Most American sitcoms about kids growing up have scenes from gym class or PT class as we call it in here in good ol’ Hindustan. The physical education teacher is usually portrayed as a big hulking brute waiting to terrorise the living daylights out of hapless school goers. Well, things weren’t too much better for us kids who passed out of National Public School (NPS) Indiranagar either. An entire generation of us folks who studied at NPS Indiranagar had a PT Ma’am, a big hulking female PT instructor and a mallu at that too ! This school enjoyed the distinguished reputation of having teachers who never (well maybe a few of them did) raised a hand against their students but there was this one teacher whose brutal beatings, whistle cord whippings, pinches from hell and face wetting, ear splitting abuses we used to bear silently without ever telling a soul because quite frankly, we were scared shitless (excuse the term) by the lady (I know I was). PT instructors of all shapes and sizes came and went but Mrs J. was was a permanent fixture in school with a number of batches of students growing up having nightmares night after night about the lady right from KG 1 all the way till graduation day. Her size and shape might have changed over the years but that’s an entirely different issue.
There was this dude who joined KG 1 with us and studied with us for many years before we finally realized that he was PT Ma’am’s son. For years he had kept the fact concealed from us and as we got older (and wiser) he used to resort to telling us that she was his aunt. By the 6 th standard however, we all knew that D .J. was indeed Mrs. J’s son. I personally felt really stupid as the facts were right there for us to see. They shared the same last name and they walked to and from school everyday till he was atleast in the 5th standard. It probably would have been obvious to any outsider but the fact was that we so terrified of her that we just couldn’t fathom the fact she too was capable of procreating and raising a family!
If there were to be an opinion poll on one’s scariest moment in school, an encounter with PT Ma’am would definitely feature pretty high on everybody’s list for there are few sights more intimidating than that of a scorned PT Ma’am staring down at you with her nostrils flared and eyes ablaze, waiting to pounce on you and devour you for lunch as punishment for some heinous crime that you had just committed. I for one, could probably sue her for the long term damage that she’s caused to my head after all the raps on the head I’ve taken for talking during assembly or for my premature arthritis that years of kneeling down has caused.
I can vouch for the fact (from personal experience) that the punishments got lighter both in terms of intensity and number as we reached higher classes. I was down to 10 whippings a year by the 8th standard and a paltry 2 in the 10th standard. It’s a pity I didn’t continue in NPS after the 10th because I’m sure that I could have told my grandchildren stories about how I finally spent a year in NPS without being scarred by my PT teacher. Well I can’t complain that she didn’t give us a fair warning before she pounced on us though. Who could ever forget those words she used to utter with that heavy mallu accent of hers – “ Stope (like hope) marrmarring”.
PT class was always a nightmare. We’d all have to line up and then stretch our arms out as she inspected our nails and canvas shoes. Long nails invited a rapping on the knuckles with the whistle cord and dirty shoes or socks would earn us a couple of lashes around the calves. The class itself usually began with all of us running a couple of rounds around the school ground in a line in the order in which we stood during assembly after which, PT Ma’am would split us into groups for either drill practice or to play different sports (it was boot camp and not school I tell you !). She would screech something like – “From left to right, count in threes” after which she’d go – “No. 1 stay wherever you are, No. 2 three steps, No. 3 five steps”. This was the terrifying part, because if you goofed up (like I invariably did) and landed up a step behind or ahead of where you were supposed to be, you could rest assured that there was going to be a torrent of choice abuses hurled in your direction or a couple of smartly delivered whistle cord lashes or a combination of the above depending on how far away from your stipulated destination it was that you had strayed.
We always used to pray that the next PT class would not be a ‘drill practice’ one for those were probably the most painful classes in the history of all painful PT classes. PT Ma’am was a heavy set woman and it was a sight to behold as she would leap up and down like she was possessed, while demonstrating the steps of the latest drill routine. But, what soon followed made every damn US marine drill sergeant seem like Mother Teresa. A tiny mistake like a fly landing on your nose and making you flail your arms about trying to get rid of the fly and PT Ma’am would be on you in a heartbeat to do her bit to make a believer out of you. The most hilarious part was the way the lady counted. She’d go 1-2-3-4-5-6-7-8 while ascending and while descending, she’d go 8-7-6-5-4-3-1-2. In all these years, I have never been able to figure out why it was 3-1-2 and not 3-2-1 like it was supposed to be.
