LET US NOW WITH THANKFULNESS

1966 - 1972





These blog postings by E. S. Shankar about his VI days from 1966 to 1972 are extracted from http://lunwt.blogspot.com/ with his permission.

In a career spanning 22 years, Shankar has worked as finance and general manager and director at private companies, and as senior manager, executive director and consultant at two public listed real estate development companies in Kuala Lumpur. He served his articles of training in accountancy, audit, taxation, finance and management in the UK, at a London based firm of Chartered Accountants. He is married with two children.

Shankar is now semi-retired in Kuala Lumpur. Writing and blogging, he has published three books: Let Us Now With Thankfulness (2011), Tiger Isle: A Government of Thieves (2012), and Murdered In Malaysia: The Altantuya Story (2015). Shankar's own web page: https://esshankar.com/

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1965 - An Auspicious Beginning Indeed!

1966 - The Virgins' Year

1966 - The VI Teachers

1966 - Of Golden Fleece and Heroes

1966 - Rome was not Built in a Day

1967 - A Honeymoon Year Pt 1

1967 - A Honeymoon Year Pt 2

1968 - Some are Born to Teach

1968 - For What is a Memory Worth?

1968 - Introverts, Extroverts, Unsung Heroes

1969 - The Truly Honeymoon Year Pt 1

1969 - The Truly Honeymoon Year Pt 2


1970 - The Exam Year Pt 1

1970 - The Exam Year Pt 2

1970 - The Exam Year Pt 3

1971 - No Oscars!

1971 - Becoming a Prefect

1972 - The Race for the School Vice-Captaincy

1972 - Fighting the Good Fight!

1972 - VI Prefects Resign En Masse

1972 - All the Girls We Knew and Loved Pt 1

1972 - All the Girls We Knew and Loved Pt 2




 

1965 - An Auspicious Beginning Indeed!



ndran, Balraj, Chew Yoong Fong, Cheah Peng Keong and I met at the bus stop just outside Pasar Road English School (PRES) at 7.45 a.m. This Primary School at the junction of Jalan Rusa and Jalan Pelandok still exists and stands a short distance from the ancient Pudu Wet Market and Jalan Davis. In 1965, PRES consisted of the more modern brick and mortar four-storey building as well as the old blocks of single-storey wooden 'shacks.' The Headmaster (HM) was Mr. Chew Ah Kong, an avid rugby fan. (He had been a VI teacher from 1947 to 1956, its rugger master and also conducted the singing of the school song during the weekly assembly.) PRES 1 and 2 were among the leading Government schools in Kuala Lumpur then, along with St. Johns Institution, Batu Road, Maxwell, Methodist Boys' and Brickfields schools.

The five of us boarded a Sri Jaya bus (fare 10 cents) which wound its way through Jalan Imbi and Bukit Bintang before reaching the interchange near Rex Theatre and Jalan Silang at the end of Jalan Pudu. The final stop for the Sri Jaya bus on this route would be by the side of the old Central Market. KL was then serviced by the Toong Foong Bus Company as well, but its buses did not ply the Imbi-Bukit Bintang route. We alighted at the bus stand just outside Kum Leng Restaurant in Jalan Pudu (diagonally across the road from Pavilion Theatre and Cathay Cinema) about a hundred metres before what is now the Pudu Raya Bus Terminal. From here we walked the half mile to Shaw Road and to the gates of the Victoria Institution (VI) after crossing over the railway tracks opposite Stadium Negara.

It was the Saturday of the week before the December school holidays commenced in 1965. We had completed our primary education and had all been awarded places in Form 1 at Victoria Institution. Fortunately for us, the long-standing Standard Six Government Examination had been abolished and we were among the first to 'graduate' to VI without having to sit for a mandatory public examination.

We had all been together since Standard 1 except for Indran who joined us in Standard 5. We were close because of our involvement in school soccer, hockey or athletics, and were genuinely sad at having to part ways with PRES 1, having had some wonderfully memorable years there. My good friend Rosli who lived in the Government Quarters right at the end of Cochrane Road after Jalan Shelley, was a school football left-winger and sprinter who had inexplicably missed the cut and ended up in Cochrane Road (Secondary) School. I missed him. But he later found his way to RMC and would appear in their 4 x 100m inter-school relay team on VI Sports Days. There were also Rashid, Narendran, Kai Tak, Chen Fan Di and Yo Keng Fook (muti-talented, shy and gracious sportsman) with whom we sadly parted ways.

Cheah, Fong, Balraj and I had older brothers already schooling at VI. But we nevertheless stood in awe and trembled in fear at the mere mention of VI and its 'legend in his own time' HM, Mr. V. Murugasu (Muru), the first Asian to occupy that exalted post.

I had never actually set foot in the VI before that day. But famous PRES names like Zakaria (Zak) Shariff (soccer talisman and athlete), Yap Kian Fui (soccer/athletics), Wong Wei Wah, Wong Chee Seng, Chong Kwong Chin, Yap Kim Shin, Chong Kok Weng, Dave Chin Peng Hoon (football goalkeeper then, now of Dave's Deli fame) 'Tiger' Thiagarajah (athlete) and Selvaraj (badminton) had made it there in earlier years and we took comfort that we had friends there. Once, Selvaraj had attended a badminton final at the VI school hall and had rushed back to report 'you know the VI singles player served the shuttle 40 feet high.' I was in Standard 4 then and I tell you I could not quite grasp that and imagined VI had a school hall the size and height of an aeroplane hangar!

As we reached the VI porch at the bottom of the clock tower, I spotted the burly pear-shape challenged Syed Ali #1, my senior by a year at PRES. Ali was by then a six-footer (or so I imagined since I was on the shorter and skinnier side then) and was busy with his tuba or big drum and some School Band boys (or was he getting ready for Cadet Corps practice? My memory's a bit hazy here) in a classroom. It was astonishing to us that it was a Saturday morning and yet half the school population appeared to be present!

Ali guided us to the staircase to the right of the school hall just beyond the entrance after the porch. It led upstairs to the HM's, Senior Assistant's and Administration offices as well as the Staff Room and upper secondary classrooms. Students were barred from using this staircase unless authorised by the HM. As we reached the bottom of the staircase, who should walk in from the other side of the long corridor? None but a serious looking VI HM, Mr. V. Murugasu, immaculately attired in a black pants and crispy long-sleeved white shirt with a red tie to boot and brilliantly polished black shoes and proper black socks. It was sharp 9 a.m.!

I can't remember clearly, but I think all five of us took an involuntary step back as we spotted a long and dangerous looking rotan (cane) in Muru's right hand. Did he cast a shadow? My brother had already coached us to go prepared to meet Muru dressed in spotless white school uniforms, not to forget to wear our school badges and to use 'Sir' liberally when speaking to the HM. I only knew what Muru looked like from my brother's copy of the VI school magazine, 'The Victorian.'

I recall breaking out in sweat as I addressed Muru. As PRES 1 School Vice-Captain, the spokesman's job fell upon my shoulders. I pulled out the official letter signed by Mr. Chew from my short pants pocket, and handing it to Muru, explained that the five of us had missed the VI Entrance Examination the previous Saturday as we had been involved in the Selangor Inter Schools Under 12 Hockey Championship Final. Muru immediately shot back with "Who won?" It had been one of those matches where the superior and fancied team, us, lost by a freaky goal in a final against Princes Road Primary School contested at the playing field of Gurney Road Primary School. Balraj played at right wing, Indran at right half and myself at inside right. Fong and Cheah were the Rocks of Gibraltar at defence and these were positions they held right through to our final year in VI in 1972!

(If I could have pulled out the envelope in mint condition 'from my short pants pocket' you have a fair idea of the elephantine FMS (Federation of Malaya Shorts) pants we wore in the '60's).

Muru beckoned us to follow him up the stairs to his office from where he summoned one of the Temporary Prefects (TP) with instructions to escort us to the classroom at the end of the corridor after the last science lab in the right wing of the main school E-shaped block. The TP, Chan Tak Kwong, a school swimmer, water polo as well as rugby player and 1st KL Asst. Scout Master was appointed to the permanent Prefects' Board in 1967. I remember him as he later emerged as my House Captain i.e. Hepponstall House. Tak Kwong had picked up the 2-hour test papers comprising general science, mathematics, history, geography and general knowledge questions and had laid them out on desk tops for us to sweat it out. I can only recall one question from those papers - 'A group of planets is called (a) cosmos (b) galaxy (c) solar system (d) constellation (e) universe?'

When we finished, the TP collected our papers and told us we could go home. He also informed us that we would be advised which class in Form 1 we would be placed in when school re-opened in January 1966 (I ended up in Form 1 North). Not knowing our way around and out, we headed in the direction of Muru's office and the staircase. And that's when it happened!

As we passed Muru's, the adjoining Senior Assistant's and the Chief Clerk's offices along the upper corridor, we suddenly heard a shout of "Stop right there you bloody buggers! What the devil do you think you are doing?"

We statue-ised like deer caught in the beams of a car's headlights, not much unlike the privates when Sergeant Ernest Bilko, looking for volunteers for some hilariously unsavoury con scheme, would order, "Freeze, my heroes!"

"Do you think this is your grandfather's school and you can walk about chit-chatting like you own this school? Which Form are you all in and who is your class teacher?" demanded a well-dressed and presentable man who had his hair neatly combed in place and looked, well, trim, athletic and handsome. He was presumably a teacher since he had a bunch of school exercise books under one arm and some other textbook in his right hand. His charming looks belied his fiery and hot-tempered nature!

'No sir, we are from Pasar Road English School sir, and we came to sit for the Entrance Exam, sir. We have already seen Mr. Murugasu, sir," I blurted out in a broken voice, already melting into a puddle on the floor.

"Line up, line up in a straight line! The leader in front, the rest behind him in a straight line. Now! Move it! Faster, faster! My grandmother could beat you lot in the 100 metres dash, you idiots," bellowed this teacher whom I shall only identify for obvious reasons as 'Mr. Sawn-off Broomstick Handle.'

Lightning could not have moved faster than us that time excepting some frisky, coltish grandmothers.

Sawn-off Broomstick Handle then proceeded to pull each of us in turn by our ears and administered two tight slaps on each cheek. ('Don't let me give you two tight slaps' was a favourite expression then among teachers).

"Line up when walking in groups along the school corridor. Learn the school rules. No chatting. You all understand that? This is not some half past six school you know. This is the best school in Malaysia, Victoria Institution! You are lucky I am in a good mood or else I might have taken you to meet up with the HM again. Now buzz off," boomed Sawn-off Broomstick Handle who the following year turned out as our feared class swimming coach in Form 1.

"Thank you sir, thank you sir," all five bleated as we bolted down the staircase and out beyond the VI school gates. We stormed in fury down to the bottom of the steep Stadium Negara road. On the right side of it, across the road and separated by a fence, stood the VI School Hostel. There we paused as I cursed, swore and screamed, "How dare he slap us, that bastard! We are not from VI yet. When I get home I'm going to complain to my grandfather who works in the Hill Court and knows the Chief Justice well. Make sure he goes to jail for life!"

How we flung four letter words and vile obscenities about and cast aspersions over Sawn-off Broomstick Handle's parentage that morning as we walked the two miles or so to the Central Market where we boarded another Sri Jaya bus for home. And swore oaths in memory of our ancestors in India and China to feed Sawn-off Broomstick Handle's goolies to the mangy pariah dogs in Pasar Road and his willy to the crocodiles in the Klang River after having his tortured and mutilated carcass drawn, quartered and salted!

As we reminisced over that incident on the last day of school in 1972, we laughed till our sides split.

"Dei, don't play puks with us you know! Remember you were going to cut off Sawn-off Broomstick Handle's member? And when is your grandfather's complaint going to be heard by the Chief Justice of Malaysia? Muahaha!"

By then we were three School Prefects (should have been all five), one School Captain, one School Football Captain, one Malaysia Under-18 Football Captain, one School Hockey Captain, one School Rugby Captain, one School Athletics Captain, three School Hockey Players, two Athletes, one School Cricketer, one Victor Ludorum, one Civics Society Chairman, one School Debater, one Seladang Sports Editor and one School Magazine Joint Editor.

Humble beginnings indeed!

 

1966 - The Virgins' Year


fficially, school opened on 10th January 1966. It was a Monday. But there was no Assembly at the School Hall that Monday. This was deferred to the following Monday, so as to give sufficient time for new students in Forms 1, 4 and Lower 6 to settle in, and more importantly, to learn the School Song and other protocols, especially the voluminous 'School Rules.'

Some of us approached the gates of the Victoria Institution (VI) with some trepidation and some anger too, that morning. We had been initiated (and how!!) into a new disciplinary system even before secondary school had started and we were officially 'Victorians.' I was still seething in well-disguised anger, and thoughts of law suits raced through my mind every now and then. The fact that my grandfather worked at the Hill Court and my maternal grandfather was a lawyer must have had something do with that arrogant, juvenile attitude!

By comparison, life in Pasar Road English School 1 (PRES 1) had been a holiday camp filled with fun and parties; a wonderful dream. I lived in the Govt Quarters in Jalan Pelandok in a single-storey semi-detached house with ample green and angsana, frangipani and jambu trees in front, side and at the rear of the house. My immediate neighbour was a Malay family with three girls and two boys, one of whom, Din, was of the same age as I. Morning school sessions would commence at 7.30 and Din and I would leave our homes at 7.15 and walk the short 50 metres to school. Our primary school system was such that we would switch with PRES 2 in July, from completely morning to completely afternoon sessions. The morning session would stretch from 7.30 to 12.30 and the afternoon from 1.00 p.m. to 6 p.m.

VI, with its single morning session system, was a whole new ball game and getting there, a strain on my nerves.

My elder brother and I would wake up at 5.30 a.m., brush teeth and attend to toilet calls and functions, have a quick bath in freezing cold water #1, get dressed, swallow a couple of slices of bread with butter and jam washed down with coffee (not tea, Ovaltine, Horlicks, or Milo) prepared by Mum, exit the front door by 6 a.m. and quick-march the quarter mile to the School Bus stop near Star Theatre opposite the Pudu Market in Pasar Road. That last time I drove by, that spot was occupied by a RHB Bank branch.

The rickety and smoky School Bus, operated by the Toong Foong Bus Company, would arrive at sharp 6.15. The same silent Indian driver and bespectacled Chinese conductor/ticket collector served us from 1966-1970. The Chinaman wore a pyjama kind of shirt and draw-string long pants, always, and was for the most part sullen and rude. But he warmed up to the regulars in later years. The driver, however, remained the Henry Fonda strong silent type till the last! Neither spoke English, so we communicated in broken Malay. We never knew their names, but we named the Chinaman, Psycho, and later affectionately, as Gila (mad)! Rare was the occasion when either one of them smiled, or God forbid, laughed. It must have been a terribly hard and stressful vocation. And we boys were not exactly the easiest lot to handle, especially on the journey home when we could be pretty boisterous.

You either bought the Monthly Pass or paid cash daily (15 cents) for the tickets. From the first pick-up point in Pasar Road, the bus would collect VI students on its way through Cochrane Road, double back through Shelley Road past Convent Peel Road (Girls') School and turn left into the junction where Kedai Arak Tsin Tsin (Tsin Tsin Liquor Shop) and the Cheras PWD grounds stand. Tsin Tsin was owned by the family of my PRES 1 classmate, Tan Seng Tee, who also made it to VI. The family lived on the 2nd floor of the timber constructed "coffee shop." Seng Tee, who was among the top students as well as a scout and junior librarian, left for Down Under in 1971 after the F5 MCE exams. I managed to contact him after a hiatus of some 40 years; he's now a finance and biz consultant and was a biggie accountant/FC type at the Stock Exchange in Sydney.

From Cheras the bus would make a beeline in the direction of Pudu, passing on its right the Pudu Post Office and on its left the Pudu Fire Station, Railway Station Eurasian Recreation Club and turn left into Shaw Road at Pudu Prison (opposite Berjaya Times Square which was then the palatial home and grounds of Cheong Yoke Choy). The elevated highway and flyover just before Klinik Leela Ratos after Tsin Tsin were still some years off in the future.

About 50 metres after the left turn at Pudu Prison, the bus would hang a right at the roundabout, exit left, speed 50 metres and turn left into Jalan Stadium Negara and drop off the VI students just outside the school gates at the top of the hill at the back of Stadium Negara. If you missed the School Bus, you were in trouble. The commercial buses which stopped, dropped and picked up passengers all along stops that route would not get you to VI on time. That meant an inevitable confrontation with the Prefect on duty just inside the school gates to apprehend latecomers, and nightmarish DC (Detention Class).

Which meant missing the noon School Bus and possibly a three-mile walk in the burning sun after crossing the Pudu Railway Tracks, to home in Jalan Pelandok. Worse still, DC in VI was rarely just "write 1,000 lines why I must not be late for school." It possibly meant polishing all the door hinges at the School Hall, sweeping the leaves, branches and debris and clearing the drains at the main car park or tidying up the School Pavilion and store-rooms there. However, the crème de la crème punishment of it all was the dreaded cleaning out the squatting stalls and urinals at the boys' toilet, affectionately referred to as "206" from the municipality number plate at its stinky entrance!

Most of us would be in our classrooms by 7. After placing your schoolbag on the chair (you could not leave it on the floor or desk - it was against school rule no. 2,797,065), you would have to attend to one of the morning duties assigned to you by your Class Monitor. These duties could be any of sweeping clean the classroom, wiping clean the blackboards in front and back of the room with a damp cloth, knocking the duster free of chalk dust against the cement top of drains outside the classroom (and hiding the feather duster) and ensuring new chalk was laid out on the wooden running board for the teachers, polishing the door hinges either at the classroom or the School Hall, wiping clean the classroom doors and glass panels or arranging the desks and chairs in straight rows. The arty students would be assigned to write and colour up the "saying of the week" or some famous quotation.

All this had to be done every day (Monday-Friday) before the Prefects came at 7.15 onwards to award marks to determine who won the "Cleanest Classroom of the Week" competition. The winner would be announced during School Assembly every Monday, whence the respective Class Monitor would proudly walk up to the stage to receive the plaque from the HM, in front of the whole school. Some took this competition so seriously, so much so that a precedent was set in 1968 or 1969, when an enterprising Class Monitor got all his classmates to chip in to buy paint and paraphernalia and had their classroom completely repainted by themselves! All those from the "Dirtiest Classroom of the Week" would end up in DC.

As soon as you finished your chores, you either headed for a quick snack at the Tuck Shop (nasi lemak, fried mee hoon, mee rebus, laksa, buns, toast, tea, coffee, iced orange squash, bottled pop drinks) or trudged towards the spot assigned in the Quadrangle to line up with your classmates for the 7.30 bell to ring. The official School Bell Ringer, a student, would be appointed every year from one of the classes nearest to the School Office on the First Floor, for this purpose. This same guy was responsible for sounding the bell to mercifully end the 45 minutes subject periods! You could not return to your classroom, loiter around the corridors, Tuck Shop, or anywhere else once the Prefects marched out in numbers and asked you to go "line up."

Once you lined up, you could not horse around or chat with your classmates. If spotted by a Prefect, you could be let off with a stern warning or be put down for DC. If spotted by one of the "strict" teachers, or worse still, the HM who would often be patrolling the upper corridors before the bell sounded, it usually meant six of the best!

Of course, new students like us had no classroom or spot at the Quadrangle to line up. So, we were directed to the School Hall and sat on the floor. Our bags were filled with new text books, exercise books, pencil boxes and the like, We had been given the book lists during the December holidays and had bought all the necessary stuff at the VI Book Shop in that room at the back of the School Hall near the dungeons where ghosts of prisoners tortured to death by the Japanese in 1944-45 are said to still roam at night. We also shopped in specialist stores like Anthonian Book Store in Brickfields or the mamak ones near Naina Mohammad opposite Bangkok Bank near the Central Market. In my case, there were several hand-me-downs from my brother.

Surprisingly for us, the first day of VI was chaotic. The list of Form 1 students and assigned classes were not up on the school notice board. So, all these new faces, teachers, were running up and down the staircase leading to the School Office, trying to sort out the unexpected hooha with the Chief Clerk, the evergreen Mr. Richard Pavee and his assistant, Ms. Anna Yap (who later became Mrs. Anna Pavee). Meanwhile, we were moved from the School Hall to the School Refectory (opposite the Tuck Shop) as the HM did not like the cacophony there. The Refectory was part mess hall, part study room and used in the afternoons for inter-class debates and other society meetings. The following year, it was converted into the Junior Library. Others took refuge in the shade of the Basketball Court next to the School Hall, shepherded over by some Prefects.

Eventually, the list emerged. We were divided into 4 groups with the classes named after the 4 compass directions. I, together with Cheah and Fong from PRES 1 ended up in Form 1 North with pals like Ng Chee Peng, T A Mohan, Kwan Poh Woh, Kow Yoke Wah, cousins Mac Kean Boon and Mac Yin Tee, and others. Balraj and Indran were placed in 1 South and Liow Soo Choong (No.1 sprinter/athlete, soccer goalkeeper and table-tennis player), a close pal from PRES 1, in 1 East. After Form 5 in 1970, Liow, due to family circumstances, started work at the newly opened casino at Genting as Croupier who rose up the ranks to Supervisor, Casino Executive, Casino Shift Manager, Slot Shift Manager and Admin & Training Manager. When he retired from Genting last year, he had been the Assistant Vice-President of Surveillance for the previous 6 years. He was recalled from retirement by his friend and ex-superior officer to help him out in Resorts World Sentosa in Singapore. The majority of the 45 students in Form 1 North were from PRES 1 and 2. A few others like Rama (now Retd. Major) and Sallehuddin came from schools like Batu Road, Maxwell and Brickfields.

Our class teacher was Mrs. Chong Hong Chong who led us to our classroom on the ground floor just opposite the HM's, teachers' and staff staircase next to the School Hall. We were thus guaranteed that the HM and every teacher would pass by our class at least twice a day. We were cowed even before we had settled in!

Mrs. Chong immediately began to mark attendance. When she came across my mile long name, she casually dubbed me "Longfellow" which caused me to blush and cringe as the others burst out in guffaws. I silently cursed my father!

But, Mrs. Chong drummed and laid into our thick heads the foundations of English grammar, vocabulary, comprehension and essay writing and for that, no amount of thanks or praise could be too much!

But, I nevertheless exulted. My brother had warned me about a particular teacher to be avoided at all costs. I said a silent prayer of thanks to the Lord.

My General Science teacher was NOT Valentine Manuel!!

 

1966 - The VI Teachers



he line up of teachers in Form 1 North was:-
Form Mistress, English and Art - Mrs. Chong Hong Chong, College Trained
Mathematics - Mr. T. Rajaratnam, College Trained
History - Mr. Kok Hee Fatt, R.T.C. Trained
Geography - Mr. Teh Mun Hing, R.T.C. trained
National Language - Cikgu Noran, Language Inst. Trained
General Science - Mr. Loong Nyi, R.T.C Trained

None was a graduate, but they lacked in nothing for that. The system was such that you had monthly tests, as well as mid-year and final term exams. And lots of homework! Even if you were involved in official school extra-curricular activities, the teachers brooked no excuses. They were constantly on your back, to make up for whatever they lacked in making you fully understand the topics as not every teacher was an excellent communicator.

It was a system that worked well because the teachers cared and kept you on your toes. That saved you from last minute cramming for tests and exams. It also gave you more time to work on your "grey area" topics and revisions before the end-of-the-year exams.

English was the medium of teaching and essay style answering for History, General Science and Geography was in force. By the time we reached Form 3, additional "objective question papers" and 2HB pencils came into vogue for Maths, History and Geography. The short answering system now used ubiquitously is one of the main reasons for the decline in English language standards over the last 40 years.

I have already written about Mrs. Chong and her diligence in drilling into us the rudiments of English language, though she had her odd cranky moments too. I was reminded by A. Ramachandran about an incident involving Teoh Siang Chin (now doctor and ex-President of the MMA). While Mrs. Chong was blathering on about prepositions and conjunctions (another of those really interesting topics like the sex life of the Malayan rhinoceros beetle) Chin's gaze was affixed in the direction of the Sports Pavilion clearly visible through the open doors of 1 North. When pounced upon by Mrs. Chong, Teoh, startled out of his reverie, blurted as he pointed with his fingers, "Two dogs fighting teacher there!"

"No," corrected Mrs. Chong, "You mean, Teacher, I was distracted by two dogs copulating over there by the Sports Pavilion," as she copped him a couple over the ears and thrust and ground her English Grammar Textbook in his face!

Teh taught us this cute little trick of making small cardboard cut-outs of the outlines of country maps which you could use when taking down Geography notes. This was a great help for students like me, whose magnificent free-hand drawing of the map of peninsular Malaya was once famously described by relief teacher Mrs. Lee Hung Yen as "Whoa, what have we here? Picasso? A real jambu looking bulging brinjal"! Mrs. Lee was one of those female teachers whom even the Form 1 boys would check out as we passed her along the school corridors! Ask Cheah and Fong, and they will fall over laughing when reminded of Teh's peculiar pronunciation of "Wanganui," "Taranaki," and "Rotorua" when introducing NZ geography. Teh was strict but fair.

T. Rajaratnam was of course of the same "fire and brimstone" mould as Valentine Manuel. He was also the revered School Cricket Master and coached hockey as well. But, unfortunately, by the time he came upon our batch, he had lost one leg below the knee, to cancer. So, it was a somewhat subdued Raja who taught us Euclid's and Pythagoras' theorems. The feather duster was his weapon, though in 1966 Raja wielded it relatively sparingly. Sadly, Raja succumbed to terminal cancer in 1967 at a very young age.

I still believe that this "old" system of teaching Maths from foundation, theorems and proofs leads to a better understanding of the subject as well as to a nimbler mind. This is as opposed to the modern method of heading straight to the solution and short-cuts to solving problems. Only a month ago, my neighbour's son who was in Form 2 came to seek some help from me on "construction methods" with compass, protractor and all. It was clear the teacher had not shown him why the construction of the 60 degrees or 30 degrees angles from right-angles and arcs was correct. "In the old days" Raja would have first talked about the equilateral triangle and then proceeded to "prove" his construction as "100% correct, QED"! (Or am I the odd one out, old fashioned?).

Now, Kok Hee Fatt was a different kettle of fish. He would blow hot and he would blow cold. He eschewed the lecture style of teaching for the blackboard. You had to copy his History notes rapidly. The chalk duster in his left hand would fly in pursuit of the rapidly moving chalk in his right hand like hounds after a panting fox in a blood sport hunt. But he came prepared for his lessons as the facts were a lot more than you could get from your textbook.

Once, he had given us some homework to be handed in the following day. Now, we have all had this experience where we would take extra, extra, extra care to pack the homework book in our satchels the night before so that we would not have to earn the wrath of the teacher. And the following day, sure enough, when the time came, the history homework book was missing from my bag!! (I found it later under my work table at home!) I panicked when Kok confronted me. I pleaded that I had actually completed the homework in class the previous day before going home. Kok not only laughed but sneered as well. He smelled a kill! Kok was famous for his stomach corkscrew twist-pinch and I stood there white-faced and zombified, not unlike a hypnotised rat waiting to be swallowed whole by a python or anaconda!!

Just when all seemed lost, my good friend Kow Yoke Wah (I don't know what possessed him, but I would have given him the Victoria Cross were it within my powers to do so) stood up and blurted out that what I said was true (and it was). That saved my bacon! Yoke Wah's wealthy family operated a chicken farm at the back of the Imbi Road Postal and Football field. As far back as Standard 4 in PRES 1, I would walk with him from his "farm" to the mamak bookshops in Jalan Imbi to buy the latest editions of Enid Blyton's "Secret Seven," "Five Find Outers," "Famous Five," etc, and after reading them, exchange books with him. Later, Abdul Jalil, another 1966 Virgin, lived in the upstairs of one of these mamak shops, as did Santhiranathan and his elder brother, Mr. Selvanathan, a BSc who taught Additional Maths in VI in 1970!

Kok Hee Fatt was also in charge of the Under 13 Football team which I captained in 1966. (You can see that gained me no favours with him). The team included one - a then relatively shy and unknown - Mokhtar Dahari!

Our team won all the preliminary inter-school games, some by huge margins. The matches would have been played under a Sahara sun with the mercury steaming out of the thermometer!! Just to rub it in at home matches, Kok would get us all to run a couple of times more round the 400m athletics track and up and down the hill slopes, AFTER a full 90-minutes inter-school match. This would be done in full view of the defeated opposition which would still be panting and quaffing from plastic cups the post-match iced lemonade supplied in plastic pails by Tuck Shop Boss Man, who attended most of the soccer matches played on home ground, especially the Under-20 games. (He once turned up in Kuala Kangsar to witness the annual VI-MCKK soccer showdown, such was his enthusiasm, devotion and support for VI soccer! In later years we would, during centralised Hockey Training, flirt with his friendly and giggly daughter Ivy, who helped out at the Tuck Shop and brought the iced drinks on to the field as well.) There is a cricketing term and strategy invented by Alan Border, ex-Oz Test Cricket Captain (1984-94), called "Mental Disintegration" meaning, to further grind into the dust and grime an opponent already facing humiliating defeat. Kok was clearly way ahead of his time!

But in the finals against St. John's Institution, played on a somewhat wet and muddy soccer pitch at Brickfields Road School, we were unexpectedly undone 2-0 by the brilliance of SJI's Johnny Loon Tsai, who in later years played for Selangor Schools. I had performed dismally. Our team included, besides myself as centre forward and Mokhtar Dahari as inside left, other regulars like 'Thunderkicks' Fong, left winger Amiruddin, Sallehuddin, Indran, Shook Keong, Liow Soo Chong as goalkeeper, Ket Chong, Balraj and Abu Bakar (who had scored the winning goal for us in the U11 finals played at the Merdeka Stadium between PRES1 and Princes Road Primary School in 1964). There was also Ee Beng Yew (second goalkeeper), who would unleash an amazing, brilliant and winning 45 metre drop kick goal from beyond the half-way line at the Royal Selangor Grounds to secure a famous Dr. Lewis Trophy Rugby Finals win against RMC in 1970.

Kok did not attend that final U13 final as it was inexplicably played during school hours (10 a.m.) a few days before the end of First Term. When I returned to school and gave him the bad news, he was furious and ordered me to report the result to HM, Mr. Murugasu. That's when my better instincts got a firm grip on my regimented senses. I pretended to head in the direction of the HM's office upstairs and when Kok was out of sight, veered to my classroom. I knew better than to approach Muru with such bad news, the reward for which would have been nothing less than six of the best! For the next couple of days, Kok would look quizzically at me, wondering why I looked normal, if not cheerful, after a visit to Muru's office!

But for all that, to paraphrase Bill Cosby's message to his wife, "I love him more today than I ever did back then all those 43 years ago when he ordered me to go to Muru as the sacrificial lamb"!! Ha, ha! Sometimes, when I lie awake late at night in bed, the ghost of a smile would stretch my face, and a chuckle or two would leap out, which would have my wife querying if I'd finally lost it!

Loong was good at General Science and popular with all the boys. Again, respect was given whether they were strict or not. Rarely did we go overboard with any of these teachers. Once a month we would have a double-period session when we could ask him any (reasonable) question on science and he would answer it. To my amazement he patiently explained to the class my smart-arse question about how trees became petrified (like us Form 1 students whenever Manuel or Murugasu appeared). I still don't understand it!

Form 1 hockey also came under Loong's portfolio, but there was no inter-school competition (only Under 15). I remember him warning me about deliberately under-cutting the ball, which, if one was not careful about, could cause serious injury to someone on the field. But, such unsporting behaviour was never in my mind. I explained to him that the grass had not been cut on the practice pitch, and so whenever I took a big swipe at the ball, it was already sitting on top of a plateau waiting to do a "Houston, we have lift-off!" We graduated from "firewood" hockey sticks in PRES to zinging Indian "Chakravarti" and Pakistani "Karachi King Super" brands which we cherished ownership of - like Gold!

We were prepared well by Loong for the final term exams and I fancied that I was above average in science. Unfortunately, the paper was set by Valentine Manuel. To this day, I think Manuel deliberately set that question which had everyone reaching for the scoped Magnum 45 with the cyanide tipped dum-dum bullets that would make a narrow pinpoint entry in the frontal lobe of the skull, but blow everything out the back, leaving a gaping hole in the rear of the head the size of the Grand Canyon. The cyanide was added to make sure the job would be done if by some miracle the victim still survived the blast. If we had a handheld grenade launcher with heat seeking missiles attached, we would have brought that into play as well, just to be absolutely sure!

The famous exam question was "What are the two systems?" I swear that is exactly as it was framed 43 years ago. No more, no less!

This stumped me when I first read it and so I moved on to other questions. I had a spare couple of minutes towards the end, and wrack my brains as I would, I could not crack it. What two systems? Chain and Pulley? Eastern & Western? Science and Religion? English & Malay? 5-3-2 and 4-4-2? It eventually dawned on me that it must have something to do with Science. Feet and Inches? My desperate Genting Casino answer was Centigrade and Fahrenheit. Boing! Wrong!

Well, Manuel's answer was CGS and FPS systems - Centimetre, Gram, Second and Foot, Pound, Second. Maybe three guys out of a total of 180 students got it right, and that, too, I would wager was by pure guesswork. It was nowhere in out textbooks or notes. You lost 1/2 mark if you did not submit the abbreviated answers or include "systems"!! In a competitive school like VI, the difference between the prize-winner and the next 20 top scorers could be as little as two marks!

Cikgu Noran was the quieter type and spoke English well. But the rules for learning Malay were simple. You could not speak in English during his classes or use modified English words in comprehension exercises or essay-writing. Even "Hospital" was disallowed. It had to be "Rumah Sakit". We learnt pure, unbastardised Malay. Where now is the "Campaign for Pure Malay Language"? In tatters, that's where! Noran also stood in as cricket coach for the junior squad. He really had no real knowledge of or enthusiasm for cricket. But he would nevertheless turn up punctually for all the practice sessions and stay till the end. That was enough for the students who were often coached by the senior players like Zainon Mat, who eventually captained the Malaysian national team.

And that was the thing about those teachers. They would turn up in numbers for the practices, inter-school games and society meetings late afternoon. I don't know if they were paid any allowances for these after-school activities, but such dedication deserves being worshipped. These days, students could count themselves lucky if the teachers made it to the classroom during normal school hours consistently! No doubt, Muru's leadership was the driving force, but the commitment from the teachers then was unwavering and awe-inspiring.

As for Valentine Manuel, what can I say? We all had a love-hate relationship with him. At sharp 7.25 a.m. you could hear the "phut, phut, phut" as his smoky Yamaha or Honda struggled up the hill to get to the parking area and to class or the Sports Pavilion (he was in charge of PE classes, Physical Exercise, as well as Athletics) before Muru spotted him. It was obvious he had splashed talcum powder on his wet face in a hurry, because it caked in splotches on his cheeks. And he walked like a snorting, stalking bull which intimidated even the hard-crusted Rex Theatre 08 (Kosong Lapan) gangsters in school. Amazing that he later successfully gave up teaching for the legal profession!

