The Hand of Father Gatti

Last week, during a conversation with a senior colleague, I remembered Father Gatti, our vice-principal in the primary section in the 70s. Father Gatti was a huge man or at least in those days, seemed huge to us rat-like kids. He also had a big, fleshy hand with thick fingers, whose marks on our visages were our rite of passage – if he caught us breaking rules, he would slap us right across our faces and “brand” us. This was the one big scare that kept us in our places and we celebrated when we left the building to go to the secondary school as only kids can in their innate insularity and selfishness can.

Many of our teachers used to hit or pinch us and except for one physical training (PT) teacher who did it out of some innate sadism, the rest would use their hands only when aggravated beyond their control. And guess what…we all turned out fine despite all this so-called physical “abuse”.

Yet today, Father Gatti and other “strict” teachers could be arrested. Or the parents of the “hit” kids may stage dharnas outside the school or the principal’s office asking for action to be taken against them. And one or more newspapers might write about these “mis”deeds as well.

As a kid, I was supposed to be quite naughty and was slapped quite a few times by my parents, when I did something really out of line. I have no angst about this! Theoretically, I still believe that it is not a bad idea to whack one’s kids when they disobey or are out of control…yet when there are times that require my twins to be given a few tight ones, neither of us can bring ourselves to do so…and it is not because we fear reprisals from the authorities or the police.

From my parents and Father Gatti to us…there has been a complete generational change of attitudes…to the extent that when I showed this piece to my wife, she was worried that it might sully Father Gatti’s and the school’s reputation, while in reality, in those days, a good school was one that used whatever it took to keep students in line…and parents hardly ever interfered…on the contrary they usually agreed with the school’s disciplinary methods.

I don’t know whether this shift is for the better or for the worse. I know that child psychologists and developmental and learning experts have their theories all worked out on why physical violence is unacceptable and can scar a kid for life, etc…but there is a difference between disciplining your kid once in a while and hitting your kid regularly for no reason. Unfortunately, this line can get blurred and instead of allowing parents to intelligently figure out those boundaries for themselves, we have managed to convince ourselves as a society that adult parents do not have the brains to do so and that the best possible solution is to ensure that no one every hits a child come what may, and to then get these rules enforced with as much zero-tolerance as possible, including involving the police.

Seriously! Instead of fighting crime and controlling the non-compliance of traffic rules, the police is now bothered about people holding hands on promenades or playing cards in gymkhanas and parents and teachers slapping their children.

But I guess, if we have asked to be treated like idiots, we must now bear the cross!

PS: If anyone does know what happened to Father Gatti after the mid-70s, please do email in!


  • Pravin Kumar wrote:

    talking of the scars, the only scar that the so called physical abuse left on me is that i find myself reasonably disciplined and those times being part of growing up stories enjoyed when friends meet.
    As for the changed times i think the comment to this article or the lack of it till now speak alot about how we perceive and how much we support the new trend.
    On a lighter note is this one of the reasons for indiscipline on our roads 😉

  • Pushpendra Shah wrote:

    We had a sadistic headmaster by the name of Naik, in primary school. And many other female teachers, also of the same ilk. A bad day at home with their in-laws, or husband, and that would not be a good day for the school children. Discipline was strict, and this is what I required for my own son. I have actually told his teachers to wallop him one, if the need arose. So far, no one has done that – probably because of rules governing physical punishment, which seems to be rife now. In my day, if I complained at home about the goings – on in school, there would be another walloping – as the Teacher Is Always Right attitude… And similarly, any elder in our home area acted as parent / disciplinarian if any of us playing out on the streets were up to mischief . . . Great Writing, Bhavin ! asante Sana for the memories…

  • sriganesh wrote:

    I can recall my headmaster in the Chennai school caning all of us in the class. The reason – One of us sent off a paper pellet whilst he was writing on the blackboard and no one would reveal who did it. And I got on both hands as I faked the caning first time. I did not utter a word at home.

    My grandfather was managing the school and one in a while the school manager would come to discuss. But that evening the Headmaster came to our house and I was terrified.

