We called him P.T Sir, our physical training instructor. I do not recollect his name and making one up will add a fictive element I do not care much for. P.T Sir was stout, ramrod straight, strict and as disciplined about the parting of his well-oiled hair as the maintenance of straight and quiet assembly lines in school. An authoritative figure he was, though I don’t suppose that he had in depth knowledge about physical training or sports either. His demeanour discouraged any questioning looks about his credibility. And frankly, it didn’t really bother me. I was happy as long as I could prance around the huge school grounds and indulge in any outdoor activity prescribed by him. It was the classrooms that usually suffocated me.
He had a daughter in high school and she carried all the necessary airs that some children of instructors often do; aloof, a tad arrogant and an expression that screamed, “I am important”. With that height and muscle excess she did have a fair claim to being important, at least in a girls’ convent these things really matter. I am sure this fine creature had many charming traits and values to her credit, but the lack of any close encounters with her spared me the delight of such a disclosure.
That P.T Sir doted on his daughter was obvious but he never displayed any overt gestures of affection. His daughter is not really relevant to my story except for being a part of an idle question that pops up when I think back of P.T Sir. I will get to it eventually.
I think I must have been in the sixth grade, and was really looking forward to trying out for the bicycle race. A close observation of those going through the qualifying rounds made me realize that I wasn’t even remotely as good as them. So I decided to wait it out hoping to at least tuck in a little cycling fun before the next class. One of the girls agreed to give me her bike after her last round, and so I eagerly waited.
And finally there I was, riding the set of wheels I fancied. When I neared the finish line P.T Sir’s shrill whistle and his accompanying angry yell gave me the most intimidating welcome. Apparently he had asked the girls doing the tryouts to keep the bikes back. And I obviously seemed like a brash offending miscreant. He didn’t wait for the confused gush of explanation that I timidly offered. He was extremely angry, I hadn’t ever seen him so angry. He asked me to look for two rocks. I helplessly did as told. When he seemed satisfied with the ones that were the most abrasive, he asked me to kneel on them. I couldn’t comprehend the reason for such a harsh punishment. It wasn’t just painful and demeaning but totally uncalled for. I don’t remember how long I knelt that way, but it was long enough to get my knees scraped.
What could have possibly inspired such cruelty? Was it my sluggish docility, my inability to assert my position, or just the thought that he could get away with it? Maybe he had a bad day and he directed his angst at me. The reason why some people deliberate a harsh action is not always clear. I wondered how he would have reacted if it was his daughter in place of me. Would it incite the same reaction?
I avoided possible one on one interactions with him for weeks but gradually decided to shrug it off. I loved the school grounds, it wasn’t possible for me to stay away for too long. Two years later, I asked him if I could be part of the marching scouts for sports day. Our principal, the Mother Superior was there too with her select entourage inspecting the preparations for the sport’s day events. He looked me over and said, “You are too short, but let’s see if you can march”. He asked me to march across a marked podium. I inhaled deeply, put up my best soldier straight face, puffed up my chest and strutted as stiffly as possible. He looked grim when I stopped right in front of him, and strangely the Mother Superior glared. That’s it I thought, it must mean a ‘No’. The principal’s sudden verbal onslaught caught me off guard. She was of course the most menacing and feared person in the entire school, churning nightmares not only for the students but for their parents as well, but I did not expect a dressing down at that precise moment. She had been inspecting that podium and felt my impromptu march-past was a mocking display and hence abominable in all respects. After a few unceremonious strikes of her cane on my scrawny limbs, P.T Sir finally gathered enough courage to tell her that he had sanctioned that little march-past. She stopped then and P.T Sir quietly asked me to go back to class.
Yes, as a kid I was exceptionally gifted. Some special extra sensory perception always landed me in the wrong place at the wrong time. So, I slinked back; it didn’t seem like a good idea to hang around and ask if I had been selected after all.
He had failed me again. In this instance his lack of courage had crippled his ability to take responsibility, and I as usual was the gawky scapegoat. He wasn’t all that intimidating anymore, he couldn’t even own up to something so small.
The principal’s caning did not affect me much, we got used to it over the school years and couldn’t dream of expecting any better from her. Seriously, she was like some vicious mythical creature who in her good old pages of folklore delightfully dunked schoolgirls in her cereal bowl. A single dirty look from her could outshine medusa’s fabled death stare any day. She actually steeped her cane in scalding hot water every morning for the sheer pleasure of watching the welts on our legs bloom in rosy gloom, unless you want to believe she did it for sterilisation purposes.
Exposure to abuse sometimes inspires you to do just the opposite. P.T Sir, my school principal and some of the other teachers who used the rod religiously and probably thought it was the only way to tow children in line, inspired me to a great extent to become a teacher. One of the biggest reasons for my choice of profession was the belief that lessons in the classroom or outside can definitely be taught with more compassion. I do not teach at present, it’s a long drawn out being mommy kind of break. Handling my own kids is a completely different ball game and I do have to constantly remind myself to stay calm and learn new ways to discipline without falling into the aggressive parent trap.
The thing I have learnt is unlike metal, children cannot be moulded with a good beating. It takes conscious effort, empathy and good management skills. The rod and its merciless application aren’t necessarily the yardsticks that measure an instructor’s efficiency as a disciplinarian. It merely points to their failure to manage and command effectively.
I am no longer that docile, timid schoolgirl, and there is nothing passive in my demeanour now. I am extremely assertive and know how to stand my ground. The physical punishments during those memorable school-years failed to deliver any lasting damage to my personality. In fact school days were always ripe with little exciting adventures and countless essential lessons, and not all of them were delivered in the classroom or through the curriculum. Fortunately, I hold no grudges against my instructors or even my gorgon inspired principal. But when an instructor chooses to abuse a child either verbally or physically, it is absolutely not acceptable. And the emotional scars that kind of abuse leaves some students with will probably take a lifetime to heal.
I have no idea what turn P.T Sir’s life took, but wherever he is, I would just like to wish him better luck in handling potential clumsy tryouts, especially if he doesn’t want some hothead to swear V for Vendetta and instigate target practice on him.
Corporal punishment is still meted out in many schools across the world and accepted just as casually as another regular school related inconvenience.
If you have some related incident to share or any thoughts you might have on this post are welcome.