The fact that he was not my General Science teacher did not mean I was spared his rod. Among my hand-me-downs was a well-thumbed copy of the Form 1 General Science textbook, which had been revised. So, before Loong's lessons started, I would dash over to 1 East and borrow the new edition from fun loving and cheeky Michael Nettleton (ex-PRES 2) who was in the same football squad as I. Michael was poetry in motion in the 110m high hurdles. He had an elder brother, Harold Nettleton, who had some run-ins with Manuel. The Nettletons had Portuguese blood. Michael was among Manuel's "favoured" students and across the length and breadth of the corridor we could hear the frequent calls of "Come to the front, De Melo" followed by the thwack, thwack, thwack of feather duster on school pants. De Melo is a slang for the Portuguese, I believe.

As bad luck would have it, Manuel spotted me borrowing Michael's book. Manuel had seen me before on the football field, but that cut no ice with him. We were both summoned to the front of 1 East and received three cuts from his infamous feather duster on our palms, in front of the whole class which had no idea why we were being Manuelized. I don't recall if I said sorry to Michael, but that evening I begged my grandfather to use his Court and Police connections to have Manuel arrested under the ISA and locked up forever!!

On another occasion, it so happened that a taxi disgorged its passengers in the main porch of the school while classes were in session. 1 North was the second class to the right of the porch and 1 West, the second on the left. In between were 1 South and 1 East, with 1 South and 1 East separated by the main hall way leading to the common corridor. Just after that period was over, in stormed Manuel, and without so much as an "Excuse me, Mrs. Chong" demanded that all those sitting in the row immediate to the porch side step out. Nine were each given three strokes of the best for failing to inform the taxi driver that it was against school rules to drop off passengers at the main porch, followed by Manuel's ringing "Damn swine, now you will learn!" All students seated in similar rows in the other three Form 1s also received the same punishment. Fortunately, I was in the second row! But for the rest of the year, we all kept one ear and one eye in the direction of the main porch whenever lessons were on. We were terrorised and half stressed out by Manuel's unpredictable mood swings.

But perhaps it was that incident over the "Manual Labour" (or should that be "Manuel Labour"?) headline in the New Straits Times that takes the cake.

The school field tended to get waterlogged after even a moderate downpour and so plans were drawn up to lay pipes to improve the drainage system. Presumably some Engineers had been engaged to carry out the survey and draw up the master plans. One fine day, all those in Forms 1 to 5 were told we would have combined PE classes the following week. Other lessons were re-scheduled to accommodate it. When we assembled on the field that Tuesday morning, there stood Manuel, with engineering plans in hand, and directed us to assist the school mandors to gather changkuls, dig, fill up coconut-fibre baskets and deposit mud and earth by the land at the edge of the field! The grass was marked over with turpentine and chunam (limestone) for the drainage lines. This went on for a few days with different batches of students, before someone leaked it to the Press (I swear it wasn't me or my brother). "Breaking News!" screamed the NST and Malay Mail with pictures and all. The School denied it, but as sure as the sun rises in the East, it happened!

I noted some years later that Manuel reserved this ogre pose for the fresh batch of Form 1 students. It got much easier and relaxed with Manuel in Forms 2 and 3.

The other new thing we encountered in Form 1 was swimming lessons. VI was the only secondary school in Selangor, probably in the whole of Malaysia too, with a 25 metre enclosed swimming pool within the school compound. Some years later, we would climb on to the flat open roof-top of the pool to watch for free Malaysia Cup Soccer matches being played at night in Merdeka Stadium as we had a clear view from atop over the school side of the fence and walls that separated the stadium from the school.

Before that I would occasionally head to the Weld Road Public Swimming Pools (at the back of the now defunct Edam Seafood Restaurant) where the Pavilion Mall now stands, for a dip with friends for 20 cents entrance charge. I took to chlorinated water like the Apache Red Indian to soap bath. I would immediately get into sneezing fits.

Swimming lessons as the first or second period in the morning sure was a bitch!

We had to don proper swimming trunks AND approved rubber swimming caps in the changing rooms, wet ourselves in the freezing common showers, dip our feet in the chemical bath and then line up by the pool side by which time Sawn Off Broomstick Handle would be waiting for us. If it was a particularly windy or chilly morning, that was, as SOBH said, "your bloody problem, I'm not your fairy godmother." Many made the fatal mistake of turning up for the first ever lesson without swimming caps.

SOBH's punishment for that oversight was two full-swing resounding thwacks on the meaty part of the buttocks with a sawn off broomstick handle. Thus another legend was born. Among the legendees who wore the painful welts and bruises for a week or more were T A Mohan (now consultant surgeon), Teh Kim Hock and Mac Kean Boon.

They were culled like poor, innocent baby seals in a Norwegian slaughter fest frenzy! I and others like Fong and Cheah escaped the massacre as we had borrowed approved rubber swimming caps from elder brothers in VI!!

 

1966 - Of Golden Fleece and Heroes


welve and thirteen year old boys tend to hero-worship their elders. In primary schools such boy-leaders who truly lead are rare and that has everything to do with puberty.

Thus, in my primary school, Pasar Road English School 1, the teachers led the way. Outstanding among them was Mr. Paul Lee, my class and English teacher in Standard 6 in 1965. He coached the school Under 11 and Under 12 football squads and was the Prefects' Master as well. This was the era when even primary school teachers turned out for teams in the Selangor Football League and league matches were played in PRES' soccer pitch. From 1963 to 1965, most of my December and March school term holidays were taken up by thrice-a-week football training at PRES under the wings of Paul Lee, such was his enthusiasm for football and dedication to its cause.

Another who stood out was Mr. A. Vaithilingam or "Vaithi," now the President of the Hindu Sangam of Malaysia. Vaithi was the Athletics Master. Every Sports Day he would be seen starting off all the relays with his capped pistol which went "Bang!" and for which he would tell us in hushed tones, "You need a police license, don't play the fool boys!" We did not know the difference between a capped pistol and a condom. We imagined he always carried this pistol in the voluminous pocket of his even more voluminous long pants. That was enough for us to keep a healthy distance away from him and accord him some impressive respect. We knighted him "Son of A Gun!"

I greeted Paul Lee in the VI School Office (where he was visiting) sometime in 1971, but he did not recognize me. I was stunned when "Cobra" or "One-eyed Selva" as the hockey boys dubbed the school Chief Clerk who replaced Richard Pavee, chipped in with "Hey, Paul don't you remember him from PRES? Remember that Under 11 football final in Merdeka Stadium?" Mr. K. Selvanayagam had also been the CC in PRES all those years ago. I used to go to Merdeka Stadium with my brothers to watch the Selangor State Athletics Meet (1963/64/65) which took place late evenings to nights. VI students like Eddy Lee, Wong Mun Fui and R. Thillainathan (UM Econs Gold Medallist) competed with national athletes. I met up with Dr. Thilli (Ph D) a few years ago at Wisma Genting (he's been Genting's Economic Advisor/Director since the '80's) to discuss a proposal for land acquisition from the Company I worked for. He's now a vegetarian and he was pleased as punch when I mentioned his athletics days in VI and about having seen him in the 100 m sprint at Merdeka Stadium! During his VI days, Dr. Thillli used to live in one of the Government Quarters houses facing Jalan Davis School off Pasar Road.

Cobra was both a hurdler and sprinter. He played at full-back for the inaugural 1972 VI staff-students' hockey team which participated in the Selangor Hockey Association Division 2 League Tournament. That team included Mr. Daniel Chan (my Biology teacher in Form 6) and Mr. Robin Goh, the Malaysian international. What a thrill that was, being coached by and playing alongside Robin Goh and Yang Siow Meng, another international who was the players' player when it came to stickwork wizardry!

It may be a little pompous and even downright silly talking about Separation of Powers for a school like the Victoria Institution. I mean we were not a Government. But VI ran like that! There was the HM, Mr. Murugasu who was everywhere, the teachers who were everywhere and the Prefects who were everywhere. All day long! And sometimes, all night long too! Each knew his duty well and took his role seriously and conscientiously. All of them were working executives; there was no place for sleeping partners and chairmen or lawyers with watching briefs. The Prefects were the bridge between the HM and the teachers and the ones with whom we came into contact the most. There was no place anyone could hide and goof off. That applied to the school mandors (labourers) and jaga (the watchmen who resided in the VIOBA premises) as well.

Inevitably, the Prefects were the games and House Captains, as well as heads of some of the societies. In some instances the leaders were the august members of Club 21 who were selected based on their outstanding contribution in any field including being top students in the public examinations. There was much mentoring of new leaders from the old guard which made life that much easier for the teachers in charge of various activities. The 1st and 2nd KL Scouts had student Assistant Scout Masters (King Scouts) who were the guys who actually ran the show, jamborees, camping, "akela will do our best, dip, dip, dip, dop, dop, dop!" and all that. Even the School Librarian and Red Cross Chairman were recognised and admired. (Remember Melville Jayathissa who joined the British Council Library? He was passionate about the library and books. Or Yap Chin Seong in 1972?).

There was not a single student who at some stage in his life in VI did not secretly or openly harbour ambitions of being appointed to the Prefects' Board. There was something impressive about these "Blue Shirts" who wore their white jackets and stalked the corridors or stood by the doors of the School Hall during Assembly days, while the School Captain and Vice-Captain stood to attention in front of the Assembly with their backs to the stage where the HM performed in front of the seated teaching corps!

My first run in with a Prefect, about a month after school started, was a disaster. It cost me serious money. Twenty cents! Due to a particularly rainy weekend, I had not bothered polishing my white Bata canvas shoes (remember the "Mula mula ke Bata, kemudian ke Sekolah" ad?) with liquid white Bata polish, normally applied with an old toothbrush (sponges came into vogue a year or two later). This was also well before the era of electric hair dryers!

The shoes were actually quite clean except they had green rubber strips at the side and back portions that covered the ankles, heels and insteps. This was the original Badminton Master shoe. VI school rule No. 1,402,751 dictated the green strips HAD to be painted over. On reaching school, I tried to shield myself from the prefects by keeping to the shadows or walking in the centre of a circle of friends. But I could not escape the piercing and penetrating gaze of the hawkeyed and bespectacled (yes, you guessed it - standard black, plastic Elvis Costello type frame) Soo Sun Wah (VI Badminton Captain) who commanded me to the Prefects' Room.

There I was ordered to paint over the by now totally remorseful, thoroughly ashamed and repentant serially homicidal green strips as well as the rest of the killer shoes. As I was about to walk off after completing the job, Sun Wah pronounced the death sentence on me. "That will be 20 cents," he whispered, like Brando in "The Godfather" movie. I blanched! Twenty bloody effing cents??!! That was all of my pocket money for the day. I mean, we were not poor, but were not swimming in money either, with four other schooling siblings in my family of nine, and the odd uncle or cousin who would set up camp for a month or two at a time. I brought buttered and jammed, honeyed or cheesed, bread wrapped in waxy Southern Bakery original bread wrap paper and water in school-purpose water bottle (filled with tap water, red syrup or Milo) for my mid-morning repast; every day! (Yes, those were the days you could drink water straight off the tap without boiling it. Expensive water filters, de rigueur nowadays, were practically unheard of). I would rush home (via that infamous school bus) and wolf down my lunch before cycling or walking back the three odd miles to VI before 4 p.m. The 20 cents were for a bottle of Coke or Pepsi after evening games.

So, I coughed up, but very, very reluctantly like a Scotsman having to pay for a round of drinks. As a silent sign of protest, I quietly pocketed the toothbrush! That must have caused a major investigation and scandal of Bernie Madoff-like proportions among the prefects and the school auditors!

It was not until 1968 I think that Bata had a competitor in Fung Keong Shoes. When my father suggested I switch to Fung Keong, I went into fits and tantrums. In today's terms, that would be like substituting Nike with Bata! But I eventually relented for that other reason - there were no green or red strips! The shoes were completely white and maintenance would be less tedious. The next year Balraj appeared for hockey training with a snazzy pair of black canvas rubber studded Fung Keong boots, ideal for hockey but not football. The entire team switched to Fung Keong.

From my own experience, I can certify that prefects were chosen solely on merit. That did not mean that all who deserved were appointed to the Prefects Board or that every prefect acquitted himself well in his role as a VIPB member. Some missed the cut in a particularly competitive year when places were limited; in other years politics did interfere with the process. Admittedly, there tended to be a bias towards sportsmen. But without exception, I have found that those who had successful careers after leaving school were never one dimensional! Their interests included sports and/or active interest in music, the arts, cars, politics, and what have you.

Thus when Kwan Poh Woh (Drum Major/Horticulture Society) was appointed prefect in 1972, there was some raising of eyebrows! But if you think leading the VI School Band with some 30 musicians is a piece of cake, think again! There were very high expectations on the Drum Majors who each year had to introduce new tunes, innovate with lighted caps and formulate complicated marching manoeuvres and drills for Speech Day Tattoos which were held at night. There were interminable practice sessions, full-dress rehearsals and performances under the blazing sun (e.g. on Sports Day). One year the band innovated with a jazzed up version of Negara Ku (yes, they were ahead of Mahathir) and got a thorough shelling from Muru to revert to the original version! The leader had an obligation to maintain traditions, train the new recruits and leave a lasting legacy. It was a thinking job full of stress and pressure. Poh Woh had to master the triple-loop baton throw (degree of difficulty: 10.0!) for the 1972 Malaysian Schools Band Display at Merdeka Stadium, where VI had three Drum Majors (the other two being Jaccob Thomas now (MSc Econs & Finance) MD of Mav Cap in KL and Lye Kim Loong) who tossed batons to the heavens and caught them perfectly in their descent!!

If, in recent years, the VI Cadet Band has twice won the World School Bands competition held in Europe, it had its beginnings all those years ago! Don't forget, Poh Woh was PRES 1 School Captain in 1965 where he was also a member of the school band and played (obviously) the Base Drum!! There are no coincidences in life! (That 1965 PRES 1 School band was led by a VI 1966 virgin, A. Sivandan (now Dr. Sivandan) who was the youngest of the Arul brothers from Ring Road near Pudu Railway Station and San Peng Road. The Arul brothers all led the school band in their respective years, under the tutelage and leadership of handsome Mr. Ng Seng Kiat at whose wedding the PRES 1 band played Elvis Presley's "Wooden Heart." My elder brothers were in the band, but me, I was too shy to sign up!

The 1966 School/Hockey Captain was Tan Kee Kwong (son of Dr. Tan Chee Khoon, founder of the Labour Party and Gerakan and leader of the Opposition in Parliament). I never came into contact with him except at an Old Boys' gathering a couple of weeks ago! He's now a PKR member, following a spat within Gerakan.

The School Vice-Captain/Athletics Captain was Nah Seang Hoo who also represented VI at Rugby and Cricket. I was in awe of him. There is this picture in my mind's eye of Sports Day 1966. I am in my Hepponstall House tent right across the other side of the tracks opposite the Games Pavilion. I see from the corner of my right eye this blur of combined silver bullet and gazelle hop, skip, jump and hurl itself over the sand pit for a new triple jump school record. That was Nah. None had expected him to clear the triple-jump sand pit at its farther end. Believe me, that 14-odd-metre leap was something!

Nah oozed leadership and he drew all around him wherever he went. He had great charisma. Nah had brains as well. After qualifying as a doctor, he could be seen jogging in the school field some evenings and he even coached some cricket. There were a few occasions in 1974 when I stood at one end of the cricket training pitch catching and throwing back the ball, as he demonstrated to Chew Weng Kong, (1974 School/Cricket Captain), the art of swing bowling. Nah came prepared with a can of leather polish and cotton towel to prime one side of the cricket ball!

My last encounter with him was in 1975 when he picked me up from my house in Kampong Pandan Indian Settlement for a VIOBA vs PJ Club friendly cricket match played at VI. I was not a slow fielder on the grounds by any means, but Nah made me look pedestrian by comparison. He bowled, batted and fielded pace. That VIOBA team included 'Vinny' Vinayak Pradhan (1968 School/Cricket Captain/Victorian Editor) whom my good pal A. Balachandren (1971 Prefect/Cricket Captain) once complimented as "an uncanny captain." There was an incredible running catch that Nah took to dismiss James Niles' hook to fine leg that day which had Vinny shaking his head and exclaiming "not many would have made it to the ball, let alone take the catch!" Although I played cricket for the VI teams of 1971 and 1972, I was under no illusion as to my prowess. Had I been a senior during the times of the VI cricket teams of 1966-70, I would not have made "water boy." Seang Hoo is also famous among prefects for his water colour portrait of JFK which still hangs in the VIPB room! Nah's younger brother, Seang Chew (1968 School Vice-Captain and now a Junior College teacher in Singapore), was no less a talented cricketer and an all-rounder.

(Another who seemed destined to lead and is still much admired by me as well as by his contemporaries and peers, is Yap Kian Fui who was School Vice-Captain of PRES 1 (1964) and School Captain of VI (1971). I first met him on the PRES football field in 1963 where he was the speedy right winger. He was Sportsman of the Year in both PRES 1 and VI (jointly with Raja Ahmad), as well as Victor Ludorum (Champion Athlete) and academically gifted as well. He was yet another successful product of Imbi Road & PRES 1. I was very moved and really felt honoured when he recently invited me for his son's wedding dinner at the Marriott Hotel in KL!)

The 1966 batch of students had some really outstanding prefects and students, many with brains to match their brawn. Several returned the following year as Temporary Teachers who were in every sense as good as, if not better, than some of the regular teachers.

Among the prefects were Pong Kai See (football /rugby), another of my idols and his close pal, Dr. Yong Siew Onn (Victorian Editor/rugby) who taught us general science for one term in Form 2 North and made it fun. Kai See was a max 5A's HSC student. When I met him recently I mentioned remembering he was awarded a Colombo Plan Scholarship for overseas. He corrected me that he had been offered two scholarships, the Rubber Research Institute Scholarship being the one he accepted to study in UK! More amazingly, his varsity and flatmate in London for two years was his intense scholar rival in school, Yeoh Oon Hock (also max 5A's HSC).

S. Ramasamy (Prefect/Athletics/Football/Scout) was chuffed when I likened his football style to that of the great Eusabio who destroyed Korea and England in the 1966 World Cup! Tan Kim Chuan (1967 School & Football Captain/Athletics/Rugby), another of the VI greats, coached our victorious 1968 U15 Football team for which we presented him a trophy of appreciation. From him we learnt about team spirit and to play a more adventurous and daring style of soccer. He taught geography. Nice guy Prefect/Asst. Scout Master Lum Chee Soon was renowned for that slash of Brylcreemed hair which slung across his forehead in an arc which he would frequently comb into place and fondle. Chee Soon is now an Econs lecturer at Capilano University in North Vancouver.

Then there were Club 21 members like Leong Weng Chiew (Senior Debater) who briefly taught history and made it lively. In 2004, I spent two weeks in Lahore, Pakistan, with Weng Chiew as corporate lawyer for a Malaysian Plc I worked for, trying to seal a corporate deal and the most miserable of Joint Venture Agreements! Melville Jayathissa drummed the little known life cycle of the cockroach into our flea bitten brain in 1968. Cyril Gaudart held the Malaysian Schools 100m sprint records, while Ishtiaq Mobarak Ahmad (my senior in PRES 1) still coaches the national hurdlers, having made an appearance in that event in the 1976 Montreal Olympics! Zainon Mat, as I mentioned earlier, later played for and captained Malaysia in cricket. Zainon was a javelin champ as well. P. Paramjothy was appointed to Club 21 by HM Muru. The Monday following the Saturday he dropped the baton in a 4x100 inter-schools relay, had the presence of mind to quickly pick it up and make ground for the last leg to come home second! Good and sporting character was well rewarded.

Awang Goneng, author of "Growing Up In Trengganu" is none other than Wan Ahmad Hulaimi, who won the first prize in the Literary (English) Section of the "Victorian" while still in Lower Six A1 in 1966. I contacted him by email last year and mentioned to him about having read his article in the school magazine titled "The Italian That Refused To Go P-i-i-i-i-ng" (second prize, senior section 1967) about his Vespa scooter. He duly apologised to me for haunting my brain all these years! Astounding too, is it not, that he was Chairman of the VI Judo Club! And who says Malays of rural origin can't master English? If the mountain cannot come to Mohammad.....!

Oh, there were others and many memorable events.

But in sports, none stood out in 1966 more than the showdown on Sports Day between Nah Seang Hoo, the School Athletics Captain and a relatively unknown Harpal Singh, for the coveted Victor Ludorum Trophy. Both represented Sultan Abdul Samad House (purple colour). Nah had already bagged Golds with new records in Triple Jump, Long Jump and of all events, the Shot Putt!! Nah's putting technique and fitness must have been supreme, given there were more Herculean looking athletes in school and Nah looked like he could not possibly heave a feather over his shoulder!

The quiet and studious Harpal took golds in the 800 m, 1,500 m and 3,000 m races. Word got around the field that the challenge for the Victor Ludorum would go down to the wire. Every student, teacher and guest present lined the edge of the 400 m grass tracks to witness the outcome. The roar was incredible from the moment the starter gun went off till Nah just pipped Harpal to the tape for a great win. We cheered from beginning to end. And then some more as Nah shook Harpal's hands, did a victory lap and later lifted the Champion's Trophy! Neither race (no pun intended), nor religion nor creed mattered. And I would have cheered just as much had Harpal won, though neither Harpal nor Nah was from my House.

For once, we would remember who was runner up!

 

1966 - Rome was not Built in a Day


y fourteen-year-old son does not enjoy school. Dammit, that is a crying shame!! In my VI days, I spent more time in school than at home.

My daughter on the other hand, has managed to find a circle of friends and get herself into the school volleyball and cheerleading teams. Girls do mature faster and seem to adjust to school better than most boys.

But the current school system does not seem to actively encourage students to partake in extra-curricular activities. The paper chase is the be all and end all of it. They get there completely through personal initiative or prodding from parents. And that is THE damning indictment of the current schooling system in that it fails to produce enough thinking and all round students.

I was reminded recently by my old VI classmate and buddy Dr. Chew Yoong Foong of a "hilarious" incident involving 1972 Lewis Scholar, Lim Theam Siew. In the '60s the Headmaster, Mr. Murugasu, would appear in class and personally hand out the report cards to each student at the end of each term. When it came to Theam Siew's turn, Muru asked, "First in class, first in Form, first in Maths. What games or societies are you involved in, young genius?"

Theam Siew, by now reduced to a quivering mass of jelly croaked, "N-n-none, s-s-sssir!"

To which Muru predictably responded with, "Well, bend down! That'll be three strokes then!"

I am glad to record that Theam Siew, a lovely fellow, ended his tenure in VI as co-editor of the school magazine "The Victorian," as Secretary of Sultan Abdul Samad House and of the Automotive Society. If I am not mistaken, he participated in inter-house debates and the science and maths quiz and exhibitions as well.

So, the VI system was very clear. Exam results were, of course, the main priority. But, you had to be a member of at least one uniformed group and one society, and if you were not good enough to make it into the School First Eleven or the reserve teams, you had to turn out for the inter-house games. Weekly swimming and twice-a-week PE (Physical Education) classes and the Annual Cross Country Run (3 1/2 miles) were compulsory for all. If one really had a medical condition, one could get exempted from games, but not from participating in societies, debates, school plays/dramas and exhibitions. Hence, there was no discrimination against those who were physically not suited for sports. At the very least, you had to turn up regularly to cheer and support the school teams when playing at home or away, or your house team or even your Form team in games and debates.

The proof of the pudding was that you had to get your participation acknowledged and signed off by the respective teacher-in-charge, in the report card BEFORE it went to the HM. God forbid that the report card should go to Muru with a blank page!

What did all this mean?

Students were thus compelled to mix. Rarely did anyone remain isolated without a friend or two in school with whom they shared common interests and built up lasting camaraderie and friendship that would surpass school days to the grave. And that is important. When interviewing young applicants for management positions, I have frequently come across many with stellar 3.80 GPA and nothing else. They tend to get defensive when asked whether they participated in any extra-curricular activities while in school or Uni. "What's so great about sports or scouting?" they would counter, mistaking my line of inquiry. Organizations look for team players, leadership qualities and out-of-the box lateral thinkers and problem solvers. A 3.80 GPA alone will not reveal an interviewee's ability to fit into corporate culture.

And so it was that we were introduced in 1966 to debating by Mrs. Chong. The first topic for the inter-Form 1 debate was "Money Is the Root of All Evil." And she deliberately curtailed the title, leaving some width for the proposers and opposers to take the debate to another level, for Alexander Pope had actually said, "For the Love of Money is the Root of All Evil" which is a completely different proposition!

Each team comprised six students. Speaker 1 (who also did the rebuttal) was allowed 3 minutes since his speech would include the preamble, while Speakers 2 and 3 spoke for two minutes each with three additional minutes allowed for the rebuttal. Speakers 4 to 6, who were there to learn about public speaking, spoke for 1 minute each but their oratory earned no marks for their team. While the 3 teacher-judges totted up the marks, anyone from the audience could step forward and present his views on the topic for the day. There was one overriding rule and that was no one was allowed to read their speech. They could jot down the main points on a scrap of paper to refer to, but wholesale recital was not permitted. The debate would be presided over by a student Chairman and a time-keeper with wristwatch and bell. Speakers lost points for exceeding the time limits.

While English was my forte, standing in front of an audience of 90 students and arguing the pros and cons of money and evil was decidedly not; more so, since students and teachers from other Forms and seniors too would attend for the fun of it. As we were novices, we were fully capable of making ourselves look like the southern view of a northern bound ass, because we had to utter pompous phrases such as "My honourable speakers from across the floor shed heat, but not light!" or "The Honourable first Speaker has a point. That's all. A point! For three whole minutes of verbal diarrhoea?" You could not dismiss the opposition by saying "You are lying!" or "You are talking through your hat!" or "You are stupid!" with which you often won arguments at home with your younger brother. Here, you had to be logical and/or witty.

The main speakers were Raymond Hui Hoong Fai (perennial teacher's pet), Mac Kean Boon and Ranjan Nitchingham. The Nitchingham brothers and sister shot to instant fame as the "Missing Links" when they won first prize in the Vocal Group section of the 1970 Talentime competition with their melodious rendition of the Mamas and Papas hit "Leaving On A Jet Plane." I was chosen as Speaker 5, with the 4th and 6th being Jaspal Singh (now Engineer and CEO Metroline London) and R. Mahendran (now doctor). That pleased me since even if I screwed up, the marks would not be affected. We had one practice session to polish up our speeches as Mrs. Chong vetted them, especially those of Speakers 1 to 3, and advised on the possible angles of attack in rebuttal.

The teams gathered for the First Olympian debate - 1 North vs 1 South - at the refectory room directly across the road and opposite the permanent tuck shop, at 2.00 p.m. There was much banging of tables and hooting and laughing as most speakers made mistakes in delivery and slip ups in pronunciations.

Then came my turn.

As I pulled out my referral scrap of paper, the audience went absolutely quiet. I was pleased with this respect which is not normally accorded to Speaker 5. Perhaps they knew something about my abilities that I was ignorant of. Anyway, I launched into a vociferous defence of the motion for the day as a proposer and was waffling on about how the evil Rothchilds brokered World Wars 1 and 2 for profit (as tutored by my father) when suddenly I got a knuckle knock at the back of my head that stopped me dead in mid-sentence. I was about to shout "what the f...!" as I turned around and immediately froze and gagged up. There was Muru standing right behind me!

"Don't look at the paper, don't slouch and speak up when debating," warned Muru as he made his way to the exit. He had been standing behind me from the very second I had stood facing the silent audience!! How from that nadir, I emerged the first Speaker for the School Debating Team in 1972, must remain a mystery deeper than that of virgin birth! Oh, we would debate about "Country Living is Better than City Living" or "Man Proposes, Woman Follows" and "The United Nations is a Failure."

The School Exhibition was held in conjunction with Speech, Concert and Prize Giving Day. Every class had to audition for Speech Day with a presentation; it could be anything - a play, a comic routine, a solo magic show, a song and dance, whatever. Mrs. Chong picked me to mouth the immortal line "Will you marry me?" on bended knee and holding a bouquet of plastic roses to a dolly made-up Chong Ket Chong, in 1 North's bid for the Oscars. Suffice to say we did not make it to the finals and a promising Hollywood career was dashed at the starting block; for "the good is oft interred with the bones"!!

The teachers themselves, as related to me by Mr. Chung Chee Min (and ex-Victorian and teacher 1965-67), put up a surprise delightful comedy performance hit for Speech Day Concert 1966. The "classroom" sketch was conjured up by CCM with Vinayak Pradahan (1968 School Captain) presiding over as the Form teacher of non-existent class L6A3 whose students' roles were played by members of VI's teaching corps such as Edward Dorall, Bernard Koay (who always walked around the school on the balls of his feet as though looking for a fight with anyone, male or female!), Miss Siew Moo Lan and the ever-popular (and ooh, so sexy) Mrs. Lee (sigh!).

The teachers had to rehearse secretly in the staff room after school. There was nowhere else otherwise they would have been seen. Even Che Gu Othman was in the act!

The skit began when the curtain opened with the class seated with their backs towards the audience so they would not recognized. It was a typical scene before the "teacher" arrived: Boys fooling around - CCM was tossing a basketball about, being the school basketball master after all! Then Vinayak entered and they all stood up. And scowling, he gave the "pupils" a dressing down. A few recalcitrant students - Edward Dorall and Bernard Koay - got up to challenge the teacher. And here's every VI boy's (wet) dream: Vinayak gave Bernard a tongue lashing and stared him down. He had turned the tables on Bernard for once and only once ever! In the end, the "teacher" ordered everyone to stand up, line up and march away. This was when the audience got to see the faces and recognize the "pupils" as their teachers!!

That same concert had Vinayak's class 5B1 winning the senior trophy. They had abandoned their form teacher for advice and turned to CCM to coach them. The item was entitled "An analysis of humour", a zany look at how we make people laugh using banana skins and cream pies. They had a mad scientist (Vinayak, who else?) supervising experiments on how people slipped on banana skins in the funniest way. The principal guinea pig was plump Radhakrishnan who actually had to fall on a real banana skin. Vinayak's helpers (which included the late human rights advocate Azmi Khalid) scribbled notes furiously with each thud on the floor. The cream pie experiments were hilarious. (The pies were actually shaving cream on paper plates). There was a serial pie throwing sequence and a surprise pie attack on Vinayak himself in the climax.

Radha was the younger brother of VI Biology teacher, "Young Andy" (N. Anandakrishnan).

The following year, the surprise act at the end of the 1967 concert was the Lion Tamer staff/pupil act. Vinayak (again), Radha and Donald Lee were "lions" with CCM as the Lion Tamer. CCM was turning the tables on the famous act by using boys to behave as lions. He wore a fake beard, making him resemble a lion. It was pronounced the best item actually but they couldn't collect as it was not officially entered as an item!

These were really grand, superb and spectacular affairs, ranging from Cadet Corps Guard of Honour, Band Tattoos, intriguing exhibits from the Arts and Science & Maths societies like paper-maché world maps and manufacturing banana and pineapple scents in the lab, a massive tree house constructed by the Scouts, Red Cross rescue demos and many more which had the crowds thronging the school. In 1972, the Automotive Society came up with "Motor Victoria," an amazing motor scooter. (Whatever happened to Lian Liong Teck, the inventor?). The 1968 75th VI Anniversary celebrations were topped at Speech Day with the arrival of the special guest of honour, the beloved Tunku, Malaysia's first Prime Minister. The Tunku's wife, Puan Sharifah Rodziah, gave away the prizes which, unlike the books and trophies of other years, consisted of a specially minted silver medal with the school logo on it. I was one of the lucky ones that year!

In 1966, one of the classrooms was converted by the Science & Maths Society into a lab for conducting IQ and Psychology tests, such as the curious Rorschach Inkblot Test. Just as I, a First Former dwarfed by seniors, was plucking up enough courage to give the speed reading test a bash, one of the teachers stepped forward to go for it as well. The test consisted of two paragraphs of text typed backwards and your IQ would be graded according to the speed with which you completed the reading. This teacher completed the test and we all stared in awe at him as his score was read out - 150+. Genius level! The teacher was none other than CCM himself. I quietly slunk away in case I turned out the score of Equus Asinus (donkey)!

They came from as far as Penang Fee School and Johor English College; the VI Exhibition Day was something to behold. The pièce de résistance was the Fireworks Display put together by the Science & Maths Society. I never found out who started that tradition but the whole effort was awesome since it was all done in-house, from mixing the chemicals and propellants to sourcing bamboo to make strips for the rockets.

There were many other avenues for students to excel in - Basketball, Netball, Tennis (not so popular then), Philately, Photography, Persatuan Bahasa Kebangsaan, Chess, Cultural Society, Scientific Victorian and more. The school regularly produced plays directed by Mr. Edward Dorall such as "Arise O Youth," "Look Back in Anger" and "A Tiger is Loose in Our Community" with a cast comprising students and teachers with no prior professional experience whatsoever! These plays were also staged at the Town Hall for the general public.

You can take a horse to water but you cannot make it drink. So, they say. But, many in VI discovered and realised latent talents and dormant potential which they developed and honed because the system pushed you beyond the water's edge, and sometimes just plain threw you in the deep end without a life-jacket. There were the shy ones, the laid back, the unadventurous and the "mugger" types who needed to be told that as far back as the times of Socrates, Plato and Aristotle before 300 BC, scholars were encouraged to engage in oratory, wrestling, gymnastics, the odd drinking binge and a wanton orgy or two!! And that the Olympic Games (776 BC) predated the three philosophers supreme.

(If you have an interest in mythology, you would have read about the slayer of the Gorgon Medusa and the Kraken, Perseus, (son of Zeus and Danae), who the Oracle at Delphi predicted would be responsible for the death of his grandfather Acrisius at the precursor to the Olympic Games at Larissa).

For it is foolish, brave youth which needs to be prodded, dared and challenged to claim Excalibur, slay fire-breathing dragons, win gold fortunes and seduce sexy, golden-haired '10' Bo Derek-like maidens fair sporting crazy tantalising rasta plaited hair !

Oh, and where were we? Ah, yes! Older and old men are too careful, hesitant and calculative!

More and more frequently, this education system produced those occasions and those students and those performances that justified all that pushing, pushing and pushing. There was a flurry of max 5A's HSC, 8A's Cambridge and 7A's LCE students and winners of prized full Colombo Plan Overseas Scholarships, some of whom had to qualify by attending a testing stint at the Outward Bound School Leadership Course.

After all these years, one incident stands out in my mind. That is the Annual VI vs Federal Military College (FMC, now Royal Military College or RMC) Athletics Meet held at the FMC grounds in Sungei Besi, KL, on 25th June 1966. After four long years, VI finally wrested back the Dr. Lewis Challenge Trophy from the clutches of the FMC at the end of a full day of rigorous, fair competition. The School Athletics Captain claimed the Trophy and then did not just rush back to do the conga with his team of heroes who had individually and collectively contributed points to the eventual victory. Instead, he spun around and walked over to Mr. Murugasu, and presented him with the Trophy. Now that was a gesture of pure class and could not have been rehearsed. It was a simple act of spontaneity that had every Victorian there breaking out in applause and cheer.

