The Analekta Story
t had to happen. The science boys had their Scientific Victorian and it was only a matter of time before calls for a similar arts publication grew shriller. The number of post-certificate arts students in 1953 when the science journal first appeared was minuscule – perhaps a few handfuls who stayed only five terms before leaving in September for the University. But by 1957 a critical mass of arts students drawn from the V.I. and from other K.L., Seremban and Klang schools was finally in place. It was the heady era of growth and innovation under headmaster and geographer Dr G E D Lewis who gave his blessings to any student initiative for extra-curricular activities provided an advisory teacher could be coaxed to act as figurehead. The boys and girls would do the rest.
The May 1957 issue of the Seladang editorial announced the imminent debut of “the V.I. Economics Review” to be published by the V.I. Sixth Formers. In the same breath it wondered aloud as to the viability of yet another school publication, what with the limited number of advertisers in Kuala Lumpur town. No doubt some were staunch V.I. supporters, and, indeed, were Old Boys themselves, it allowed, but, surely, might not there be a limit to their benevolence? And besides might not the subscribers, the V.I. boys and girls, be a little overburdened financially, having to support FOUR school publications?
Enter Hamzah bin Majeed, the Mock Elections landslide winner of 1956, playwright of that wicked Merdeka parody of the same year and erstwhile gadfly of the establishment. Replying to the Seladang, he explained that there had also been proposals to publish a V.I. Historical Review and a V.I. Literary Review. It made sense to combine all such endeavours into a single arts journal - not just the Economics Review - which would have articles on English, Malay, history, geography and economics. The cost of the new journal, he promised, would be kept as low as possible.
Hamzah was, of course, a shoo-in for editor of the new paper on the block. He was a third generation Victorian to boot, his grandfather having attended the old V.I. on the banks of the Klang River. Active in debating and drama, Hamzah played Nerissa, a servant to Portia in the 1952 Merchant of Venice, in the post-war resurrection of the V.I. drama movement. In 1953 he had edited the 7C Youth Herald, a cyclostyled collection of articles and jokes which made a modest profit in sales around the school. By the end of 1954 he was already promoted the Seladang joint Feature Editor with Quan Siew Khin.
There had been discussions at the end of 1956 between arts students and teachers, Mr A. Milne and Dr. Kathleen Jones, following suggestions by Dr Lewis for a arts journal. It was decided that this new journal would be radically different from the Scientific Victorian in both concept and format. The latter - the official mouthpiece of the Science and Maths Society - was a collection of general articles on science, tailored for public consumption and heavy on the "wow" aspects of science - quizzes, quick facts, puzzles, give-aways. Their arts journal, free of affiliation to any school club or society by contrast, would be a serious collection of “think pieces”, researched, crafted and classified by departments – English, Malay, History and so on. It would be targeted at the upper secondary arts readership, in the V.I. and other schools. Coined by one of the teachers, the name of this august publication, would be Analekta – a Greek word meaning “writings or ideas gathered together”. A school-wide competition for best cover design was won by fifth former Yahya Nordin. It was a simple design and consisted of a beige-coloured cover with stripes running down the left. (The covers of later issues would have a signature light blue colour instead.)
The enthusiasm for the Analekta was contagious. Never mind that Hamzah's "editorial office" was just two tables cobbled together in one of the arts classrooms of the new Sixth Form block. His classmates - essentially his Merdeka cast - rallied round to help. As the last scaffolding was taken down in the Merdeka Stadium next door, in Hamzah's makeshift office, the last Analekta proofs were hurriedly corrected and printer's dummies snipped and pasted in place for the new publication. The new V.I. baby come into the world just weeks before another baby, an independent Malaya, was proclaimed a mere hundred yards away.
Perhaps caution was the watchword for this inaugural issue for Hamzah was nominally "joint editor" with Dr Jones. There were no student editors for the various departments, only teachers: Messrs Bennett (English), Jaffar Menantu (Malay), Lam Kok Hon (Geography), John Doraisamy (Economics and Government) and Dr Jogindra Singh (History) but copy came entirely from the student body. Only two students served officially on the editorial board – Amarjit Singh Verick as Business Manager and Krishen Jit as Editorial Assistant.
Hamzah's editorial declared that the main responsibilities of a good educational institution was to provide an all-round education – to produce citizens with a balanced outlook, not “just people with a scientific limp or the gawkish affectations of pseudo-sophistications.” Plain literacy if devoid of originality and imagination, he contended, was not enough either. The country was a meeting place for any ideas and cultures and should produce intellectuals of calibre. What education owed Malaya, Hamzah insisted, was an identity. The spirit of enquiry and ideas lent excitement to study and research and led to a broader outlook. "... The Analekta was the V.I.’s contribution to that process."
