I remember this incident so vividly just as though it happened yesterday. I was in the 2nd Grade and I was as most kids that age are, precocious and earnest to please. I was in a co-education institution where boys and girls studied together and fought with each other just as much as kids that age should and I was a happy child until that dreadful day. I remember going to school just as any other day, wondering what my mom would’ve packed for lunch (what else do 7yr olds think about?!) I remember my classroom to be right next to the staircase, on the first floor; a proud moment for a 7yr old to be on the same floor as the older kids. We wore the same ugly uniforms all kids did that age, a grey pinafore with a white shirt which would turn blue half way through the term thanks to my mom’s obsession with Ujala and navy blue nylon socks with black Bata ballerina shoes which would rip by the end of the term thanks to my ever growing feet.
It was Mathematics Class when Mrs. Julie was teaching us addition or subtraction (very foggy there) and were given sums to work out and at that point of time, there was always a race to finish first and as I was always trying to compete with the boys, it had to be me, standing first in line to get it corrected. But, as luck would have it, as I was rechecking my answers; found one of my answers to be wrong and erased it and scribbled down the right answer. Better be late and right than early and wrong I figured. You have to understand that I was a 7yr old who used really bad stationery and when using an eraser, didn’t realize how important it was to erase entirely what was written below. I had a horrible habit of writing, pressing my pencil onto the page, making sure that 20 pages later, you could still see traces of the impression those characters had made. I would later change the way a lot of things worked but that’s for another story.
So, there I was standing in line to get my sums corrected with the right answers to all of them (so I thought) and as every child in front of me either got pinched or hit on the arm for getting one wrong or being careless; I patiently waited my turn probably wondering how she would smile and write good at the end of it for getting it all right. At last, it was my turn and as she corrected all my answers, she marked one wrong and without a word or a pinch or a beating, I walked back to my seat. I assumed that maybe I had got one wrong and forgot all about it as most 7yr olds would’ve done, getting busy with chatting with the kids in the bench behind me. One of the other smart kids who was sitting right next to me, looked into my book and for some reason checked my answers (which 7yr old does that Johnathan James!?) and mentioned that one of my answers was right, insisting that I go and get it corrected by the teacher.
Being the diligent, so called intelligent pupil that I was, there I went back to the teacher’s table to get my sum corrected again. She looked at the answer where the previous answer seemed to have been erased and circled it accusing me of changing it after I had gone back to my place. I wish I had the brains to perform such a stealthy act, what being the cunning 7yr old that I was. I told her the truth of what happened, that I had changed the answer prior to her correcting it the first time and that I would never dream of doing such a stealthy act. Most teachers don’t like to admit that they’re wrong in front of their pupils and she was no different. She refused to admit that there could’ve been an error In her judgement while she was correcting it the first time and her guilt made her angry I suppose and she was hell-bent on making me tell her that I had cheated. I’m presuming that she thought that ‘To spare the rod is to spoil the child’ and therefore I was made to stand there in front of the entire class as she took out a wooden scale and kept me whacking me with it. I would like to mention here that I was a good pupil and this was the first time something this dreadful was happening to me. I remember the tears rolling down my face as I kept telling her that I didn’t cheat but she wouldn’t believe me and she kept on whacking me. I have some recollection of the pain and maybe that’s what makes me cringe and close my eyes as I watch students getting hit and caned, ever since that day to date.
I remember thinking to myself, how embarrassing it was to be punished like that in front of the rest of the class and my fear was that my elder brother who was in the same block would walk by and watch me be humiliated this way. She just kept on hitting as I kept repeating that I didn’t change the answer and finally when she knew that I wouldn’t budge, told me that if I didn’t tell her the truth she would take me to the principal. I don’t know what the fear of the principal is to all students of all ages and yes, she touched a nerve. I was scared now, more scared than I had ever been before and I thought of the humiliation of my parents coming to school with their disappointment of a 7yr old and most importantly his cane which I had once watched being used on a senior. The sound that cane made as it touched the flesh and the child whelped in pain was reason enough for me to tell the teacher what she wanted to hear. I told her that I had cheated and she hit me once more for lying about it all this while and sent me back to my place.
That is my first recollection of lying and I remember praying to God that night, asking Him to forgive me for lying as it was against the 10 commandments. I was a very religious 7yr old and it was no fun having to live with that image in front of the entire class. My mom removed me to a different school after a year or so and as all kids do, I forgot about it until very recently when I had gone to meditate. I come from a family of teachers as I have mentioned time and time again and I’m proud to say that they don’t resort to violence to teach their children lessons in life. I remembered this incident and it actually made me laugh that at 25, it still bugged me. When they say that people carry emotional baggage, they’re not kidding. I realized that I had to forgive her for mistakenly scarring my life in a way that I would never be able to explain. I’m hoping that I was the only one who she emotionally hurt this way because I can clearly remember her hurting a lot of other children physically. Teachers never understand how their acts can influence a child’s mind and future actions and it’s a shame that such teachers are made to teach in such prestigious institutions. It’s funny that I remembered this incident now after nearly 18 years but I did and if I didn’t, I wouldn’t be able to make this entry.
“A teacher affects eternity; he can never tell where his influence stops.” Henry Brooks Adams