That athletics captain was none other than the redoubtable and irrepressible Nah Seang Hoo. The older inspired the younger. The baton was passed successfully. We etched it into the ROM/RAM hard discs of our still untouched muggy brains!

Sadly, the VI-FMC Meet was discontinued after 1966. But the tradition to excel had its roots in as far back as 1955 when Mani Jegathesan (later Dr. M. Jegathesan, who, at the 1964 Tokyo Olympics, became the first Malaysian ever to qualify for the 200 m semi-finals) joined VI for a year, and the legendary 1936 "Hitler Olympics" Quadruple Gold Medallist and black sprinter Jesse Owens visited VI for a coaching clinic in 1955,as did Olympian Parry O'Brien (shot putt and discus) in 1957.

Rome was not built in a day!!

 

1967 - A Honeymoon Year Pt 1


eing in Form 2 is like being in Form 4. They are regarded as the honeymoon years. These were non-public examination years and so most got through with the minimum of academic effort, though "minimum" in VI could be more than a handful elsewhere.

To our surprise, our Form and Art teacher in 2 North was the same as in Form 1 North, i.e. Mrs. Chong Hong Chong, who continued whipping us into shape to master the England! She introduced us to more public speaking with a weekly Tuesday session where randomly picked students had to present the class with a speech on any subject of their choice.

This was the era of many cops and robbers TV SHOWS such as Arrest and Trial with Nick Anderson (Ben Gazzara) as the thinking man's cop who made the arrests and John Egan (Chuck Connors) as the thinking man's defending attorney who invariably put the right man behind bars and cleared his client. Then there was Highway Patrol with the flabby Chief Dan Matthews (Broderick Crawford) with his famous by-line "Ten Four, over and out!" Perry Mason (Raymond Burr) was the American attorney who, with the aid of his leggy assistant Della Street and private detective Paul Drake, always got his man to confess on the stand with his brilliant and intuitive cross examination. Burr also played the lead role in Ironside as the brilliant and intuitive wheel-chaired "consultant cop" who, with the aid of his leggy assistant Eve Whitfield (Barbara Anderson) and Sgt. Ed Brown, also always got his man. From reading the Perry Mason novels, I learnt the theory of firing bullets from murder guns into test chambers of layers of cotton wool and examining them under a split microscope to match striations and grooves on bullets and casings.

Most compelling of all was the mega series about the Fugitive doctor who never stopped running from an acerbic and sour Lt. Gerard (Barry Morse). Dr. Richard Kimble (David Janssen), innocent victim of blind justice, took four years to track down the one-armed killer who had offfed his wife. Or as a wit at VI (I can't remember who) said, "Dr. Richard Kimble, innocent victim of QM Productions (the show producers)"!

Then there were the Spy TV series and Movies. Roger Moore, as the suave quintessential English Simon Templar in the Saint (novels by Leslie Charteris who was half-English, half-Chinese) and James Bond had an electric effect on me. I would spend hours practising with a hand held mirror to arch both my eyebrows exactly as Roger Moore and Ben Gazzara would.

By 1967 I had made my way through Ian Fleming's James Bond novels starting with Casino Royale, Live and Let Die, Moonraker, Diamonds Are Forever, From Russia with Love, Dr. No, Goldfinger, Thunderball, The Spy Who Loved Me and OHMS. You Only Live Twice was my favourite because the movie version had a skimpily clad Mie Hama as Kissy Suzuki and her ample charms were displayed in full colour in the "Movie News." Who can forget "You only live twice; once when you are born and once when you look death in the face," as Bond/Connery nookied (or as we say in Tamil, "madakkaran") and rogered Kissy/Mie!

Ian Fleming had, of course, all along preferred a terribly upper class British Bond like Roger Moore. So, how the Scottish Sean Connery got the plum part beats me! He was given those immortal line to say to another skimpily clad and beautifully endowed Ursula Undr...er no, Andress as Honey Ryder. "My name is Bond, James Bond" created loads of spoofs such as "My name is Bon, Simon Le Bon!" Luckily for Connery, it was not Steve Stanley Bond or Connery's career would have been offed then and there with "My name is Bond, Shteve Shtanley Bond!" Note that whatever role Connery plays, he never loses his Scottish accent. If he were playing the part of an alien, you can imagine him regaling us with "I come in peash, I am from the planet Shaturn!"

Rama and I watched a midnight doubleheader of Goldfinger and Thunderball at Federal Theatre in Sentul with complimentary tickets obtained from piecing the Jigsaw Puzzle pictures (over six, monthly issues) in the "Movie News." I bicycled all the way to Rama's house in Gurney Road one Friday evening, spent the night at his house after the movie, and cycled back home to Pasar Road late Saturday morning, after feasting on a delicious carrot sambar and veg/rice lunch prepared by his ever-smiling, gracious, friendly and chatty mother!

I imagined I was Michael Rennie, the tall, elegant, handsome, debonair and mysterious English spy Harry Lime in the The Third Man based on the novel by Graham Greene, smashing my way through Viennese espionage rings with that eerie signature tune in the background. Remember, "teng te tang, te teng te tang, te teng te tang,.teng te teng te taaang..?" Rennie was also Klaatu the alien who lands in his spaceship with Gort the robot in the 1951 B&W original version of The Day the Earth Stood Still.

Guns and bullets were well represented by Westerns TV series, now a practically dead genre. There was the incredibly handsome Gene Barry as Marshal Bat Masterson with its theme song of "Back when the west was very young, there lived a man name Masterson...the fastest gun....they called him Bat, Bat Masterson..." And who could forget that rugged gunslinger in all black, Paladin, played by black moustachioed Richard Boone with his calling card of Have Gun, Will Travel. Soon in VI it was "Have Boots, Will Kick," "Have Hockey Stick, Will Hook," "Have Prefects, Will DC," "Have Manuel, Will Cane," and "Have Miss Ooi, Will Bond"! The theme song was not bad either - "Have Gun Will Travel reads the card of a man... Paaa-l-l-l-l-a-din."

The High Chaparral (with due apologies to the Indian Kampong Buah Pala in Penang) was a big hit for two reasons; the sexican Mexican Manolito (Henry Darrow) - the ladies' man, and the dark (and we all had dark thoughts about grilling her slowly over a roasting hot bed), tempestuous and to-die-for Victoria (Linda Cristal).

Of course, Paladin, like Bat Masterson, Billy the Kid, Wyatt Earp, Doc Holliday, Johnny Ringo, Manolito and the Henry Fonda silent type Virginian of the eponymous TV series were all "the quickest draw in the west" who could "slap leather" more rapidly than a dang bob-tailed raccoon whose butt was on fire and being chased by a rattlesnake fleeing from an Apache Indian loin cloth hunter out in them there dunes and dusty sun-setting hills of the Wild, Wild West in Utah, Wyoming and Arizona!

So, when picked to talk to my peers, I had visions of introducing them to the concepts of space and time travel involving Paladin, a dark alien half man half robot leather slapping neutron powered colt 45 toting universal cowboy super spy cop lawyer medical detective searching for his kidnapped sexy mermaid wife Marina who never speaks (from the British Thunderbirds Are Go TV cartoon series which spawned Stingray - "Mari-i-iina, that one Mari-i-ina, why don't you whisper, the words that my heart, is longing to hear ...Mari-i-ina ..."). His quest takes him to Hollywood where he battles an inter-galactic Klingon OxCam-based espionage ring hell bent on blowing up Earth. Paladin is aided in his quest by the ever compliant and supine Universal Sorority of Pussy Galores for whom the Planet Earth moves and then stops! In the intro, Paladin steps out of his photon powered spaceship on a beach in Santa Barbara and utters that unforgettable line "My name is Paladin, shon of Aladdin from the planet Gelatin." Well, you see, my Paladin was a wee bit Scottish too!

I couldn't quite see where all this was all heading to, and besides I realised I'd have a tough time explaining to Mrs. Chong about Pussy Galore. When I first encountered her name in Goldfinger while reading it in Standard 6, I was unaware of the double entendre; Ian Fleming or producers Saltzman & Broccoli had a fetish about it for all the femmes fatales in Bond movies! The only Pussy I knew back then was of the mangy furry four-legged variety with mice in its mouth and which meowed all night in the back alleys of Jalan Pasar and Imbi!

Eventually I made a presentation titled "Crime and Detection" and talked nervously about police investigative techniques on matching bullets to guns, fingerprinting, collecting blood samples for forensics and profiling rape artists with sketching identikits from descriptions by victims and witnesses. There was a fairly appreciative applause when it was over. I had sweated buckets! During the mid-day break, R. Jayabalan (now in Insurance) who joined VI in 1967 came over and congratulated me and posed, "That was really interesting you know. Where'd you get all that info from? Your father a cop?" A lot of it was also in the Book of Knowledge Encyclopaedia!

I had a habit of blessing teachers with nicknames and 1967 produced a fair harvest. Much of my overactive imagination owed its inspiration to Marvel Comics and TV cartoon series. For General Science we had "Spiderman" Renggasamy (RTC Trained) who was skinny, tall and had these long spindly arms and legs. His by-line was "don't be naughty, boys!" and "idiots!" when the wind got up his tail. But he would reach for the feather duster only as a last resort. Spidey, who always wore a white shirt and black long pants, was a dedicated but not over-inspiring mentor.

Then there was Old Boy "Gigantor" K P Gengadharan Nair (College Trained, London) who later took up law and became a highly respected High Court Judge and a Dato. He passed away peacefully in April 2007 at the age of 63. But in his youth, Genga was portly to say the least, and when lecturing on Agricultural Science, had a tendency to stand as if he were at attention with his arms by his side, a picture perfect copy of the Japanese Gigantor Robot cartoon character getting ready to take off into space to the refrains of "Gigantor, Gigantor, Gigantor, Gigaaantor, Gigantor the space age robot..." Agri was a new subject to which most of us took to like splendid alaskan arctic ducks to an Amoco Cadiz oil spill and never encountered again after Form 3. Gigantor was a bit aloof and could be mean and vengeful in his punishment, though he was not quite so trigger-happy as Valentine Manuel or Muru!

For Swimming, we had Robert "Emrican" Pachymuthu (that's the way he pronounced "American"). Besides coaching cricket, Robert also taught English and was popular among the students. To us, he was a gift from the Gods after Sawn-Off Broomstick Handle (SOBH) the previous year! Robert was himself an ex-Victorian and had established a schoolboy cricket record of scoring a century against Selangor Club at the tender age of 13 or 14! He resigned in 1968 to read his BA and returned to teach us General Paper in 1971. Teh Mun Hing continued efficiently with Geography. We had a succession of relief teachers for maths after the untimely passing away of "Fiddlesticks" T. Rajaratnam from cancer in June 1967.

For History, there was Lim Yoke Kim who was excellent especially on the Roman Empire and our vocabulary soon extended to Goths, Visigoths, Barbarians, Mongols, Huns and their fraternity to whom mere hand to hand combat was a sport for their ladies and raping a breakfast pastime. We also had a succession of ex-student temporary teachers in the early part of the year such as Yong Siew Onn (General Science), Leong Weng Chiew (History), Melville Jeyathissa (General Science) and Ng Hon Yuen (Geography). They were, though untrained, all exceptionally good teachers. Weng Chiew encouraged us to visit the Upper Six Arts Classrooms and read the best of the essays on specific historical events such as the French Revolution and World War 1, pinned on the notice boards.

Hon Yuen, now an architect in KL, engendered great fun and was actually attending Lower 6 evening/night classes, but later found a place in Lower 6 proper and became one of us. In 1968 he won the Talentime contest strumming his guitar and singing Trini Lopez's version of "Puff, the Magic Dragon" which was banned by the Government later for its supposed connotations to marijuana! (Lopez's version, though not so well known as The Mamas & Papas' original was also my preference).

The school had a new Sports Master, Lenny De Vries, a Malaysian Eurasian who was outstanding throughout his tenure in VI as teacher, disciplinarian, mentor and especially as cricket and hockey coach. In 1970, he left for Canada to earn his Ph D in Sports Science. He commanded the respect of every student who came into contact with him. Lenny coached our victorious 1968 U15 Hockey Team and taught us strategic team play such as 'attacking in triangular formations in either flank' and 'kasi makan defensive feints.'

More than that, Lenny led the VI Cricket team to its first ever Navaratnam Shield semi-finals, after HM Murugasu and the Board of Governors succesfully secured a court order to force the Selangor Cricket Association (SCA) to reverse their decision to disqualify VI who had given a strategic walkover to Selangor Eurasians a day or two before May 13th 1969! Eventually, VI lost the semi-finals played at the PWD Cheras grounds despite a fluent top score of 20-odd runs by Lenny which included a classic cover drive that just failed to go for 4. 'Billy' Achen Balachandren (VIPB and 1971 Cricket Captain) tells me that there were several contentious decisions made by umpires such as Christie Sheperdson of NEB that day including a crucial one against Terence Jayatilaka (bowler), who, with Lenny and Bain Saurajen, were the three teachers in the VI team. There was much acrimony in the cricketing circles in Selangor then that a team of mere schoolboys in short pants should have gone to court and advanced to the semi-finals of one of the most prestigious Club cricket competitions in Malaysia.

Notwithstanding the loss, it was an incredible performance by a team comprising mainly schoolboys pitted against the might of teams like National Electricity Board (NEB, the forerunner to TNB), Tamilian Physical and Cultural Association (TPCA), Rubber Research Institute (RRI), Selangor Club (The Dog) etc., who all had had a sprinkling of past and present national cricketers! The stylish Terence Jayatilaka taught us English Literature in Form 4 in 1969.

Dr. Leonard De Vries was at one time attached to the Sports Science Faculty of USM Penang and is now President of the Malaysian Association of Sports Education, Sports Science and Fitness as well. He also consults for the National Sports Council (NSC).

In football, there were only four of us from Form 2 in the U15 squad of 18 players - Indran, Hiew Heng Foo, Mokhtar Dahari and myself. For some peculiar reason known only to the organizers, several of the preliminary inter-schools matches were played at the grounds of the Cheras Road Boys School near the Lady Templer TB Hospital which was later closed down in 1985. The other three "juniors" and I spent most of our time in the reserves and got only a couple of full games during the entire season. On another occasion in Cheras, where we had to get to by Toong Foong bus (no school van for us U15 players!), Captain Ezani Bakar finally called me up for a full game. But as we warmed up, for the first time ever, the referee asked everyone to produce their IC's which I had left at home. I was sunk and totally devastated as Mokhtar Dahari replaced me!

We lost 1-2 to MCKK at home that year and to St. John's by a penalty in the U15 inter-schools finals at TPCA Stadium in Princes Road (now Jalan Raja Muda). Bryan Pereira was the distraught, inconsolable goalkeeper that day. But it was a good team with many fun guys such as leftie "Thunderkicks" Sugunabalan, Raja Ahmad, Zainal Ibrahim, Eddy Chong Kwong Chin, Dave Chin Peng Hoon and Chan Heng Kwong (the last four being all from PRES). Our coach was senior player Wong Toon Say, of Korean origin, who scored a rousing first goal with a fabulous left leg smash from way out on the left winger's side in the seniors' 5-1 thrashing of MCKK at home. Cikgu Hassanuddin, the dedicated master-in-charge of the VI Cadet Corps and Band, was standing next to me near the school Pavilion and described it as 'a copy-book goal. Wonderful!' The MCKK goalkeeper stood no chance of saving it.

The VI senior U20 and U18 football squads were all-conquering that year, sweeping the Khir Johari and Dato Yahya Cups. Enthusiasm was so great the school entered two teams for the KJ Cup! The legends of the team were Zakaria Sharif, Ganeson, Tan Lip Tiong, Dina Bandhu and Tan Kim Chuan (Captain) with inspiration coming from the man in charge of it all for many years, Cikgu Othman.

 

1967 - A Honeymoon Year Pt 2


he VI is pretty unusual in that it has two Scout movements, 1st KL AND 2nd KL. Having been a keen Cub in PRES 1, I signed up for 1st KL in January 1966, prompted also by the fact that some of my "gang" had enlisted. They included my hockey buddies Cheah Peng Keong and Chew Yoong Fong, Yap Meng Teck, Chan Heng Yooi, Kow Yoke Wah and silken sprinter, T. A. Mohan Arasu whom everyone knew because his father was the well-known and highly respected doctor who ran that famous private clinic in Ipoh Road - Arasu Clinic. Of course, "Taman" - actually "T. A. Mohan" misread by T. Rajaratnam from the register - followed his father's footsteps, and is now an established doctor himself.

The three of us together with Yap Lip Sin, Lee Chee Meng, Wong Kam Choong and Ming formed Woodpecker Patrol, led by Third Former Patrol Leader Wong Joon Owang or "Joe", as he was universally called. Boys being boys, Woodpecker Patrol changed its name to Lion Patrol a couple of months later to stop the taunts of "peckerheads." The 1st KL Boy Scouts were about 100 strong with Patrol names very evocative of the wild savannah, nature, jungles, plains and rivers, such as Beaver, Bull, Eagle, Falcon, Kingfisher, Owl, Panther, Stag and Swift and, of course, Lion (Peckerhead).

But my time in the Boy Scouts was short and somewhat anti-climactic. The main problems were associated with my diet, as my family was totally vegan, AND Saturday troop meetings and competitions, week-day Patrol gatherings and term camps tended to clash with football practices and matches. But nevertheless I enjoyed that year and a bit, and wish now I had persevered.

For our first-ever Saturday afternoon Troop Meeting on the lawn opposite the mini-roundabout near the 6th Form Block area, I arrived in full regalia with uniform, cap, scarf with leather knot holder, stockings with garters and Patrol and 1st KL badges. However, I had a problem in that I did not have time to buy a proper pair of shoes and had borrowed my brother's cadet corps green jungle hiking boots which were acceptable except they stood out like sore thumbs among the sea of black shoes. T. A. Mohan of course spotted it like a hawk and soon everyone was ribbing me about insulting both the cadet corps and the boy scouts. At the ragging that followed that investiture ceremony, I got a scarf-whipped a bit more than the other greenhorns for my new found fame, while made to run up and down the slopes leading to the school sports field, between rows of senior Boy Scouts!!

Joe, a bit severe looking at times, was a great and knowledgeable leader who was later appointed to the Prefects' Board in 1970. He had a deceptive tough side to him. Once, when Lim Seng Chuan was getting a bad mauling from Tan Joo Ann in a so-called "friendly" boxing match, Joe volunteered to take on Joo Ann and inflicted such a terrible beating on him, the match had to be stopped. Joe probably secretly carried weights and worked out, though you couldn't tell from his lean frame.

Soon after joining the Boy Scouts, we were off one Saturday after another on inter-patrol games and exciting group activities. We had bicycled together with members of Falcon Patrol under Yip Kai Onn to Lever Valley in Jalan Duta for a night BBQ. In pitch dark conditions, Joe taught us about constructing the BBQ pit, frame and about starting and stoking a fire with very basic materials like matchsticks, candles, newspapers, dry wood kindling and leaves. The chicken had already been pre-marinated, but it did not help that half way through, a light drizzle started. That was the first time I tasted BBQ chicken. It was half-cooked, half-burnt and rubbery, but the toasted dark sweet soy sauce was tasty! We all huddled under an extended poncho as the rain got a bit heavier and sent a chilly wind up our Khyber! We cycled home about 2 a.m., half-soaked and half-starved.

Cake baking competitions took place in pits dug in the grounds of the grassy knoll in the school car park using biscuit tins as containers. All ingredients were mixed on the spot that afternoon and the cake baked au naturel over wood fire with the earth pit serving as the "oven." Again, proceedings were interrupted by a massive downpour and all Lion Patrol could present to the Assistant Scout Master (ASM) judges was a half-cooked soggy mess, which was still better than some of the other Patrols' cordon bleu stuff which did not even make it to the earth oven!

The Annual Treasure Hunt was part of the Inter-Patrol competitions to determine the Champion Patrol at the end of the year. Clues were written up by the Committee of Patrol Leaders and secreted in places such as the gates of the Ampang Road Police Station next to where Yow Chuan Plaza now stands. The competition would run from 7 p.m. till 3 a.m. the next day. Patrols would cycle like fury, crisscrossing KL from clue to clue to be the first to claim the "treasure." My name made its entry into the Lion Patrol Log Book as the person who solved the cryptic clue "I am cold" written on a piece of paper. From those primary years reading Enid Blyton's "Fatty and the Five Find Outers", I had learnt that you could write "invisible" messages with a pen nib on paper using fresh lime or lemon juice. The "invisible" words would come alive if you ran a warm iron over the seemingly blank paper or placed it over a candle flame. Another clever clue the leaders concocted with was one that required finding the roots of a quadratic equation and applying Pythagoras' Theorem!

We eventually ended up looking for the final clue in Assistant Senior Scout Leader (ASSL) Liew Kon Wui's bungalow house in Jalan Kamuning at the junction with Jalan Delima. After Panther Patrol led by Chu Kam Choon were declared winners, we tucked into a hearty meal of piping and chilli hot hokkien mee, yin yong kung foo chow noodles, fried keow teow and fried mee hoon washed down with lashings of iced Sunquick orange juice and F&N Lemonade Cordial. Then some settled down for carroms while others just plunked down for chit chat and then slowly left in drips and drabs and cycled home at 5 a.m.!

There was Castle Camp in Gurney Road not far from the Army Camp, where you went to compete in obstacle courses which included rope/tree climbing while elsewhere we practised first aid, knotting, and tent pitching. We also practised singing songs for the Annual Parents' Campfire, songs such as "Over hill, over dale, as we hit the mountain trail" and the evergreen "Jambalaya", "If I had a Hammer", "Waltzing Matilda", and "High There in the Deep Blue Sky".

First term Troop Camp was held at Camp Semangat, the National Scout Camp, in Cheras. Lion Patrol emerged the champs, topping the various disciplines as well as both the campfire sketches where my comic acting skills came to the fore. We were isolated from civilization for a week, slept four to a tent with no pillows and on tarps laid over damp, cold earth, hiked to waterfalls through raw jungle and play-acted first aid at accident rescue scenes, and more, for marks. We even swept the cooking competition (though my contribution was nothing more than slicing and dicing vegetables, preparing the dinner table and serving the Seniors/Judges and washing up) because we had Ming, who at 13, helped his father run a chap fan stall back in town! Each patrol had to safeguard its own turf and Joe taught us this fantastic skill of constructing a swing-gate entrance for our "house compound" using a string-strung stone twisted over wood and employing the simple mechanics and laws of motion!

The 1st KL ASM's such as Ramasamy, Robert Ng Sing Peng (elder brother of Ng Chee Peng, my classmate, who was himself ASM in 1972) and Lum Chee Soon as well as ASSLs such as Yap Piang Kian were there to co-ordinate all activities. Our 1st memorable campfire began with ASM Oh Seong Lye, Prefect and my House (Hepponstall) Captain reciting the incantations of "To the North, To The South, To the East..." as he extended a lit taper to set the woodpile on fire. There was much hooting and laughing as the seniors too acted out some hilarious sketches, but most of all it was the singing that established camaraderie and made it a night to remember even after forty years!

During a session of scout inter-patrol water polo, Robert saved my live! I developed a cramp in the deep end of the pool and before I knew it, I sank like a stone and was struggling to make surface. Suddenly I heard a splash overhead and these huge arms circled me from behind and hauled me on my back over the pool's edge and started pumping my chest, all the while asking me if I was OK. Fortunately, I had managed to hold my breath underwater. A few seconds more and I might have been done for good. My gratitude to Robert, whom I met again in June this year at a VIPB reunion after a hiatus of 40 years, is eternal.

But my Boy Scout career floundered as I could not get my Tenderfoot Badge, which is really the most basic of hurdles. I had gotten through all the other tests such as Scout Laws, First Aid, Physical Exercise, Campfire and Tent Pitching. But when it came to knotting, I managed to get my knickers in a twist. I had practised till I could tie all the knots behind my back in total darkness. But for the first test, Senior Patrol Leader Wong Twee Juat set a time limit of one minute for six knots. All of us failed to beat the buzzer by a few seconds. At the repeat test a week later, Twee Juat threw in another googly. We had to tie all six knots - reef, rolling hitch, clove hitch, bowline, sheet bend, sheep shank - in exact sequence on the same rope!!

It was at this point that I rebelled and refused to take that final test a third time. I figured we were being messed around with. I could not work out if he was just bored and deliberately making it difficult for us or he had a natural mean streak in him. I mean, some of these knots, we were never going to use (and still haven't) like the ones for tying goats and horses while we moseyed over to the O. K. Corral Saloon Bar for some neat whiskies, were we?! Six knots on one rope? Which Armageddon was that going to be employed in? So, one thing led to another and I never made Tenderfoot. This was a huge embarrassment to me personally as I had "do or die" ambitions to emulate my elder brother in Cochrane Road School who was close to a King's Scout Badge, having secured his Bushman's Thong (nothing to do with Transvaal Beach underwear)!

In 1967, our Patrol leader was Christie Tan Tiong Tee (now Dr.) who is one of the most pleasant, nicest, understanding, patient and gentlemanly student/person I have ever come across. It was not surprising he made it to the VIPB in 1971, given that in addition to his superb leadership qualities, he also represented the school in Rugby and Swimming/Water Polo. I missed some of the early scout meetings in January and February when it clashed with football. Moreover, my father was not too happy with all these excursions and I had to allay his suspicions by spinning him about eating a lot of bread, butter and jam and chapatthi and dhal on these trips and camps.

Matters came to a head one Saturday afternoon as I was lying in bed with high fever and ASM Liew Kon Swee popped over to my house to check up on whether I was skiving or what? My father, a man of few words, explained to him my condition, but Kon Swee insisted on sighting me, at which point my father, not used to having his word questioned, sent Kon Swee off on his bike! Immediately, my father sat down at his desk and drafted my resignation letter from 1st KL Boy Scouts, which I presented to Christie a few days later. There was no Court of Appeal as far as my father was concerned. My father would never say it aloud, but secretly he was chuffed that two of his sons had made it to VI. But he too had his limits and any infringement of that total vegan diet thing was the last straw.

Kon Swee, who did not know of my vegan problems, would not accept my resignation letter just like that. He insisted I attend a sort of "court martial" with the other ASMs in the temporary scout den (previously the caretaker's shed) opposite the VIOBA building, within the school field area. As was fated to happen, we had football practice under Peethamparam, and I could not - dared not - get off at 5.30 p.m. for that "court martial." When I arrived at 6 p.m., I got a shelling and that was that. There was no way I was going back to Lion Patrol and 1st KL!

But you see, inflated ego and puffed up false pride are like that!

More than football, cricket and hockey, it is these group activities like the Scouts, the Cadet Corps, the School Band and others that shape character, develop leadership qualities, discipline and living skills, engender camaraderie and lifelong friendships. As thirteen-year old Boy Scouts, we would place hands over each others' shoulders round camp fire and sing "Ramasamy, son of Mani, drank some toddy, thana nay, thana nay...", smile at one another and burst out laughing in complete innocence.

If I could have a second chance and go back in time, I would crawl on my knees and beg to be re-instated to 1st KL to earn my Tenderfoot, 1st Class and Kings Scout Badges.

 

1968 - Some are Born to Teach


o paraphrase Shakespeare's famous quote about greatness and fate from Act II, Scene V, Twelfth Night: "Some are born to teach. Some achieve teaching greatness. Some have teaching thrust upon them."

To this we have to add what is a sad situation in our education system today: "Some (maybe many) thrust themselves upon teaching as a desperate last-gasp choice!"

In one spell-binding 45-minute virtuoso performance, N. Sivaratnam (B.A. Hons, UM) took us from Jean Jacques Rousseau, Robespierre, Danton and Marat to the struggle among the monarchy, aristocracy, bourgeois and the proletariat that culminated in the French Revolution of 1789-1799. We cheered when King Louis XVI was guillotined and wept when Marie Antoinette met the same fate. We imagined Louis was an ogre and that Marie Antoinette was a virgin, who had she but met one of us gentle Malaysian VI boys, would have been served a better life and fate!

For a brief moment at the end of his stand and deliver lecture, Siva paused as though expecting a burst of applause. He then immediately turned left and fixed a penetrating gazed at me. I was seated in second place, first row nearest the classroom main door from the corridor, school hall and HM/Teachers staircase side, behind Ramachandran, who by then was a Lance Corporal in the VI Cadet Corps.

"What were the main causes of the French Revolution and what part did Rousseau play in it?" fired Siva slyly as he bazooka'd off a vacuum seeking salvo of stealth missiles at me.

I stood up as was customary, but nothing would come out of my mouth as my mind was still on fantasy mode with "petite Marie Antoinette", so beautiful to the ear was the sound of that Austrian-French name. But before anyone could utter another word, the alarm clanged. Period over! The entire class burst out in laughter. They knew I had literally been saved by the bell. Among my classmates then were T. A. Mohan, Mahendran, Raja Nong Chik, Seng Tee, Thiam Siew, Jaspal Singh, Sarmukh Singh, Peng Keong, Yoong Fong, Liong Teck, Chee Keong, Poh Heong, Tai Kwong, Teik Chen, Poh Woh and Mac Kean Boon.

A good teacher's main job is to INSPIRE the students to greater heights. Then, teaching AND learning become a piece of cake!

That year, I could have recited the history of the French Revolution backwards! Such is the power a true teacher exercises over his wards.

The year was 1968. The class was Form 3 East.

I suppose Napoleon Bonaparte should have followed next. Instead it was Mrs. Elizabeth Vaz (Bachelor of Arts / Bachelor of Theology, Travancore, Kerala, S. India.) Anyway Siva only taught us that one time. The next week, the teachers' schedules were rearranged and Mrs. Vaz, who was our Form Teacher, had her portfolio expanded to include English and History.

That was perhaps the last occasion Siva taught the lower Forms. Siva later coached the successful 1972 VI Senior Debating Team against MBS KL for the Annual Dato Thuraisingham Shield. That team comprised myself, R. Pathmanathan (Dr.), Sally Chong Siew Moi (LLB), Ms. Kok Chew Leng and Ms. Wong Kim Lin (LLB). The motion for the day was "Capitalism is Better Than Communism."

Old Victorian N. Sivaratnam, I was told, had originally attended the National University of Singapore where he had a run in with LKY as a vocal student. He was then "persuaded" to go study at UM in KL. I recall that circa 1975, he married the lovely Ms Maimon bt Othman from the VI admin office. But there's no doubt he was an inspirational teacher who was held in high esteem by the students who were fortunate to be taught by him.

Once in 1972, when I was bivouacked at the VI Senior Hostel for centralised hockey training, I spied upon him in the Common Room late at night poring over notes for the next day's lectures. Another teacher seated next to him, the young A. Rajasingam (Athletics/English), looked up at me from the books he had been marking, smiled and remarked, "You think our day ends at 12.45 p.m.?" Money CANNOT BUY that kind of honesty, integrity and dedication!

Mrs. Vaz was better than average at both English and History, except she had a mild "y-Indian y-accent" and made us remember for an eternity that Jose Rizal was the greatest freedom fighter from the Philippines. We would all titter whenever she said "Joes Rizal" because WE ALL KNEW, having been weaned on a diet of TV cowboy programmes and movies that the skinny tortilla and taco chewing and farting beans wolfing measly-moustachioed Mexican Manyana robber was "Hosay" although spelled "Jose." Now I'm not so sure, after hearing EPL English commentators referring to "Joesay" Mourinho when he was manager at Chelsea. Help!!

For dedication, hard work and caring about her students, you could not fault Mrs. Vaz. What was missing somewhat was a certain sense of humour and fun. But that is true of almost every female teacher I have come across, or should I say who has come across me? Hmmm?

Perhaps Mrs. Vaz's true calling came when in the 1990's she set up in PJ the "Ozanam House," a temporary shelter for unwed mothers, battered women, the homeless, abused, abandoned and neglected children, for which charitable cause she has tirelessly raised millions of dollars over the years. God bless her beautiful soul!

By the time we entered Form 3, most could float, tread water and at the very least swim the breast stroke a couple of lengths (50 metres) while others had advanced to free style, back stroke, butterfly stroke and even diving from the spring board. There was not much teaching or coaching that Arthur Marsh, a Eurasian teacher, had to bother with since the idea was to ensure most knew the basics. So, "free swimming" was the order of the day while others played water polo or just horsed around.

In studies, Spiderman Renggasamy (some called him Ringo Samy after Ringo Starr of the Beatles, though Rengga bore no resemblance to him whatsoever) spun on with his humourless General Science though few found it a difficult subject. Gigantor Gengadharan would drone on about bud grafting techniques, pit latrines and compost heaps while the entire class dozed off dreaming about a Utopian world without Agricultural Science. What stunned me was that Lian Liong Teck who scored 7As in the LCE later, got an extra couple of marks for illustrating his term test paper with a sketch of a farmer planting wet padi! How come he had been awake, huh? Where did he go wrong?

For National Language we had Cikgu Othman Mohd Ali who was the highly respected Chief Coach of the over-achieving school football teams. He was always immaculate in his attire, punctual for class, and as in football, very methodical in his approach to teaching BM. Right at the beginning of the year we were all given a list of the known peribahasa (proverbs) and simpulan bahasa (simile/figure of speech) we had to learn by heart, so that by year end when we sat for the LCE (SRP exams), using them in karangan (essays) and answering that specific part of the BM paper on peribahasa and simpulan bahasa was a breeze! But not before many had fallen victims to Othman's favourite forms of punishment for laxity or laziness, which were:

1)   standing on one's chair which became lethal if HM Murugasu happened to pass by the classroom! (minimum - three of the best)
2)   doing twenty squat-ups while holding on to the earlobes cross-armed (mild)
3)   pulling one's ear lobes (severe).

No one slept, complained of boredom or lack of humour and fun on Cikgu Othman's watch!

Who suffered us in Maths? My memory fails here. I vaguely recall Mr. Chua Hock Soon may have had a stint.

But sometimes it was not just the lessons we learnt in the classroom that shaped us.

It was a very frustrating year in football for me. By now, my shortsighted eye condition had deteriorated to an extent where I could not play football without wearing (plastic framed) spectacles. Once during practice and once during a friendly inter-school game, my glasses snapped at the plastic nose bridge as I jumped to head for goal. Competition for places in the U-15 Team was intense and a centre forward who developed a phobia about heading the ball was a liability to the team. So, following team discussion with the coach, ex-School and Football Captain Tan Kim Chuan, I switched over to the insight right forward position to minimise the danger of glass lens shattering into my eye and the double whammy on my father's wallet!

Sometimes, depending upon the situation in a particular game, I would also play on the left wing. This was not difficult for me as I was the only player in the team who was ambilegstrous! But this only brought me into conflict with Michael Nettleton who was a natural leftie (more of that later). The right wing was the sole preserve of "Thunderkicks" Chew Yoong Fong who was the team's permanent nominee for free kicks and penalties, such was the power and accuracy in his legs. So much so that Mokhtar Dahari who played at inside left forward and others like me who had only moderate power in our dead-ball kicks, would consult him during shooting practice on the target wall constructed at the far right corner of the school field. We were probably the first school in Malaysia to have a football shooting practice wall! Many a wayward smash would end up in the valley behind the wall, which was fenced up and at the right corner of which FAM House still stands. When we had centralised football training week in school, team spirit demanded that we sneak out after midnight to the valley and fence to peep at courting couples in cars parked on the side of FAM House!! Membership had its privileges!

