Half a century ago, as a boy of 11, I was studying in Class 5 of our village primary school in Kerala. It was managed by one of our neighbours and classes up to fifth standard were held. English was not taught at the primary level. Malayalam, the local language, mathematics, general science and
social studies were the subjects one had to encounter.
Crafts and drawing were taught occasionally, depending upon the availability of a teacher.
Our school was situated in a busy area. We had classes from 10am to 4pm with an hour-long lunch break from 1pm to 2pm. The school, being the only one in our area, ran to capacity.
In those days, there was only one wall clock in our school. It was hung prominently in the school office. The morning and evening bells, which were rung for a longer duration, announced the opening and closure of the school. It was the duty of the lone peon to mark the time and ring the bell. But whenever he was on leave, and was often the case, our drawing master would direct one of his students to go to the office room and ring the bell. He had a wristwatch, a good old Rolex, which gave him the advantage.
Apart from being a student of his, I was known to him personally. As such, I had many opportunities of being asked to do the 'honourable' job. There was, in fact, competition among the students to undertake this task. It made us feel important and added to our popularity.
One day, the drawing master gave us an assignment to complete in the class. When I was through, it was quarter past twelve. I was awaiting my turn to show my art file. Seeing me sitting idle, he beckoned me to show the file by raising his forefinger. Suddenly, the student sitting in front of me bolted out of the classroom.
We were wondering where he had run off in such a hurry. Within seconds, we had heard the bell, announcing the closure of the morning session. It was then that we realised that he might have mistaken the master's gesture as that of being asked to ring the bell. Since none of us would want to miss such an opportunity, he would have rushed to the office to ring the bell with all his might.
Thanks to him, we had an extended lunch break that day.
The afternoon session started as usual. The errant student was duly punished for his folly. In those days, corporal punishment was not banned in schools. Caning was usual and whoever had undergone the punishment would think twice, sometimes thrice, before indulging in any mischief. In spite of this, there was seldom anyone in class who had not been caned.