I got my first lesson in entrepreneurship when I was a 7th standard student at the ‘boys only’ MNU Jeyaraj Nadar High School on the outskirts of Madurai in Tamil nadu, India. My 7th standard class had 143 students and one of our teachers Gurusamy-sir was a strict disciplinarian who taught us the first lessons of entrepreneurship.
Imagine a class with 143 boys and how noisy it would be. To control us, sir appointed a class leader. The class leader was a very ‘prestigious’ job. His main job was to write the names of students who were talking, on the black board, before the teacher entered the class. Everybody used to be scared of the class leader. He would watch around proudly, find at least 10–20 boys who were talking or doing some mischief and write their names on the black board every day.
The first ritual once the teacher entered the classroom was to punish the students whose names were on the board. So, what was the punishment? He will ask the students to come one by one and each one will be given a tight slap. After slapping around 10-20 kids every day, he would complain about the pain in his hands. We could not complain to our parents that the teacher was slapping us. Teachers were revered in our society and the society put the teacher even above the parents. They were allowed to be as strict as possible and could discipline the students in every possible way including hitting them. Some parents used to come to the school and tell the teacher to do whatever it takes to discipline the child and make him focus on studies & get good marks.
The teacher found a clever way to minimize his pain. He asked every student to give 10 paise each (cents equivalent of Indian Rupee. 1 USD = 75 INR)) and collected INR 14.30. With the money he collected, he asked the class leader to buy the equipments required to control this noisy and playful 143 students. What was the equipment? It is called Pirambu in Tamil and it is actually a long cane that is used for making walking sticks and some furniture. The class leader would buy two sticks with the money that was collected and proudly bring the sticks to the classroom sending shivers in our spines. Also, from the same fund, he would buy a duster to clean the blackboard. The students (especially the top rankers in the front benches) felt so proud when the teacher asked them to clean the blackboard.
The teacher would conduct the equivalent of a music orchestra with the sticks on our bodies. If we talked with each other, we would be hit. If we didn’t stand in a line, we would be hit. If we looked at the sky when that one rare airplane flew over our heads when he was conducting classes in open air, we would be hit. If we get less marks, we would be hit. In a way, we were like the modern day VCs who invest money and get beaten & bruised very badly. On the contrary, he was a clever entrepreneur who used our investment to buy tools to minimize his pain and maximize our pains in order to control us so that we would become disciplined and successful. He also used the resources so brilliantly 1. a class leader to find misbehaving students 2. front row students to clean the board 3. used the fund to buy sticks and dusters.
We are still in touch with our teacher and he is a kind hearted man who expressed his care for us in tough ways. He was very happy to see us two years back when we invited him to our annual event at school, when my classmates offer scholarships to 100+ underprivileged kids by mobilizing funds amongst us (remember 10 paise each to fund the sticks) to pay their tuition, books and uniform dress.
PS: I shared this post with Prof. K.Vijai, my class topper and he wrote back saying ‘Reading this made a live telecast of our VII standard class in my mind. Our class leader’s father used to buy three mani pirambu(these sticks will have a ball like shape on top) to control the leader and his three brothers at home’ :).