Mr. R. Seshan who taught Maths in the lower Forms was another graduate from the corps of blood and gore teachers (though somewhat tame by comparison with Manuel, Rajaratnam, E. J. Lawrence, Bernard Koay and Muru). He was officially the teacher in charge of U15 football. But if Seshan had ever donned a football boot or been near a soccer pitch, I'm a monkey's uncle. But to his credit, he would turn up for most of the competition games to give moral support.

The U15 football squad which played in a 5-3-2 attack oriented formation that year comprised:

N.Indran (Captain/Centre Half), Ee Beng Yew (goalkeeper), Lim Shook Keong (left back), Chan Ying Pooi (right back), Sallehuddin (right half), Hew Heng Foo (left half), Chong Chung Kian (center forward), Mokhtar Dahari (inside left forward), myself (inside right forward), Michael Nettleton (left wing), Chew Yoong Fong (right wing) and Vincent Sya Wooi Keong who came on as substitute and floated between right half and right inside forward.

The real strength of the team lay in the rock solid defensive skills of Indran, Beng Yew and Shook Keong; rarely did any team score a goal against us. But teams do not win games by only defending. Our main scorers were Chung Kian and Yoon Fong while I and Mokhtar chipped in here and there.

So, when we boarded the train with the senior U20 Football squad and supporters for the annual fixture against Malay College Kuala Kangsar held on Saturday 16th March 1968, it was a supremely confident and swaggering group that headed there. None even remotely harboured a smidgin of a negative thought of losing!

Two weeks later, on 29th March, we would be encountering La Salle Sentul in the finals of the Football Association of Selangor Cup for the U15 Championships at the Imbi Road Postals Grounds. It would be our second encounter with Mickey Yap, Shubon and Ramond D'Silva of La Salle whom we had defeated 2-1 earlier in the preliminary fixtures. Mickey, Shubon and Raymond would join us in VI the following years!

But for now, that trip to Kuala Kangsar and that football match with MCKK was something that all who played for the teams or went there via train, car and bus loads to cheer would never forget. The players, teachers-in-charge, some prefects and supporters had first met at school that Thursday evening to check attendance. Then they marched in pairs all the way to the KTM Railway station a couple of miles away in Jalan Sultan Hishamudin with its beautifully Moorish architectured construct, to board the night train which departed about 9 p.m. There were inevitable delays at several junctions and we finally arrived at KK at about 2 a.m.

Among this group was one Daya Singh, a hockey talisman, athlete, footballer, cricketer and an extrovert whose normal explosive whooping laugh could be heard all over the school. But on this trip he strangely kept to himself throughout the ride, choosing to play a harmonica while stretched out along the overhead luggage rack of the train; it was that packed! Not surprising, for a week later he, along with Wong Chee Kong and Julian Fong were appointed to the VI Prefects' Board!

 

1968 - For What is a Memory Worth?


hat does it really matter what happened 40 years ago in an inter-school football or hockey match? Or that Jaspal and Mahendran were top students and Yoke Kee and Chin Seong were Maths Kings!. Yet surprisingly it was not R. Pathmanathan who won the prize for General Paper on which I had an eye, but it was Yap Siew Peng who later married our classmate Chew Yoong Fong? Why do I remember rakishly handsome but shy Aw Kok Teng (now Dr.) or Chua Swee Hong (RRI) who was class monitor in my senior year and that Sallehuddin lost to Mike Nettleton in the 100m hurdles clash. I sometimes wonder in the wee hours of the night if these personal memories and markers have any place at all in the greater scheme of things? Maybe, maybe not.

But when you are in your early teens, boys, especially, live in a narrow selfish world of their own, defined by wants and needs and gathering glory from shining in the field or in class or being Chairman of the Science & Maths Society or Arts Union. I was no different from my peers then.

It was of earth-shaking importance to me then that I excelled in the football match against the Malay College, Kuala Kangsar. There was no doubt we had one of the best U15 football squads ever and we played with the confidence of the Brazil Team of 1970 which boasted the great Pele, Tostao, Rivelino and Jairzinho. We knew if the opposition scored 10 goals, we would score 11 and win it! But we underestimated what we had to contend with at MCKK!

We arrived at KK by train early morning on Friday 15th March and walked over to the ground floor dormitory at the school hostel. Double bunk beds were neatly stacked around the room for the seniors while we, the juniors, had mattresses with clean sheets and pillows laid out neatly on the floor. There was a small room with bed and amenities for Cikgu Othman, our chief coach. We did not bother to shower, exhausted as we were from the long journey, and flopped straight onto our allotted mattresses after receiving instructions on where the toilets and showers were and where to assemble next morning for breakfast which comprised bread, butter, jam and two half-boiled eggs to which we added light soya sauce, white pepper and dunked our bread in. For lunch and dinner we sat at special tables designated for us in the same huge "mess" as for students of MCKK, which was a fully residential school for Malays only. The food was the usual rice with fried fish or meat with one vegetable and curry gravy, mee hoon or fried rice with soup and fruits for dessert - quite forgettable!

The next morning, we had a light workout from 9 to 11. After lunch and noon rest, we followed up with shooting practice, tactical manoeuvres and discussions from 4 p.m. to 6 p.m on the field. Dinner was at 7.30 p.m. and the day came to an end with team pep talk by Cikgu Othman and an early night. Our part-time coach, ex-VI School and Football Captain, Tan Kim Chuan, would not arrive until the game had commenced the next afternoon due to some personal commitments. There was no time to walk around the MCKK premises or wander into the town I had never visited before. But "Silver" or Selvaraj, our senior squad goalkeeper and I had a pleasant reunion with S. Ahmad under whose captaincy I had been part of the U11 soccer squad at Pasar Road English School 1 in 1964. Ahmad had won a scholarship to MCKK and played for their senior football team.

Shortly after midnight, we were all awoken by the thunderous noise of a hockey game staged on the wooden floor of the dormitory right above ours by a large group of boisterous, noisy and hyped up MCKK students. Some 30 or 40 MCKK students engaged in this most important nocturnal fixture which was played with several hockey balls. They must have been poor hockey players, because more often than not, they would slap their sticks on the wooden floor or the walls. This went on for about an hour despite our senior players walking upstairs to confront the recalcitrants. Then Othman tracked down the MCKK Hostel Warden to lodge an urgent complaint to cease and desist, which they did. But after about half an hour, the night hockey game resumed.

Othman, clearly furious at this deliberately unsporting conduct, then got us all to pack up lock, stock and barrel. We staged a 2 a.m. walk out to the MCKK sports pavilion, while Othman proceeded to track down and confront the MCKK HM who, of course, spluttered and sputtered, denying any knowledge of pre-planned underhanded tactics by MCKK. Peace was eventually restored as we went back to our dorm and beds. But when you are that age, you could stay awake the whole night and still perform miracles on the field the next day. We headed for the football field next morning at 9 for an hour of warm up exercises and then back to the dorm for rest as well as oiling aching muscles with Chinese "horse oil," polishing boots and getting stockings, jersey and shorts ready for the match of our lives.

The U15 game kicked off under a blazing mid-afternoon sun at 3.00 p.m. on that Saturday. The senior U20 clash would commence at 5.00 p.m. All players wore Adidas leather boots with short studs. We completely dominated play. Half way through the first 45 minutes came my moment of glory.

I picked up the ball from halfway on the right, exchanged a 1-2 with Mokhtar Dahari and then looked up, saw the MCKK goalkeeper strangely out of position and unleashed what I thought was a Rivelino-like thunderbolt away to his far left corner. But horrors, my foot half jammed on the turf and a tame shot headed towards goal. Fortunately for me, the MCKK keeper made a monumental error of judgement. He dived too early and the ball slowly floated to the back of the net. We were 1-nil up! The roar was tremendous from VI supporters as Simon Yap ran on to the field to congratulate me and I could hear from way back the voice of our coach Kim Chuan screaming "That's it! I told you. Take a shot!" as he entered the grounds having just made his way to MCKK from KL.

It was something that Kim Chuan would constantly drum into the heads of those of us in the forward line during practice sessions - Yoong Fong, Sallehuddin, myself, Chung Kian, Mokhtar and Michael: "Don't always do the predictable. If dribbling and passing do not work, once in a while, just take a wild shot at goal!" By half time we were 2-0 up, courtesy of a header from Chung Kian, and coasting home comfortably midway in the second half when disaster struck! The local referee awarded 2 penalties in succession to MCKK and the match ended in a 2-2 draw.

The reason I complain is that the VI teams of those years were coached to play to the highest of sporting standards. We would NEVER, and I mean NEVER, engage in ANY "professional foul," pull jerseys, dive in the penalty box or feign injury. Deliberately committing the most innocuous of fouls to gain an unfair advantage was unheard of in our ranks! It was a sure fix and everyone on the grounds in MCKK that day knew it!

After the game, we headed back to the dorm and that's where I encountered the astonishing scene of N. Indran, our U15 Captain and close friend, sobbing his guts out on his mattress, as he was being consoled by Kim Chuan. I mean sure, we had not won; but neither had we lost. Moral victory was ours more so since it was an away game. But 15 year-old boys rarely have the mind for uttering healing words and I walked over and mumbled something like "It's okay man, let's go grab a coke. And oh, I managed to exchange a couple of our jerseys with the MCKK players," and then quickly grabbed a towel and headed for the showers.


Under-15 Football Team 1968
(Shankar is seated second from left)

The U20 team also drew their game 1-1, though there were no contentious refereeing decisions in that game.

Two weeks later we encountered La Salle Sentul in the finals of the Selangor Inter-Schools U15 Football Championships. We had defeated them 2-1 earlier in the preliminary games. But Mickey Yap, Raymond D'Silva and Shubon of La Salle were not satisfied that the best team had won and so the re-match had an edge as we gathered at Imbi Road Postals Grounds for the showdown.

Early preparations for the season involved Centralised Training at school. This meant the senior and junior squad members were bivouacked in the junior refectory/study room for a whole week. We slept on thin mattresses placed over long study tables and brought our own pillows, blankets and mosquito coils and burners! Overhead ceiling fans (air-conditioners had not been installed yet) were no match for the mosquitoes at night! More than one player had a close shave with the blades of the ceiling fans as they absentmindedly stood on the table-beds.

The school paid for all our meals. Breakfast and lunch were at the school canteen, with special "energising" meals prepared by tuckshop man boss' family. For dinner we were given an allowance of $1.50 per head and would pool our money and head for the "Mushroom" open-air restaurant opposite Stadium Merdeka or further down to the mamak, wan tan mee, chap fan and char koay teow stalls near Rex Theatre and Petaling Street, while cheerfully singing:

Inilah barisan kita,
Yang ikhlas berjuang.
Siap sedia berkorban,
Untuk ibu pertiwi!
Sebelum kita berjaya,
Jangan harap kami pulang!
Inilah sumpah pendekar kita,
Menuju Medan Bakti!
Andai kata kami gugur semua,
Taburlah bunga diatas pusara!
Kami mohon doa,
Malaysia berjaya!
Semboyan telah bebrbunyi,
Menuju medan bakti!

Team spirit was fantastic and we truly believed we could take on the world. Wake up call was 5.45 a.m. and after morning ablutions it was off to the field for warm up exercises, cross-country runs or ten fast circuits of the 400m tracks for stamina building, or up and down the slopes of the school field for strengthening leg muscles and working at ball skills. We would head for the common showers at the school hostel at 7.15 a.m. and then to the tuck shop for a breakfast of bread, kaya, half- or full-boiled eggs and milk, coffee or tea and have to be in class by latest 7.45 a.m which was 15 minutes after classes commenced for other students.

The afternoon training sessions commenced at 3.30 p.m. and included shooting practice at the wall and interminable set pieces and tactical plays. No one missed these sessions because a daily report would be handed in to HM Murugasu, who was himself often there from 5-7 in the evenings, monitoring the progress of suspected laggards. It it rained, training sessions were moved to the School Hall. By the second day of these intensive training sessions, the juniors in particular, were ready to cry "Mama" and head for home from the isolation, unfamiliar routines as well as aches all over the body! "Centralised training" excuses were not tolerated by teachers or HM where homework and assignments were concerned!

Part of Centralised Training involved being imbued with the principles of sportsmanship. We not only practised hailing "Three cheers" at the top of our voices to the opposition after each game ended, regardless of who won or lost; we also practised "Three cheers to VI" at the beginning of each match as well! More than that, we would shake hands with and thank the referee, linesmen and teacher in charge of the opposing school teams.

But that game against La Salle stands out in my mind for several reasons. For one, coach Kim Chuan put me in the reserves for the first half! This had never ever happened to me before. I had always been a first choice player. Captain Indran and right winger Yong Fong expressed their dissent and misgivings to me privately (we had played together in the same teams for some six years) but no one dared question the coach's decision publicly. My commitment to the team was not questioned either and I had been dreaming of scoring a goal or two in that final game of the season or somehow making a mark. I just knew I had a date with destiny. But this? In the reserves? Kim Chuan never explained that odd decision. Maybe it was reverse psychology?

In any event leftie Michael Nettleton who was great fun during centralised training, came on in place of me as left winger for the first half and almost put us ahead with a stinger that just cleared the bar! Wild horses could not have held me back for the second half as Indran signalled to me to replace Mike after a quick pow-wow with Kim Chuan. As was customary, I had no hesitation in shaking hands with Mike and thumping his back and cheering him up with "Well played!" Three years of training and playing together had built up a degree of camaraderie and mutual respect that could not be erased easily. Besides, we shared a common bond. We had both been caned-lashed on the hand by Valentine Manuel for my borrowing a textbook from Mike!!

I had no doubt it would happen. A number of times I took on La Salle's Mickey Yap who played at right back and set him up by making the dash always down the left flank, to his right, and appearing to fail to get past him. Then when the opening came, I looked up at Indran with whom I had an almost telepathic understanding after so many years. I signalled to him with my eyes to send a through ball to Mickey's left and in an instant I had left Mickey for dead. I ran round him, collected the ball, cut back to leave Mickey completely bewildered, hared down the flank and sent a low cross to the near post, to who else but Mokhtar Dahari! He did a magical shimmy and coolly slotted the ball over the line to the back of the net amidst a melee of tangled arms and legs and shouts of "block him!" We had the lead! Ten minutes later Chung Kian made it 2-0 and that's the way the match ended. The trophy was indisputably ours! Eddy Ee Beng Yew's performance as goalkeeper was outstanding throughout the season as was the rock solid defence of Indran and Shook Keong, but there is no doubt it was a sterling team effort that led to success!

We sang with gay abandon in the tuckshop man boss' van all the way back to the school tuckshop where we mixed fizzy concoctions of coke, 7-Up and Pepsi in the cauldron of the championship trophy and drank to glory while Mike emptied a bottle of root beer over my head and we whooped and laughed and talked again and again about Mike's missed stinger and that through pass from Indran and that moment of wizardry from Mokhtar that justified our three months of sacrifice and hard work. Even tuckshop man boss joined in the celebrations and ordered an extra round of pop drinks and curry puff for us!

Then an hour later, when we had exhausted our mutual ego-massaging, we packed up, broke up and I cycled for home with Mokhtar and Indran.

(Once, Mokhtar, who lived in Malay Settlement Kampong Pandan Dalam, and I had nearly come to blows over our bicycles. We both had similar looking bicycles parked in the school bicycle shed opposite the swimming pool (this was before it was moved to the shade formed by the side of the swimming pool wall). I had cycled home for lunch and returned to school for afternoon football practice where I found a furious looking Mokhtar and his minder, beefy Prem Sagar, waiting at the shed. It transpired that my bike keys could also open Mokhtar's bike lock and I had mistakenly taken home his bike! Mokhtar had panicked thinking his precious bike had been stolen and he would have a tough time explaining matters to his father. Anyway, we got over that misunderstanding after some choice words from Mokhtar and menacing gestures from Prem! And it's not surprising Prem Sagar, who later played rugby for school and was noted for his enthusiasm and commitment to the team, ended up working for the Police Force in Singapore).

The next Monday, Kim Chuan and R. Seshan were presented during School Assembly with our trophies of appreciation for their mentoring.

And that was that. I never played soccer for VI after that year. You could just about manage it at U15 level, but NOT still play wearing spectacles against much bigger guys at U18 and U20 levels.

And, oh yes! Mickey Yap, Raymond D'Silva and Shubon Sinha Roy who were all outstanding footballers and athletes in their own right, enrolled at VI the following year!! Raymond D'Silva will always be remembered as VI's mercurial left-winger whose dribbling skills and bursts of speed drew gasps of astonishment wherever he played. A couple of years later, Mickey Yap played full-back for Malaysian Schools' Football Team which Indran successfully captained in the finals played at Merdeka Stadium.

Shunbon excelled in athletics, particularly in the 400m and 4 x 100m relays.

As for the GREAT Mokhtar Dahari, what is there that I can say about his footballing skills, character, modesty and sincerity as a human being that has not already been documented so extensively elsewhere? It was a privilege to have known and played alongside him! He really began to bloom between 1969-70 when he was first choice in not only football, but also rugby! And God only knows where he carried weights (it certainly was not at VI), but by the time he was in Form 5, the once '90-pound weakling' looked like he'd been born with body armour. The muscles just bulged out frighteningly!

But I take extra pride in that we knew him at a time when his Malayness and our non-Malayness and our religious diversities never ever, not once, ever, came between any of us!!

 

1968 - Introverts, Extroverts, Unsung Heroes


ockey was a team game which the VI excelled in, and in Selangor, the RMC (Royal Military College) were our main opponents for the championship challenge trophies in most, if not all, the finals of the U18 and U20 competitions played between 1966 and 1972. RMC did not compete in the U15 tournaments and the U18 competition was discontinued after 1969.

In later years, after 1970, Selangor was split into North and South zones for all inter-school sports championships. So, there were two inter-zone finals, and the two winners from there met in an end of season clash to determine the State Champions. Even then, as RMC and VI were in the same zone, the winner of our inter-zone decider was really the de facto State Champion, since the gulf between these two giants and all other schools was very wide indeed! At national level though, the best schoolboy players emerged from High School in Melaka and Anderson, King Edward VII and Clifford High School in Perak.

The coach for all the hockey squads was Mr. Leonard De Vries who was also the school's Sports Master. More than that, he also coached the Cricket teams and captained the successful VI teams that participated in the State Navaratnam Shield competition. A Malaysian Eurasian, Lenny was outstanding throughout his tenure in VI as teacher, disciplinarian, mentor and Sports Master. He commanded the respect of every student who came into contact with him. In 1970, he left for Canada to earn his PhD in Sports Science. Dr. Leonard De Vries was at one time attached to the Sports Science Faculty of USM Penang and is now President of the Malaysian Association of Sports Education, Sports Science and Fitness. He also consults for the National Sports Council (NSC).

As with all our coaches, whether they were at it full-time or part-time, nothing was done by halves. We had the best equipment - Karachi King Super sticks primed with olive oil - and the best maintained practice pitches which were also the venues for home fixtures. This was the era in which hockey was played universally on grass pitches for which every team had, as de rigueur, at least three players in the forward line who had good to wizard-level thrilling stickwork artistry and control, and two from the defence (usually comprising the two full backs) as short corner (whacking) and long corner conversion specialists.

We trained in all weather and conditions. Come rain or shine, we practiced without fail on Mondays and Wednesdays and Fridays. Nothing short of a typhoon would disrupt these sessions. Lenny was competent technically as well as practically. Practice sessions would always start at 4 p.m. with 45 minutes minutes of warming up and loosening up routines followed by muscle strengthening exercises such as press ups, half and full sit-ups, duck walks with the arm fully stretched out and sprints up and down the slopes surrounding the school field. For speed and stamina, there were compulsory circuits round the 400m tracks and at least one 3 1/2 mile cross-country run every two weeks.

There was one golden rule. Regardless of whatever exercise it was, the hockey stick remained firmly grasped in the right palm! Even if you had the Big Call for toilet, you took the stick with you. Stick bonding was encouraged to an extent we were told that it was positively NOT KINKY to go to bed at night with hand wrapped tightly around one's favourite hockey stick!

We would then swing into ball dribbling, passing, flicking, scooping and stickwork sessions in groups of three, for example, the right winger, right inside left and right half would form one group and practise these moves in triangular formations up and down the field. An hour or so would then be spent on actual play. The early-season squad comprised some 2 dozen enthusiasts vying for the limited places in the final team and so full blown games took place with everyone trying to outdo the others to impress Lenny.

When the squad was finally whittled down to 13, the practice sessions became more intense and exacting with the experienced attacking forwards taking on the seasoned mid-fielders like centre half Balraj and full-backs like Yoong Fong and Peng Keong. The final half hour of practice was spent on short and long corner tactics where it was always my job to push the ball from the back-line of the D or slam it from the long corner, to the designated stoppers and hitters waiting at the top of the D. We also practiced taking penalty flicks which rarely ever came into contention in inter-school games.

The only protection the players had against wayward and airborne balls leaving the hockey blades of the super speed of light slammers and hitters, were the triangular-shaped hard plastic guards they would tuck into the inside front of their undies to protect their family jewels! Additionally, the goalkeeper would have on a pair of leg pads and an over-sized glove for his right hand for his safety. But it really was a miracle that in all those years no-one had a really serious or fatal injury from the intentionally or unintentionally hit rising solid hockey ball. Once, it took a week for my thigh muscles to fully unlock from a ball struck into it at close quarters. On another occasion, I was side-lined for the last quarter of a game when a feather of a touch from an opponent's stick caused intense bleeding from a gash over my eyebrow; in an instance the swelling had caused my left eye to close! But next evening, I was back on the hockey field.

The final 13 in that 1968 U15 Hockey Team included one Raja Azlan, and another, A. R. Hariharan, more popularly known as "Pedro." They represented two contrasting personalities as you are ever likely to see in one team. Azlan was the diminutive, quiet, humble and poker-faced introvert to Pedro Hari's brash, noisy, boisterous, funny and attention seeking extrovert. They both, however, shared a common skill - they were superb hockey players. If I had to choose between the two, I would say Azlan was the more skillful. But Pedro brought a joyful approach to the game that inspired many, while he had the rare ability to engender, especially in the 1970 and 1971 senior teams, great team spirit that united the players to a common cause.

Raja Azlan was of course the younger brother of the more illustrious Raja Ahmad, who was joint VI Sportsman of The Year in 1971 (colours in Football, Hockey & Tennis) and a School Prefect from Shaw House. Ahmad was quite popular among the students and was a role model, especially for Malay students. He had a quick smile for everyone, though his habit of hitching up his trousers absent-mindedly was caricaturised by one or two mimics in school. He excelled in Football and Hockey, and represented the VI at tennis and cricket as well. After leaving school, he qualified as an ACA and went on to distinguish himself in his illustrious career by becoming managing partner at Ernst & Young Malaysia, eventually retiring and settling in Perth, Australia. He also married his high school sweetheart who was the VI Deputy Head Girl in 1972!

Pedro Hari, together with Nazri Aziz, were the only junior players in that 1968 U15 hockey team, and it spoke volumes of their abilities since it would take exceptional talent for a junior to break into our relatively more experienced ranks. Pedro too had an elder brother in school, namely, A. R. Ramachandran (Rama) whom most of ribbed as "Corporal" for many years when he was a stalwart of the Cadet Corps and in the Army. Rama (Major Ret'd) now has, of course, paid his dues to King and Country, having done a stint in dangerous Bosnia. Rama had been an enthusiastic hockey player in Form 1, but competition for places in the championship teams was always intense. Nevertheless many who fell by the wayside in the weeding out process remained loyal, keen and enthusiastic supporters who came to cheer the team at every occasion we played. Such was the character building and its results that pervaded almost everything we did while in VI.

In our opening championship game of the season, Pedro outshone the rest of us. I was the leading scorer in all the friendly games and was expected to carry the torch for the whole season with centre forward and captain Chung Kian. We were 4-0 up against Maxwell Road School at half-time, and Pedro, playing as left winger had slammed in three of those goals, the fourth emerging from a Yoong-Fong-Peng Keong short corner murderous whack into the roof of the net! When the second half commenced, I knew my reputation would take a big hit if I did not buck up! Soon enough, with the help of some solid assists from Balraj, Azlan and Chun Kian, I knocked in two goals and breathed a sigh of relief! The match ended with us thrashing Maxwell 9-0 with more goals from Fong-Peng Keong, Pedro and Azlan.

After the game, we had a pep-talk from Lenny who had also called over some of the senior players like Tharmasegaran, D. Krishnan, Satchinathan and Tan Lip Tiong (School Hockey Captain) from the U20 squad. And then Lenny sang Pedro Hari's praises to the skies:

"Do you all know that in hockey the most difficult position to play is at left wing? And the only junior in the junior most squad gave us a perfect demonstration today of how to play in this most difficult of positions. He speeds down the flank outstripping Maxwell's entire defence and then slams in three goals, all from the top left hand corner of the D! The keeper didn't have a ghost of a chance...." Lenny went on about it all season.

But more than Pedro Hari's magic, it was Azlan's stickwork wizardry that had caught my eyes. It had not put in much of an appearance during all those training sessions and friendly games. Yet here, when and where it mattered, Azlan showed flashes that had us gasping! Where had it come from? Did he have a personal coach or practised elsewhere secretly? Or had he been possessed? But there it was, two outstanding performances; one from the introvert and one from the extrovert that had us all shaking our heads in wonderment!

But more was to come. The U15 Trophy finals was played in early April against St. Johns at the Gurney Road School grounds. We went into the match as favourites.

By half-time we were 1-0 ahead. Technically the goal was mine, but morally it had "Raja Azlan" written all over it. Azlan had picked up a pass from me just inside St. John's half and run through SJ's entire defence before cracking it at goal. The SJ keeper's stick got a thick edge to the ball as he rushed out and it was touch and go whether the ball would cross the line. That's when I pounced on it and slammed it to the backboard of the goal with a resounding thwack. In the second half, having done all the hard work in earning it, horrors of horrors, I missed a penalty stroke! Sallehuddin quietly walked up and firmly asked me to make sure I compensated for that diabolical miss. Towards the end of the game we went 2-0 up and who else should put the icing on the cake but Raja Azlan, with yet another dazzling solo run from my through pass!

Two years later in 1970 when he was in Form 5 and VI was joint Champions with RMC, Raja Azlan produced two outstanding goal-scoring runs that had even the Form 6 players va-va-ing him. One was in the semi-final game against Klang High School (played at the KHS grounds) with yet another stirring solo goal run and finish to draw level at 1-1, though we eventually won 6-1. The other was in a scintillating 1-1 drawn friendly game (played at the YMCA grounds in Brickfields) against what was virtually the entire Selangor State Team, when Azlan, dwarfed by the giants, produced the goal of the season.

Given sufficient push and encouragement, I'm sure Raja Azlan would have gone far in hockey, possibly even making it to the national team.

Tharmasegaran, our 1970 Football Captain and Hockey Vice-Captain/goalkeeper recalled an incident with Raja Azlan one night during centralised training at the school. They had entered the swimming pool illegally and playfully pushed Raja Azlan into the deep end, not knowing he suffered from hydrophobia. When they realised that he was struggling, they dived in, pulled him out and spent the night apologising to him!

But sadly, we lost track of Raja Azlan after 1970 when he left VI for further studies. I spoke to him once in 1974 about turning up for the VI Old Boys Hockey Team for the VIOBA vs VI annual fixture. But he lamented to me that "VI is not the same anymore. Standards have dropped. The old VI spirit is not there..." and I have not spoken to him or seen him since.

As for Pedro Hari, we are still in touch with each other, through Facebook, Rama, Balraj and our Year Group with other hockey pals and many from the classes of 1970 and 1972. I recall that in the 1971 hockey final against RMC, Pedro Hari was carried out on a stretcher half way through the game, struck by a mysterious knee twinge or spasm and never recovered to be his old speedy winger self again!


Under-15 Selangor Inter-Schools State Champions 1968
(Shankar is seated at extreme right)

Among those I have lost touch with are Chun Kian, Sallehuddin and Che Azmi Bux. It's still a mystery to me why Che Azmi Bux who lived in Lorong Cheong Yoke Choy near Cochrane Road School was so called. Was there a Pakistan connection? Recently though, when a group of us had a 'Buka Puasa' session at RSC Dataran, Abdul Hamid mentioned in passing that Che Azmi Bux had a successful career as an accountant, was a bit reclusive and had settled down in Jordan!

Our teams often achieved great results with timely glorious performances from unsung heroes like Raja Azlan and Pedro Hariharan, even as they were surrounded by other popular stars and poster boys.

And what do these events and memories matter or where do they figure, I posed earlier.

Well, in last week's reunion of the VI classes of 1970/72, I noted that most of those who attended the get together for Michael Nettleton who hails these days from Nottingham, UK and is Senior Biz Development Manager at CIBA-Geigy, were also there in 1968. The more quiet and reserved guys like the Jalils, Hamids, Morzalis, Kong Voons, Thirus, Darwis', Sadasivams, Dave Chans, Kok Keongs etc. may not always articulate it well, but they came because they belonged. They came because they wanted to. They came because we wanted them to.

And in an increasingly global world where Government policies as much as population explosions push us to anonymity and obscurity, it's good to know and be known, have friends with whom we shared wonderful experiences and be glad the other person is still alive. The individual is not forgotten or discarded with the passage of time.

Here's a 1Malaysia most of the current crop of politicians have not a clue to!

 

1969 -The Truly Honeymoon Year Pt 1


he only truly honeymoon year in thirteen years of education leading to the Form 6 HSC (Higher School Certificate or today's STPM/A Levels) arrives when one enters Form 4. This is also the year when students face streaming - they have to usually choose between Pure Science and Pure Arts.

But for those who were still in two minds, VI gave you the option of signing up for the Additional Science or Double Credit Stream which differed from Pure Arts by the inclusion of Additional Maths and Additional Science and exclusion of History or Geography and Commerce/Book-keeping. Some like Sivandan and Shubon who hedged their bets, went on to University and graduated as doctors!

Most of my pals and I plonked for Pure Science. The subjects covered were Biology, Chemistry, Physics, Maths, Additional Maths, English, English Literature, Geography and Bahasa Malaysia (1 & 2) which was compulsory for all students. I wanted to drop Geography which I hated, in favour of History at which I was among the top students. But it was, much to my eternal regret, strangely not an option offered to Pure Science students. Predictably, I secured a stinkingly low C5 credit for Geography in the Form 5 MCE Govt examinations (Malaysia Certificate of Education, equivalent to today's SPM/O Level).

Besides the nine written subjects tested at MCE, we also had to appear for the English Oral Test and Practical (Laboratory) Examinations for Biology (Zoology/Anatomy & Botany), Chemistry and Physics. For Anatomy in particular, we had to identify, draw and labels bones such as the ulna and radius in the forearm, ball and socket joints of the upper arms/shoulder and pelvis not to mention the lumbar, thoracic, cervical and other vertebrae that made up parts of spinal column! And then there was the coccyx and rods and cones, which had nothing to do with the penis, and the patella, which was not an Italian dish. Words like magnum foramen, medulla oblongata and occipital groove (highlighted in 2006 by Steve Martin/Clouseau in The Pink Panther) will never leave your vocabulary, nor axon, dendrite, synaptic junction, myelin sheath (not a flavoured condom), pulmonary, cardiac, ventricles and auricles and much, much more.

Our Form and Geography Master in 4B2 was an Old Boy graduate, Dharam Prakash (BA Hons, UM) who, while methodical, efficient (completed the syllabus on time) and dedicated, was quite uninspiring, if not boring, in imparting to us the study of planet Earth, its features and countries. As a person he was lovely and as a teacher, approachable and friendly to the students. And as Cheah Peng Keong in 4B1 would often imitate, Prakash had a habit of grunting lowly at the end of some sentences which gave you the impression he suffered from mild hernia! He was made Senior Assistant from 1982 to 1986. Much later, possibly in the 1990s, he was promoted as Head Master of Sultan Abdul Samad (SAS) Secondary School in Section 11 in Jalan University, Petaling Jaya where he was highly regarded by students, teachers and parents.

My weakness in Geography was directly related to my poor sketching and drawing skills for the Map Book and having to reproduce them for monthly, term and end of year tests and exams. My free hand drawing of Borneo looked not unlike a bear with a swollen head and in a skirt while that of India could be interchanged with Malaya! It was not until I peeked into Sum Yap Loong's Map Book and asked for help that things improved, just a little.

Yap Loong, a classmate way back from Standard 1 in Pasar Road English School 1 days, was born with a charcoal stick and paint brush in his hand. Such was his perfectionism in drawing and colouring skills (with Mars Colour Pencils, the gold standard in 1969) that his maps looked like exact reproductions from the World Atlas. More than that, he inserted tracing paper between the pages of his Map Book so that the colour would not smear drawings on opposing pages when the book was closed!! I believe he nowadays makes a living as an artist specialising in Chinese paintings.

I learnt from him the art of drawing perfect square grids over the maps in the Atlas and then sketching them in the Map Book with scaled up grids. You could not imagine Dharam Prakash's delight in my amazing improvement although he could not have harboured more than a pass for me at the MCE exams! For the life of me, I also could not get around the compulsory paper on Relief Map studies where you would be given a Topographical Map (aerial photo view) of some part of Malaysia and you had to draw contour maps to scale, identify hills and valleys and compute gradients.

For Botany and Zoology we had the stern, strict and foreboding Mrs. Leow Yew Onn (BSc UM) - married to an Old Boy - with whom no one took any liberties. But if you paid attention during her lectures, took notes intelligently, did your homework and practicals with due care and diligence, she would warm up to you.

Once, she instructed the class to germinate some bean sprout seeds placed on water soaked cotton wool in small petri dish, measure and record their growth at home over the week-end and bring it along to the lab for lessons on Monday. Something to do with tropisms - photo-, geo- and hydro- or the effect of light, gravity and water on seed, root and plant growth!

On the appointed day, only two bean sprout sporting petri dishes turned up - one from me and one from our "famous" bell ringer, Tanjit Singh, who in a state of panic that Monday morning had begged me to lend him some of my samples. Such was Mrs. Liow's fury at the pathetic response from the class of 40-odd that she gave us a thorough roasting which stopped just short of her sending the whole class to dreaded Muru's office for a mass cane tattoo on our posteriors!! But she did call me up later to the staff room to convey her appreciation for my wasted effort and, from that day, her demeanour to me softened and she did not hesitate to tell me now and then she had "Great Expectations" from me in the MCE Bio exams. And I did not disappoint her! But, at the Bio lab session that following Wednesday, dang if there weren't forty petri dishes sporting bean sprouts, some even garnished with salted fish!! Lol!

Now, it wasn't that I was a mama's boy who would suck up to the likes of female Biology teachers and put my classmates in a bad light only to be taunted later as "Mrs. Liow's armpit sprouting hair." But my grandad had a thing for bean sprouts and their "fantastic" protein content. So there, you see, it was fated!

