Of Pride and Punishment

A matter of national pride

Daily pledge to India, a proud country

Daily pledge to India, a proud country

India is a proud country and pride is instilled from a young age, as in many countries…  Each and every day, children affirm their allegiance to their country and promise to treat their elders, teachers and parents with respect.  And as this pledge is declared in English, a language not their own, I assume that certainly the younger children have managed to adeptly memorise the content without actually understanding a word of it…  Needless to say that respect for teachers is indeed achieved in school, but only with the help of the ubiquitous cane…

And at the end of the day, all comes to a halt when everyone, including visitors and me, stand bold upright to sing the National Anthem.   To be entirely accurate, I just limit my participation to standing motionless, as I have not yet managed to learn any Indian languages with sufficient fluency to sing a song.  At the moment my limited repertoire of Malayalam vocabulary focuses on the priorities of life: food, so I can buy a banana, milk, water, eggs, cumin seeds and asafoetida. Not exactly words that will feature in any National Anthem…   But at least everyone here knows the lyrics to their National Anthem.  Recently when someone asked me to sing the British National Anthem, I got promptly stuck after ‘God save our gracious Queen…’ .  Having living in England for over thirty years and feeling more British than Belgian, I can hardly blame my non-native credentials for this lack of patriotism.  But then again, how many British people know the words to their National Anthem anyway?  I just Googled it, it has 5 different verses!!!  I thought it only consisted of 5 lines…

A touch of magic.

Photograph taken with permission - Taming the waiting children on Sport's Day

Photograph taken with permission – Taming the waiting children on Sport’s Day

I am not advocating the return of the cane, but there is something really powerful in the swish of this magic stick in the Indian classroom.  I do not have one, but most teachers go to the classrooms armed with this prop.  And when I innocently, and with some curiosity for its touch in my hand, picked it up in a classroom a while ago,  it felt like a Harry Potter moment.  Just with the swoosh of my wand, a bubbly, chattering and noisy class transformed into graveyard silence where the mere whisper of the wind would sound a gale: Magic!!!!!  Well maybe the poor kids thought I might use it and they have not yet learnt that in England the cane is a relic belonging to the past.  However I was rather surprised at the reason teachers gave for taking the cane into the classroom. ‘It is for my protection’, one of them argued, although she was struggling to pinpoint the exact dangers she would be facing if she were to enter the lion’s den without her weapon…  But a healthy (or unhealthy) respect for the rod means that children are more likely to show their better behaviour in the classroom and school. Even big groups of bored children can be kept sitting in silence for hours on end when adults deem to have more important things to occupy themselves with than providing education for their charges…

A case of double standards

I never speak in Malayalam in the school campus... Mmm. One rule for the children and another for the teachers!

I never speak in Malayalam in the school campus… Mmm. One rule for the children and another for the teachers!

The school, like many in the developing world, is ambitious for its students and finds much merit in teaching them English as their language of communication.  Although India’s national language is Hindi, most people revert to English when they do not share the same first language and English has become the main language of education, especially in higher education and at degree level.  To promote the children’s and teachers ‘ fluency and proficiency, the school has implemented a rule that only English should be spoken on the school premises.  And hopefully correct grammar will materialise incidentally….  Easier said than done as everyone has a native language in common and tends to use it at every possible opportunity, including the teachers… So I was a little bemused to come across some notebooks from children who clearly had broken the rules and were made to write many pages of ‘I never speak in Malayalam in the school campus’.  A case of double standards indeed, as teachers are constantly jabbering away in their native tongue including during their ‘English lessons’ with me. Maybe I should get the teachers themselves to write pages and pages of ‘I must never speak Malayalam in the school campus’…  Although the cane is not a form of punishment I am comfortable with, writing lines certainly is…

2 thoughts on “Of Pride and Punishment

    1. lievelee Post author

      Someone would probably pull out a knife or a gun… I must admit that on the whole the children here are very well behaved; fear of the cane certainly works and luckily gun culture has not yet arrived in the schools.



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