It was the beginning of a week in 1970 at Ajodhya high School Balasore, Orissa, India. I was studying in class 10. For many years till then there used to be a short period of prayer followed by reading of a few lines from the Gita before the classes started. In a significant departure from the usual routine, the venue of the prayer class had been changed recently from the school verandah to the Science Hall, the only hall in the school. All these changes were taking place at the behest of the school Headmaster, Mr. Prusty. It was his idea also to read aloud some selected lines from the autobiography of Mahatma Gandhi on some days in addition to the lines from Bhagabad Gita. It fell to the lot of Hindi and Sanskrit teacher Shri Brajabandhu Pani to read those lines from the Gita and “My experiment with truth” as Gandhiji’s autobiography was in Hindi, a translation from the original Gujrati.
That day all things proceeded as usual; first the prayer, then readings from the Gita and Gandhiji’s autobiography at the last. But just as we were about to disperse and return to our respective classes the Headmaster’s stentorian voice rang out loud and clear in our ears. He called out the name of Niranjan, a boy of my class, and ordered him to come to the dais. Niranjan came unto the dais where the Headmaster was standing to a side along with all the teachers behind a large table on which scientific experiments were usually demonstrated. The Headmaster, Mr. Prusty asked him “Why didn’t you bend your head and say Namaste on Saturday”? Niranjan replied in a most feeble and terrified voice, “Sir, I couldn’t understand your instructions”. Then what followed was something beyond my imagination. Even now as I am writing about that episode my blood is boiling within me in shock, anger and rage. Mr. Prusty beat Niranjan more than 100 times with all his might using both his hands simultaneously. Sometimes there were slaps raining and sometimes there were blows. The beating continued for full 15 minutes in front of the whole congregated students and teachers of the school. During that time the Headmaster’s wristwatch with a steel band unclasped five times of itself due to the force of the blows and slaps. Each time he took a breather for a few seconds to clasp the strap and resumed beating. It seemed the beating would be interminable. One hundred students and seven teachers stood there as dumb and mute spectators. Not a single voice was raised against the most barbaric act. Such was the tyrannical power and authority this headmaster wielded! By the time the beating had ended Mr. Prusty was as exhausted by beating as Niranjan was from being beaten up. I think that the periodically unclasping strap of the wristwatch had saved Niranjan from another fifty blows and slaps. The violence of the beatings was so severe that Niranjan’s shirt was torn into tatters and was loosely hanging from his body.
I knew what had happened. On the Saturday before, after the school had been over, some of us boys from the school hostel were filing past towards the playground situated just outside the school campus to play. I was bringing up the rear of the line and Niranjan was at its head. Just when he was about to cross the gate, two outsiders came inside the school campus accompanied by the Headmaster. As it turned out later, they were the P.E.T(Physical Education Teachers) inspectors. What went on at the front was not as visible and audible from my viewpoint at the rear as the whole incident passed in a second or two. Our line moved on, we never stopped for a second. As I collected and pieced all evidences and fragments together after the beating, it emerged that Mr. Prusty had signaled by some gesture to Niranjan to bend his head and say Namaste to those PET inspectors which Niranjan failed to do. Had Niranjan bowed his head and said Namaste to those strangers then the next boy would have also taken the cue and all the boys down the line would have bowed their heads and said Namaste. That would have pleased the Headmaster. According to Niranjan he couldn’t correctly interpret Mr. Prusty’s sign language. He thought the Headmaster was gesturing to bow down to himself which Niranjan found preposterous as during the course of the day he had already done that much earlier. But the Headmaster took that as willful disobedience and insubordination.
Whatever that may be, during and after that beating my attitude to Mr. Prusty changed into disgust and hatred. Since then 42 years have passed. But the scene is as fresh in my memory as ever. I was a very shy boy then and Mr. Prusty was a tyrant. I have shed a lot of my shyness as I grew up. With my present mental makeup, if I had witnessed that event, I would surely have reported the matter to NIranjan’s parents and probably would have gone with them to the police. I would have written petitions to the higher authorities. But as I was then I could do nothing. NIranjan’s tattered shirt and bruised body have haunted me since then in so many of my dreams. I promised that day I would never be a teacher like the Headmaster. Subsequently I became a lecturer in Mitrapur College, Balasore and BITS, Pilani, Rajasthan. I have never hurt any student in any way. I condemn corporal punishment and of the view that it should be banned from all schools. Only the perverts and cowards terrorize students and wards in their charges. Wise do things differently.
So much punishment, beating and humiliation before the whole school for just failing to say Namaste to two total strangers! It just doesn’t make any sense. This incident of beating was also not an unusual or exceptional behavior from the Headmaster. For the sake of brevity only I am confining this article to this single incident; but I can write a whole book on the barbaric and inhuman treatment of the students, especially the boys, in the hands of this tyrant. Sadly, there were many parents who encouraged the teachers not to be sparing with their rods while dealing with their children or wards. The most dangerous and complicated thing was that the Headmaster did have some sterling qualities. He was the most energetic, dynamic, and knowledgeable and the most widely read among all the teachers of the school. That was his trump card. By flaunting his knowledge and eloquence he wielded such power over students that fell just short of awarding death sentence and could silence all the signs of revolts from the students and some guardians with an iron hand for more than a decade. He just lacked compassion which is also called as wisdom in action. In all else he shared much commonality with many tyrants in history; many brilliant qualities and capabilities combined with much cruelties and a false sense of honor and prestige.

Sometimes I wonder why such senseless events occur. Why such otherwise brilliant and dynamic persons turn into tyrants? The best possible answer that comes to my mind is that perhaps Life was making Mr. Prusty play the role of a tyrant, that hideous monster lurking within all of us, and letting us see how ugly, inhuman and macabre we all could be if we became unaware of the monster lodged deeply in our unconscious. The tyrant in us could be found in action in schools, in homes, in offices, in playgrounds, in business, in all places, in all relationships and in all roles. The tyrant like a rapist only seeks an opportunity and a suitable environment to manifest itself. The weak, the children, the old, the unprotected and the vulnerable are the ones whom the tyrant pounces upon as its preys because they can’t retaliate. In truth every tyrant is a coward, it can’t face up to its equals. It too is insidious, manipulative and capable of disguising itself in honorable robes. Therefore none of us is secure against it. Mr. Prusty that day by his actions gave free play to it and brought out the tyrant in us from the darkness of our unconscious to the light of the consciousness so that we all could take heed and bring all our actions and motivations under the microscope of alert awareness. Gandhiji said that a man can be known by the way he treats his servants; by the way he addresses the waiters in a hotel. Only in conscious and deliberate actions lies our freedom and Nirvana. As the Buddha said, “Ignorance is the cause of all our miseries and bondages. Only wisdom frees”.

Do you know any tyrant or bully ? How did you like his/her bullying? Would you like to share ?

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