For Chemistry, we had a succession of teachers, temporary and permanent, who were all exceptionally qualified AND were good teachers as well. For the 1st term, there was Chong Kok Leong (BSc Hons, UM), an ex-Victorian. I mean, hell, how could you ever forget a Chemistry teacher who taught you that you could detect which student had broken wind (silent killer Exocet skunk class fart) in class from the strength of smell of rotten eggs or Hydrogen Sulphide (H2S) as you moved around. And that you could easily narrow it down further if you stuck a piece of paper soaked in lead acetate in the vicinity of the student's pants and the paper turned black from the Hydrogen Sulphide!!

Chong resigned in July and was replaced by Miss Loo Sai Harn (BSc Hons, NZ) who later became Mrs. Koh Swee Pheng (her husband was another Old Boy). She also taught Form 6 students and was a good communicator though, yet again, of the "lock jawed" breed of unsmiling female teachers of which the school appeared to have more than its fair share! Loo/Koh kept us on our toes but alienated us somewhat when she went full steam ahead with the entire chapter on chemical reactions stated in ionic or redox form during the last week of school (when few paid any attention) and then refused to go over it again the following year.

The teacher who impressed us most was the young, good looking and stylish Terence Jayatilaka (BA Hons, UM) who took us through Shakespeare's and Kamara Laye's The African Child for English Literature. Who could forget Portia's "Quality of Mercy" speech on humanity, revenge and justice or Shylock's "If you prick us, do we not bleed" plea against racism and religious bigotry? Or, Kamara Laye's description of his circumcision ceremony in a remote village in Konakry, Guinea, W. Africa where the foreskin was lopped off using sharpened bamboo for scalpel and banana stems for operating table (not unlike many a rural Malay boy's experience before the 1960s, I suppose!!). There were curious tales of Laye's father, the village chief and a goldsmith who took instructions from a black cobra on working with gold, and of tribal dances which Terence would demonstrate with head and hip gyrations to illustrate how getting "into the rhythm" in the local discos could one lead into a trance like the kavadi carriers at Batu Caves!

Terence Jayatilaka was also Assistant School Cricket Master who played for the extraordinarily successful VI team as all-rounder in the Stonor Shield Selangor State Championship which involved mainly private clubs and state and federal statutory bodies teams such as NEB (National Electricity Board/Tenaga).

For reasons no one could really put a finger on, Terence took a dislike to Sallehuddin or "Hood", as he was popularly known, though nothing really came of it but for some sharp words directed at him now and then. Hood was an outstanding hurdler and athlete who also played rugby, football and hockey for VI. I never understood how he could hurl the javelin and shot putt further than me, more so that he could score "senior level" points for (red) Shaw House while I struggled with basic points for (yellow) Hepponstall House! Hood came from a wealthy family in Gombak and boasted a stunningly good looking sister, Suhaila Shamsuddin, who had a popular and successful career as a local pop star! Ramachandran and I ran into him a couple of times years later in London, had dinner with him at his flat in Baker Street (near Sherlock Holmes' fictional flat at 221 Baker St.) and met up again when he was with Ernst & Young and Guthries in KL. A ladies man, Hood was an interesting character whose exploits both in and out of school were the stuff of legends!

Then there was Francis Ho Kim Wah (B.Engr., Canada) who introduced us to Additional Maths and was hugely popular with all and sundry. He left VI to join Esso in Port Dickson in March, but not before he was given an embarrassing dressing down in front of the whole class by HM Murugasu who spared nothing in warning him never again to wear sandals over white socks while teaching in VI. Thank God, Francis had not been wearing his white collared T-shirt he had a penchant for, that day!! This was the 2nd run-in poor Francis had with Muru. A week or so earlier Muru had barked at him to stand up when he walked on to the stage at a Monday morning School Assembly. The teaching and administration corps had dismally failed to brief Francis on school protocols and etiquettes!! Little wonder he packed it in when the offer came from Esso.

Francis was replaced by one Charles Silver, a US Peace Corpsman, who can aptly be described as a disaster of biblical proportions for us. Poor Charles had not understood local culture which demanded students be 100% spoon-fed and, more so, when the subject was the introduction to the Differential Calculus. Only a few like R. Pathmanathan, Chim Kar Choon and Eow Yoke Kee could apply basic principles and standard formulae when asked to work out the straight line equation with co-ordinates (Uncle Sam1, Uncle Stalin1) (Uncle Sam2, Uncle Stalin2) and then dy/dx it. To his credit though, Charles did not direct us to work out the 2nd and 3rd derivatives and minimum and maximum points of inflection from those co-ordinates for Capitalism and Communism!! We might well have rebelled and started World War 3!! I mean, given two crooks, Uncle Sam and Uncle Stalin, you couldn't possibly get anything straight, let alone a straight line, could you?

Fortunately, Charles only lasted a couple of months with us before being replaced by a speech challenged temporary teacher. I think someone out there was hell bent on sabotaging 4B2 for good. Charles later married one of our female teacher staff.

Thereafter, we had some brilliant Additional Maths teachers, especially Cheok Cheo Foh who mesmerised and galvanised us and to whom all of us owe a debt of eternal gratitude we can never repay!

Miss S. Somasundram (BSc Madras) was a straight but dreary text-book Physics teacher whose unattached status was not lost on us sex-starved 4B2 adolescent boys, especially Tanjit Singh. She was a bit height challenged, though shapely and well-endowed where it mattered to us sex maniacs and not half bad looking either. Tanjit livened up one boring lesson on sound waves by "accidentally" dropping a twanging, zinging, vibrating tuning fork down the front of the Miss Soma's (as we lovingly addressed her) saree blouse! It took some time for Miss Soma to retrieve the tuning fork and regain her composure though she never cottoned on to the set up. Miss Soma had an elder sister, Miss J. Somasundram who taught in VI till 1968.

For Bahasa Malaysia we suffered Cikgu Hassanuddin (College Trained) who went AWOL most of the time, involved as he was as the Master-in-charge of Cadet Corp, School Band, Rugby and Sports Day. We were mostly left to our own devices during BM lessons and were it not for the likes of Ciku Shuib Kassa (Language Institute Trained) later, and to a lesser extent, the sexy Puan Rohaty (BA Hons, UM) whom all the boys tried to flirt with, we would have been done in at the MCE exam the following year. Shuib was also highly respected for his dedication as Badminton Master.

I mentioned R. Pathmanathan (Dr), Eow Yoke Kee and Chim Kar Choon, who together with others like Tan Kai Chah (Dr) and Krishnan (Dr/WHO Manila) were all straight "A" students who joined us in Form 4B2 from faraway places like Kuantan and Kuala Kubu Bahru. Who would have thought, as "Elvis" Foo Kok Fee recently confessed in a class reunion last year, that Pat (Pathmanathan) from the so-called and mistakenly thought of "boondocks" of the East Coast would boast such a powerful command of English as to put us all to shame and inspire us to new heights! Or that Kai Chah from KKB would be recognised later as one of the world's leading liver transplant specialists. We have lost the likes of maths kings Yoke Kee and Kar Choon, who spearheaded the school basketball team, to Singapore. The quiet and modest Syed Ahmad who harked back to PRES days with us and later, I believe, headed the National Aerospace Institute.

4B1, of course, boasted the cream of the top students like Jaspal Singh, Lim Theam Siew, Mac Kean Boon, Cheah Peng Keong, Goh Tai Kuang, Modhushudan, Sarmukh Singh, Low Sek Luen, TA Mohan, Raymond Hui, Teoh Siang Chin, Kwan Poh Woh, Yap Chin Seong, Lian Liong Teck and a host of others whom fate had thrown in the lot with us in the journey through school and life.

The fates had also been very kind to me throughout my VI years. I was spared the likes of teachers like Valentine Manuel, E J Lawrence, Ho Sai Hong and Bernard Koay, except for their occasional cameo appearances as relief teachers. Bernard Koay (who had Burmese blood), in particular, rubbed me the wrong way. There was something about his overall demeanour and cocky manner; he walked on the balls of his toes and had the look of a pugilist (boxer) about him - as though constantly challenging you for a fight any time, any day, anywhere! More than that, he was one of those teachers who wanted to show you that they knew more than you did or ever will. It was not unknown for him to give you negative marks for your English essay!! I could be wrong, but that was the impression I got of him.

On the other hand, I recall Bharath Patel recounting to us during a class of 1970 reunion in 2001 about how he made his first million before he was 30, due much to Bernard Koay's tips and advice on how to invest in the KL Stock Market!

 

1969 -The Truly Honeymoon Year Pt 2


was a word we used to guffaw over whenever any schoolboy uttered it in 1969. After all, we were pimply juveniles with hormones going berserk and zero sex. So what the hell did anyone expect from us anyway?

We'd laugh over jokes like:
What's 6.9? Good sex interrupted by a period!
How are 69 and Add Maths related? I don't get either one!
What's the square root of 69? Ate something!

But what do you really remember about 1969?

"One small step for me, one giant step for mankind" and the moon landing by Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin? If it happened today, we'd say "That's awesome!!!!" But if you were anti-American and anti-Semitic like a (in)famous recalcitrant ex-Prime Minister, you might say:

"It was all filmed in Universal or MGM Studios. After all, Avatar tells you 9/11 was a CIA/Mossad conspiracy, I mean the towers collapsed like a planned explosion and it wasn't American Airlines 77 that hit the Pentagon but missiles from a Global Hawk remote controlled CIA silent stealth aircraft..."

If you buy these conspiracy hypotheses, that is, like a slim Elvis was seen last week at KFC in Bukit Bintang wolfing down chicken skin by the tub and man, (finally) the aliens (thank God!) kidnapped my mother-in-law, but (as usual) I only have these fuzzy photos and video taken with my latest super duper digital supermulticoated lens Sony handycam which has 50x zoom function....

But '69 was an eventful year. It was the year of Woodstock and that electrifying two-hour finale of "Purple Haze," "Star Spangled Banner" and others by Hendrix! It was also a year of shame for the USA with the exposing of the My Lai Massacre and escalation of the Vietnam War by President Lyndon Baines Johnson who was taunted by peace protesters with "Hey, hey, LBJ, how many kids did you kill today?"

We were shocked at the cult killing of American actress Sharon Tate by Charles Manson who was accused of conducting satanic rituals. Sharon, who had been 81/2 months pregnant when she was murdered in her home, was married to movie producer Roman Polanski of satanic theme movie "Rosemary's Baby." Polanski fled USA in 1977 after admitting to having unlawful sex with a minor, but was arrested in 2009 by Swiss police at the request of U.S. authorities when he travelled to receive a lifetime achievement award at the Zurich Film Festival. The US formally requested his extradition.

The Beatles released their "Abbey Road" album with that famous cover of the mop tops at a zebra crossing. That album included "Something" and "Come Together" which was so apt for '69!! Charles Manson, the loony bin Tate killer, was apparently inspired by apocalyptic messages contained in the Beatles 1968 "White Album" song "Helter Skelter." Obladi Oblada, hell!! Oh, of course, Manson was equally energized by that other Beatles album, the Holy Bible and its End of Days predictions!!

These were the formative years of the pioneers of heavy metal and hard rock. If you can't recall Jimmy Page, Robert Plant, John Paul Jones and John Bonham - Led Zeppelin - belting out "Stairway to Murugasu's Office?" you must have been dead back then! Or of Ritchie Blackmore and Ian Gillan causing riots with "Smoke from Water On The School Pants While Going Back Down The Staircase from Muru's Office"? Deep Purple? No? Ozzy Osbourne of bat head biting fame, Black Sabbath and "Paranoid To Go To School." Surely, but surely, you could not have forgotten Carlos Santana and "Black Bayi Woman, Got a Black Bayi Woman?" Oh, there were the Rolling Stones, Bee Gees and Grand Funk. Elvis struck No. 1 with "Suspicious Minds" and Stevie Wonder with "My Cherie Amour."

As far as movies went, we had a spate of them where one or more of the "heroes" died!! It happened in Easy Rider (Peter Fonda), Butch Cassidy and The Sundance Kid (Paul Newman/Robert Redford), True Grit (Glen Campbell), They Shoot Horses, Don't They? (Michael Sarrazin/Jane Fonda) and Midnight Cowboy (Dustin Hoffman). Easy Rider spawned the genre of chopper motorbikes and leather jackets donning counterculture (hippie/drug abuse) rebellious youth all over the world.

Homosexuality and male prostitution (that was a new one for me!) reared its head in Midnight Cowboy, made famous by Harry Nilsson's haunting theme song "Everybody's Talking At Me" while the cheerful "Raindrops Keep Fallin' On my Head" accompanied Butch Cassidy and partner to their graves. They Shoot Horses, Don't They? was a depressing movie about the Depression era and the depressing story of two depressing no-hopers!

But you got full entertainment value from The Italian Job (the original with Michael Caine and the literally cliffhanger ending), Topaz (Hitchcock spy movie), OHMS (George Lazenby as James Bond), The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie and Anne of The Thousand Days where Richard Burton ('The Voice') gave a riveting performance with his gravelly orations!

Barbara Streisand, who made ugly beautiful sang her way through Hello, Dolly! to stardom and international fame. But Streisand could not hold a candle to Louis Armstrong's (another gravelly voice) rendition of the title song. She claims, or others claim it for her, that Warren Beatty, Barry Gibbs, Andre Agassi, Robert Redford, Prince Charles, Dodi Fayed, Richard Gere, Omar Sharif, Kris Kristofferson, Jon Voight and many others were her lovers. I think Dr. M should investigate this. After 9/11 and Avatar, anything can be manufactured, right?

Goodbye, Mr. Chips was about the life of an other worldly English teacher with whom we connected instantly in the same way Dr. M did with Bush, Blair and Israel. Peter O'Toole as Chips made it a life-long career playing other worldly roles such as in Lawrence of Arabia and yet for all his brilliant acting, never once won an Oscar! But that's a crying shame, because he really deserved one.

In books we had the brilliant "Godfather" by Mario Puzo which spawned "sleeps with the fish" and "make him an offer I can't refuse," while Michael Crichton, sci-fi author ("Jurassic Park") who also wrote under his nom de plume, John Lange, emerged with "The Andromeda Strain" about an ET virus that invades earth. Kurt Vonnegut Jr produced his brilliant anti-war "Slaughterhouse 5" about the 1945 three-day bombing of Dresden. In recent months Dr. M has hinted that perhaps Churchill and the Allies should have been charged with war crimes in Nuremburg for the "collateral damage" at Dresden estimated at some 30,000 German lives!!

Award-winning American Jew Phillip Roth's "Portnoy's Complaint" strangely also about a young Jewish man's obsession with sex and masturbation was, of course, a subject most Form 4 boys in VI were unfamiliar with since they were told to "always tackle the problem with both hands!!" I recall this book vividly because our major domo bibliophile, R. Pathmanathan, made it a point to graphically describe all the salacious paragraphs, though it could not quite match the juicy bits in D H Lawrence's "Lady Chatterley's Lover" such as "Tha mun f..k!!??" There was also YCK who used to say in a serious tone that God intended us to masturbate since retaining it inside might cause a condition known as 'Blue Balls!' I couldn't quite get my hand or mind around that one!

As stated in an earlier post, for English Literature, we had to wade through Shakespeare's "Merchant of Venice," Camara Laye's "The African Child" and Gerald Durrel's hilarious and poignant "My Family and Other Animals" about his childhood adventures on the island of Corfu in Greece.

But 1969 was also the most momentous year in Malaysia's post-Independence political history and we were smack bang right in the middle of it!

MAY 13th, 1969 !!

Daya Singh, School Prefect and Hockey Captain in 1969, has written in saying how on that morning he persuaded HM Murugasu to cancel all afternoon school activities and to order all students to go home. Daya who lived near Indian Settlement and the adjoining Malay Settlement in Kg Pandan at the back of RSCG (Royal Selangor Golf Club) serviced by Toong Foong buses 117 and 118 had heard rumours of "restless natives" and "agent provocateurs" and thus correctly warned the HM of impending danger and mayhem.

I recall hurrying to Foch Avenue past Rex Theatre to the Central Market to catch the Sri Jaya bus for home in Jalan Pelandok, Pasar Road after school was closed at 1 p.m. My brothers, sister, father, grandfather and I all made it home before the riots began.

But what about the boys and girls at the School Hostel? And Cikgu Othman, HM Murugasu, the school jaga, mandors, swimming pool attendant and their families who lived within the school compound in Government quarters and bungalows?

 

1970 - The Exam Year Pt 1


ineteen Seventy was VI's first full year without Mr. V. Murugasu who had served as its first Asian Headmaster from 1964 -1969. Towards the end of 1969, Muru was given an emotional and fond farewell by all the students, teachers and staff for turning VI into a school/institution par excellence that was the envy of everyone in the country. He was replaced by the chain-smoking Tan Cheng Or who was himself a disciplinarian, though not of the same mould as Muru; he was not quite a "terror!!" Cheng Or continued maintaining the fine traditions of our 77 year-old school and secured the usual 100% pass in examination results as well.

The line up of teachers in Form 5B2 for the most important school examination of our lives - the then 'O' level equivalent Malaysian Certificate of Examination (MCE) - was:

Biology - Mrs. Leow/N Anandakrishnan
Chemistry - Mrs. Koh Swee Pheng
Physics - K. Durairajah
Maths/Additional Maths - Kok Lee Fatt/Cheok Cheo Foh/Cheang Yow Wai
Geography - Dharam Prakash
English Language - Mrs. Balaraman
English Literature - Mrs. Balaraman/Mrs. Yiap Khin Yin
Bahasa Malaysia - Cikgu Hassanuddin/Puan Rohaty

Many would move on to Lower 6 and then Upper 6 for the Higher School Certificate (HSC) examinations. But Form 5 was THE crucial year for either going overseas (for the rich) for A-levels, moving on to Form 6, or entering the government or private sector work force. Without an MCE or equivalent qualification, the majority would struggle with employment in either the private or government sector. Of course, these were the last few years when the curriculum was all English!!

Among that roll call of class teachers, Mrs. Yiap Khin Yin and Cheok Cheo Foh belonged to the "genius/brilliant" category. Mrs. Yiap, a VI Old Girl from the early 1950s, not only brought Shakespeare's "Julius Caesar" to life but opened up to us its relevance to contemporary life and death issues. If some thirty years later, I can still quote from Mark Antony's "Friends, Romans, countrymen..." funeral oration of Brutus' "There is a tide in the affairs of men, which taken at the flood leads on to fortune; Omitted, all the voyage of their life is bound in shallows and miseries....", then you know how good she was!!

There was also the hilarious "The Card" by Arnold Bennet, written in 1911 and made into a movie in 1952 starring Sir Alec Guinness and Petula Clark, which told the story of Henry (Denry) Machin, a washerwoman's son who rose through sheer chutzpah and opportunism to become Mayor of Bursely, an imaginary town England. Mrs. Yiap's priming us for the final exam is the stuff of legends!!

As for Cheok, rare is the day when you could hope to get a fully awake class of 45 paying attention while the maths teacher drones on about dy/dx and the integral of the differential, the proof of why the angle on the diameter of a circle is always a right angle or the initial rules of probability theory. In some thirty years of working life I have never once had to resort to these formulae!! Yet, Cheok not only had us looking forward to each of his classes, he also managed the impossible in securing full attendance and voluntary handing up of homework on time from the entire class!! If that's not pure genius, I don't know what is!!

Cheok replaced Kok Lee Fatt who left us after the first term. Kok had wrung a silent vow out of me that I would move heaven and earth to get a distinction in MCE Maths. I had been missing classes due to hockey centralised training when one fine day Kok told the whole class that those involved in centralised sports training - Indran, Balraj and myself - were destined to fail MCE Maths. Glad to report none of us did!!

After Cheok, there were brief stints from Yap Yew, R. Selvanathan and Cheang, none of whom I recall as being in the same lofty "class" as Cheok.

Mrs. Koh at Chemistry and new teacher "young Andy" (Anandakrishnan) were good but not inspiring. (Andy's arrival briefly overlapped the tenure of his namesake, the long serving maths master, C R Anantakrishnan, who would retire that year.)

Of the stern-faced Biology teacher Mrs. Leow, I have already written earlier. Chemistry lab sessions were always fun, especially when you mixed hydrochloric acid with anything, performed titration or salt identification tests. The "brown ring test" for nitrates, in particular, drew much pointed jokes while, for no good reason, one remembered the silver nitrate test for chlorides, the barium chloride test for sulphates and the famous "cloudy solution" and litmus paper tests for carbon dioxide.

In Anatomy, the study, identification and drawing of bones and vertebrae proved to be fascinating. My freehand drawings were shit, but I could easily tell the ulna from the radius and the thoracic vertebra from the lumbar and cervical types. All these were tested in the final lab exams which contributed some 30% of the overall MCE marks for Chemistry and Biology.

K. Durairajah or "KD", as we referred to him, stank all the way to the end of Form 6 in Physics and prevented many an Einstein from blossoming later in copyright offices!! KD lectured in a low frequency squeaky voice and was oblivious to whether the students understood the subject or passed, let alone, aced it. How we managed to get through without failing Physics is a major miracle of our times!!!

The fair, saree-clad Mrs. Balaraman also lectured the Form 6 seniors and was a past mistress at droning on even if there were no students in front of her, such was the mechanical approach she brought to English Language and Literature. But, nevertheless, classmates such as Tan Seng Tee found her sexy enough to pay attention and score A's!!

Dharam Prakash and Hassanudin (whenever he turned up) were adequate. Though BM was a compulsory subject, most of us studied just enough to make sure we passed and got our full MCE cert. Like Mrs. Balaraman, Puan Rohaty had fine pectorals, dressed sexily and boasted many admirers in all the Forms. So we stampeded to classes and managed to get through subjects where otherwise we might have played truant. Where Dharam was meticulous and conscientious but boring, Hassanudin was sloppy and boring and just muddled through the syllabus.

Despite which, most (98%) never bothered with private tuition lessons which seems de rigueur nowadays even in $15,000 - $50,000 per year private and international schools!!! The VI system of monthly and term tests and intense revision programmes towards the end of the year kept us well-oiled and performance-oriented!!

And, of course, whether the teachers were brilliant or sucked at their subjects, they still worked a fine sweat out of everyone under their charge. What more could parents or students demand of them?

As for sports and extra-curricular activities, 1970 was another high performance/achieving year for VI. In particular, the camaraderie among the hockey and football players was outstanding.

 

1970 - The Exam Year Pt 2


he strength of the bonds of love, friendships, camaraderie and relations wax and wane throughout life. Between siblings, sons and fathers and daughters and mothers, and husbands and wives and old lovers, classmates and schoolmates.

When it endures for 40 years and more, then there's something special and magical there!

Nothing was planned that way. We did not have Steven Covey's "The Seven Habits of Highly Successful People" or Jack Canfield's "Chicken Soup for the Soul" to motivate or guide us. Most, including myself, were not even aware of or had read Dale Carnegie's "How to Win Friends and Influence People."

Instinct and the VI spirit drove us.

I have been having an interesting debate with Jaspal Singh, an old classmate, and others about us "meek lambs gathered for the slaughter," lemming/herd behaviour and the influence on us, positive, negative or neutral, of authoritarian figures like the legendary VI HM, V. Murugasu, and teachers like Valentine Manuel, Rajaratnam, Bernard Koay, E. J. Lawrence, Ho Sai Hong, Yap Yew, Mrs. Yiap Khin Yin, Cheok Cheo Foh, Mrs. Balaraman, Terence Jayatilaka, Leonard De Vries, S. Peethamparam, Dharam Prakash, Mrs. Somasundram, Mrs. Teh Khoon Heng, and others.

Jaspal's honest and forthright opinion is that we succeeded despite, and not because of, Murugasu and his type; that, like Dr. Mahathir's 22-year premiership, we should perhaps judge by what more we could have achieved and not just what we collared, bullied and cowed as we were! Indisputably, some of the better respected and loved teachers provided us much needed balance and relief!

I have not put out a hit contract on Jaspal in London (I do have some Sri Lankan pro-liberation fighter friends from the old days there) because, quite frankly, I admire that kind of openness and confident assessment. Let's not pussyfoot around these things. Speak your mind because understanding these issues will do us all a world of good. Tomorrow you might have to go see the school HM because your son or granddaughter got into an entanglement with the school authorities or have to decide which school to send your wards to.

My opinion is that, on balance, Muru had a positive effect on us, though the memory of a vicious assault by Muru on Bryan Pereira in the school hall for skipping athletics practice, still chills me!! Maybe it's because I'm the Theory Y type. I have no doubt that TODAY students, parents and society will not accept or tolerate that genre of headmasters; it was a totally different era. But I have run into Bryan here and there at the RSC in recent times and he wasn't moping about like a limping old wounded tiger or a depressed father with a chip on his shoulder who goes twice a week for psychiatric therapy, waiting to pounce on unsuspecting old ex-VI HM's and satanic teachers for a quick kill and blood-sucking! In fact, he looked quite the opposite - positive and chirpy!!

Then again, we have Abdul Hamid who says he still shakes whenever he thinks about the six strokes he received from Muru (the last of which was so severe he lifted Muru's desk off its legs with his bare hands) after Cikgu Shuaib Kassa (the much respected BM teacher and master in-charge of badminton) reported him for a misunderstanding over a rude gesture he made to a classmate, which Shuaib thought was directed at him! Apparently, Hamid kissed and made up with Shuaib some years later, but has not had his day of reckoning yet with Muru!

Darwis Jamil, too, talks fondly about his dread of passing through the school gates towards the classrooms in his early years!! So, too, a good lady friend from my Form 6 year, Tan Tiu Hang (Senior Chemistry teacher at Catholic High, PJ) who signed up for VI in Lower 6. That's pretty weird given Muru and Co. had departed for better pastures by then!! I have not asked her (yet) what it was about VI that intimidated her so much!!

But the story which warms the cockles of my heart (or is it my by-passed and cholesterol-clogged co-axial mitral bicuspid ventricular valve?) has really little to do with Muru or the teachers?

In our quest to win the various inter-school sports championships - football, hockey, rugby - every year, someone came up with the idea, in 1967, of intense centralised training. This meant a squad of some 18-20 players would be bivouacked for three to four weeks either in the School Hostel or the Junior Study Room opposite the tuckshop for additional morning and weekend training sessions at the playing pitches of the school field to hone our skills, improve our stamina and build that oft elusive team spirit, which can oft turn a weaker team into world beaters! Or so they dreamt in their "pursuit of excellence," the sub-four minute mile record and Olympic gold in "Chariots of Fire" many years later!!

You not only had to bond with the squad members, but also your prime hockey stick, the hockey pitch, the school grounds and all the land as far as the eye could see because there was a national agenda as well to fulfil. And if the earth moved as well, there, you are now a man!!

The usual three days a week intensive training from 3.30 p.m. to 6.30 p.m. would have felled an Olympian like Usain Bolt or a mountaineer like Edmund Hillary! But no, we were Victorians and so, by divine right, deserved more punishment!

Such was the fate of the 1970 and 1971 U20 VI hockey squads. In those two years we were billetted in the Junior Study Room during the Centralised Training hockey season. There were only ceiling fans for ventilation, no air conditioners. We slept at night on study tables made barely comfortable with thin mattresses, pillows and blankets commandeered from the School Hostel store, with the windows bravely open and defended by mosquito coils and burners. Some finicky guys like Yoong Fong, brought their own pillows, linen and Dutch wives!!

For toilets, we had the (in)famous stinky 206 and the better one on the ground floor at the extreme end of the school's left wing, while for showers we rotated among the facilities at the School Hostel in the mornings, School Sports Pavilion and 206 at night as a last resort!

All meal costs were borne by the school. The energy and six-pack muscle building breakfast menu in the school tuckshop comprised an unremitting conveyor belt of half- and full-boiled eggs, white bread with Planta margarine, jam and Lipton tea or Nescafe or nasi lemak/mee hoon goreng! Not for us Victorians poncy cereals, power bars (they did not exist then, though there might have been an Ovaltine or Milo bar, I'm not sure), milk, ham, bacon and sausages! For lunch at the same venue, we picked whatever we fancied from the same platter laid out for all students - fried rice, curry laksa, Chinese fried and soup noodles (no pork), Malay mee rebus, rojak with sauce and half a piece of boiled egg, rice, meat, potatoes and veges, etc and a drink of calorie-oozing sugar laden rosewater syrup, syrup bandung or hot/cold Milo (no 100 plus or red bull either, though some plunked for glucose powder dissolved in water).

Dinner was something we looked forward to. We pooled our allowance of $1.50 per head and headed for the 'Mushroom' open air eatery opposite Merdeka Stadium outside the back exit/entrance from the school or for the stalls near Rex Theatre near Foch Avenue for variety to suit all taste buds and preferences.

Our home away from home soon had that bull halting and gagging smell of a male jock machismo hockey herd. There was the peculiar scent of linseed oiled Karachi King Super hockey sticks mixed with the pungent "Horse Brand" oil liniment for strained muscles and of course the waft of body sweat, BO, soiled stockings, thigh and ankle guards and unwashed sweatshirts, shorts and jerseys. Between training sessions, classes, homework and inter-class and society activities from none of which we were excused merely because of centralised training. We had no time for laundry which we sent home through friends or brothers and had them collected or delivered on Sundays!

But something miraculous slowly emerged from all this testosterone and male bonding. No, nothing gay that I recall!! At first we were not aware of it. The training sessions became more intense and competitive as fitness levels rose and we became more conscious of the looming opening game of the season and of places in the First Eleven! Team spirit began to soar!

It all started one evening after dinner when we gathered round the tables and were chatting about the usual nothing and indulging in the tumescent humour of physically fit and bursting and strutting teenagers like young stags in rutting season, whose free thinking time was usually preoccupied with only one thing - girls and sex about which most of us had as much knowledge or experience as half a teaspoonful of sugar, or less. And let's not palaver about anything helping the medicine go down in a most delightful way either!!

Suddenly "Pedro" Hariharan who had been by himself, stood to attention on his table and broke loudly acapella into a rendition of "Old Turkey Buzzard" by Jose Feliciano which was also a hit song from the western movie "McKenna's Gold" starring Gregory Peck and Omar Sharif. Soon, others joined in the chorus of this impromptu jam session while thumping on the desks and pillows with their hockey sticks:

"Gold, gold, gold we just gotta have that gold,
Gold, gold, gold, we'll do anything for that GOLD!!
"

and then ending it with a stirring

"Gold, gold, gold just remember that gold,
Gold, gold, gold, we can't live without that GOLD!!
"

as we carried Pedro who was in his sarong and dumped him on a cushion of goalkeeper's pads! We all fell about laughing till the tears rolled out, but Pedro was not quite finished yet! Without missing a beat, he launched into Harry Belafonte's calypso "Coconut Woman":

"Coconuttu voman (woman) is calling out... Coconuttu vater, good for your dahter (daughter)...make you strong like a layan (lion)..." in a heavy Indian (not West Indian) accent with drum solos, duets and orgies manufactured from the chairs, walls and desks with hockey sticks, balls and testicle guards. Nothing was safe for indoctrination as musical accompaniment from the marauding mardi gras group.

Pedro's storming improvised finale of "cokiki cokiki coke coke cokiki cokiki coconuttu water, dahterr, hotter, got her, shot her, rotter, otter, potter, totter" was the stuff of legend which had them rolling in the aisles, though for a moment Pedro had us wondering if he had got a chicken bone or something stuck in his throat!!

It was a riot and a half as someone else broke into a Punjabi favourite "Main Shair To Nahin" and a song made famous by 1969 Hockey Captain, Daya Singh - "Big Bad John." Later, when the lights were out, no one slept for another hour or two as someone or other would burst out with "Old turkey buzzzzarrrd" to be drowned out by guffaws and hoots and when it died down someone else would trickle off with "coconnuttu vater, good for your yindian dahterrrr...."

Thereafter the squad trained, showered, ate and jammed as one. The team teacher-coaches, Mr. Oh Kong Lum (Arts/Senior Assistant from 1971) and Mr. Daniel Chan (Biology) were both ex-Victorians. Though they were technically not as sound in hockey as their predecessor, Mr. Lenny De Vries (who left VI in 1969 to do his Sports Science PhD in Canada), they joined us in the practice games and followed our fortunes right through till we won the Cup. Different strokes for different folks, but the more personal involvement of the teachers got us pumping even harder.

As far as team discipline was concerned, Oh and Daniel left it pretty much to the Prefect team captains like Surjeet Singh (1970), Eddy Chong Kwong Chin (1971) and other player Prefects, viz., G. Tharmasegaran (Tharma), A. Balachandren and Raja Ahmad.

By virtue of his first team place in several preceding years, appearances for the Selangor State Senior Team and short-listing for the National Squad, Goalkeeper Tharma should have been the 1970 School Hockey Captain, but was first appointed 1970 School Football Captain. Cikgu Othman, the school football coach would not allow him to hold simultaneous captainships in two games whose championships were being contested at the same time. So the left inside forward, Surjeet, being the next most senior player, got his Hockey captainship. Surjeet was also appointed School Cricket Captain in the second term of school.

The 1971 hockey squad was thrilled to have as coach Wong Choon Hin, then first choice Centre Half for Malaysia's National Hockey Squad. We did not apply to the MHA or anything like that. It just happened that WCH, originally from Malacca, was working for PKNS in PJ at that time. He had moved into one of the Shaw Road flats directly across the road from the school main gate and had spotted us training from his loft. He then walked over to the school, picked Eddy at random and offered to coach us while keeping himself fit during his off-season months. This was the hockey equivalent of having a Pele or Maradona as team coach!!

WCH opened up our eyes to the more robust and modern physical game. He tutored us about confidence by relating the majestic manner in which India's centre half would execute a penalty stroke by walking tall with a swagger and flick the ball into the net all in one motion while locking eyes with the opposing goalkeeper all the way! We then had to practice this John Wayne macho school of executing penalty flicks. It was a real hoot as shorter arses like me had to act like 6-foot tall mesmerising cobras!


Wong Choon Hin; in his younger days (standing fifth from right)

In particular, we worked on scoring from dead-ball set pieces - free hits, short and long corners. A deadly and lethal move I was trained to finish was to pedal backwards at full tilt towards goal while waiting for "Thunderbolt" Eddy Kwong Chin to slam the ball from a short corner take straight at me and for me to deflect it past the goalkeeper into the net! I imagined I was 007, Bond the cold, ruthless executioner! That sure was the god awful theory of it. I succeeded mostly in fending off these killer zingers from offing me from the face of this planet for good! Oftentimes in my mono-maniacal pursuit of excellence, I would mouth grass as I twisted and fell while tangling on my own legs. I called it the Hirohito Kamikaze Harikiri Short Corner Stragedy (no error in stragedy there) because if anyone was going to die while playing in a hockey match that year, it was yours truly!! I informed WCH and captain Surjeet that in the event of my untimely demise, my wish was to be buried in the centre of the school hockey pitch and I wasn't kidding either!!