    The gentleman that the headmaster was, he did not utter a word about the incident just talked some administartive stuff and went.

    Do I agree with the punishment -Yes.
    This remained a secret till now!

  • Janak Sheth wrote:

    I agree with you the lines are blurred. Hitting an unruly child once in a while is good for the discipline.

    Infact today when we meet school friends we take pride in who got hit the most – showing off our naughtiness.

    Frankly look at us, we haven’t turned out that bad despite having been hit a few shots. 🙂

  • Nitin Tamhane wrote:

    “chadi lage chamcham vidya yei
    Ghamgham” that was saying in Marathi and “chadi” is the cane!

    I myself recall being pinched in the stomach by Joshi sir our Sanskrit teacher and I do not know whether that was one of the reasons I won the coveted Sankerseth scholarship in Sanskrit !

    But times have changed and today patience and persuasion and negotiation are the skills necessary for teachers and parents.

    As far general society we all definitely need Father Gatti

  • V.Subramanian wrote:

    An odd isolated incidence of excess committed by a teacher,inflicting serious woulnd on a student, gets highlighted at the prime time. The electronic media is constantly scouting for emotive issues. Like a traffic cop near a broken non functional or faulty signal, electronic media reporters are placed in vantage positions near a open pit or drain or an uncovered borwell hole soas to be the first ones to break the news of any child falling into the pit.Anything to do with children or ladies generates a lot of sympathy amonst the audience. The disciplinary rules in the schools are also a result of media repeatedly highlighting some stray incidents of severe disciplinary action.No one can and will ever justify voilence especially against children and women. The earstwhile popular adage “Spare the rod and spoil the child” has been rendered redundant through legislation, many may say may be correctly. One has also got to agree that there are several non voilent ways of disciplining a child. Our school principal had a unique but effective way of discipling errant students. A prominet corner right at the entrace was the place one has to stand for half an hour, at the time of school opening. Every student passing theough the entrance would give a scornful look. It was a great deterrent.
    The school was SIES.


  • I completely agree with Pravin Kumar.I would also like to add that today it seems any kind of discipline is unacceptable.Try stopping a man from spitting,a parent from wrong parking/honking near his/her kids’s school,anyone from throwing garbage anywhere except the dustbin….the list is endless.All you get is a dirty look or ‘tho kya ho gaya’ or something worse.Since when did discipline become so dispensable in our country?

  • Ravi Gadiyar wrote:


    I remember Father Gatti even though i was not from Bosco’s , i used to stay just opposite the not big but a huge ground those days.Saturday being a holiday for my school, and all my elder family members were from Bosco’s ,i used to see the drill and i took that liberty to meet Father.During Xmas he used to dress up like Santa and distribute choclates.As u have written i dont know where he is. AMEN.

  • Jayesh Desai wrote:

    We are missing here something, that something is quality of teachers today and that in past. The intention for punishing the child was for improving child’s performance. There was sincerity of purpose which is missing today. In Slums and chawls parents send children for tuition and wants good marks in exams so often blame tuition teacher for not punishing their children! So who is responsible for this? Our Govt. right down from the days of Nehru treated teachers without respect, gave them measly salaries, did not provide infrastructure for teaching. So who chose teaching as profession? those who failed at everything else. So this losers can not be equated with teachers of past. And they do cross all lines in treatment of children who are entrusted in their care. Every parents is bound to protect their child, even you say can not bring yourself to give a slap to your children. So the laws are needed to protect children from ill-trained, ill-equipped and outright unfit teachers. Stop living in past.

  • Fr. G in my time was the Rector. There was no office of the Vice Principal those days. I don’t recall anyone getting whacked but remember that the clink of his keys as he paced the corridors was enough to make us all shut up. Disobedience those days was rewarded with either standing outside class for the period or detention after school hours, with imposition writing.


