The proprietor was from India, which isn‘t unusual. These days, it seems all small neighborhood stores are owned by people from India. I was waiting at the checkstand when suddenly the owner started yelling and shaking his fists as he headed for a young boy in one of the side aisles of the store. The boy was about 8 or 9 years old and he was also from India.
The man grabbed the boy and quickly removed several candy bars hidden under the boy’s shirt. The boy’s father was outside pumping gas. He returned to the store and was surprised by what was happening to his son. The proprietor explained what happened while the father, in a very calm, gracious and apologetic manner, listened and then in a soft spoken voice asked his son if he was guilty of the theft.
The boy said he was guilty. In a conversation laced in both Hindi and English, the father asked the boy, “Why have you brought this dishonor on our family and yourself?” The boy said he knew his father probably didn’t have enough money for treats but he wanted to take candy home to his mother and sister. Hearing that, I had to stay and see how everything was resolved. It was obvious they all knew each other and what happened took me by surprise.
The father lovingly took the boy’s hand and made him sit on the seat behind the checkout stand for everyone to see. The man explained how the boy’s uncle, the owner of the store, helped bring them to America. He loaned them money, paid their bills and found employment for all the members of the family. He is an honorable man. He is a spiritual, religious and dedicated Hindu. He said, “In your disrespect for him you have brought shame upon all of us.”
The father asked the boy, “Which hand did you use to steal the candy?” The boy held out his right hand. The father, almost ceremoniously, put his son’s hand to his mouth, carefully biting the fleshy side of it in front of everyone in the store until tears started to run down the boy’s face, but the boy never made a sound.
The father then told the boy to use the same hand to slap him on his face. The boy said, “No! I would never hit or hurt my father.” The father replied,“Your shameful actions have already hurt me more than any physical pain I might endure.”
The boy cautiously slapped his father.
“Not hard enough,” said the father.
The boy slapped his father again, but it was still not hard enough. The boy said he couldn’t hit his father anymore because he loved him. The father held the boy close and they both cried in each other’s arms.
After they left the store, I asked the owner what all of that meant. He said in his clan it was a way of teaching children respect, honesty and trust in family values. By biting the hand, the boy will never forget what he has done. By slapping his father, he will never steal again because he will not want to hurt his father, shame his family or bring dishonor upon himself. There will now be a loving bond between them that will last for eternity.
I thought of my own father when he washed my mouth out with soap for using a “dirty” word in front of my mother. He said, “Never say anything to anyone that you would be ashamed to say in front of your mother.”
I’m sure some would consider the old cultural means of teaching discipline and values a form of child abuse. But they are effective. The child in the parking lot will pay more attention to the cars around him. To this day, I rarely use any “dirty “ words in front of anyone and I’m sure the Indian boy learned to never bite the hand that feeds you.
David Farside is a Sparks resident and political activist. The polemics of his articles can be discussed at firstname.lastname@example.org. His Web site is www.thefarsidechronicles.com.