents in tattered clothes back home struggling to make the two ends meet held me back. I still wonder what would have become of me had I quit the school like many others who did.) I remember once seeing beads of sweat on “captain X’s” forehead, which proved that either the line was too long or he was very sincere and thorough with his canings. It was not only on Sundays that the canings occurred, it happened all the time, throughout the week, but it was more during Sundays.
But like all good things in life coming to an end, this ‘free reign of terror’ came to an abrupt end, on a fine spring morning. The academic sessions were in full swing and to the relief of all most all the boys, his protégés were not happy, “Captain X” left the school. We were told that he left for Thimphu in search of a job, but did not bother to find out. We rejoiced his departure but the damage has already been done, at least in the psyche of many of us. Personally I don’t have any grudges against him, but the dislike and the fear for Sunday evenings is etched in my mind so deep that I can’t erase it, however hard I try. There is no personal vendetta against him. But I cannot say the same for the others, who were unfortunate like me or still for others whose destiny changed because of him. Life comes a full circle, wronged get righted and time heals many a wounds, but my hatred for Sunday evenings still remains. Perhaps I should go see a shrink.
11 June, 2012