  • Nitin Sheth wrote:

    The only slap I I got from my dad is the one I got for asking him to broker a deal with the touts to fudge my 10th std mark sheet as I had failed in my french paper – slept through the paper……

  • kalpana sridharan wrote:

    time has changed one can be blamed at the same time both are to be opinion is mall culture is to be blamed for everything going wrong.children follow parents and parents follow mall culture.those days teachers were of different breed but today teachers and parents are one.those days punishment was for the betterment.but today you cant be sure about it.

  • Norman wrote:

    Those were the days that the belief was spare the rod and spoil the child.
    Yes palm strikers, ruler on the knuckles,whacks across the head were the order of the day, even for talking in the class.
    There was a teacher who kept her cane in vinegar for the 36 years that she taught in that particular school. She never even spared her own nephew.
    But dare anyone complain? On the contrary those were the most respected teachers/masters in the school.
    In spite of all that Those were the Golden Years. There was hardly any malice.
    Times have changed and we have to abide by the present rules and regulations.
    Have observed that today that discipline and civic sense should be inculcated at home. One has to set a good example at home and in front of the child, and the child picks up from there.
    During our days one stare from either Parent was enough to tell us that we are doing something wrong and change our stance immediately.
    Today one has to perform acts of kindness etc. and even tell the child in a cool manner and they listen.
    Never shout scream at today’s kids, leave alone hitting.

  • Armaity Surendra Patel wrote:

    “Spare the rod and spoil the child” this attitude is of the past. Now a days children are pampered so much that they turn out to be very rude and conceited!!!
    Every school and every teacher has his or her version of discip;ine! To top it all, the Govt. interferes without understandinthe pros and cons of the system to discipline a child. Some children will not behave till wacked, some can be discpliend just by stern looks, etc. So depending on the situation one must act. We, sisters, were canned by our parents and when we look back we laugh a lot and we enjoyed our canning days! We were so naughty that we made bow and arrow from the canning sticks with the help of our house boy!! And almsot regulary a new cane was brought home. Our father stictly beleived that children should not be wacked with hands. It is detrimental as one can damage a child by hittng with hands, eg. a slap can damage a ear-drum, or one may lose an eye by the finger getting into it, etc. So he advocated the use of cane! And wow how it made red lines on our palms or arms or legs!! Today we have turned out the best in our family!! On the other hand I have wittnessed some male teachers, using their fists to bang on children’s head abd back!! These blows were so strong that we could hear the sounds of banging!!! Such styles need to be stopped immediately.
    Bhavin you come up with interesting topics, keep it up.

  • Dick Ahiya wrote:

    Yes I do remember Father Gatti not only we were scared not only in school but also at home where my mother would tell me if I would not listen to her she would complain to father at school…Last as per news heard about him was He expired in Italy but still it was not confirmed To think of the days you kind of miss them.

  • Remember a teacher known as LALIO DHOKO among
    students in our primary school days. He was
    deputy head-master and use to punish each and
    every pupil by hitting on palm by rule,in case of complain by class teacher.
    A sad incident, which I have not forgotten today at the age of 76, is a big slap on my face, by Sharma teacher, for no fault of mine. In dreams,today even, I search him to get hold of him and repay him by harder slap on his face, for his misbehaviour. All other teachers and Head-masters, who had punished me for being late in school or making mischief, I thank them because they are responsible for my being successful in life and becoming a disciplined citizen of India.

  • Narendra Swamy wrote:

    He was a Sado Maso. I hope died a horrible death. Won’t be surprised if he molested a few boarders as well on the way!

  • Abhishek Mishra wrote:

    bhavin i totally agree wid this piece ,i just want to bring into everybody’s notice that its not the one slap or one betaing by a stick that has created the nuisance ,several cases have been reported where teachers went out of law and humanity to punish students.For example,recently a teacher made a girl student lick her own urine for the punishment of bedwetting,somewhere some teacher striped a girl student in front of all class,a teacher had fractured a student’s hand,so th point is these type of inhuman treatments should be stopped, and there is no other way to do that than stripping of teacher’s authority to punish students so that one of them doesnt get a chance to play demon.

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