My other major contribution to the hockey squads of '70 and '71 and its morale was developing a very unique talking style we labelled "Hockee Speeakee." It consisted of drawing out words to make them sound longer. Thus 'Let's go eat kway teow and nasi lemak lah brothers' might sound like 'Leetts gooo eeet kwaayy teowww and nasee lemaak laaah broddeerrs!" Now this hockey squad also had some loyal followers and supporters among whom were Bryan Pereira, Leslie Ratnalingam (Rattat), Hanif Abu Bakar (Ash Burn), Thevakumar, Sugunabalan, Reuben Chelliah, Tan Lip Ping and a few others who would not only join us for dinner but also hang about for idle chats or occassionally, overnight stays. These guys, too, got into Hockee Speeakee and soon many in Form 5 and Form Six were imitating and adding ad hoc to a new language I had the sole copyrights to!

More than that, boys being boys, we would raid the tuckshop at 2 a.m. and then haul the stash of Coke, Miranda Orange, Greenspot, Fanta, biscuits and peanuts to the open roof top of the Pavilion for a late night scoffing party! But there were one too many tuck shop raids and we all got caught by a trap laid by tuckshop man boss. I'm sure Pritam Singh, our talisman right winger will recall that pitiful night, though tuckshop man boss was a gentleman and did not rat on us to the HM!

At other times we would crawl army style on our bellies to spy on love birds parked in their cars in the open area beyond the school fence by the side of FAM House on Jalan Edinburgh (now Jalan Maharajalela). Of course there were the usual mass leap frogging, smacks on the back of heads and wedgie pulling, all taken in good stride and spirit. Things cooled down a bit, a wee bit only, after an incident affecting Rattat (a lovely fellow who's been with the Civil Service since graduating BEcons from UM and whose elder brother in VI, Cadet Corpsman Ampalavanar, a good chappie, later a CA and partner at PWC, inspired that international hit Cuban number "Am-pa-la-vanar, Guajira Guan-tana-mera" which echoed throughout the halls of VI for many years)!!

As we headed for dinner one night, Leslie Rattat, as a result of a mass wedgie attack, stumbled, fell flat on the road and sustained a deep gash over his left eyebrow. His spectacles snapped at the hinges. But fortunately for all, the lenses did not shatter!! For a moment, and just a moment, we stepped back in horror as the blood began to drip on to the tarmac. Next second someone pronounced amputation above the knee as the best cure, another buddy queried him if he wanted to have his will written while a concerned squad member asked him solemnly if he preferred cremation to burial! I have over the years tried to figure out my thinking on why I removed Rattat's shoes and wiggled his toes. But for the life of me, I just can't! But Eddy had the presence of mind to drive him over to the emergency outpatients' ward at KLGH for a quick stitch up and plaster bandaging job.

A fair amount of ragging of juniors took place but nothing really that could be termed truly vicious or spiteful. Though no one will forget what started off as a bit of splashing fun took a turn for the macabre and bizarre with V. Sitsabesan having his family jewels painted with hockey ball and pads chunam (quicklime) paint!! He was duly knighted "Vellai Sunni" which loosely translated from coarse Tamil means "Chief Dick White" (though Chief White Dick is also acceptable)!! I forget whether he was well hung or if it was "wan hung low" or not, but no damage was done to his human right to further his lineage, as he's now the proud father of two kids (and happily married as well)!!

I can now reveal the names of the perpetrators of that dastardly dark evil deed which took place in the junior study room - stand up G. Tharmasegaran, Eddy Chong Kwong Chin, Pritam Singh and A. Balachandren! Lol!

But I am guilty as well by association and more so as I was among those who laughed and hooted to glory. Sitsa shed a few tears then, but we've laughed about it countless times over the years over many barrels of beer just as they have ribbed me on my morale bashing name which I'm too embarrassed to divulge - I plead the Fifth Amendment of a writer's privilege not to incriminate himself!

No offence taken, none given - the true VI spirit!!

 

1970 - The Exam Year Pt 3


espite all the efforts to fuse eighteen raw boys into a single lean, mean, fighting and winning hockey machine, things did not always go according to plan, though the campaign was successful in the end.

Like Spartans, we were continually prepared for war, and of course, like Spartans, in-fighting was bound to abound in an atmosphere where the competitive spirit bubbled and boiled on the surface. It was not enough to merely win a GOLD medal. You had to be on centre stage on the winning day because, really, the just rewards for three months of blood, sweat, toil and tears demanded it. And that's why and where trouble brewed, in the battle and right for centre stage and GLORY!

You may not know this about the Spartans who have always been glorified in history as the greatest soldiers, though they were massacred by the Persians in 490 BC at the Battle of Thermopylae.

I think it was Plato who wrote in his "Republic" that the male Spartan was brought up from young to treat his male companion as his life-long lover and his wife as his life-long friend!!

Ahem! Now where were we?

In one corner were Cheah Peng Keong and Chew Yoong Fong, the stalwart full-backs of many a season's battles stretching back to 1965 in Pasar Road English School 1, Primary (PRES 1), and me. In the other corner were A. Balachandren (Billy), Eddy Chin Kwong Chin, Pritam Singh and Raja Ahmad. In between stood the school hockey captain, Surjeet Singh (Sarge).

Billy, Eddy, Pritam and Raja were technically not VI students then as they had sat for their Form 5 Cambridge Exams the previous November/December in 1969 and were awaiting their results which would not be out till mid-March. But, by tradition, they were allowed to train with the school hockey squad. They were not allowed to play in any of the official inter-school fixtures since most of our opponents would not have the benefit of the services of their Lower 6 students-in-waiting, as it were! IC's were checked by hockey umpires to ensure infringement of the rules did not take place.

The exception was any fixture against the Royal Military College (RMC). They fielded their Lower 6 students regardless, claiming that their students were contracted to stay with them until the end of Upper 6.

Anyway, we blew away all our opponents. The last hurdle before meeting RMC in the finals was slated against Klang High School (KHS), that is, the semi-finals. We knew from past experience that KHS was small potatoes/easy meat. So no one shed any sweat thinking or worrying about it. "VI no sweat, what you see is what you get!!" is how we chanted, bragged and swaggered about as we ran our practice rounds in the hockey pitch ("What you see is what you get" and "Ooooweeee" was the calling card of hilarious Black American TV comedian, Flip Wilson, who also cross-dressed on his show as the really ugly man-hunting Geraldeeenne whose face could stop a herd of bulls in full gallop dead in its tracks!).

The pretty impressive results of our undefeated season thus far were:

As we milled about in the field on the Monday evening before the Friday semi-finals, Cheah sauntered over to me and Fong and said "Hey, you heard what Eddy said?" We hadn't a clue and Cheah then briefed us that he overheard Eddy, together with Billy, Pritam and Raja talking with Surjeet about replacing us for the finals with RMC. Well, our faces fell and some four letter words were flung about indiscreetly, but deliberately on purpose, which must have reached the ears of the rest of the squad which now begun to gaze far away in any direction but ours, which pretty much confirmed these "discussions" must have been taking place earlier as well without our knowledge.

So, the three of us pretended we knew nothing about it and marched off to the showers in disgust and indignation. We decided to go for dinner in our own group of three and on returning dived straight into bed without joining in the usual team chit chat. Well, the situation became pretty clear over the next two days. We would not be in the First Eleven for the finals. At the same time we could not be released from the squad because we were needed to guarantee triumph in the semi-finals and/or in case anyone sustained serious injuries during the week or the course of the semi-final and final games!!

But the rift in the squad was obvious and made more difficult because "on the other side" was Balraj and his brother Jairaj who were from our PRES1 era, not to mention Raja Azlan (really the unsung star/hero of our team as opposed to Pritam Singh who was the sung star/hero) from our Form 1 days and Pedro Hariharan who, being a junior and brother of our classmate, Ramachandran, found our company more amenable.

Yet, there was no open discussion between the two groups about what was obviously a difficult and untenable situation, having come this far together. The more the seniors avoided it, the more incensed we became. So, on Thursday evening as the team was being briefed about preparations for our trip to Klang, we dropped a clanger!

We coolly informed Surjeet we would be making our way to KHS in the supporters' bus which would be leaving a half hour later than the team bus.

When Surjeet baulked, we threw in a second clanger. We would first be heading for the 1 o'clock "Romeo & Juliet" matinee at Odeon Cinema Theatre in Batu Road (now Jalan Tuanku Abdul Rahman).

When Surjeet arched his eyebrows, I don't know what possessed me. I lied poker-faced that it was compulsory for our Cambridge Exams and so we could not miss it. I mumbled something about Mrs. Yiap and the HM having arranged it. Curiously, no one challenged us (why now?) or asked Balraj and Azlan (who were also in Form 5 like us) why they were not included for an exam-worthy movie. The truth was we were doing "Julius Caesar" that year, but wanted Surjeet, Eddy and company to squirm a little, no actually, a lot, since there wasn't much they could do about it. We were not obliged to travel with them and were not threatening to not turn up for the semi-finals either.

We had also heard from our "deep throats" (Pedro Hariharan and Balraj) that there was speculative talk that we were prepared to throw the KHS game out of spite. Our insiders had done a good job in spreading misinformation and got them seriously worried. This only inflamed us even more. We could not believe our loyalty was in doubt after five long years of service to VI!!

Anyway, we stuck to our guns that Friday and defiantly headed for the 1968 Franco Zeffirelli "Romeo and Juliet." The truth also was that other classmates who'd watched the movie earlier had oohed and aahed about Juliet's (young Olivia Hussey) superb pectorals and how from a certain angle you could see right through her translucent blouse at the oh, so vital biological assets!! This defied common sense and belief, but nevertheless we felt obliged to check it out. But, with so much swirling in my mind, I couldn't concentrate on Juliet's vital statistics or full breasts. As for Romeo, I didn't give a damn, wherefore art or not!

At sharp three, Cheah, Fong and I bolted before the movie ended and doubled-timed it back to school to collect our playing gear just in time to board the supporters' bus for Klang.

The game commenced at 4.30 p.m. and we began in our usual fashion with wave upon wave of attack. Then horrors of horrors, KHS took a 1-0 lead from a break-away on the left. I was patrolling at left half and Cheah at left back. We were both beaten in the blink of an eye! Eight from the VI team were staring at us with knives in their eyes as the KHS players whooped and celebrated and their fans ran riot!

That was it! That was the precise moment I vowed no KHS forward would best me again and set about with such a fierce demeanour and action that they never did! I also had a quick word with Cheah and Fong. My message was short, sharp, and pointed (like Juliet's tits) - "Thou shalt not be passed again!!" Soon we pulled back three goals and at half-time Pedro Hariharan playing at left wing walked up to me, laughed and said, "Brother, have some pity on the KHS boys! Looks like every one of them is avoiding coming within a mile of you." I was frustrated, angry and plain boiling. Every tackle I made was a crunching (but legal) one which explained why the opposition avoided me like the bubonic plague!!

In the end we thrashed KHS 6-1. My contribution included fine support to Pedro and a couple of good assists to Raja Azlan who bagged a brace, while Surjeet, Pedro, centre forward Leong Wai Kin and Michael Chew shared the remaining goals! It was a consummate performance from a team that would not be defeated. The leadership qualities of Sarge and Tharma shone like a beacon of light in a fog-filled dark night!

And as planned, the three of us did not play in the finals against RMC. The honours in the finals were shared 1-1 which meant we retained the title we had won outright the previous year defeating RMC 3-2!!

But the wounds of NOT playing in the 1970 Tun Razak Shield Finals festered in me for a long, long time.

The double whammy came the following year!!

When we were waiting for our Form 5 MCE results, and expecting to take on RMC at the TPCA Stadium in Princess Road (now Jalan Puteri) ) in the 1971 U20 finals, the umpire absolutely refused to permit us to play, saying the MSSM forbade it! My anger was even greater than in 1970 - two time losers!! Shit!

Well, if I make it sound like it was akin to the "Gunfight at the OK Corral," it wasn't quite! A bit of melodrama never hurt anyone. But we felt betrayed, frustrated and angry. Oh yes, deep, deep in our heart of hearts we knew all the clichés were true:

No player is bigger than the TEAM.
Lose the BATTLE, win the WAR.
All for one, one for all.
Ask not what your country can do for you, ask....


Under-20 School Hockey Team 1970
(Shankar is standing third from right)

But right that time in 1970, there was the bitter taste of ash in our mouths! We hated Sarge, we hated Billy, we hated Eddy, we hated Pritam, we hated Raja Ahmad and we hated the Universe. When the victory was announced the following Monday at Assembly in the school hall in front of the HM, teachers, prefects and a thousand students who were waiting to cheer us unreservedly for retaining the Tun Razak Shield, and who knew nothing about the fracture in the team, we still could not bring ourselves to forgive them.

The three of us refused to get up and go on stage, shake hands with the HM and take possession of our medals. I clearly remember Tan Kai Chah turning to me puzzled and querying, "Wha-at, you trying to be funny or what?" But he could not have known or understood the seething cauldron of anger that was boiling inside us. So, that's one gold medal I never had among my collection of a few!

So, who was right and who was wrong? Wyatt Earp, Virgil Earp and Doc Holliday or Jesse James and his brothers in that famous shoot-out at the OK Corral?

No one, really! And I hate it when we can't apportion blame.

Oh yes, Sarge and Tharma, the two senior-most players, captain and vice-captain, should have called for a meeting of the protagonists and explained the situation; made subtle pretense of asking us for our consent, maybe even pleaded (though grovelling would have been nice). That's somewhere in Zig Ziglar's motivation theory if not actually a cornerstone of the Six Sigma management technique. Cheah, Fong and I deserved that respect because we had paid our dues, many times over. We might have griped about it then and for a short while afterwards, but would have come around. Because when you are asked nicely, you can't really say no, especially when you know what the score really is! So, we baulked, moped and played hard ball.

As for us, we clearly showed our immaturity. We knew the medal was ours anyway and should have gracefully surrendered our places instead of making Billy, Eddy, Raja and Pritam feel small, awkward and guilty. After all, the final decision was always in the hands of the team captain.

Sound familiar? You ever had to handle a similar awkward situation at your workplace when you were the CEO? The crime, of course, is that you made the same mistake again knowing full well what happened in 1970 and yet walked all over someone's feelings?

Ego and false pride, two very baaad, nasty mothers!
Feeling guilty and remorseful? Yeah, I'm begging, ain't I?
Beyond redemption?
I'm writing about it and spilling my guts out here, ain't I?
Not beyond redemption. Ha, ha, ha!

But for all that, these 1970 and 1971 squads were the ones I enjoyed being in the most in all my seven years in VI. Our behaviour in handling tough management and people issues was pathetic; but par for the course for most (99.99%) schoolboys. If we'd handled it any better, that would have been against the laws of nature. In the real world, you'd be lucky to find a really good manager, GM or CEO younger than age 40! And I've seen some real 50+ year-old dogs!! You can't run before you walk.

And whenever I think about Pedro Hariharan, Sitsa, Old Turkey Buzzard and Coconut Woman, Slippery/Twinkle Toes Sarge, Tharma and his endless stream of jokes not to mention Billy's stories, Rattat, Hockee Speakee and more, and the warm and long friendships of Cheah, Fong, Pedro and Balraj, I can't help bursting out in laughter and joy.

And guess who drove us home in his car and dropped us off one by one, after the 1971 hockey season was over? None other than Eddy Chong accompanied by Pritam Singh and Billy Balachandren in a jam-packed buggy!! Even as I was alighting from the car, we were Hockee Speeaking and laughing our heads off!! Such was the camaraderie and team spirit we enjoyed despite the ups and downs in the hockey squad.

The next morning (circa late March 1971), much to my amazement, Eddy Chong and Billy Bala dropped by my house. Eddy, like Billy, was a prefect. He had a very serious look on his face and informed me I had to report the next day to the hockey master, Mr. Oh Kong Lum, who had recently been promoted Senior Assistant. An audit of the stores at the school's Sports Pavilion had apparently revealed a serious shortage of Karachi King Super hockey sticks. My face paled! I distinctly remember handing my pair of hockey sticks back to Eddy as we broke off from centralised training. Before I could protest, they departed, leaving me with a big headache.

Later that day, I bicycled over to team mate Balraj's house in Lorong Cheong Yoke Choy off Cochrane Road to ask him if he'd heard or knew anything about the missing hockey sticks. To my second surprise of the day, Balraj revealed he too had been paid a visit by Eddy Chong and Billy and ordered to report to Mr. Oh!!

As we sat on the sofa in Balraj's living room trying to figure out what the fish/hell was going on, in came Indran, a school footballer, and later 1972 School Captain and Football Captain. He had an even more worried look on his face as he blurted out that Eddy Chong and Billy had dropped by his house that same morning to order him to report to Cikgu Othman the next day about some missing footballs and soccer gear from the stores at the Sports Pavilion!

The three of us then sat around talking about this curious business of theft from the Sports Pavilion. There was no question of not reporting to the respective teachers the next day; we were too indoctrinated into the VI system to defy a direct or indirect order from any teacher, especially the Assistant Principal!

 

1971 - No Oscars!


lmost every student has had a run-in with a teacher or headmaster at some point during their school days. Many can recall such incidents to the finest detail after several decades because they were treated unfairly or punished severely out of proportion to the nature of the perceived "crime." The incidents that affected me most were:

1) My encounter with teacher "Lao Tze" in Primary 6 at PRES;

2) Receiving a slap on the back of the head from HM Murugasu during a Hepponstall House Sports Day march past practice!!?? To this day I can't understand why I deserved that knock since I was serious during that practice. I had not misbehaved in any way and when the House Captain in 1968, Chan Tak Kwong, bellowed "Squad, Pandang Kanan!" to face right where the honoured guests would be in the grand marquee on the actual Sports Day, I had responded instantly and correctly. I don't know from where Muru had been observing proceedings, but he must have swooped down on me like an eagle, struck out and then stepped back like a kung fu expert because of the moving procession. Or was it the guy in front or behind me whom he had aimed for and missed? Anyway, I didn't have the guts to go ask Muru "Wtf, Sir?";

3) My run-in with HM Somasundram (Soma) in 1971 which affected me in so many ways that it will form the main story of this blog.

We sat for the Form 5 Malaysian Certificate of Education examination (MCE) papers in mid-November to early December 1970, and then went on vacation for three months till early March 1971 when we received our results. The MCE examinations were the equivalent of the UK 'O' Level examinations. I believe we were the first or second batch of students to sit for the MCE examinations, which replaced the Senior Cambridge Certificate and Cambridge Certificate examinations. Our papers were marked and graded at Cambridge in UK.

The students had been divided between the Arts (A1 & A2) and Science (B1 & B2) streams in 1969, our Form 4 honeymoon year. As for the Arts students, they had been further split into Pure Arts, and Additional (Add) Science or Double Credit classes, where they replaced History and Accounts with Add Science and Add Maths. This enabled some students to keep their options open to join the Pure Science stream in Form 6 and pursue medicine, dentistry, engineering etc, at tertiary level. Among those who chose Add Science were Sivandan (Dr., MBBS), Thayalaraja (Engineer), Shubon (Dr., BDS) and Abdul Jalil (Senior Manager, Hospitality Industry), while "Cuts" Sivakumaran (right arm leg-spin/ left hand batsman cricketer, PhD Business Studies), Harjit Singh Hullon (legendary TV newscaster/journalist), Prem Sagar (Singapore Police Trainer) and Darwis (Businessman) plonked for Pure Arts.

I was a Science Class (5B2) student which meant that for the MCE examinations, I sat for nine subjects plus three practical examinations for Physics, Chemistry and Biology, as follows (The Arts options are also stated below):

SCIENCE: 1. Physics; 2. Chemistry; 3. Biology; 4. General Maths; 5. Add Maths; 6. English; 7. English Literature; 8. Geography; 9. Bahasa Malaysia

ARTS: 1 General Science; 2 Commerce; 3. Accounts; 4 General Maths; 5. Add Maths; 6. English; 7. English Literature; 8. Geography; 9. Bahasa Malaysia

ADD SCIENCE: 1 General Science; 2 Commerce; 3. Add Science; 4 General Maths; 5. History; 6. English; 7. English Literature; 8. Geography; 9. Bahasa Malaysia

Gruelling would be an understatement. Almost every subject had a Paper 1 comprising 50 objective questions and a multiple-choice Paper 2 comprising essay-style questions, as well as Topography for Geography. English Language and Bahasa Malaysia had essay papers and comprehension and grammar papers. To cap it all, there was an English Language Oral Test as well which contributed 20% of the marks for English Language.

In order to pass the MCE examination you had to secure at least 24 points or less, calculated on the basis of the scores achieved for your best six subjects, where distinction A1=1 point, A2=2, then Credit=C3-C6, Pass=P7-P8, and Fail=F9. (We referred to F9 as extinction.) A pass in Grade 1 was achieved with a score of 16 points and under for the best six subjects.

But securing a place in VI's Form Six was a lot tougher. There were only about 300 places for the two Arts classes (A1, A2), three Bio-Science classes (B1, B2, B3) and one Pure Maths class (B4 and B5).

What was really unfair was that you could not move to Form 6 without a pass in BM, which accounted for some of our best pals, who I note, have nevertheless done well-to-brilliant in later life. Dr. Shubon, for example, not only won an Athletics Blue in 1970, but also the prize for General and Additional Science at Speech Day, yet could not progress to Form 6!!

Others either moved to private colleges like Taylor's, departed for studies overseas to UK and Australia or joined the employment scene. A. R. Ramachandran was one of those who, having had the benefit of the VI Cadet Corps experience as Cadet Sargeant, opted for the Army. Suffice to say he had a stellar career in serving his country with honour. This included a stint in dangerous Bosnia. I recall going with him to meet Sallehudin (Hood) at his flat in Baker Street in London in 1979. Rama had bunked in my flat for a few weekends when the Army sent him to UK for advanced officers' training at the Larkhill Royal School of Artillery situated on the Salisbury Plains, not far from where the mysterious and eerie Stonehenge monument lies.

Following from my last blog, K. Balraj, N. Indran and I reported to Eddy Chin Kwong Chin at the Prefects' Board Room in school to be grilled about some missing hockey sticks and footballs. A fourth person, "Joe" Hiew Heng Foo, a rugby player in the mould of GI Joe, as well as an athlete and basketball player, was also there to answer queries about missing rugby balls. To our jaw-dropping surprise, it turned out to be a feint! We had actually been summoned to be informed we were to be appointed prefects in March at the first school assembly. While I was understandably proud of having been appointed prefect, I had some reservations since many prefects were not very popular with the students, despite the sacrifices they had to make.

When I went to the school office to pick up my MCE results slip, I met up with several of my close buddies - Indran and Balraj again, Chew Yoong Fong and Cheah Peng Keong who had all graduated to Form 6 as well. This was the same bunch which had trudged its way back in the December of 1965 to VI to sit for the VI entrance test.

The four of us were installed prefects at a Monday morning School Assembly in April 1971 by HM Tan Cheng Or, who would soon be transferred to the Ministry of Education the following month. We bade TCO farewell on Friday 14th May 1971 at a special assembly held in the school quadrangle. While TCO was a strict disciplinarian, he was not quite in the Murugasu mould. TCO was more approachable and well-liked and respected by students and staff.

V. Somasundram was appointed VI HM in May 1971. The Government policy on the Malaysianization of headmasterships of local schools was now firmly in place, as Soma was, after V. Murugasu and Tan Cheng Or, the third non-Caucasian non-British HM of the VI. As luck would have it, my run-in with Soma began the very first day he entered his office!

The prefects would be assigned their duties for the week in advance by their Secretary and had therefore to be in school by 7 to 7.15 a.m. It was my misfortune to have arrived much earlier in school that fateful morning. As I approached the main porch I noticed a Jaguar E parked there which was against the school rules. When I went upstairs to the Prefects Room, School Captain Yap Kian Fui was already there and as soon as he saw me he asked me to go find out if the Jag E belonged to the new HM, Soma. I didn't think twice about it and went over to the HM's Office, knocked on the door and entered on cue. The tall and imposing Soma was immaculately attired in a white shirt, black long pants and matching tie, socks and shoes. But he looked a little nervous. I remember hearing from some teachers that prior to his stint at VI, he had been Head of some Teacher Training college and had never been a headmaster of any of the leading schools in Malaya.

I introduced myself and then asked him the question.

Soma asked me why I wanted to know. I told him that the School Captain had asked me to find out if that was his car or someone else's in which case I would have to ask that person to move it to the carpark. Soma stared at me and said, "Tell him I'm the Headmaster and I'll park my car anywhere I like!" Clearly, Soma had misunderstood me. Anyway, I thought nothing more of it, excused myself and reported to Kian Fui that the car was indeed the new HM's Jag E.

But all hell broke loose the next few days. First, Robert Pachymuthu, my Lower 6 General Paper teacher called me aside after class and asked me if it was true I had told Soma to remove his car from the porch and move it to the carpark. I denied it vehemently, but Robert informed me the matter had been angrily brought up by Soma during a staff meeting that morning. Later that day, Mr. Oh Kong Lum, the Senior Assistant and Hockey Master informed me that Soma had been very upset about the "incident" and had demanded an explanation why he had been treated "shabbily" on his first day as HM of VI. As my House master as well, Oh knew my character and knew that the whole thing had been blown out of proportion by Soma, and left it at that.

I did not know it then, but Soma had also summoned the School Captain and asked that I be sacked from the Prefects' Board! I found out about that when Indran, who became School Captain in 1972, allowed me a peek at the relevant entry in the 'Captain's Log Book.' All of which foreboded ill in my relations with Soma.

Two other events put me further in Soma's bad books.

In the 1972 VIOBA Games fixtures, I had injured my thumb and pointing finger which were swollen up from a knock I had received while batting in cricket. I informed Mr. Robin Goh, the Hockey Master and ex-national player, that I would have to be excused from the hockey fixture later that evening as I clearly could not grip the hockey stick at all. Instead I ended up refereeing the game. Watching the match from a corner of the field, Soma spied me and stormed over to query Robin about my absence from the playing team!

On another occasion, with the HSC final exams only a term away, I sought and was given permission by Robin to not play for the VI staff-students hockey squad for the Selangor Division 2 League Championships. Again, it appeared Soma was not happy at my absence and had muttered something about my sense of commitment. There were one or two other incidents when Soma did not support me in my disciplinary dealings with students when, had it been during Murugasu's or Tan Cheng Or's time, the support would have been unqualified.

But perhaps, the one other serious incident was the en masse resignation of the Prefects' Board in 1972 (about which I shall write in another blog) which Soma blamed on me although all communications with him had been undertaken by the School Captain and Vice-Captain, Indran and Yap Chee Keong. Soma, though he never made it clear why, felt that I had instigated a revolt which was a unanimous response by the Board to an undermining of the School Captain's authority. He fumed and complained to Oh that I was the mastermind behind it all!

Where did it all lead to?

Yes, when the award for School Colours, the Blues, was announced in 1972, my name was conspicuous in the honours list, by its complete absence!

I had also been told by my Cricket and Biology Master, young Anandakrishnan (Andy), that he had recommended to Soma a half-colour for me for cricket. I had represented the school Cricket First Eleven team only in 1971 and 1972. However, prior to that I had represented my House from Form 1 onwards. I took special pride of place that in the four years from 1968 to 1971, I had bowled out some of the top school First Eleven batsmen and also scored a couple of fifties in the inter-House fixtures. So, a half-colour was not unreasonable.

But when the Hockey Captain, K. Balraj, Robin and Andy reverted to Soma about my omission from the honours list, he would not budge. And that was how it stayed. I gritted my teeth and attended the award ceremony since it was ingrained in us that that was what sportsmanship was all about. But there were many puzzled faces that day at my no-award status.

After four decades, I have still not got over it. It rankles like an unlanced boil. It's still there simmering and occasionally boiling over as I think about young men and older men and teachers and students and headmasters. If today the VI were to make some kind of a belated award I would accept it. I had paid my dues and earned my stripes from U13, U15, U18 to U20 school hockey First Eleven and Hockey Vice-Captain. There's nothing worse than knowing you deserve something 100% and then being denied it by the power of a miserable One.


Under-20 Hockey First Eleven 1972
(Vice-Captain Shankar is seated second from right beside the HM)

Back then we were immature eighteen- and nineteen-year olds - neither men nor boys. Perhaps, as Kipling said, we were man-cubs, in the shadowy world between adults and teenagers. We were learning to grope with new responsibilities and challenges and we stumbled and fell and got up and charged forward and stumbled and fell and rose again. There was also that thrilling lust we felt for some of our female peers about which we hardly dared to speak to anyone about. But deal with it all, we had to!

But, what was Soma's excuse? I was eighteen/nineteen; he in his late forties or early fifties.

What was his goddamn excuse?

Some years later, when I was auditing at the Ministry of Education, I took special relish in querying a discrepancy in petty cash and some over-claims for travelling allowances by the chief at the London office of the Malaysian Students Department.

I addressed my beautifully worded query to one "V. Somasundram" and gave him hell!!

 

1971 - Becoming a Prefect


was installed as prefect at a Monday morning School Assembly in April 1971, by HM Tan Cheng Or, in a batch that included N. Indran, (Joe) Hiew Heng Foo and K. Balraj. Immediately after the school assembly was over, a board meeting was held at the PR, at which, much to our surprise, each of us was asked to make an acceptance speech, with me, being the most junior by votes, going first. As soon as I began with "Thank you my illustrious seniors for selecting and accepting me to the Prefects' Board," I was interrupted by loud hooting and derisive laughter from those very seniors I had just pompously praised as "illustrious":

"Whoa, using big, big words ah?"

"Thank you? Who said I voted for you?"

"Accept you? We'd rather accept the school mandor!"

I was shocked at this cat-calling and and turned red-faced.

"But, I thought..."

"Who said you could think? Did you ask permission? Besides, you don't have a brain, so how could you have been thinking"

I then turned stone-silent as this commie-like ambush from all-quarters was totally unexpected. I did not know what to say next. The seniors then moved on to my other three compatriots who were all treated with the same disdain and rubbished as they attempted to make their inaugural speeches.

We were then told the rules for 'The Week' which would last from that Monday to Friday:

1. We, the "freshies", would be assigned regular tasks as set out in the Duty Roster.

2. We would address the seniors as "Sir" and start with the phrase "Please, Sir" if we needed any clarifications on any matter.

3. We would have to learn the School Rules, The Prefects' Charter and all the verses of the National Anthem and The School Song as well, by heart.

4. We would have to research the complete history of the school and the VIPB, not to mention the origins of some of the paintings and photos that hung on the walls of the PR, and some other peculiar requirements we did not quite understand then.

5. We could be assigned any task or challenge by any senior and we would be given points based on the rapidity, enthusiasm and performance by which we responded to these and also our regular duties. The points would be recorded on a chart pinned on the Message Board.

6. At the end of the week, if our points slipped into the negative territory, we would have to answer for it on "The Night" that Friday, though how and where we would answer for "it" and what exactly "The Night" was, was ominously left hanging in the air.

7. Whether we were accepted into the VIPB finally would all depend on our "performance" during "The Week" and "The Night"!

This last bit shook us to our core as we had no idea that having been installed as prefects in front of the whole school by the HM, that we were on some kind of probation or that there was a possibility that within a week, we could be defrocked! Mama!

Later that afternoon, the four of us had our own meeting and it was clear none of us had a clue what was going on, and we all agreed to play it by ear.

Throughout that week, we were ragged, not only by the incumbent prefects, but also a few ex-prefects who, I am sure, were specially persuaded to dropped by to increase our misery by dropping dark hints about "The Night" and "Are you prepared to answer the five questions?" What five questions? We had no inkling.

There was almost no physical ragging. Psychological pressure on us was applied as our every movement within the school was observed by the regular prefects, and as the week progressed, our points on the dreaded score sheet slowly approached zero! Every error or omission, serious or not - like knotting the tie untidily, crooked badge, stain on white jacket, tie slipping over the collar, a little late for morning duty, exercising poor control over students lining up or in handling a stroppy student, messing up the prefects' washroom after games, failing to greet someone with a "good morning", etc. - was observed by hawk eyes and negative points quickly inked.

I was forced to play a singles badminton match in the School Hall with George Yap Koi Meng, a school U20 player and warned not to embarrass him by scoring more than five points off him. In the event, I was lucky to take two points off him, for which I received 5 marks for trying and -10 for not trying hard enough!

Joe Hiew and Balraj were introduced to the mystery of lockers 18 and 19 in the prefects room. Each prefect was assigned his own locker. Joe was made to stand with his backside very close to the door of locker 18. Now, there was a hole in the common cardboard wall between these 2 lockers. So when Balraj forcibly slammed the door of locker 19 shut, the door of locker 18 whacked into Joe's butt. There was a lot of guffawing and back-slapping, after which Balraj got -10 points for violence, and Joe too -10, for turning red-faced. I don't know how Joe, sometimes referred to by us as "GI Joe", controlled his emotions and his shirt buttons did not pop off.

You could be docked 10 points for failing to know who the school bell ringer was, when the VIOBA was founded, who composed the school song and the like. We had to find out the nicknames of some of the regulars which could only be done by a begging requests and treating them to teas or cokes.

Outsiders suspected nothing as proper decorum was observed by all prefects when in public. Most of the ragging took place late in the late afternoons or evenings in the prefects room, or even later, when most students had gone home. We were instructed not to go home unless permission was given.

By the end of the week, the four of us were a very nervous and stressed out lot indeed. On the Thursday of that week, we were informed by Secretary A. Balachandren to bring along our regular PE kits the following day, and to inform our parents that we would be only be returning home early Saturday morning as we had to attend a prefects' party!

By Friday afternoon, all four of us were staring at huge negative totals on our score sheets.

Later that evening, at about 9 p.m., the entire board headed to the open-air Campbell Road Food Court in four or five cars. We freshies had already changed into our PE gear and as soon as the seniors had organized a long table and seating for everyone, the "party" began. As though by magic there appeared a Kiwi brand black shoe polish tin and brush. We had our faces and T-shirts suitably painted and our hair greased. Then, we had to stand at attention on our chairs while waiting for the seniors to decide on each one's choice of food and drink.

We next went around taking the orders, and then to the various stalls to order, fetch and serve them to the seniors. While the seniors ate, we went back to our standing-on-the-chair positions. When, the satay arrived, soon the bare satay sticks were planted in our hair, and we all looked like right charlies, standing on our chairs or running hither and tither to the seniors' commands, looking like caricatures of local aboriginal Malaysians.

Half-way through, we were asked to form a band and sing some songs to "entertain" the seniors while making motions as though we had guitars, trumpets and drums as back-ups. This scenario must have been familiar to the food-court operators from 'Friday Night' of previous V.I. prefects' boards, as they played along with this ludicrous, but hilarious theatrics of ours. There were fair numbers of the public there as well. But they must have cottoned on that some kind of ragging was going on as no one made any protest or called the cops who were just a stone's throw away at the Campbell Road Police Station! (I was told that the the School Captain had obtained a police permit for our night).

How we got through that session, I will never know, but the black polish served us well as it hid our embarrassed and red faces! This went on till about 11.30 p.m. when the seniors wrapped up the "party" and we drove over and parked the cars at Lake Gardens. From there, past midnight, we jogged over to a well-known scouts' camping spot in John's Valley in Jalan Duta, led by the Secretary and Vice-Captain. It was scary dark there and the seniors only had a couple of flashlights to guide us. Waiting at the designated spot were the School Captain, Head Girl and the other seniors.

