I started off young as a whistle-blower in an era when my ilk was never guaranteed safety or anonymity as they are now. Being an active sneak in school put me in the teachers’ and prefects’ good books and, of course, my fellow students’ bad books — besides leaving me with little time for my own textbooks.
But what could one do when one was appointed the class monitor or head boy, reporting directly to the teachers and prefects? Carried away by these heady responsibilities, one unavoidably became an informer. However, much to my dismay, I soon learnt that being the teachers’ and prefects’ blue-eyed boy was one thing, being blacklisted (if not black-eyed) by one’s classmates quite another kettle of fish.
When a wrongdoer was punished, it didn’t take a Hercule Poirot to figure out who had spilled the beans. Unerringly, everyone turned an accusing eye at me and I knew with sickening certainty that I would soon have to face the music in all its variety.
Mercifully, ragging then was never as vicious as it’s today though it could be quite innovative — toilet paper spitefully sourced from your notebooks, a generous layer of gum smeared inconspicuously on your chair, your mug of coffee liberally laced with a strong laxative, a wriggly lizard slipped down your shirt when you’re hunched over your homework, your best pair of shoes filled with water or your pillow soaked to the point of disintegrating; your cot could be clandestinely unscrewed to ensure it floored you the moment you flopped down, your white shirt ghoulishly inked to resemble a Picasso abstract, the toughness (or tenderness) of your shins could be “tested” during hockey or football.
Or you could be securely “jailed” in the dungeon-like toilet and left to either bawl yourself hoarse until you’re freed or batter down the door — quite a nightmare for a claustrophobe. Equally scary, someone would sneak up from behind, blindfold you with his palms and forcibly march you off into a mound of fresh cow dung or the garbage dump — a milder version of walking the plank. Had arm-twisting been fashionable then, my arms would’ve probably been wrung like rinsed clothes!
One’s tormentors were certainly unsparing in their reprisals — quite understandable, in retrospect, since having their fundaments mercilessly striped by the warden’s cane couldn’t possibly have endeared me to them! Corporal punishment in all its harshness was in vogue.
To safeguard myself to the extent possible, I tried to raise my own “intelligence network”, roping in reliable pals to tip me off about the next “assault” and the diabolical form it was likely to take. Armed with these “intelligence inputs”, I took whatever precautions I could to avoid being booby-trapped.
Before long, however, the inescapable realisation hit me: the ill-will generated by squealing far outweighs the goodwill it earns one, if any at all. And so, with retribution getting more imaginative and punitive, I decided to quit rather than end up on the rack!