Hell hath seen no fury like that of a PT Ma’am who’d just sighted some unfortunate, unlucky little kid who’d forgotten to take his fortnightly haircut. I have seen at least a hundred guys in my 12 years at NPS who’ve been paraded around school with a rubber band in their hair as punishment for sporting hair longer than two centimeters. I also distinctly remember how she once demolished a kid during assembly for having bad teeth. I don’t know how or why she noticed the poor little kid’s teeth but I still remember the boy cowering with fear while PT Ma’am lambasted him for a good five minutes right in the middle of assembly for having “the most hoaribble teeth in tha werld”(read with a mallu accent). Then, there was this rule about girls have to wear some ridiculous thingamajig called a bloomer under their skirts and PT Ma’am would actually make them show her their bloomers every once in a while just to make sure that they still wore them. That’s one feather in PT Ma’am’s hat that she was always impartial. She tormented the girls just as much as she did the guys. I still remember some of my female classmates at NPS shudder at the sound of the bell that announced PT class because they would have to play throw ball under the supervision of PT Ma’am. She absolutely detested girls who played the sport badly. Speaking about hats, how could one ever forget the ridiculous hat with the solar fan that she sometimes sported. I remember her wearing it on special occasions for years especially during events like the school annual day.
We would all pray that some teacher would be absent everyday so that we’d have a substitute teacher who’d usually engage the class in some fun activity but the moral of the story here is to be careful what you wish for because PT Ma’am too was given substitution duty at times. The meaning of the words ‘pin drop silence’ couldn’t possibly have been better understood in any way other than by being in attendance of one of the classes for which PT Ma’am was the substitute teacher. People used to be scared witless so much so that they would think twice before even sneezing or coughing during those classes. The safest bet to last with most body parts still intact when the bell rang was to rest your head on the desk and go to sleep for the 40 minutes of the class’s duration.
It would take me years to realize that PT Ma’am did all that she did by design and that she was not a distant relative of Adolf Hitler as we had assumed and that’s also probably the reason why PT Ma’am still has her job after all these years without having been arrested on the charges of brutalizing little kids. She enforced discipline in the way that she knew was most effective – by instilling fear in our tender young hearts so that what she spoke was the law and boy, am I glad that there was someone like that around. She was probably the only reason why the students of NPS refrained from any kind of behaviour or activities (atleast within the premises of the institution) that would bring dishonor to the school. We had all been conditioned like Pavlov’s dog from our childhood to respond to the spine chilling sound of her voice or whistle (or both) ringing out through the darkness whenever even the thought of doing something wrong crossed our minds. Whether or not most people out there would accept it, the fact remains that most people who passed out of NPS are successful today only because of the disciplined way of life that was taught to us in ‘Potty Amma’s’ own effective albeit brutal ways.
The only days that PT Ma’am ever smiled or spared everyone the whip (literally) were on Onam, children’s day and teachers’ day, the other thing about her on these days being that she would be dressed in impeccable traditional Mallu attire. Teacher’s day would be when Ma’am would conduct the assembly herself and show us losers the right way that it ought to be done. Who could ever forget her attempts to get some unlucky bloke with a loud voice whose voice had just begun to crack, to memorise the school assembly commands. “School stand at ease, school attention !!” (again with a thick mallu accent). On Children’s day, she’d actually smile at us herself even if we had long hair or dirty shoes that looked like they were made of mud and not leather.
The school I joined after the 10th had NPS as the center for writing the 'boards'. I hardly expected anybody in school to recognize me after two whole years but PT ma’am did. Not only did she recognize me, but she came over herself after the exams were over and spoke to me at length. She remembered my name, my mom’s name (she’d met her like a decade before that) and all the crap that I had been upto in school. She spoke to me so sweetly that she seemed like a completely different person altogether. The legend was indeed true. She did treat students like human beings and not like some turds after they passed out of school.
I recently got to know that she’s going to be retiring in a short while from now. They ought to make a statue in her honour and put it on a pedestal right on the platform in front of the school building so that the scores of future generations of NPS students would know of the legend that was ‘Potty Amma’. PT Ma’am, you are a legend in your own lifetime. We owe more than we realize to you. PT Ma’am, we’ll remember you forever even if some of us find it hard to admit it. You were and will always be one of my favourite teachers. Ma’am you rock !!