Of Prefects and Punishment Drills

In my ninth and tenth grades, I attended boarding school in India. Like many boarding schools of its type, it incorporated the disciplinary mechanism of the prefect: senior schoolboys placed in charge of those junior to them, armed with the rule book, and cricket bats and hockey sticks with which to hand out six of the best. And the punishment drill. They, and we, the subjects of their not-so-benign rule, called these ‘PDs’.

A PD was an exercise routine designed and implemented on the fly by those who administered it; it felt like a boot-camp workout, a candidate for inclusion in Hell Week, a lung-busting, muscle-burning series of movements that had only one objective in mind: to exhaust you till you could no longer perform it correctly. The contours of a PD were determined by the fiendish imagination of the prefect(s) in charge of the PD: they dreamed up the sequence of exercises–perhaps a series of duck walks across the length of a football field, followed by running up a flight stairs, and then a series of pushups with legs on an elevated platform, followed by…you get the picture.

No normal human being could perform these movements without muscle failure setting in eventually. When it did, you were reprimanded and punished more: perhaps by a ‘shot’, a smack on your backside with a cricket bat or a hockey stick. If you were lucky, the prefect wouldn’t swing too hard. If you weren’t, you were hit hard enough to bring tears to your eyes and a patch of skin that smarted so fiercely that sitting down on a wooden chair became a painful experience.

A PD was handed out for violations of the school’s disciplinary code: perhaps talking during prep, or wearing the wrong uniform, or smoking cigarettes, or something else altogether. It began with a peremptory command to change into sports uniform–shorts, sneakers, short-sleeved shirts–in two minutes and report to the prefect. Some prefects never administered PDs. Yet others loved to, and their drills acquired a reputation all of their own. These were young men who loved to punish and seemed to derive a sadistic pleasure from it; the PD was invented for them.

More often than not, a PD was conducted at night.  Perhaps those who conducted them had figured out a long time ago that darkness and cold always made the PD more intimidating. Its venues were various: sometimes a football field, sometimes the school’s quadrangle, sometimes a paved road. It didn’t matter. Physical pain and discomfort could be inflicted anywhere.

I suffered many PDs in my two years in my boarding school; there was little chance I would escape its distinct ‘pleasures’ during my tenure there. Sometimes I was swept up in a prefect’s dragnet; sometimes I was part of a select bunch of miscreants picked out for chastisement. I grew to fear the sensation of my body giving way, collapsing from the abuse sent its way. I learned to ‘cheat’ on a PD, to perform it in a way that protected me.

I do not know if I ever became more ‘disciplined’; I do know I grew to despise those who so casually inflicted such misery on those weaker than them.

6 comments on “Of Prefects and Punishment Drills

  1. Middle Man says:

    Interesting. I am sorry you suffered so much. You may also enjoy this recollection of prefects:

    http://caughtinthemiddleman.wordpress.com/2007/04/17/early-education-part-4/

    • Samir Chopra says:

      Thanks very much for that link – what a great read. Those school teachers often haunted my dreams – I can still remember some amazing crushes from my time.

  2. […] matron was an expert at rejecting the fakers that occasionally showed up hoping for a reprieve from prefects and classes), a young lad spoke up, ‘Take a book with you in case you get admitted.’ He […]

  3. […] In my high-school sophomore year–the tenth grade–I traveled to Kalijora in West Bengal on a schoolboy expedition. We were to spend a weekend in a forest service bungalow, swimming in the local rivers, hiking through the forests nearby, cooking our own food. It would be three days of blessed relief from school discipline and regulation. […]

  4. […] often harsh disciplining from prefects (this included the usual ‘six of the best’ and punishment drills); we had fixed meal-times; our uniforms were prescribed and monitored; we could not walk with both […]

  5. […] The guiding principle behind it was simple: you were to experience bodily pain and exhaustion acute enough to make you regret whichever disciplinary infraction you had been stupid enough to indulge in. As I described it in a blog post a while ago: […]

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