Child psychologists never tire themselves telling us how important ‘parenting’ is in moulding the character and attitude of the offsprings. This is about parenting of a different kind.
Latif was my classmate in VIII Standard. Having failed in several stages of schooling, he himself had forgotten the exact number of years he spent at school! The most instructive comment came from his grandmother’s recent response to someone claiming to be Latif’s classmate, ‘That’s what half the village says!’
To say that as a child, he was mischievous would be the understatement of the decade. He would pluck coconuts from Ramunni’s land, unleash goats tethered by Beepathumma and pelt stones at stray dogs that came his way. While returning from school, Latif’s dhoti would sometimes double as a net to catch fish from the temple pond. Mango seasons saw complaints about him peak: his missiles aimed at the tempting fruits would land on tiled roofs, breaking them.
It was the last day of the half-yearly examinations. As soon as I finished, I turned in my paper and got out. I was in the loo when Latif too walked in. He lit a match and burst a cracker. Scared, I ran out, only to find myself in front of the drill-master, Charles. My protestations that I knew nothing of it were not heard. When Latif emerged, he too was caught.
Both of us were brought before the headmaster. Though not a culprit, I was treated as one. Being a first-time offender, I was lucky to be let of with a severe reprimand and three canings on either palm.
Latif was told that he would be suspended unless his father came in person when the school reopened after the Christmas holidays and assured the headmaster that such instances would not recur.
What could he do? Obviously, Latif could not tell his father, a butcher with large round bloodshot eyes and muscular body, of the headmaster’s demand.
When the school reopened, Latif came, accompanied by a man in a lungi and banian. He had been coaxed by Latif to act as his father – just for the day – for a consideration, of course.
The ‘father’ and the son were ushered into the headmaster’s room. The headmaster reeled out the list of charges. He reminded the 'parent' of the accused that these were not the only complaints about his 'ward'. He talked of the time Latif put Kuttan’s cat in a milk powder can and used it as a football, poured water in the watchman’s lantern, and a dozen other similar pranks.
The ‘father’ was furious. He turned to Latif, grabbed his right ear and boxed it hard. ‘Scoundrel! Dare you do things of this kind again!’ he shrieked, taking his role a bit too seriously, and slapped him hard repeatedly. The headmaster had to intervene to prevent further corporal punishment.
While returning home that day, Latif told me he could have as well brought his real father along instead of hiring one. That would have saved him a rupee and the penalty would have been less severe. That was one instance where ‘pa-renting’ had certainly failed!