Well its Good Friday today and my mind wanders to an incident that happened many years ago.
I recently asked someone who calls me “Shome Uncle” what subjects are taught in his class. He had just entered class 2 and I wanted to know what is being taught to today’s generation of super smart, socially adept, shining products of “Modern Parenting” kids. Partly, to reassure my self that everything has not changed in the world, and partly because I wanted to hear his cute lisp again.
He lisped out the usual suspects, but what struck me was the glaring omission of my most dreaded subject… the one that gave me nightmares and the only subject that I ended up flunking in primary school – Moral Science.
Now let me clarify before you plant a smug smile on your face, shake your head and brand me immoral. I did not flunk because the school authorities thought that I am the anti-Christ.
I flunked because I was innocent and brutally honest.
“Nooooo!” you say? ..... “Ya right!” you snigger?
Well then, I shall share the story in its full glory, and the truth shall then pierce through the prejudiced thoughts that cloud your mind, giving blinding clarity on what really happened.
This was the year 1982. I had just joined St Lawrence High School, Kolkata.
I had just moved from Delhi and the whole Jesuist feel of St Lawrence was very exciting and new. There were ‘Brothers’ and ‘Fathers’ and discourses on Jesus. Every class had the cross and much before the age of computers the word ‘Save’ was part of our everyday talk, because we would write and recite ‘Jesus Saves’ many times a day.
I think it was a Wednesday, most likely 6th of April, when my run in with Moral Science happened. I was only a few months old into the school and was still getting to know about all the good things Jesus did. I still did not get it that he was God’s Son and all that.. My mind was pretty saturated with the stories of Shiva-Vishnu Kali-Durga thanks to Amar Chitra Katha. The concept of different religions and different ‘gods’ was just not there.
So needless to say, my knowledge or understanding of all things good and Christian was abysmally low. Quite unlike my classmates who were well into it.
It was in a time like this that I ran into this thing called Good Friday. I was elated. There was no doubt that Good Friday was indeed Gooooddd!! For one, unlike the other holidays in India, this would always, by design and definition, fall on a Friday. Not like the fickle birthdays of our fickle politicians which could fall on a Sunday and ruin your happiness. Or even like our festivals which would every now and then fall on the weekend and really rob your soul of the festivities.
Good Friday, has no such problem. It was a guaranteed long weekend. No catch, no disclaimers, no ‘conditions apply’. I was impressed. And I think I started using the phrase “Jesus” to express shock, surprise, happiness and other such emotions soon after.
Well, so Good Friday was coming up. And the Rector asked us to speak on Good Friday. I was not very sure what Good Friday was so I sat quietly.
A friend stood up and started speaking. What he spoke of the day did not sound good at all. There were guards, and arrests, and betrayal and the nailing of a human body on a cross! Nailing! On a Cross! My mind was in terrible turmoil.
I soon decided that my friend was making up stuff and this was all untrue. I remember sniggering and whispering to my bench-mate the Class 2 equivalent of “He is so screwed”.
That whisper kind of put my demise in motion. ‘Brother’ Almeida saw it. He did not like it at all. We were not allowed to whisper during Moral Science class (or any class for that matter). He stopped the discourse from my friend, and asked me to stand up.
I was a bit surprised why he chose me. “Must be the new boy thing” I thought. I smiled and stood up. I am a smiley kind you know.
That seemed to upset him even more. With a scowl and a grunt he said, “Shambhuaba (He used to call me Shambhuaba, he could never get my name. Not for the next 6 years that I was there), you tell the class why Good Friday is important.”
Being clueless brings about a strange sense of arrogant confidence. With no fear in my heart I replied confidently “Good Friday is important because it is a Friday. And it’s a holiday. Holiday is important. Hence it is Good.”
What followed was my first experience of a caning. And me flunking the Moral Science Class Test (the discourse I later realized is part of a 10 mark test).
In the evening when I shared my bruised derrière and the flunk report with my mother, pandemonium ensued. My comics were taken away, I was told that I would never be allowed to play in the evenings. Ever again! And I was made to read about Jesus and his miracles from that wretched text book till my head was hurting.
What really undid me the most however, was listening to my sister whispering “You know, that play you were in for your school in Delhi? You were King Herod! The king who killed Jesus (sic). Your Brother Almeida knows that because Jesus came and told him. That’s why you got caned. And you will be caned everyday till Christmas. After that Jesus will forgive you”.
To say that I was petrified was an understatement. While my sister happily cackled away to sleep, I was wide awake chanting Jesus Saves the whole night. I was certain that I would be caned for many months now. And it was on that night, that I resolved to solve the problem with a plan which at that time, seemed like a pretty good idea.
The fact that executing the plan ended in me wetting my pants is another story.