Monday, May 14, 2007

See No Bullying, Hear No Bullying

Today I saw a post on the blog of my good friend, schoolmate and best selling author David about how and why there was no bullying in our own elementary-to-high school in Darjeeling:

I want to set the record straight from my first hand experience. But let me first say that David is an extraordinarily amiable and popular person so that's why he was neither the bully nor the victim. He also sees the bright side of everything and bullying often occurs covertly so he could miss seeing it. Finally he was two years behind me in school so his cohort may have had very different experiences, though somehow I doubt it.

Through my six years in this school I saw plenty of bullying. For me personally it worsened from the sixth grade till the tenth and then plateaued almost till I graduated. Segregating the students into three "divisions" as David mentions (the "primary", "lower" and "upper" divisions) doesn't really help much because bullying also occurs among peers. Plus, a 9th grader can still be targeted by an 11th grader, or a 6th grader by an 8th grader, and so on. Most US schools as well as those in other places are split completely into elementary, middle and high schools that mirror the divisions we had within our school. That hasn't stopped bullying here.

The boys in our school closely followed an "honor" code against "sneaking" and social ostracism followed for anyone breaking it. "Sneaking" (akin to snitching) meant reporting to the authorities (teachers or our "father" priests) anything improper done by a fellow student, whether it was breaking rules, or harming another student, including by bullying. I now see press coverage of a similar taboo against reporting anything to the police among large swathes of the US African American community, which exacerbates black on black crimes.

Anyway, this anti-"sneaking" code made it very easy for bullies to thrive without detection by our well-intentioned authorities. I was a good target because I was (a) thin and nerdy, so not good at defending myself, (b) tall, so a bully did not seem to be picking on someone smaller, and (c) neither very submissive, nor pleasant like David. The "headboys" or "prefects" had no punitive role. They'd at most stop something happening under their noses so bullies simply operated elsewhere.

Bullies came in various shades and stripes. In my 10th class a particular classmate came almost every day to step on my toes and grind his heels into them, daring me to retaliate. He also took pleasure in bending my fingers back from the knuckles till they were injured enough to make it hard for me to write - for days. Others sometimes noticed what was happening but didn't want to get involved since he was a "tough" guy. The couple of times I tried to fight back ended in disaster (picture the comic character Sad Sack getting pounded by the Sarge.)

Two years after high school I finally hit my post-pubertic stride, gained 50lbs and became a "big ape" in classmate (now wife) Anita's words. (Why didn't that happen 4 years earlier?) But my past experiences affected my attitude to this day. As a college upper-classman I opposed the then-brutal practice of physical "ragging" or "hazing" of incoming freshmen. In my days as a law enforcer in the IAS I had the local "gundas" or tough guys booked or "processed" by the police with an intensity that surprised those around me. I saw them as extensions of our own school bullies. I'm still apt to look for bullying behavior and counter it if I can.

I recounted my experiences to a couple of ex-schoolmates recently and half-jokingly referred to my school tormentor of yore as "Biff" from "Back To The Future." Happily though, when this person and I re-established contact some years ago, my notions of getting even with him vanished (slowly!) and we maintain friendly contact.

We NorthPointers have a wonderful school that we're very proud and happy to be part of. I have a lasting bond with it and fellow alumni. But bullying is widespread and no place is immune from it. It can occur close to us without our being aware of it. And here I haven't even talked of bullying through mental abuse (like in "Mean Girls") that is even more pervasive. All of us should be looking out for it and preventing it (yes, including the current authorities at our school.)


david mcmahon said...

Dear Sandip,

What a thought-provoking, level-headed post. I had no idea that you were a victim.

But a measure of your greatness as an enlightened man is the fact that you were able to get along with the bloke, later in life.

If only there were a one-stop solution to bullies, in school and in the workplace ...

Take care


Sandip Madan said...

Thanks, David. Not surprisingly this classmate in question did not recall (or mention) anything about all this when we reconnected. 'Tis best to bury the past except to the extent that any experience helps us in the future... :-)

Cuckoo said...

Came here from David's blog.

I am glad that my post on bullying inspired so many to write about it.

Great thought provoking post.

ozlady said...

Hi - I'm here through David's post, which all started from Cuckoo's post.

Well done for posting your account and for not seeking revenge later in life.

And I personally think well done for countering bullying whenever you encounter it. It needs policing - by officials and all citizens, and it needs us to be personally aware.

Good to point this out - thanks.

