"Right or Wrong?"
Post on: July 24, 2020
The year was 1981; I was a primary six student in a neighbourhood school. Lessons were over and my chum, *Simon and I were strolling casually towards the canteen. Just then, we noticed three schoolmates kicking a football at the indoor assembly hall.
Being avid footballers, we couldn’t stop watching them pass the ball with fanciful leg juggling and intricate footwork. Though tempted to join them, I was held back because the hall was not an appropriate place for such showboating. Simon could not resist the allure; he joined the boys in their showiness.
“Stop Simon!” I shouted, “you know Mr *Lee’s rules concerning playing in the hall? Let’s proceed to the field for a proper game.”
“The weather is scorching hot; let’s do it indoors—anyway, I saw Mr Lee leaving in his car. And aren’t you aware that the forbidden fruit tastes the sweetest?” Simon countered.
Mr Lee, our headmaster was a strict disciplinarian. He was a short man of stock built. His demeanour was nothing but sternness. He was a firm believer in the adage, “Spare the rod and spoilt the child,” and clung on to it with an iron fist. The mere sight of him would send shivers down our spine.
I did not feel it was the right thing to do. So, I relegated to a corner and took out my assessment book to complete the homework for the day. Simon and the three boys were juggling the ball and soon the noise had reached to a profound level. They were teasing each other animatedly in a boisterous banter.
Suddenly, an image stood amongst the boys. It was Mr Lee! He had somehow walked towards them stealthily and blended so seamlessly. Being a short man, his presence was inconspicuous and hence the boys failed to notice his arrival. When they finally sighted him, the boys were stunned and speechless.
“All four boys, proceed to the principal’s office,” Mr Lee thundered. After walking a flight of steps which seemed endless, they reached the battleground. They were told to write down their names and class on a piece of paper. I witnessed the whole incident strategically, hiding behind a pillar — near enough to witness the spectacle and yet well-concealed from their gaze.
From my hiding place, I saw Mr Lee whispering something into each boy’s ear. This was followed by the caning. He did it with all four. Surprisingly, he meted out two strokes of the cane to each of them except for Simon. Simon was given four strokes!
The boys were finally let off after another rebuke. When Simon noticed me, he gave a steady gait and snapped his fingers coolly like Fonzie from the “Happy Days” sitcom (In the ’80s, we deemed Fonzie as the coolest guy on earth).
I was impressed by Simon’s cockiness and having a “devil may care attitude”. And now it was the time for the million-dollar question. I excitedly asked Simon what the principal uttered to him and why he was given four strokes while the rest only two.
“Well the buffoon asked us if we felt what we did was wrong,” Simon postulated, “everyone agreed while I did not; hence, I got double punishment.”
“How can it be wrong when there was no clear and unambiguous sign stating soccer was out of bounds? We use this “sacred ground” during our physical education lessons. Why is it Ok when they sanctioned it and not Ok when we do it on our own? Furthermore, such minor effrontery does not warrant a caning! A mere warning or a slap on the wrist would suffice,” he vociferated like a trained barrister.
Looking back, I suppose the principal meted out the number of strokes based on whether the offender was remorseful or if he was a perpetual wrongdoer. But Simon beg to differ – he lived by his precepts no matter how harsh the situation was. When tragedy strikes, he always comes back stronger. He is someone who stands up for his beliefs.
It has been more than 40 years since I last met Simon – we had lost touch after primary school. I wonder how he is doing now – could he be a lawyer, a human-rights activist or even someone who ended up at the wrong side of the law? I hope he’s chosen a vocation which befits his principled and colourful personality.
#RightOrWrong #JollyGoodTimes #ShajiThomasVarughese
*Names have been changed to protect the identity of the person.