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caning as a punishment in schools was a common practice in those days and it is still practice in some countries.................

Submitted: May 13, 2016

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Submitted: May 13, 2016



Caning-- Short story written by Siva

It was Friday and I was not prepared fully to rehearse the oratorical speech for the contest on Monday. I needed more time to memorize Abraham Lincoln’s Gettysburg address, one hundred years ago, in November 1863.

The contest was among thirteen year olds in the district schools. The pressure was on all of us from public schools. As usual, we had to compete against students from Catholic private schools. It was well known that Catholic school English standard was high.

My English teacher had never been upset and angry like this before. His reputation was at stake.

 “You must be ready for the rehearsal on Monday morning”.  “I am depending on you for the school team to win the contest”. He gave me the ultimatum, when I asked him more time.

Four score and seven years ago our fathers brought forth on this continent, a new nation, conceived in Liberty, and dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal……….”.

I kept repeating those first lines aloud, walking around my room, trying to memorize everything. I did not go out to play cricket that weekend.

I still had not memorized the speech entirely by Monday morning.

I wish I could read the speech from the paper!  What was the English teacher thinking?  “Am I President Lincoln?”

After all English was not my mother tongue! 

I didn’t even know what a ‘score’ was in that first sentence!  “A score is is 20 years, it’s in the bible Psalms 90:10”, she said. She knew everything in the bible. Of course, she attended Catholic Mission School. 

Why couldn’t the English teacher explain the speech and give us some history behind Lincoln’s address in November 1863, instead of making me memorize it like a parrot?

Mom knew something was wrong from my reluctant and slow walk to school, on Monday morning!

 “Are you alright? “You look sick!”  She asked me with a worried look in her face.

I did not respond. I just walked out, saying “bye Mom”.

“Are you ready?” the English teacher asked me as soon as he entered the classroom.

“I am not yet ready sir”.

“Everyone is ready, except you”, he shouted at me and asked me to go and see the principal at once.

The principal had a Masters’ degree in English and he considered it a personal insult that students in his school were lacking in English language. His name board on his desk showed M.A (Cantab.) behind his name. Little did I knew he was educated at Cambridge, England, and ‘Cantab.’ meant Cambridge.

On one hand I felt that something terrible was going to happen. On the other, I thought, I was a “grade A” student and I

 may be excused by the principal.

I entered the principal’s office and noticed three Canes in the corner of his office. Caning was a common form of judicial punishment and official school discipline, in almost all schools at that time.

I started to panic and remembered the first half of the next paragraph of my speech!

“Now we are engaged in a great civil war, testing whether that nation or any nation so conceived and so dedicated, can long endure. We are met on a great battle-field of that war…….”.

The principal was ready for a war! I was the unarmed enemy!

He walked to the corner and took one of the canes and asked me whether I have any reason for not memorizing the speech.

“I could not finish it sir”, I said.

I saw disappointment in his eyes. He raised the cane. It came hard on my lower legs thrice.

I was in severe pain and tears started to roll from my eyes. “Go back to your class, I want you to finish it by Wednesday” he ordered. The pain was such that I was not in a frame of mind to rejoice over the two days of extension I received.

That was the first time I was called to the Principal’s office and punished in that cruel manner.

How could a school principal not understand that caning as a standard punishment for even a minor offence deprived any sense of indignity from the recipient of the punishment?

My legs started to swell and there were three blisters. I started to bleed and felt feverish!

I left school in severe pain. My mother was damn wild seeing the wounds. She took me to a doctor next morning.

My father said “I will report the principal to the Director of education”.

I felt as if I pained my parents.

My absence made everyone wonder why I was not in class next day.

My brother was called to the principal’s office to provide the reason for my absence. The principal began to panic when my brother told him that I went to see a Doctor and that I was in pain all night.

For the next few days my parents didn’t allow me to go to school.

I was there at school on Friday morning, ready for the speech. Everyone was surprised to see me. I was the last contestant. I started my speech. There was pin drop silence! The English teacher was wondering how this kid could perform without much preparation or a rehearsal.  

‘Four score and seven years ago our fathers brought forth on this continent, a new nation, conceived in Liberty, and dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal.

 Now we are engaged in a great civil war, testing whether that nation, or any nation so conceived and so dedicated, can long endure. We are met on a great battle-field of that war. We have come to dedicate a portion of that field, as a final resting place for those who here gave their lives that that nation might live. It is altogether fitting and proper that we should do this.

But, in a larger sense, we can not dedicate -- we can not consecrate -- we can not hallow -- this ground. The brave men, living and dead, who struggled here, have consecrated it, far above our poor power to add or detract. The world will little note, nor long remember what we say here, but it can never forget what they did here. It is for us the living, rather, to be dedicated here to the unfinished work which they who fought here have thus far so nobly advanced. It is rather for us to be here dedicated to the great task remaining before us -- that from these honored dead we take increased devotion to that cause for which they gave the last full measure of devotion -- that we here highly resolve that these dead shall not have died in vain -- that this nation, under God, shall have a new birth of freedom -- and that government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth’.

I didn’t know what got into me. I finished my speech perfectly without a rehearsal and there was a big applause! I looked at the principal!. His prestige was restored. He was proud and standing up and clapping. My English teacher was there to shake my hands.

Did the principal think his caning worked?

What he did not know was that I did not want to let down my parents!

The school won the contest. I received a cup for best performance. I ran home with the cup to share it with my Mom, who had spent the last few days explaining everything about President Lincoln’s Gettysburg, August, 1863 address. She patiently sat next to my bed and explained the American civil war, the history the background and every word that Lincoln said in his address.

No scolding, no smacking, no beating or caning! My mother achieved what the principal’s Cambridge education did not!

My father withdrew his complaint against the principal. 

A short story by Siva

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