Sandip Madan said...

Dear Cuckoo and Ozlady,

Thanks for your nice comments. I'm thankful to David for bringing you to my blog. :-)

Cuckoo, I had been seeing your posts earlier (again through David's posts) and had liked them, including this thoughtful one on bullying that set the ball rolling.

And ozlady, your blog is a treasure trove of jokes and interesting comments. :-)

Rubina said...

"Sneaking" (known as "narcing" in American schools) is a code that exists in schools all over the world, not just at North Point.

Also you might be interested in this New York Times article on getting rid of middle schools:

Personally my middle school years were the worst of my life, so I'd have no problem with this.

Sheena said...

A few years ago, I got an e-mail about an IBMer who had lost his son to suicide as a result of bullying. I searched for information on that after reading the article and found his website:

The initial article talked about the school administration's failure to stop the bullying. It had a bunch of suggestions in there to punish or isolate the bully instead of the victim. It also included ideas for how to protect the victim from retaliation from the bully or from other classmates.

Unfortunately, the focus on the website is on cyber-bullying, which probably affects a much smaller population and would probably be easier to avoid. Even if the bully's hurtful remarks reach a wider audience, I thought most reasonable people know better than to believe everything they read on the 'net.

Ashok Sadhwani said...


Sandip's wriiten response on his blog on bullying was hilarious. A few years ago, he mimed a bullying event between "biff" and himself for the 30 of us North Pointers assembled in San Francisco. What made his whole recount remarkable was the fact Sandip was laughing out the loudest. It was one of my best moments that year.

Sandip Madan said...

I'm glad our daughters Sheena and Rubina have weighed in. We're very proud of them even as I learn - belatedly - to respect their independence.

The account is heart-rending in that link provided by Sheena of the 13 year old boy driven to suicide by mental/cyber bullying. It underscores how bad mental torture and words can be, while I'd focused on the physical aspects.

Also, the parents were largely unaware of what was going on. That probably happens a lot. I kept my own travails from my parents whom I'm close to because (a) I didn't think they could really help, and in fact worsen matters by telling the authorities which would amount to snitching on my part, and (b) my peers and I would think I wasn't "man" enough to handle my own problems.

Rubina mentions the awful time she had in middle school with mentally abusive classmates. We parents knew some of what she went through, and saw her friend Sarah being first taken down by almost the same packs of "mean girls." We're glad Rubina bounced back from it all in High School and formed a close circle of friends. Could her fresh start in High School, and a clean break from her middle school have been good? Possibly, so I've read with interest the NYT article she's cited discussing merging the middle school with the high school or elementary school.

A better approach may be to stigmatize this behavior (making it "uncool") by deriding and demonizing bullying and the bullies practicing it; and expose any notions about not "narcing" or "sneaking" as being so silly and hollow when they serve to protect abuse.

Sandip Madan said...

Ashok Sadhwani is too kind. He and wife Jyoti with their generous hearts and zeal in reaching out typify the NP spirit that keeps our community so tightly knit. What Ashok hasn't mentioned is the true story from our school days I recounted in that same NP gathering in SF that speaks to his nature. More on that later...

Soumitra Ghosh said...


Nice post, and very appropriate. I do remember your experiences in school and how they affected you. As well, the ragging that both of us encountered as freshmen at St. Stephen's. By then, you had grown to be a strapping fellow. Your strategy of bolting when confronted by "raggers" was quite unusual, and it was a delight to see their looks of disbelief as you disappeared from view. Better still, they would set me free with orders to bring you back- which never happened.

I still laugh about this act- we did not rehearse it, but it worked like a charm every time!
Congratulations to Sheena, and we are looking forward to reading her reports.

Take care,


Sandip Madan said...

Soumitra, thanks for the great comments, and reminding me about those freshman ragging / hazing days. Yes, that bolting away and their letting you go to fetch me so we both escaped worked pretty well, didn't it? Best of all, it was unrehearsed. One time I was "recaptured" and really got it from the enraged raggers, but it was well worth it.

We've been through a lot of interesting stuff together in school and college with you as one of my closest friends, so I may recount more of this in a separate post.

Anonymous said...

Why did't you just tell the bullies you're a Sardar? No body got the better of the Sardars. Of course, they never had much luck though. I remember a Sardar broke the world record in the 100 Meters in the Rome Olympics in 1960. The sad part is he came fourth and didn't medal:))

Sandip Madan said...

"Sardarness" didn't work nor confer immunity.