Poems by

The Punishment

a poem by Sreekanthkopuri

Yesterday the day of progress reports
and we two again were declared unfit in the class
being e-graders in the roman catholic mission school
and the termite-eaten bench from tomorrow
in front of the headmistress room will be the place for us
to sit on until our parents come to meet the unpopular martinet.

Every morning appeared before my eyes
with a surge of pain.
A mental darkness haunted.
The finishing of every ablation carried me
near to 10 o’ clock and faster my heart beat
as the punishment hour neared.
I couldn’t have the glass of hot milk and
my favourite breakfast mother prepared.
I trod the thorny way; crossed the dirty canal;
strolled beside the scores of pigs
that wallowed in the slush and unmindful of friends
and everything,
eyes tearful with the thought of punishment.

The old cob-webbed school walls there!
how cruelly waited for me with a vengeful curiosity.
The huge jail-like gates of school I reached
pressing through the crowds of busy students
and made way towards the old banyan tree
to wait for my punishment bench-mate.
The bell made the grounds empty leaving us alone.
Now slowly towards the bench we walked painfully
conscious of the mountainous burden-
sitting there all the day showing our guilty faces to everyone.

A torturous embarrassment of of being a laughing stock.
Some pitied. Some laughed.
Everyday we waited for parents
sometimes wiping our tears.
A brief sigh of relief was
the quarter hour interval in the morning
and evening
and an hour lunch break at noon-
just a bout of freedom.
Intervals called us to absorb
into the flood of the whole school students
and to quench thirst at the old tap
under the thirty year old banyan tree.
Cautious I was not to be caught in my girl friends eyes.
We only half ate the food at the lunch time
sitting with our friends.
The punishment partners they called us.
The most liked delicacies in the lunch boxes
that were spread about the verandah could not my mouth water.

In a tortoise-pace the days passed.
My punished bench-mate, the bench,
the verandah, the old tap, the old banyan tree,
the wide soft sandy ground, the line of bushy trees,
the shades, the tobacco roll smoking watchman,
the tyrannical nuns,
the entire school gathering saying morning prayers
in a melodious rhythm, the owlish eyes of the headmistress
her long slender cane, impositions,
the students kneeling in the parching heat of the sun
in hot sand of the school ground,
the Vandemataram, the Jana-Gana-Mana,
incessantly reeled before my eyes
up to the oddest hours of the night in the bed.
And there-
at last after days I saw mother
stepping through the large gates.
And all anticipation in her eyes
obvious of taking scolding from the pedagogue.
The judgement day.
And the judgement at last in the headmistress room.
In the room were my mother’s pleas
that I’d mend my ways and be responsible and never fail.
And the young nun her supremacy proved
advising my aged mother with airs of vain pride.
A great day of explosion into freedom
from a long bondage.
A last wistful glance I cast
at my friend’s last wistful glance at me.
Alas! He, there, alone like a drowning man
looking at me helplessly,
still waited for his mother.
I nodded good bye.