All four of us were blind-folded. I was then led some thirty metres away and asked to kneel down at a cemented spot after having my T-shirt removed. The Captain made a short speech about prefectship being a test of character. I was asked to dip my hands into a pail of water which apparently was right before me. Someone guided my hands in and then the shock hit me like a tsunami wave. It was chilled water with blocks of ice still floating in it. I gasped and I started shivering. It did not help that we were in a valley with mist swirling about!

I was asked by several voices if the water was cold.

I said yes.

Surely not, the chorus came back.

I said yes it's cold.

Someone splashed a few drops of the cold water on my bare back. I winced and convulsed.

Is it cold, the chorus chimed in on cue.

I said yes.

Well, someone said, you answered truthfully three times. That's good. Remember that!

Then came five questions in rapidly succession:

1. What was the exact date the school was founded? (14 August 1893).

[VI once lost a TV quiz final to St. Johns in the 1960s when none of our three reps - Ishwar Nahappan, Liew Fah Kong and Julian Fong - were able to answer this question correctly on prime-time national TV!!] 2. Who founded the Prefects' Board and when? (Richard Sidney, 6 April 1923).

3. What was the VIPB motto? (On The Bearing of The Prefects Will Depend The Tone of The School).

4. Who was the last English HM of VI? (A.D. Baker)

5. Who painted the JFK portrait hanging in the PR? (Nah Seang Hoo)

I was fated to stumble on the last question. My answer was Nah Seang Chew (Seang Hoo's younger brother who was Vice Captain in 1968). Splash!

Then it was over. Someone threw a dry towel on my back and escorted me back where my civilian clothes were in my satchel. I changed and waited for the others to finish their night. When it was over for all of us, the Captain beckoned everyone to form a circle, and then came that emotional and magic moment. As we sang the school song, we felt like a huge weight had been lifted off our shoulders. We all shook hands and made our way back up the hill to the cars. Someone, probably Eddy Chong Kwong Chin or Chong Kok Weng, drove Indran, Balraj and myself back home at about 3 a.m., as we all lived more or less in the Imbi area. I had to shampoo off all that black polish and grease on my hair and body before I crashed out on my bed. The T-shirt went in the rubbish bin. Joe Hiew was also sent home by car; I never saw a more exhausted Joe than on that night, or a more elated one, at the end.

Without exception, every ex-prefect I have talked to, will recount that magic moment of singing the school song. In some years, not just the girls, but also the boys, shed tears.

I believe that in earlier years - the 1950s to the early 1960s, - this kind of ragging was not a tradition. In some years, the Friday night was concluded with a dinner cum dance party to which even prefects from other schools were invited. In later years, the Campbell Road Food Court was the favourite haunt, though I do not know if proceedings were adjourned for the icy test!

In 1972, my good friend Abdul Rashid (nickname Mamak, Footballer/Thamboosamy House Captain) threatened to organize a boycott of the ragging, but eventually came around. He was famous for his "I have my limits" defiance. His, the first batch of 1972, was a particularly large and difficult batch to handle. It comprised the two senior girls and perhaps some ten guys, which included popular students such as Ng Chee Peng, R. Mahendran and Kwan Poh Woh. The girls were ragged but not subjected to the ice test.

But when it came to his turn to dish it out with subsequent batches, Rashid performed superbly. We recently whatsapped reminiscences over those times and he did not fail to mention the emotional singing or how honoured and proud he had felt about being appointed prefect. Similar sentiments were expressed during schooldays by Chong Yoo Nam (Treasurer) who joined VI from Setapak High School in 1971, and Loon Kuan Liong from Rasah/KKB. [I once followed, as Sports Editor for The Seladang, the school basketball team then captained by Kuan Liong in its games against teams in Rasah and Kuala Kubu Bahru. Rasah, then a rubber estate town already looking deserted, comprised one straight main street about a hundred metres long, with single-storey houses on either side and huts further behind. We had a superb dinner there where I was introduced for the first time to a local delicacy, chi pau kai or paper-wrapped chicken. Not knowing what it was, such was the sheltered world I lived in, I initially bit into the paper wrapping, which produced a burst of laughter from everyone there!]

But, I suppose all things good or bad, depending upon one's views, must come to an end.

In early 1973, as the seniors were about to drop off a freshie, they were cornered outside the house by his parents who kicked up a huge fuss about the late night and the lack of a coherent, solid explanation. On their way back, as bad luck would have it, the same thing happened with another freshie and his parents!

Later, again in 1973, another batch's night was interrupted when the cops detained a prefect's parked car which looked similar to a getaway car involved in a robbery that morning. To make matters worse, they spotted what looked like a gun in the back-seat. It turned out to be a toy gun left there by the prefect's nephew. Several prefects ended up at the Travers Road Police Station, wrapped in towels under which they only had on their wet swimwear or PE shorts! They were eventually released by the cops when it was confirmed that they were only schoolboys out on an extraordinary ragging night.

The writing then was on the wall.

In 1975, the seniors and freshies were caught apparently in the Batu Lane pondan (transvestite) area of KL by none other than HM Victor Gopal!! And that was it. He then banned the ragging and the night completely. I have yet to get the full story of what transpired, as it could hardly have been a case of HM Victor Gopal wandering by coincidence into one of the most infamous red-light areas of KL on a freshie's night. What happened in subsequent years, whether the VIPB reverted to a Friday night party, I do not know.

It could not have lasted much longer, could it?

Yes, Abdul Rashid had a very important and valid point. The prefects could have bonded and gelled well with a party or perhaps several parties. "The Night" could have been conducted within the school premises. But of course, for speedy and spellbinding results, the ragging and the icy end in the dark of a misty valley served its purpose.

But keeping it all secret from the HM and senior teachers is a definite no-no. It's a miracle that in all those years, nothing seriously untoward ever happened during 'The Night'. If it had, who are the persons who would have taken responsibility for it? Would the HMs have pleaded mea culpa?

On reflection, many of the events that occurred could only have happened during that era. This includes the regimented approach of the cane wielding and free-striking headmasters and teachers who imposed discipline and order to secure, no doubt, outstanding results.

And this is a discussion I am still having with many of my alumni. There is a school of thought that VI excelled despite the heavy-handed school administration, and not because of. After all, top scholars and sportsmen were pre-selected for entry into the V.I.

Had the HMs and teachers taken a more liberal and even-handed approach, might they not have inspired the student-body and produced better, stellar students who would have passed on an even greater legacy to succeeding generations? Possibly.

Against this, there is the Lee Kuan Yew-Singapore argument. Would Singapore have achieved all that it has and MORE with a LESS iron-fisted LKY?

Hindsight is always 20-20, is it not?

The art of governing and administration is not an exact science, and the line between an inspirational leader and a tyrant, often a thin one.

If anyone, it's our parents of that era who should have shown much greater interest and taken responsibility. Sure, there was a social contract, but they placed too much trust in the HMs and teachers without setting up an effective oversight mechanism.

But, has the pendulum swung too much the other way, where HMs and teachers nowadays are hamstrung by the top down approach of the Ministry of Education and Parent-Teacher Associations (PTA)?

As for us students, and this applies to 99.99% of us, we simply did not know any better then. It was a kind of, but not quite, herd-mentality response. When you are thrust into structures like the VIPB or the Cadet Corp or Scouts, you either go with the flow, or drop out quickly. The environment and national culture simply did not then allow for the development of independent minds and unilateral actions, and rare indeed was the student who defied or bucked the system.

I also think it serves no purpose now to dwell too much on what might have been. Suffice to say we should always strive to learn from our own mistakes and that of others.

But I, like many of my VI Class of 1970-72, bear no mental scars of those schooldays. We got over the darker moments a long, long time ago during our schooldays itself, and have got on happily with our lives. We still cherish our VI years, warts and moles included!

 

1972 - The Race for the School Vice-Captaincy


It was recently hinted in some exchange of correspondence and whatsapps with some of my alumni friends, that perhaps I was living, even wallowing, in the past.

Rest assured that I am also very much connected to the present, with a wary eye on the future. My writings about my VI years serve as a record of those memorable years, if nothing else. Writing about the past does not make one a frog in the well. If that were true, many great historians would have been jobless, and we would not have all those insights into why old civilizations fell or what the real issues were that set historic events in motion.

So, here I will recount an episode, as our experiences in later working life usually impress upon us, where, despite the haze surrounding them at the time they were made, certain decisions turned out to be the right one. Please do not jump to conclusions half-way; read through to the end.

I had written earlier that usually the VI School Captains picked themselves. That, too, was the case with 1972 School Captain, N. Indran. More so as, in 1971, he had been interviewed and picked by the USA Embassy in KL as the Malaysian representative for their sponsored three-month round-the-world cruise for a select group of international student leaders. Indran missed classes for about three months that year. He was also the 1972 VI Sportsman of The Year (the award was presented in a ceremony in 1973, which explains Indran's Mark Spitz moustache!).

This post is not so much about Indran, but to emphasise the point that the race for School Captaincy was pretty much sewn up. However, the sprint for the much coveted position of School Vice-Captain, was fairly wide open. Of the six prefects remaining at the beginning of 1972, Fong Meng Wai was ear-marked for the 1973 School Captaincy, and Indran for that of 1972.

So, it seemed that the competition for the Vice-Captain's position was a four-horse race among Hiew Heng Foo, K. Balraj, myself and Yap Chee Keong, in order of seniority.

I must, at this juncture, pause and point out that it would serve no purpose in being hypocritical and claim that I did not have an eye on the Vice-Captaincy. You simply did not rise up the ranks in the school for five years including having been appointed Temporary Prefect and been appointed prefect for two years, and plan to end your term as just another prefect. You hoped against hope for that recognition, the icing on the cake as it were.

Equally, none of us campaigned overtly or covertly for it, as sucking up to the School Captain, senior teachers or the HM was unheard of. Elevation was something that happened, on merit, as a natural progression of events. I also felt that my run-in the previous year with HM Somasundram, regarding his car in the school porch, was a mere storm in a tea cup and that he would not hold anything against me.

Then the unexpected happened!


Shaw House 1972
House Captain Chee Keong is seated second from left.

When school re-opened in January 1972, and House elections were held during the first week, Balraj was defeated by Yap Chee Keong for the Shaw House Captain's post; he was voted in as House Vice-Captain. Indran (Sultan Abdul Samad), Heng Foo (Loke Yew) and I (Hepponstall) were elected as respective House Captains.

This must have been a hammer blow to Balraj, who like me, must have fancied his chances for the Vice-Captaincy. I should know, as in those days, Indran, Balraj and I were pretty close friends, having known each other since primary school days. But never before (and I stand corrected) had anyone been made VI School Vice-Captain without first having been elected a House Captain, and precedence was not about to be set by the outgoing School Captain or incumbent HM.

So it now became a three-horse race for the Vice-Captaincy.

The formal installation of the new School Captain, Vice-Captain and prefects would normally be made by the HM in the School Hall at the School Assembly during the second week of the first term. This was simply so that it could be verified that the respective candidates would be continuing their education in VI, to give sufficient time for us to inform the new prefects of their appointment, allay their doubts and fears, confirm that they accepted their appointment, and to give them sufficient time to get their new uniforms, long pants and shoes for the investiture.

[Rarely did anyone turn down an appointment as prefect. But as it happened in that first batch of 1972, Ting Chooi Whar, an Assistant 1st KL Scout Master declined, and we did not make up the deficit till the second term. And, in 1973, S. Jayendran (School Drum Major) resigned his prefectship about a month after his instalment.]

So, the three of us were called for a meeting in the Prefects Room on the Friday before the second week of school, by the outgoing trio of School Captain Yap Kian Fui, Vice-Captain Lee Kok Pheng and Secretary A. Balachandren. Among other matters, we were informed by Kian Fui that he would be seeing HM Somasundram later that afternoon about his decision on who would be appointed School Vice-Captain.


Swimming Team 1972
Captain Chee Keong is seated third from left.

Quite late that evening, we were informed by Kian Fui that HM Somasundram had approved Yap Chee Keong's appointment as the new School Vice-Captain.

And that is exactly what came to pass.

There was, of course, no written rule or convention that these appointments would go strictly by seniority. In the past, on several occasions, precedents had been set by headmasters, who had exercised their absolute discretionary powers.

To be honest, I was devastated! Shattered! So much so, I could not look Chee Keong in the eye. I mumbled congratulations, and then quickly offered some excuse and bolted off. My immaturity was such that for the next couple of weeks, I met or spoke to Chee Keong only when necessary, and at times showed my irritation.

I am sure Heng Foo, too, would have been disappointed, but did not show it. Now, Heng Foo must have been a leading contender, perhaps more so than me, because he was in particular, a sort of hero to the boys in the lower forms. He had a never-say-die gung-ho attitude in sports. He would coach the youngsters in rugby and offer them fatherly advice as well. His credentials thus were impeccable. He would have been an extremely popular Vice-Captain, which position he might have well attained had the issue been put to an open vote by the student body.

In my case, I felt that HM Somasundram had unfairly penalised me for the hoo-ha (no fault of mine) in April 1971, as confirmed later when he vetoed awarding me any games colours for 1972, despite my seven years of service to the school. I believe Heng Foo, too, had got into Somsasundram's bad books, though I forget the background to it. But, alea iacta est - the die had been cast - and there was no turning back.

Soon, I realized that no good could come out of my moping around. Besides, the flurry of first term studies, sports, House and society meetings left me with little time to weep over what might have been.

My attitude to Chee Keong changed quickly because of two incidents.


Second KL Boy Scouts 1972
Scoutmaster Chee Keong is seated sixth from right.

One Saturday afternoon, I espied him as Assistant Scout Master of Second KL Boy Scouts, marshalling his team and the patrol leaders in a freshies' ragging session on the slopes of the school field. All the scouts were addressing him as "Sir"!

And on a Thursday afternoon, there he was, as the School Swimming Captain, in the swimming pool with the junior and senior swimmers and water polo players. And it turned out to be a record-breaking year for VI in inter-school competitions for that sport!

I realized then how little I really knew about Chee Keong. While we had known each other since Form 1, we were not really close friends and did not move in the same circles. But it struck me like a bolt of lightning that he, like Heng Foo, was well-known by many, even in the lower forms.

In my case, my peers knew me well enough, having been involved in school hockey, football, cricket and debating. But lower down, I doubt many in Forms 1 to 3 could identify exactly why I was a prefect.

My demeanour and attitude to Chee Keong changed instantly. I was after all No. 3, Secretary of the VIPB, and could not project or encourage any divisions at the top. Perhaps, I should have taken the cue from Balraj who was the first among us to get close to Chee Keong when he was appointed prefect in late 1971.

Happy to say, thereafter, we all got along famously.

I say cream rises to the top because, through whatever play of fate, Yap Chee Keong was deservedly appointed School Vice-Captain.

I must pause again and say that this is not false modesty, hypocrisy or a face-saving opinion on my part. It's not a case of trying to mask my disappointment by praising him. Besides, there's no money in it!


Life Saving Society 1972
Vice-Chairman Chee Keong is seated second from left.

There were many incidents that year with the students, which Chee Keong handled better than I would have because, by nature, he was a calm, cool and composed character whose people-handling skills had been honed by greater exposure to the students, who gave him a great deal of respect in return. I was prone at times to blow hot and blow cold, though I too looked unflappable. I wouldn't back away from an insult by a student without weighing in with my ten cents worth. After an incident in Primary 1, I swore I would never be bullied by anyone, and that attitude sometimes led me to skirmishes that I should have avoided. I would never start a fight, but would not back away from one either if pushed, figuring that even if I got hammered, I would at least have landed a few solid blows of my own to salvage my pride.

Anyway, friendship blossomed among the Top Five. Chee Keong was the only one among us who had a car, a Datsun, and many's the time he would drop each of us back home after our late night meetings, despite the fact that it was out of the way, and that he must have been as equally exhausted as any of us from the long days. We went on outings together and even on an overnight trip to Port Dickson where we slept in the car and in ponchos on the beach. We helped Chee Keong clean up the premises when his family shifted houses to Segambut. His parents were also wealthier than ours, and his generosity towards us with the wallet, extreme.

The next year, we parted ways, with Chee Keong going off to Manchester, UK, to do a degree in Mechanical Engineering. The last time we saw each other in 1973, was at a farewell dinner for him at Balraj's house (his mum was a superb cook - her crab curry was to die for) before he in turn left for the UK.

So, the appointment of Yap Chee Keong as School Vice-Captain in 1972, turned out to be the absolutely correct decision.

And have we not all seen it in the corporate world, with the least expected office promotion turning out to be the brilliant one? It usually does not happen by accident, but even when it does, a thorough examination of that individual's resume is bound to reveals nuggets of information about one's pedigree?

And so it was with Yap Chee Keong making it on pure merit, as in our batch, he was the one with the best character to carry the Number Two post outstandingly well.


Yap Chee Keong presenting prizes to employees of
Windsor Airmotive Asia Pte Ltd

It was only in early 2014 that I managed to re-establish contact with Yap Chee Keong who has been based in Singapore for many years, as CEO of an aerospace company. He readily agreed to meet the old gang for drinks and dinner during his trip to KL on the occasion of Qing Ming, or Cheng Beng.

I picked Chee Keong up from the Double Tree by Hilton Hotel for our gathering at the Royal Selangor Club, Mt. Kiara. It turned out to be a great gathering as the beer, whiskey, vodka and what not loosened tongues.

It ended with a superb Bak Kut Teh supper at Ban Lee near Dynasty Hotel in Jalan Ipoh, where the ribs (tai guat) and black mushrooms were outstanding, not to mention the energizing and head-clearing herbal broth. At about 2 a.m. Saturday, I dropped Chee Keong off at his hotel, and Aw Kok Teng back at his.

It so happened that it was a Friday when I drove to the hotel with another long-standing great ex-VI buddy, Viji Nadarajah, to pick up Chee Keong. The evening traffic was horrendous, and I could sense the irritation rising in Viji from his questions and his rapidly darkening face. As I had left my GPS plug-in at home, we had some trouble figuring out the exact location of the hotel and how to cross over to the right side of it. As we approached the hotel, we could see that it was connected by an overhead bridge to the Jalan Ampang MRT station. Viji, who could not figure out who Chee Keong was, commented that I could have avoided "farting around" during the Friday evening gridlock if I had asked Chee Keong to take the MRT to the suburbs in PJ and picked him up from there.

It was forgivable as Viji did not know about our history. But I gave him a hint when I said: "Viji, if this guy had asked me to pick him up from Singapore, I would have done it!"

Because, you reciprocate not just to those who have done you a favour, but in particular, those who were kind and generous to you and went out of their way for you when they didn't have to!

 

1972 - Fighting the Good Fight


hen do we mature from boys and girls to men and women? What are the defining moments and pivotal experiences? This is a recurrent theme in my blog postings as I reflect on my VI days. But the roots of the fight that broke out at the 1972 Arts Union Ball went back earlier to about October 1971

Then School Captain Yap Kian Fui and VI Prefects Board (VIPB) Secretary A. Balachandren hastily summoned five relatively newly appointed Lower Form 6 prefects, viz., N. Indran, K. Balraj, Yap Chee Keong and (G.I.) Joe Hiew Heng Foo and myself to a closed door meeting at the Junior Library.

This was the time of the year when many were locked mentally in revision mode preparing for the all-important MCE (Form 5) and HSC (Upper 6) examinations. By tradition, Mrs. Chong Hong Chong, teacher and Junior Library Supervisor, had once again graciously consented to the Junior Library being made available for the exclusive (exam preparation/revision) use of the Prefects. To many of them the Junior Library became home, day and night, for a month as they slept over in the premises.

Absent from that meeting was School Vice-Captain Lee Kok Pheng who was away (together with Lim Shook Kong) from school for most of that year on a World Badminton Tour and with obligations to State Badminton as well.

Someone - we never found out who - had reported to Kian Fui that two prefects, Balraj and Chee Keong, had been involved in meetings and discussions with other Lower 6 students mooting for a Students Union (SU) to replace the VI Prefects Board. It came as a shock to the rest of us, more so since my friendship with Balraj went back to Standard 1 in Pasar Road English School 1, where Indran joined us in Standard 5. We were (and still are) great friends and moved about as thick as thieves. We got to know the quiet and unassuming Yap Chee Keong only after his appointment to the VIPB in June 1971, together with Fong Meng Wai, who was rare example of a Form 5 appointee to the VIPB.

At that meeting, Kian Fui laid down the law and, in no uncertain terms, warned us that prefects involved in any Students Union proposal were at risk of forcible premature retirement from the VIPB without any "golden handshake"! Such was the strength of the bonds of our friendship that Indran and I never asked Balraj "WTF!" nor did Joe Hiew, Indran or I question Chee Keong about his involvement with the "dark side." It sounds incredible, but we really were not bothered and I dare say that if a SU had been set up and the VIPB abolished, many of us prefects would have been elected to the top posts! Our trust in each other's judgement and actions was implicit. Nevertheless, all gave their word to Kian Fui to "cease and desist"!

Kian Fui, of course, knew the importance of nipping things in the bud. The following year in 1972, Indran would be appointed School Captain, Chee Keong Vice-Captain, myself Secretary, Balraj Assistant Secretary and Joe Hiew Treasurer, namely, the five senior most positions in the VIPB.

But matters had by then gone too far. Student supporters for the SU had petitioned and received the consent of the HM, Mr. V. Somasundram, to convene a meeting of all Lower Six students to debate the matter at the Lecture Theatre in the Form 6 Block.

So, on one side were seated the proposers for the SU who were mainly from the Arts stream, namely, Mac Yin Tee (classmate/formmate from PRES 1), Zul Rafique, Yap Teiong Choon, Yip Kok Keong and their supporters. On the other side, well, there really wasn't any "other side." Mostly, there were the Lower Six prefects and a mix of Arts and Science students most of whom were not well versed with the proposal and issues and had come along to hear things out. In all, perhaps about 150 boys and girls had turned up for the meeting, chaired by the HM. There were no written proposals circulated prior to the meeting for reference; so we had to pretty much rely on the verbal submissions of the pro-SU group.

I recall Mac, Zul and Kok Keong speaking up and, in particular, Teiong Choon quoting Lord Acton that "power tends to corrupt and absolute power corrupts absolutely". This sounded a wee bit over the top to me. Good Lord, we were not exactly running a government or the KGB, were we? We were all appointed prefects; no one had lobbied for it and neither had anyone refused when offered. I can only recollect in my time only two instances when candidates turned down offers of prefectship - Ting Chooi Whar (assistant scout Master/swimmer) in 1972 and S. Jayendran (drum major) in 1973.

I decided to speak up for the VIPB. It wasn't that I was a school debater and was, therefore, more logical in my thinking or more eloquent in speech than my peers. It was just that I was more adept than most in concealing my shivering and shrivelled up cojones when engaging in public speaking!

I talked about the "noble" VIPB institution, spirit and about the many unglamorous aspects of prefects' duties and the sacrifices we had to make when it came to studies and personal free time. I asked what assurances anyone had that the SU, too, would not become "absolutely corrupt". Till today, I have no idea what they made of my "Mark Antony" speech, but no one clapped when I finished to a deathly silent room. In all probability they were splitting their sides in silent laughter at my pompous waffling. Later, others such as Joe Hiew, R. Pathmanathan, Indran, Jaccob Thomas (I have reliably been told by Jaccob himself that due to a clerical error at the IC Office, his name was spelt with two c's!) and perhaps Kwan Poh Woh (prefect) and Yap Chin Seong (School Librarian) all spoke up as well.

And strangely enough, that was how it ended. Soma adjourned the meeting after two hours and we never heard about the SU or the abolition of the VIPB ever again. Why the pro-SU group backed off is still a mystery to me. I am certain it was not due to my "we come to bury Caesar, not to praise him" elocution. But, thereafter, several prefects had run-ins with Zul, Kok Keong and Teiong Choon. To put it in perspective, this would have been for Armaggedon-like incursions of rules such as being late for school, not painting their Bata shoes or not wearing socks, walking on the lawn, excessive long hair and similar end-of-the-world matters! Looking back after nearly forty years, it all looks so ridiculous and full of bubbling testosterone, adolescent angst, posturing and preening.

But little did we know the directions all this would take until the day of the 1972 Arts Union Ball, traditionally held at the School Hall at 8 p.m. in late April or early May. The 1972 Arts Union Committee comprised inter alia:

Chairman: Mac Yin Tee (School Footballer, Loke Yew House Vice-Captain)
Vice-Chairman: Jaccob Thomas (Hepponstall House Vice-Captain)
Secretary: Sadasiban (nicknamed "Red Indian" for his orange hair)
Treasurer: Yap Teiong Choon (School Swimmer, Water Polo, Treacher House Vice-Captain)

All the non-Arts prefects were invited for the grand dance and dinner affair; I was on prefect duty for the night which needed some seniors around as the Arts Union bash was known to invoke boisterous behaviour from Upper Six boys. Besides, I was shy and could not dance to save my life and so chose to stay on duty and out of sight in the Prefects' Room on the first floor with Indran, Balraj and Chee Keong.

All hell broke loose at about 9.30 p.m. Ms. Wong Kim Lin (fellow school debater and same Hepponstall House member as myself) and a couple of guys dashed into our room screaming, "Fight! Fight!" I was the first to rush out and arrived in double quick time at the School Hall where there was more screaming and shouting going on.

It wasn't that I was a master of 92 schools of Kung Fu, Shaolin Martial Arts or anything like that. I was, in fact, shorter and slim to the point of thin compared to most other Sixth Formers. Neither was I a particularly brave person. In all my school years, I never engaged anyone in a fistfight and had avoided altercations altogether wherever possible. I had responded because Kim Lin was in distress.

Perhaps some fifty students were gathered in small groups in the hall, along its corridors and the adjacent quadrangle. Sally Chong, another good friend and school debater was in tears and screaming, "Oh, my God! Oh, my God!"

To my astonishment I could see my fellow prefect Joe Hiew slamming Yip Kok Keong and Zul Rafique (School Footballer/Rodger House Captain) and landing a couple of solid blows on them. I'm sure he next punched Mac Yin Tee, at which point I wrapped my arms around Joe Hiew's shoulders and dragged him out of the hall towards the staircase heading up to the Prefects' Room. Matters were threatening to get out of hand as Zul had gotten hold of a Coke bottle and was trying to smash it to get a dangerous shard for a weapon.

Even though I had Joe in a half-Nelson, he still managed to land a flying kick or two on Teh Chong Chan. Why Chong Chan (1971 School First Eleven Football Goalkeeper) was there at all was not clear to me as he was either a Fifth Former or had left school, ready to go overseas. He was probably a gate crasher. It appeared to me that he was "collateral damage" for attempting to broker peace.

All this time, I was urging Joe Hiew to calm down and eventually dragged him upstairs from where Indran and the rest bundled him off down the HM's staircase towards the main porch where his Honda motorbike was parked. Indran warned Joe Hiew in no uncertain terms to "disappear quick!", which he did as he roared out the school gates.

I next rushed over to the school hostel and urged an understandably red-eyed and irritated Cikgu Othman to come resolve the dangerous situation. I then headed back to the School Hall where the party was over and many had vanished, not wanting to be caught in any of the fighting or possible retaliation and repercussions. Indran, Balraj and Chee Keong were busy calming everyone down and assessing if anyone needed to be sent to the GH. Fortunately, it was more a case of bruised egos and bruises than any serious damage to flesh, limbs and bones.

The main victims - Mac, Kok Keong, Zul, and Chong Chan - were still there. All appeared a bit shell-shocked and angry they had been ambushed singlehandedly by Joe Hiew. Everyone in VI knew about Joe Hiew, his hot headedness and quick temper. What possessed him that night, we came to know of only a week later. Four letter words and curses were liberally flung at the prefects, all of whom, with the exception of Joe Hiew, were innocent to the proceedings that night. In particular, I felt aggrieved at some of the things Yip Kok Keong (ex-PRES 2), who bore the brunt of Joe Hiew's attack, uttered. We were not close friends although for several years we had taken the same school bus. But we were by no means enemies either as he lived near near Balraj's house in Lorong Cheong Yoke Choy close to Cochrane Road Secondary School and occasionally played hockey or soccer with us in Sri Ram's house compound.

With the arrival of Cikgu Othman, things calmed down and after about half an hour everyone headed home, exhausted and worn out by the shocking turn of events. The prefects were as shell-shocked as their classmates.

The next morning, a Saturday as I recall, the four of us - Indran, Balraj, Chee Keong and myself - met at the VIPB room as pre-planned to discuss the events of the preceding night. We still had no idea why Joe Hiew had behaved as un-prefectly as he had done. These were the days when there were no handphones; Joe Hiew did not have a telephone at home either. As we were discussing the issues, Mac, Zul, Kok Keong and Teiong Choon crashed through the swing-doors demanding we produce Joe Hiew to "settle it". It dawned on us that as close as we were to Joe Hiew, none of us had ever visited him at his home and had no idea where he really lived, somewhere in Kepong or Jinjang. Joe had attended Batu Road School in his primary days, and so the bonds were not that close.

We left it to Indran to calm down and sort out the interlopers who were all his classmates in Upper Six Arts 1. By Monday morning the HM had been reprised of the fracas, and at the school assembly, Joe Hiew Heng Foo sank into VI history books as the first prefect to be sacked from the VIPB and School! Technically, it was Joe Hiew who sacked VI as he never returned to collect his leaving certificate; he could not be bothered as he burnt his bridges for good.

A week later, we met Joe Hiew at his home where he spilled his guts out. He had planned it meticulously all by himself. Firstly, he was quitting school and running away from home because of a deep rift with his wayward father with whom he had come to blows. None of us had remotely suspected the kind of domestic strife that was tearing his life apart. He planned to make it to Singapore, join a merchant ship and thereafter leave it to the fates. His assault on his schoolmates was in retaliation for what he perceived as their "disrespect" for VI traditions and hallowed institutions, and for slights and insults to the prefects, who could not and would not respond in kind.

My heart bleeds even now when I think about Joe Hiews' enforced departure from the school he loved so much. Haven't we all been there sometime in our lives? Cornered, trapped by circumstances that no one should have to face, especially a nineteen-year old from a not so wealthy background? Joe let on that he and his brothers had to work the pasar malam routine to make ends meet and to protect their mother! You hope and pray that someone, a guardian angel, a good Samaritan, anyone will offer a solution or helping hand. And nothing arrives. So, you strike out on your own and put it down to the school of life. Oh, and it was cruel. Why did he not talk to one of the more approachable and sympathetic teachers who knew him, such as Cikgu Othman or Mrs. Teoh, or even HM Soma? Perhaps he did and nothing came of it, I don't know. But then again Joe Hiew was a nineteen-year old with a great deal of pride, an iron man who would not unload his personal problems on others.

And that was that. Joe Hiew disappeared from our radar screens until a class of 70/72 reunion in 2000!

And what was that fight all about in the end? Looking at Mac, Teiong Choon, Zul, and others who had paid their dues as well to VI, they could just as well all have been prefects, had the teachers and HM cast their nets a bit wider. And they were not lacking, in the academic sense, in any way either!

But there are some lovely postscripts to the sad events of 1972 that makes this account of history worth the telling.

Firstly, I believe Yip Kok Keong must have felt the most aggrieved of all the victims. As a group, rightly or wrongly, they must have given HM Soma hell, perhaps even demanded the revival of the SU idea and abolishing the VIPB!! For once Soma responded as a mature father and HM should. He appointed Kok Keong as Organizing Committee Chairman for the inaugural Teachers' Day which was held on 16th May 1972. Kok Keong, with responsibility thrust upon his shoulders, responded well and performed with rare first-class distinction.

On the last day of the HSC exams, as the prefects sat in their room chatting, glad that the ordeal was finally over, in trudged Mac Yin Tee and Yap Teiong Choon who proceeded to apologise and asked to "let bygones be bygones." Mac and Teiong Choon were soon to head for New Zealand for further studies. We all shook hands and departed, never to see each other again for a good 28 years. But I was glad Mac and Teiong Choon had that kind of maturity. After all, we had known each other since 1960 and it was telling that in the end it was he who initiated a reconciliation and showed better sense than I, who was not particularly conscious of the art of forgiving. It was an eye opener for me for sure and, sure as hell, a humbling experience!

Sometime in 1997, I had missed lunch and, starving, pulled my car over after spotting a mobile chee chong fan seller operating outside a coffee shop in Taman Maluri where I lived. And - lo and behold - who should I spot in the coffee shop but none other than Yip Kok Keong! We exchanged pleasantries and business cards as we both ate a belated lunch at 3.30 p.m. Before I could finish my snack, he excused himself off for an urgent appointment and paid my bill as well on the way out! I found out he was MD of Shellcard (then, now retired) and we kept in touch and met up at a couple of VI class of 70/72 gatherings as we did with Teiong Choon. The unpleasant memories of 1972 had faded away!

Zul Rafique finally made it to one of our gatherings last year when Michael Nettleton graced KL again. So did Yap Teiong Choon, now a Dato and a well-known corporate figure in KL, who has attended several of our reunions without much persuasion and joined wholeheartedly in the revelry. Zul was genuinely appreciative of our efforts to bring together the Old Boys. We met him again in honour of Balwant Singh from UK, Zaleha and "Bo" Fatimah for high tea in KL Sentral, organized by Abdul Jalil last year, and attended, too, by Jaccob, Abdul Hamid and Raja Nong Chik and a few others like Teoh Siang Chin, Foo Chi Chean and "Elvis" Foo Kok Fee!

Again, sometime last year, I called up Mac in Perth to get hold of the telephone number of his first cousin, Mac Kean Boon, who had also been my classmate way back in 1961 through to Form 5 in VI. Glad to say, Kean Boon is a consultant anaesthesiologist in Melbourne. Last I spoke to him, he was heading to Turkey for a holiday. Then Mac Yin Tee called me up one fine morning for Indran's phone number and also mentioned he needed to mend more bridges with Viji Nadarajah.

And what of Joe Hiew who nailed his colours to the mast with his never-say-die attitude in Rugby and who once commanded awe-inspiring respect from his peers as well as those in the lower Forms? We ran into him in 2000 at the VI Class of 70/72 reunion at the RSC. He had married and put on some kilos in the appropriate areas. In the intervening years, he had sailed the seven seas before forming his own apparently quite successful marine rescue and salvaging company. His reface-off with Teiong Choon did not go off too well, though. Recently, I read a post from Tan Chai on Face Book about Joe having a grandchild.

And that's it for now. Our lives and paths have crossed and re-crossed, whether by design or pure random chance, and whether there is any esoteric meaning to it all, I don't know. But as a group with some common history, we have all emerged successful, some more than others. We have forgiven and moved on. We have shown that we care, and that, my friends, is the mark of the true Victorian! It is my good fortune to have known you all.

 

1972 - VI Prefects Resign En Masse


VI Prefects Board, 1972

t all began with V. Somasundram who succeeded Tan Cheng Or as VI HM in May 1971. While my few run-ins with quick-trigger Muru over the Form 1 to Form 4 years had left me with some temporarily loose brain neurons and jostled brain folds, my close encounters with HM Somasundram were of the order of the third kind, leaving mental scars that I still carry with me.

