Me vs. The green stick

I studied in an English medium school. But, like every other English medium school, we all spoke in Tamil. We spoke in Tamil, we swore in Tamil. But, the teachers, as per the rules, spoke in English. But, we stuck to speaking in Tamil.

The management had tried so hard to control the students and bring them the habit of speaking in English. They thought that the school atmosphere would look great if everyone spoke in English. They tried several methods, but nothing worked out.

Then, one of the teachers (or the headmaster himself?) came up with this idea. They took several small chunks of thin, cylindrical wood, about the size of a marker, and painted them green. The name of each class and the section was written on each stick.

The next day, during the prayer gathering, our principal addressed us saying the following:

“In the past couple of months, we’ve made several attempts to make all of you speak in English, but none of you did. So, we’ve come up with a new plan.”

There was a slight murmur among the students.

Our principal took a green stick from his pocket and continued speaking

“You see this green stick? We will give one such stick to the leader of every class. Every morning, when the leader of the class finds a person who talks in Tamil, he/she will give the stick to him. That person should find another guy who speaks in Tamil, and hand over the stick to him. The person who has the stick by the end of the day, which is during the time of the day’s final school bell, will be punished the next day.”

Now, everybody was scared. But, nobody uttered a word. We all waited for the principal to say what the punishment was.

“The punishment is, the student who has the stick by the end of the day, will have to stand in front of all the students during the prayer and apologize for speaking in Tamil. So one student from every single class will have to apologize before all of us.”

Everyone was shocked. The game was scary and the punishment was humiliation.

I stood in the middle of the crowd, in one arm distance, admiring how clever the plan was.


The best way to discipline a human is to scare him. So, whoever has the green stick in the first place will be scared of humiliation and will look for another person to give it to. He will keenly observe every other student in the class and will give the stick even if someone uttered a word in Tamil.

The worst of all is, if other students decide to make one person the scapegoat, they will all speak in English throughout the day, making the poor guy plead guilty in front of the whole school.

You know what?!

The plan worked. Everyone started talking in English. I hated the idea. I somehow felt that the concept of apologizing for speaking in your mother tongue was a clear violation of my right to speech.

I didn’t force myself to speak in English. I walked around speaking in Tamil. You shouldn’t like a language because others force you to do so. You should like it yourself. I don’t want to pressurize myself. So, I spoke in Tamil.

I stood in front of the prayer several times and I was asked to Apologize. I apologized, but something inside me made me feel happy. I was happy about winning by speaking in my mother tongue. I was young and it was thrilling.

One of my English teachers told me, “you will never be able to learn English. You will be a failure.” I stood silent. I did not hate English. I liked it. In fact, I used to study several English novels when I was in school. I used to borrow more books from the school library than anybody else. The only thing I hated was the rule and I opposed it.

I felt that that was the right thing to do.

Even now, several schools force spoken English to their students. And, these days the punishment doesn’t just stop with apologizing. It goes beyond that. If you want the students to love English language and learn it. Ask them to read a good book. Encourage them to watch English movies. Don’t go with the usual “Read Hindu paper” dialogue. That is for later. Create an interest among students and they will learn and speak the language automatically.

And, at the same time. Don’t stress upon English too much and make them forget their mother tongue. Both are important. Make sure that they don’t compromise one for another.

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  1. I love when you write about the past and it takes me back to my days. I reminisce all the good memories. One of them included talking in English with bad grammar.

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