Like any proud father, I like to boast of my child’s achievements. Unfortunately I must also confess that my parents had very few opportunities to feel proud of their son.
However touchwood, my daughter Yaamini or Ammu as we call her, who has just turned eight has indeed given me enough moments of joy and pride, that validate and vindicate our decision to bring her into this world.
Latest one have been her successes at Spelling Bee competitions at school, district and state levels. Though she never won any of these rounds, she did well enough to make the cut at every stage for the nationals, all without any preparation.
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In 1979, my family moved to Kochi, when my father was posted at the Government Hospital, Ernakulam. Till that time all his postings were at rural places mostly in Trichur district. I was almost 7, when we moved to Ernakulam or as it’s known better to rest of the world — Kochi.
Between 1977 and 1979 my mother, sister and I shuttled between my mother’s parents home and my paternal grandfather’s home, as my father decided it was time he specialized in something and was away for his post graduation.
My paternal grand father was bit of an aristocrat, and my sister and I were home tutored. So we never went to a nursery, kindergarten or a pre-school. I was enrolled into a nearby government school in my grandfather’s village. And it was a big deal at that time because it was the same school where my father, and aunt( my father’s sister) studied. Also it was the alma mater of a number of other relatives. So when the next generation also joined the school, there were automatic spurts of nostalgia among everyone, and just about everyone had a story to tell me.
However, I don’t remember going to that school much. I already knew everything which was being taught because the two years of home tutoring we had essentially covered the first standard text books. I was naturally bored, and the class teacher who also happened to be our neighbor graciously allowed my mother to take me whenever she chose to, to her home.
The school was a Malayalam medium school, and we never had any exposure at that time of the English language.
So when we moved to a large city, again my parents chose to enroll us in the nearest government school, and I joined mid-way in second standard, while my sister started off her first standard there. My parents at least at that time never really cared, both of them were educated in a Malayalam medium school, and back in late seventies education was still not commercialized. My father was quite proud of his roots, and was of the opinion that talent and hard work are more important than the school.
However over the next couple of years, he figured that only his children were in Malayalam medium, while all his peers had enrolled their children in English Medium. So in my fourth standard I switched to English Medium, after two months of preparation by a home tutor during the summer holidays that preceded the new academic year.
Once I completed my fourth standard as one of the outstanding students of the class, everyone pressurized my parents to enroll me into a better school.The school of choice was Rajagiri High School, which at that time was a boys school run by missionaries of Carmelites of Mary Immaculate(CMI).
It was also one of the most prestigious schools of the district and getting admission was tough, and involved an entrance examination.
This was the first competitive examination in my life, I had barely learned to read and write English, and was under prepared. Naturally I did very poorly and did not qualify. If I remember right I scored 7 and 9 in the two tests. My father had to then cough up Rs 5000, a princely amount those days to get me an admission.
So when I joined the new school, I was filled with a number of inferiority complexes. I could not speak a sentence in English, and the school had a rule that students to speak in English inside the campus unless it was the Hindi or Malayalam classes. Many in my class knew how to speak the language fluently, and quite a few of them spoke without the typical Mallu accent. I was convinced I did not belong there, because I had scored very poorly in the exams, and my father had to commit the grievous sin of paying monies to get me through.
I also met many kids who came from the wealthiest families of the city. I always thought we were very poor, because that’s what my mother wanted us to believe.
Our teachers were very strict. School management believed that corporal punishment was the only way to discipline a bunch of unruly boys. Teachers used to beat the kids with canes on just about any part of the body. The school staff room had an assortment of canes of different sizes, and even thick rulers which were weapons of choice of assault for the teachers.
Each teacher had a peculiar manner of punishment. The styles of caning and the rhythm in which they caned, were often mimicked in the classes. Serious mischief would lead to more serious punishments. This included making the student kneel in the hot sand pit used for long jump and high jump in the large play ground for an hour or even more. I have seen many students walking back sun burnt with blisters on their knees.
My English teacher during the first year (fifth standard) was an old gentleman named MM Mathew. He was well into his sixties and was due for retirement. His minor punishment was to pinch the children on their ears till it became red or the child cried. When he was really angry, he used to take the compass from the pencil box usually used to draw circles and arcs, and squeeze the tender ear lob of the child between his thumb, the pointed tip of the compass and his forefinger, till it started bleeding.
We used to have regular class tests. So in the second month of my first year at Rajagiri, we were given a test on spellings. And I spelled the world ‘little’ with one missing ‘t’’. And our teacher did the compass act, which created a scar that’s still there on my left ear lobe. Though my parents never reacted to the incident, he was asked to retire at the end of the term when some other parents complained to the school management when their ward’s ear lobe developed an infection scarred by the compass tip.
Spellings were never my forte, and even today without the help of a word processor I cannot write a paragraph without making a mistake.
So it’s indeed a proud moment for me when my daughter has qualified for the nationals of a spelling bee competition. When I was driving along with her for the State finals, I asked her the spelling of the word “little” and she mocked me for asking the spellings of such simple words. All I could do was smile, smile more than a little.