One of the prefects' duties was to recommend to the HM suitable candidates to fill up vacancies in the VIPB, including the preferred choice of Head Girl and Deputy Head Girl, for the following year. By 1971, tradition was such that the the headmasters had complete trust in the VIPB, and would rubber-stamp their recommendations. There was no hard and fast rule about it, but a Board strength of about 24 was considered optimum. The selection process for new incoming board members was quite simple and straightforward.

In the week following the last day of the Higher School Cerificate (HSC) Examinations, the outgoing and remaining boards members would have an all-day long meeting at the VIPB room next to the Staff Room on the first floor. Each prefect was entitled to nominate anyone he/she considered suitable, as long as there was a seconder. The Secretary would note down all nominations in his Minutes Book. There would then follow a briefing on each candidate and his/her pros and cons, merits and demerits by their proposer. Often, not everyone would know about a particular candidate or his/her contributions to the school. So, the briefing by the proposer, seconder and others was very important.

In my two years on the VIPB, I cannot recall any rancorous debate, or sabotage or character assassination attempts over any candidate. There was no apparent bias in favour of sportsmen/sportswomen over academics or society and uniformed groups leaders. When the discussions were completed, there would follow a free vote by show of hands. Thus, successful candidates were selected based on the strength of the votes they garnered. In the event of a tie, the School Captain had the casting vote.

This system sometimes threw up surprising results. In the second half of 1971, there were vacancies for two prefects. Had it not been for the frank discussions and open mindedness of the members, we might have overlooked the eventual choice of the quiet and unassuming Yap Chee Keong from Lower 6 Maths, who was certainly not among the front-runners for that batch. His credentials were impeccable - a much respected Assistant Scout Master, School Swimmer, Life Saver and Water Polo player. (Chee Keong was eventually, and deservedly, appointed School Vice-Captain in 1972).

As an aside, I'll add something that tells us a lot about the quiet but determined character of Yap Chee Keong, who was also Shaw House Captain in 1972. So determined was he that he should win a medal at the Annual Sports Meet in his final year in VI, something he had never achieved before, that, from scratch, he plonked for the Pole Vault, of all events! I was stunned to see him and his then close prefect-buddy K. Balraj practising pole vaulting late evenings for a couple of months, without even the protection of sand and foam pieces at the drop area. Incredibly, Chee Keong won the gold medal and trophy in 1972, with the more fancied Balraj (Shaw House as well) as runner-up! Shaw House also emerged Champion House at both Athletics and the overall Champion House competition that year. Last I communicated with Chee Keong by email, he had moved to Singapore where he runs an aeronautical company, a very successful business, I hear.

Even more surprising was the rare selection of Fifth Former Fong Meng Wai, who would have been School Captain in 1973 had he not left VI in 1972, either for overseas study or because he did not get through his BM paper in the MCE exam.

When school re-opened in January 1972, and a week before the first School Assembly when new prefects were awarded their badges, it was a red-faced Yap Kian Fui who informed us that for the first time in VIPB's history, its recommendations for Head and Deputy Head Girl had been rejected by HM Soma. The board had voted for Tan Kiat Lan, a brilliant ex-BBGS top student (who later graduated as a doctor from MU) and Wong Kim Lin, (now a practising lawyer) from the Science and Arts streams respectively. Soma, relying on the advice of the teacher in charge of girls, who I believe was Puan Zainab, came up with Monica Chin Wylin (Bio-Science) and Lee Yuet Mui (Arts).

Admittedly, Monica had been Temporary Head Girl while in Lower 6, with Yuet Mui (from my House - Hepponstall) as one of her assistants and they had acquitted themselves well. And they were not bad choices either. But in reality, the teachers knew very little about the students, their character or their contribution to the school, especially the girls who all joined VI in only Lower 6. Soma let on that the teachers preferred a mother figure to lead the girls as opposed to, I suppose, a father figure!

More than that, Soma had added in a couple of other names to the prefects' list, like School Band Drum Major, Kwan Poh Woh, without any prior discussion with Kian Fui. There had also been an argument over the choice of School Vice-Captain for 1972. Clearly and not surprisingly, since he was not an ex-Victorian, Soma was no respecter of fine traditions or the opinions of lowly student-prefects. It was a resounding slap in the face for the VIPB.

As I recall, it rankled with us for a few days, but once the appointments were announced and badges publicly awarded in front of the whole school body, we forgot about it and went about our duties without any recriminations. The new members who were not voted in by us were treated as we would any other, especially since they were classmates or students whom we all were fairly familiar with. Kwan Poh Woh and I had been class/school mates since Standard 2 in Pasar Road English 1 (1960-65), where he was School Captain, and I the Vice-Captain, in our final year! And mind you, the VI Band Drum Major has always been an iconic figure, and Poh Woh has always been a lovely gentleman. But Soma had confounded our voting system and process like no other HM before.

But more bad weather was to befall us.

At the beginning of the second quarter, the VIPB membership was not at its optimum level. Again, without consulting School Captain Indran this time, Soma insisted on appointing three new faces - Zahedi Zain, See Tho Puk Lim and Salim Ramli. Again, in itself, the choices were not neither bad nor lacking in merit. All three had been temporary prefects the previous year. All three were, in fact, outstanding candidates, - academically sound, scouts, cricketers, rugby players and the like, except that they were all Fifth Formers! We had felt that appointing Fifth Formers would be unfair on their time, given the crucial Malaysia Certificate of Examination (MCE) public exams they would be sitting for in November. More than that, we felt they would face serious problems handling Sixth Formers on disciplinary issues, and that they would would be better equipped to do so once they were in Lower Six. But Soma would brook no opposition and brushed our reasoned objections aside. So, the appointments went ahead. Again, we embraced the new members wholeheartedly and took them in as equals.

The straw that broke the camel's back was Soma's announcement that a Disciplinary Committe comprising three teachers would be set up to hear disputes between prefects and students. This was yet another curve ball Soma threw at us, considering that, as far as we knew, no one in VI had asked for one. Indran felt that if the School Captain was not consulted, his judgement not respected and his word not trusted by the HM, it was too great an insult for the VIPB to bear.

At that time, the four senior members who had served since 1971 were School Captain Indran, Vice-Captain Yap Chee Keong, VIPB Secretary (myself) and Assistant Secretary (K. Bakraj). We had long discussions on what we should do. Between studies, games and society work and prefects' duties, all the prefects had their plates full; they did not need to spend anxious time worrying if they had an enemy within and above, undermining our authority. We unanimously decided that the best course of action would be to tender our resignation.

This was not an easy course of action for us to contemplate or act on. We had our hearts in our mouths; we were man-boys, more boys than men, trying to figure out the adult world of Soma. There was no prefects' master and we were too afraid to consult a senior teacher. We called for a full board meeting and put our concerns to everyone. We had to stand up against the belittling of the School Captain. We asked for a free vote on tendering our resignation en masse to the HM. Surprisingly, there was only one vote against the resignation, the lone dissenter being See Tho Puk Lim. There were no recriminations against See Tho; we really believed in his right to act according to his conscience.

The next day, Indran drafted an en masse resignation letter and delivered it personally to Soma, by which time See Tho had changed his mind. I would have, too, had I been him. What would have been the point of holding out? It wasn't as though See Tho could hold the fort all by himself.

I'd like to think all hell broke loose. But it didn't. At first, Soma only let on the news of the en masse resignation to Senior Assistant Oh Kong Lum, who also happened to be my Hepponstall Housemaster. But the students realised something funny was afoot since the prefects were not there to man stations like the tuck shop during the morning recess or to shepherd students to line up at towards the end of the recess. This work-to-rule by the VIPB continued the rest of the day and week. Bereft of early morning and recess duties, for the first time since I was appointed prefect, I was able to join my class before the teachers arrived, and immediately after recess periods were over.

Of course, Soma could not blank out news of the "Prefects' Revolt" as he labelled it, for more than a day. As the Tamil saying goes "you can't hide a full pumpkin in half a plate of rice." Soon, the teachers we were familiar and friendly with approached us to understand what was going on. The students got full wind of the situation and were chuffed that there were no prefects around to "boss them about." Soma put on a very hurt face and would not meet us. Two days letter, Oh informed Indran that he, as instructed by Soma, wanted to meet the full board to "get to the bottom of it."

At that meeting, Oh attempted the tried-and-true divide and conquer strategy. He asked each of us if we had any specific run-ins with Soma and, if not, why should anyone resign? I, of course, had suffered my major "incident" with Soma, to the extent that he wanted me sacked from the VIPB! We were rank amateurs and Oh played us like a fiddle. We were like lambs waiting to be slaughtered by a man who had majored in philosophy in his arts degree! The short and the long of it was that Oh reported to Soma that I was probably the mastermind behind the resignation gambit, although we - the four senior board members - had explained to him clearly that the issue was the undermining of the School Captain's authority.

Then for a few days, everything went quiet. We carried on attending our classes on time and participating in our games training sessions, etc. The prefects were also in a quandary. We did not know whether our resignation had been accepted and whether we should go back to wearing white shirts and hand in our prefects' badges. So, the Big Four had a secret meeting at which we decided I should go talk to Soma. I can't recall why I was elected to be the Group spokesman, though I figure it must have had something to do with the fact that I was the school Debating Captain.

I recall taking a slow walk one blazing afternoon to the HM's old majestic colonial house situated within the school compound. I knocked on the door and Mrs. Soma opened it. I was quivering in my black leather shoes. I was sweating buckets all over. She warmly welcomed me in, but I took a step back as I spied Soma taking a noon power nap on a living room sofa. Mrs. Soma gently woke him up. Soma registered a look of disgust in his face. I immediately offered an apology and launched into a Mark Antony like (at least I thought it was) but totally unprepared speech about our loyalty and love for VI and how we had all sacrificed a lot for the schools etc., etc., etc., and that really, really, we did not want to resign, but had no choice, since we were not prepared go down in history as having allowed the sinking of an institution like the VIPB and the office of the School Captain.

Soma would have none of it. He accused me of being a dangerous rabble rouser, possibly a Communist. If this had been post 9/11, he would have labelled me a Taliban. After being at the receiving end of a tsunami-like verbal tongue-lashing for some ten minutes, I was close to tears. Soma must have realised from the pathetic look on my face that I was close to breaking down. He suddenly stopped his tirade and said, "Okay. You all withdraw your resignation letter. Tell Indran to come and see me in my office tomorrow. Then we'll see."

Frankly, I had no idea what there would be "to see." I wobbled out the door on shaky knees, pronto, and reported Soma's orders to Indran and the others. Of course, I did not mention anything about the encounter with Soma having pretty much gone mostly one way. I hammed it up about rendering Soma speechless with my oratory skills.

The next day, Indran called on Soma, the en masse resignation letter was withdrawn, and that was that. There were no reconciliatory gestures from Soma. We returned to our duties and the VIPB of 1972 continued functioning as it had before, without any encouragement from the HM. We drew on the inspiration of established tradition and some support from previous School Captains and prefects who understood the situation.

The Disciplinary Committee was still set up and, whereas in previous years the School Captain's word would have been accepted as final, now they talked about burden of proof. Soma left VI on promotion to the Ministry of Education at the end of 1972, and was succeeded by Victor Gopal. As related in one of my earlier blog posts, I got a small measure of revenge against Soma, when he was head of the Malaysian Students' Department in London, and I, executive examiner at the Auditor General's Department, Ministry of Education Branch in KL!

Perhaps we were too immature and naive all those years ago. Perhaps, we grew up under a regimented system, and did not know how to look at it from the outside. But, I'm glad we stood up for what we believed was right, albeit without any real success to revel in. Growing up is hard to do, isn't it? But really, looking back at it after forty over years, it looks like a mere storm in a teacup episode in our VI life.

 

1972 - All the Girls We Knew and Loved Pt 1


ow the years have slipped by from when we were free and carefree and making the transition from boys to semi-adults, and we stumbled and fell and got up, not really knowing where we were headed.

The first girl I knew in L6 was Wong Kim Lin, who I met inside the school gates while walking towards the office that day. She was from the Bukit Bintang Girls' School (BBGS was given the moniker Big Backside Girls' School by the boys. In turn, VI students were taunted as Vagabond Idiots!). Kim Lin politely asked me for the directions to the office as she had secured a place in VI and wanted to register as a student.

BBGS only had classes for Forms 1 to 5, and so after their MCE exams, the successful students would move on to VI or St. Johns for their Form 6 education. It's disgraceful and shameful that an outstanding school like BBGS which produced some of the most outstanding students in the country, should have fallen victim to Mahathir's evil machinations. The historic school was sadly demolished in 2000 to eventually make way for that monstrosity called the Pavilion Shopping Mall in Jalan Bukit Bintang, KL!!

I accompanied Kim to the office with some trepidation, as up till that point in time, the only girls I knew were my sister, cousins and the odd sisters of close friends from whom I, like most of my colleagues of that time, kept a respectable distance. It transpired later that Kim became my classmate for about three months in L6B1 (Bio-Science) after which she switched to the Arts stream. She was also a member of Hepponstall House, as I was.

After a couple of months, I too had misgivings about Bio-Science and had thought deeply about switching to the Arts. But I feared my parents would not approve, and besides, I would have had to grapple with Geography which I hated like the plague, and also Economics, about which I knew as much as I did brain surgery. A big mistake!

Despite Kim moving to the Arts, we ran into each other at House activities. I also accompanied her a few times to Friday afternoon Christian Union meetings (not to know her in the Biblical way, but for knowledge's sake) at the VIOBA hall. We were also both members of the School Debating Team, which included R. Pathmanathan, Sally Chong Siew Moi (ex-Cheras Road School) and Kok Chew Leng (ex-BBGS).

Another girl whom I briefly met and had a dance with at the Freshies' Ball that year was Hashimah (also of Hepponstall House). A couple of years ago when a group of us from the Class of 1970 to 1972 had lunch at an eatery in Sentral, with Raja Nong Chik (VI 1966 to 1968, 1971 to 1972) who was then the Federal Territory Minister, I was gobsmacked when Bo Fatimah told me that Hashimah was unable to attend the function, but sent me her regards!!

Reports of my having danced with Hashimah have been greatly exaggerated. Again, like most of my colleagues, we knew in theory what disco dancing was like. We had seen the teenage Michael Jackson ooze around on TV like a whippet in heat. But, the gap between theory and our practical performance was like the distance between the Earth and the Moon. Nevertheless, we jerked around like the zombies in Jackson's "Thriller" oblivious to the fact that we looked like the southern view of northbound donkeys. I had clung on to dear Hashimah in desperation less I toppled over from my quivering jellied knees. For the life of me, I cannot recall what the music was or the few words I said to her when I had mumbled like Brando in "Godfather"!

Well, there were many outstanding girls in the 1971-1972 batch. The names of the girls who readily spring to my mind are (in no particular order):

Wong Kim Lin (BBGS, A1)
Sally Chong Siew Moi (Cheras Road School A1)
Monica Chin Wylin (Assunta, Head Girl, B3)
Lee Yuet Mui (BBGS, Deputy Head Girl A1)
Kok Chew Leng (BBGS, B2)
Cho Hung Ling (BBGS, B1)
Bo Fatimah (CBN, A1)
Zaleha Ahmad (CBN, A1)
Fazah Yakin (BBGS, B1)
Faridah Harun (Ahmad?) (CBN, B1)
Yap Siew Peng (BBGS, B1)
Tan Tui Hang (St. Mary's, B1)
Teh Siew Heng (BBGS, B3)
Bing Ying (BBGS, B3)
Leong Kwan Pheng (L6A1, top Arts student)
Kok Po Tho (BBGS, A1)
Diana Ooi (BBGS, B1)
Sakinah (BBGS, A1)
Gloria Tan (St. Mary's, B2)
Ng Fook Neong (Assunta, B3)
Hamidah Ali (CBN, B3)
Ruby Hussein (CBN, B3)
Rozia Hanis THN (CBN, B3, ex-PM Hussein Onn's daughter)
Aw Mong Lim (SMK Yahya Petra, Kota Bahru, B5)
Choo Ching Kit (BBGS, B3)
Tan Kiat Lan (BBGS, B1)
Sushil Kaur (BBGS, B2)
Hashimah (CBN, A2)
Siti Zaleha (CBN, A2)

There were, of course, many others, but their paths did not cross mine much. My recollection is that there was only one Indian girl in our batch, maximum two!

Besides those in the list above, all of us who were in VI from 1966 to 1972 also remember the following girls for various juvenile reasons:

Josephine Lee; Kim Fernando; Ristina Majid and Penny Chang (Michael Nettleton, where are you?)

I shall end this part with a recollection about Dr. Chew Yoong Fong who left VI for London in late March 1971. His family (his father was a tin mine owner) had been uprooted from a bungalow house at the junction of Princess Road and Jalan Tun Razak (Circular Road) at the height of the 1969 riots. They later moved to a bungalow house in Jalan Inai in Imbi Road, which is where most of those who knew him between 1970 to 1972 would identify him with.

Fong was an extremely popular guy with most of his classmates. Many would gather at his house to listen to vinyl LP pop records and shoot the breeze, and occasionally also smoke cigarettes. How much things had to do with the fact that he had a very good-looking younger sister is anybody's guess!

Fong also played right full back for both his primary school (Pasar Road English School 1) all the way through to the VI U20 Hockey Team in 1972. In his earlier days, he was also a sprinter and fine footballer (right wing) whom Mokhtar Dahari used to consult in Form 3 to improve his thunderkicks at the football wall at the far end of the school field.

Sometime in late April 1971, I walked into our L6B1 classroom which was the second last room on the upper right wing as one faced the school clock tower, and was stunned to see Fong in school uniform and sitting with my classmates. This was a laboratory room and so we only had three rows of long benches and work tops with stools for the 45-odd students. I gave a wtf look at him to which he smiled back. I learnt later from him that he found the London school style difficult to cope with and decided to return to KL and VI. But, I suspect that was not the only reason!

A few weeks later, Indran passed me a sealed envelope containing a letter. It was from his friend, a (non-VI) footballer from Imbi Road, a Eurasian-Chinese mix guy. I cannot recall his name, so I shall refer to him as Joe, whom I knew only vaguely from the Imbi Postals Club grounds. The envelope was addressed to my new classmate in L6B1, Yap Siew Peng, who twice in 1971 and 1972 was among the top students in Bio Science. He wanted me to hand it to her. Anyone should be able to guess what the letter said. I was surprised at being asked to do courier service, but would not let a buddy down.

I did as I was asked and handed that envelope to an even more astonished Siew Peng. We were as familiar with each other like Cleopatra and Bill Clinton. I stared at my shoes as I told her I was only doing the post office routine. A few days later she handed me a different sealed envelope with a letter in it which I passed on to Indran. That was the last I ever heard or saw of Joe.

Well, the short and the long of it was that, for the rest of Form 6, Yoong Fong and Siew Peng became a pair. So much so that some years later they got married and have been living happily together for some 30-over years. Both are doctors. I also understand Yap Siew Peng is the great grand daughter of one of VI's patrons, Yap Kwan Seng?

But what Fong may have forgotten is that shortly before leaving for London, he mentioned to me that he and Siew Peng had been tuition students at the same centre in their lower secondary school days. And when he said that, he had a glint in his eyes that spoke volumes. He could correct me, but my instincts tell me that the real reason he cut short his stay to London had more to do with a certain besotted look than finding London difficult to adjust to!

I do not know if in those days I had a huge sign at the back of my shirt saying 'Serial Post Office Server', DHL or UPS in bold letters or what. But, a few months later another guy asked me to do him a favour. This time, it was CP, fellow VIPB (senior) member who handed me a long envelope for my classmate, petite and cute Tan Tiu Hang (ex-St. Mary's) with whom I had hardly exchanged two words in those few months. I reluctantly complied. She insisted on knowing who the envelope was from. CP had not revealed his name. I reluctantly told her and at the same time decided this was too stressful for me and I was not going to do this anymore.

Tiu Hang recently told me the envelope contained a single red rose, her first ever from a prospective wooer! Whoa, what a Romeo CP was! But nothing came of what I suspect was CP's short-lived infatuation. But, Tiu Hang and I re-connected some five years ago and keep in touch via Facebook. She's been an inspiring supporter of my writings and endeavours. She retired a few years ago as Senior Chemistry Teacher at Catholic High School in Section 5, Jalan Gasing, Petaling Jaya.

And so, I dedicate Albert Hammond's 1975 hit "To All The Girls I've Loved Before" to all the girls in the VI Class of 1971 - 1972. Thanks for the memories and for teaching us how to grow up!

 

1972 - All the Girls We Knew and Loved Pt 2


upid's arrows were never more eagerly awaited than by the quaking, quivering and concupiscent male students who entered Form 6 in the Victoria Institution. This was largely because most of us had never had to configure equal females in our midst, given eleven years of schooling in an all-male (female teachers excepting), testosterone-filled environment. Barring the few who had encountered girls at non-school tuition classes and those few who had somewhat "steady" girlfriends, to the rest, say about 95% of us, co-education was always going to be a real challenge.

A blogger friend of mine recently posted an article saying that sexual repression was THE key problem in countries like Malaysia that led to many of society's ills and perverse behaviour.

You can now imagine what a throbbing lot of sexually starved and unfulfilled boys we were, and the fantasies that crowded our thoughts, yours truly included. There was also the myth propagated by US movies that the truest of eternally lasting love was to be found in marrying your High School sweetheart. So, there were great expectations and fantasies to live up to. But to tell the truth, most were mystified, if not terrified with having to confront this new aspect of real life. We were right at the steepest part of the climb up the learning curve.

I have already recounted my running into the first girl I knew in Form 6, Wong Kim Lim. But, it was fortunate that the Arts Union, Cultural Society and the Science & Maths Society had organized the Lower Six Orientation Week from Monday, 26 April to Saturday, 1st May, 1971. It was a well thought out annual event, designed to break the ice between boys and girls as well as the newcomers in the Arts, Science and Pure Maths (Double Maths) streams. During this week, there were inter-Form badminton, hockey, football and netball competitions, with badminton and hockey featuring mixed teams.


U6B1 1972
Seated:Wong Hoi Chan,Ng Chee Peng,R Mahendran,Boo Hian,Mr Law Eng Kee,Chua Swee Hong,E S Shankar,K. Balraj,Lam Num Fatt,Loh Chwi Ling
2nd Row:Tan Kiat Lan, Diana Ooi Hean Siak, Yap Siew Peng, Faridah Ahmad,Fazah Yakin,Tan Tiu Hang,Cho Hung Ling,Low Choi Yin
3rd Row: Sum Yap Loong,Fook Poon Lih,Hew Heng Kow,Foo Chi Chean,Sarmukh Singh,T A Mohan,Aw Kok Teng
4th Row: Chew Yoong Fong, Fong Thian Kuang,Balraj Singh,Cheah Peng Keong,B. Modhushudan,Tan Kai Chah

Thank God we had this Orientation Week, as in my class, L6B1, there appeared to be a solid wall between the sexes. But somehow L6B3, where we had good friends like Abdul Rashid, Chong Yoo Nam, Sallehudin (Hood) and Chan Wai Ming (Rose Chan), turned out to be an exceptionally happening class where things appeared to be buzzing all the time.

I say this without any sense of ego, but it was generally accepted (at least by MCE exam results slips) that L6B1 had (mostly) the brainier lot of boys and girls in the Bio Maths stream. But L6B2 didn't appear to be the Woodstock-type partying class either. Perhaps there is an inverse correlation between the fun and brains groups. I don't know.

Anyway, it was during this week that I ran into two girls, one literally, and the other, in a manner of speech (or speechless as it happened).

There was this L6B1 vs L6B2/3 inter-form mixed hockey clash. Hockey was, of course, right up my alley, and it was my chance to show off to the girls. And sure enough I scored 3 or 4 superb goals. But I got a bit carried away, oblivious to the fact that with half the opposition comprised girls, I should have taken this amateur game easy and not too seriously. In one flowing movement upfield, L6B2's full-back Sushil Kaur stood between me and the goal, and somehow we got tangled up. Everything seemed all right as we got up. The match ended a short while later and I made off towards the field slopes with some classmates to swallow ice-orange drinks and to conduct a post mortem of the game and "happenings."

As I looked down, I spotted Sushil Kaur sitting on the grass in the hockey pitch, being attended to by some girls who were all pointing at her right shin and at me. As it happened, she looked up and saw me and my mates looking down at them. She said something to her friends and there was a sour look on her face. I learnt later that she had received an accidental tap on her right shin from my hockey stick and that it had swollen and bruised up a wee bit. She had told her friends, "Look at him just standing there and looking!" She had branded me a donkey for not apologising.

I swear I had no idea I had caused her any injury. And had I known about it, I would not only have apologised, but also taken her to the Prefects' Room for first-aid treatment. Had I been less dense, I would have realized something was not quite right and gone down back to the field to inquire. But, that was 45 years ago when, in many aspects of social behaviour, especially where it concerned girls, I was as thick as two 2-inch planks. I was blank when it came to some basic etiquette.

I recently heard from Dato Dr. Teoh Siang Chin, Sushil's L6B2 classmate, that he had chapatti dinner with her and her family in Sydney, Australia. It's good to know there was no permanent damage to her right shin.

So, my dear Sushil Kaur, 45 years late but better late than never, here is my unreserved apology for bad form on my part. Perhaps someday soon we can all get together and have a few glasses of beer, wine or whatever your poison might be and laugh over my painful growing years.

What is interesting though is that despite Sushil being 18 AND very attractive, and there being at least four Sikh boys in Lower Six that I can recall - Jaspal, Sarmukh, Balraj and Balwant - and a few more in Upper Six - Manmohan, Pritam - that no one then seemed to have tried to "tackle" her, which is the puerile word we boys used for trying to get to first base with a girl.

And is it not quixotic that it fell to me to "tackle" Sushil in such an unforgettable manner, that for the rest of Form 6, I kept a healthy, respectable distance from her, and she from me?


Girls Hockey Team 1972
Seated: Cheng Bing Ying, Teh Siew Heng (Capt.), Mrs Chew Poon Khiang, Camilla Ya'acob, Chong Tian Chin
Standing: Chen Yan Poh, Tan Kiat Lan, Beatrice Loh, Maria, ?, ?, Loh Chwi Ling, Aw Mong Lim

During that week, some of the Arts girls had been busy preparing banners, decorations and posters for the Lower Six Orientation Week Ball. This they did in a designated classroom during the school mid-morning interval or free periods. Which was why I encountered Kok Po Tho (ex-BBGS) who, having worked through the interval, had snuck off to the tuckshop for a bite and drink. I was there as prefects were allowed to have a quick snack and drink after interval duties and before heading (late) for their classes.

We looked at each other and something passed. She smiled at me and the heavens opened. She had a mixed-Eurasian look. She knew she should not have been there. I knew she should not have been there. She was in blatant infringement of VI school rule no. 405,331 (or was it 622,917?) - Thou Shall Not Be In The School Tuck Shop After 10.45 a.m.

I didn't care. I was prepared to throw caution to the wind. I asked her if she wanted an ice lemonade. She said she preferred a coke. We then sat down on a bench and had the usual scintillating conversation that always followed such encounters:

What's your name?
Which class are you from?
Which school are you from?
Are you Arts or Science?
You like VI?
Have you heard of Led Zep?

I might well have been the guy who looked at his dream girl and knowing the lines, pathetically blurted out "You Are My Density" instead of "...Destiny", in the state that I was. (Of course, those immortal lines were uttered by George McFly in the 1985 movie classic "Back To The Future").

I was sweating buckets by now, and blushing so much someone might have mistaken me for a Red Indian. (Oops, sorry, one must be politically correct nowadays; I meant Native American.) I was in so much anguish I dared not stand up. Thankfully, Po Tho got up and said she had to rush off to class and "See you around."

Of course, we all know what "See you around" means. But in my highly enlightened and excited state, I imagined it might mean we were engaged. Over the next few weeks we ran into each other at various places in school including the Orientation Ball, and had all sorts of silly, juvenile and meaningless "conversations." I also found all sorts of excuses to wander over to her Arts class in the new block, and requested the prefects' secretary, A. Balachandren, to put me down for line-up duty in the Arts block!

However, this brief idyllic "tryst" came to an abrupt halt when someone told me she already had an "outside" boyfriend who had a car and dropped her off and picked her from school every morning and noon. This was too much competition for a bumbling amateur like me. Yes, yes, I was aware of all the clichéd expressions - "Faint Heart Never Won A Fair Lady", "Nothing Ventured, Nothing Gained", "Carpe Diem" and all that. But discretion being the better part of valour, I decided to disengage (read "chicken out").

It was not until 2011 that I discovered Kok Po Tho had later married her Arts classmate Mac Yin Tee, and that both had settled down in Perth. I do not recall that Mac and Po Tho were a pair in VI; romance must have developed post-VI.

I have already written about my "dancing" efforts with freshie Hashimah at the Lower Six Orientation Week Ball. But, all around me the eternal dance between male and female was taking place. Boys were chasing girls, and, more rarely, girls were also chasing boys.

Slowly, the girls to whom all this VI tradition was probably boring, warmed up to the events of the Orientation Week. There was one football match between B1 and B2/B3 combined played in pouring rain. It had tremendous support from the girls who turned up in droves to watch us hilariously slip and slide on our backsides. And when Abdul Rashid sneakily changed the players' order in the badminton clash so that he would face me, the weaker player in the singles match, I was taken aback by Hung Ling's ferocious demand that our side, too, should resort to gamesmanship!

I recall how the ice between my physics lab partner (Dr) Pathmanathan (Pat) and I, and Tan Kiat Lan and her partner, Tan Tiu Hang, melted. For this, I have to thank my grandfather, among whose hobbies was carpentry. There was this physics experiment which required a ruler to be slung by two strings from a beam for hanging weights and calculating moments and the centre of gravity or something. The thing was that the ruler had to be suspended absolutely horizontally and the instruments provided for this was a spirit level. Even to Pat this was a mystery. But, I had seen my grandfather use a spirit level to check that his planks were shaven flat to perfection.

When we had finished our experiment and tabulated the results, I noticed Kiat Lan and Tiu Hang staring at us from the adjacent bench. It cottoned on to thick-as-two-2-inch-plank me that they were stuck because a spirit level was as alien to them as Einstein's Theory of Relativity was then. So, I was the hero for that day as I demonstrated to them and several others how real men dealt with puny matters such as PHYSICS AND SPIRIT LEVELS! What a laugh!

Anyway, Kiat Lan, Tiu Hang and I became fairly good friends after this incident and we had lots of (innocent) fun during a school trip to Thailand that December. I recall a birthday party at Kiat Lan's house in Taman Seputeh where we gnoshed and danced wildly. I lost track of Kiat Lan after Form 6, but managed to re-establish contact with Tiu Hang a few years ago.

There were several other parties that year, none more memorable than the one at (Dr) Chew Yoong Fong's house in Jalan Inai off Jalan Imbi. Everyone from the Arts and Science classes was invited and the highlight of that night was (Dato) Yap Teiong Choon (of Sin Heap Lee fame) doing the go-go on a stool. I don't recall beer being on the menu, but one never knows! Some smoked openly, not caring a hoot that prefects were about.

Wong Kim Lin also threw a great fun-filled party at her house in Jalan Cheras which even my good friend (Dr) Aw Kok Teng remembers.

There was a joint Bio-Science class trip by chartered bus to Templer Park near Rawang. Some, like Hood, travelled first class; they drove up in their own cars. That was one of the best ever outings. We had a picnic there, hiked up the hill and then swam in the cold waters of a shallow lake. Everyone joined in the singing, joking and ribbing. God, what innocent fun-filled days they were - into my heart, an air that kills...

It was during that trip that I got to talk to Rozia Hanis, ex-PM Hussein Onn's daughter, and her cute friend Ruby who floored me when she said I reminded her of the great and handsome Hindi actor, Shashi Kapooor. I was head over heels in it again. Three days later, I approached her in school thinking of proposing, but she dashed my hopes saying she and Hanis would be leaving soon to further their studies in London!

Slowly, but surely all that orientation and interactions and flirtations were producing results. Cupid's arrows were striking at random. Recognised pairs or "couples" started emerging! Class monitor Chua Swee Hong begged me to take a peek at the class register for the birth date of Sook Ping, a Pure Maths girl.

Of course, the first of them was, I suppose, (Dr) Chew Yoong Fong and (Dr) Yap Siew Peng about whom I have written. Other couples I recall were:

1. Chew Yoong Fong (B1) and Yap Siew Peng (BBGS/B1)
2. Sallehudin Shamsudin (B3) and Sakinah Ibrahim (BBGS/A1)
3. (Dr) Tan Kai Chah (B1) and Choo Ching Kit (BBGS/B3)
4. Abdul Rashid (B3) and Monica Chin Wylin (CBN/B3)
5. Yap Chee Keong (B5) and Aw Mong Lim (B5)
6. Kok Po Tho (BBGS/A1) and Outsider

The most unlikeliest couple was Rashid and Monica. But, this was an era where race and religion never mattered. Fong, Hood, Rashid and Yap all had driving licences and cars. I don't know how much this had to do with their confidence and success in their courtings.

Fook Poon Lih had a crush on some (BBGS) girl whose name I cannot recall, nor do I know of the exact relationship, platonic or otherwise, then between Liung Cheong Choo and Bing Ying (BBGS/B3) or Yip Kok Keong and Sally Chong Siew Moi (Cheras/A1).

In at least four instances, romance and marriage sprang up (it would appear) after schooldays:

1. The devoutly Christian pair of (Dr) Kwan Kow (B3) and Cho Hung Ling (BBGS/B1)) who operate a well-known private maternity clinic in Kajang.
2. Low Sek Luen (B4) and Diana Ooi Hean Siak (B1) who live in Montreal, Canada. I think both of them are in the IT sector.
3. Lye Khim Loong (B4) and Hoy Chan (BBGS/B1)
4. Su Chen (B2) and Mei Yok (BBGs/B2)

As for N. Indran, the 1972 School Captain, he was in a class all by himself. Wherever he went, a group of three girls always seemed to follow him - the lovely and energetic Dato Bo Fatimah, Datin Zaleha Ahmad and Datuk Siti Zaleha. There were at least another two girls who formed this set of fun-loving and giggly groupies, who I recently discovered still meet regularly for high tea!

Among the other popular girls were Faridah Ahmad and (Dr/BDS) Fazah Yakin, both from my class, B1. We all suddenly gelled at the end of a chemistry lab period. Fazah started it by teasing T. A. Mohan about his non-VI Chinese girlfriend (Linda) and soon a few others like Pat and Fong and Balraj joined in, and there we were, the chemistry was right!

But really, when you consider that there were about 350 of us, the success rate of under 2% is a staggeringly poor and astonishing statistic.

So, surely, if we are expected to faithfully spend the better part of our adult lives each with one member of the opposite sex, the grounds for this engagement should be laid much earlier in life?

I think the dearth of co-education in Malaysia leads to all sorts of social and sexual problems and poor attitudes and views about women, in adult life. No doubt the priestly class has another opinion.

Anyway, there was this pop song global mega hit that December of 1971 which played over and over in my mind, as we sat in a tour bus in Bangkok. I now dedicate it to those who shared with me the VI years from 1970 to 1972. "You've Got A Friend" by James Taylor is one of those few instances where the remake is better than the original (by Carole King).


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Created: August 14, 2020.
Last update: September 12, 2020