1,500 copies were printed and sold to pupils of the upper forms. Copies were peddled in other Kuala Lumpur schools while many more schools elsewhere, from Penang Free School to Raffles Institution in Singapore received a complimentary copy each. Even the University of Malaya library in Singapore was sent a copy which today is guarded like gold in the rare books section! Four pages of ads – including a full page taken out by Hamzah’s family business, C. L. A. Majeed, and a half page by Krishen Jit’s family textile business, Dyalchand Amarsingh - helped defray the printing costs.
Between the covers it was as if the literary flood gates had opened to release a torrent of pent-up talent. Eight think pieces packed the English Section including a poem by Hamzah and a short story - the first of many more to come in his writing career - by M. Shamughalingam, the Seladang editor who had initially voiced doubts over the viability of the publication. They jostled with an overview of poetical themes by Zahariah bte Mohd Hashim and a discussion of Jane Austen’s characters by Indira Pillay. Future drama producer and critic, Krishen Jit discussed the Indian epic poem, The Mahabharata, while future radio producer and TV sitcom star, Tan Jin Chor, explored the question, Why study English Literature?
The literary offerings of the Malay Section comprised three poems including one, Aku bukan boneka, by Form Five science student Khalid Musbah, while Ariffin Mohd Yassin penned a survey, Persuratan Melayu sa-pintas lalu. The Geography Section included a survey of squatters in Kuala Lumpur by Isher Singh Sekhon. It was an eye-opener to read that a quarter of Kuala Lumpur's 400,000 people were squatters. In a three-and-a-half page analysis, Isher Singh examined the reasons for people flocking to Kuala Lumpur and the problems arising therein. Maureen Siebel's topic was The Klang River, an innovative look at a familiar river. With a geographer’s eye, she followed the Klang River from source to its mouth 90 miles away. The river, bane of the old V.I. in High Street because of floods, had actually been diverted three times in total, Maureen's research revealed. The first time was in 1884, then again in 1888. Finally, between 1926 and 1934, the many kinks of the river below the High Street police station were straightened.
The History Section started off with a Phang Kon Hee piece asking Has history a meaning?, a profound work by a schoolboy that could easily have been passed off as a university term paper. Amarjit Singh Verick examined Communism in Malaya in a piece of topical interest given that the communist insurgency was officially still on-going. A companion article by Sieh Kok Ying examined the resettlement and problems of rural squatters brought about by that same insurgency. Both writers touched on sensitive issues that the public media of that day would not have addressed. Still other pieces covered piracy in Malayan waters, the Dowager Empress of China and the role of arts and crafts in Malayan history.
In the Economics and Government Section, future University of Malaya history lecturer Rollins Bonney discussed the question, Is the United Nations necessary?, an insightful look at global political machinations of the day. Delving into the aims of the U.N. Charter, Rollins critically examined them against the issues of the day - Algeria, Hungary and Cyprus. Phang Kon Hee, now wearing an economist’s hat, returned to argue for the establishment of a central bank in newly independent Malaya. He obviously ate what he baked as, after graduation from university, he joined Bank Negara as a senior economist! Hamzah Majeed and Maureen Siebel turned up here too to discuss, respectively, Malaya’s new Parliament and Automation and Modern Society.
At the end of the day, the Analekta had earned its wings and over the next several years its contributors would comprise many outstanding Victorians destined to fill the halls of academia, corporate board rooms and the corridors of political power. And what a roll call! Future academics included history lecturer Krishen Jit, Hamzah's successor in 1958, who wrote a well-researched piece for the Economics and Government section comparing the powers of the British Prime Minister with that of the American President. Foreshadowing his future as doyen of the Malaysian drama scene, Krishen Jit also contributed Directions in Modern Drama to the English section. Goh Yoon Fong, a future history professor and colleague of Krishen Jit, wrote on the Manchus in China. The Hen Pecked Husband in the 1958 issue, by Leong Siew Yue (later Siew-Yue Killingley), was most probably her first ever published story. Changing tack, she examined Li Po: Poet of Nature the following year. Not surprisingly, Siew-Yue went on to be a writer, poet and linguistics professor, with a slew of poems, plays, short stories and learned papers to her name.
K P Kannan Kutty who wrote Nationalism and Colonialism in South East Asia, Goh Joon Hai (Confucianism in Chinese history), Cheong Kee Cheok (The character of the Indian Mutiny) all later became academics at the University of Malaya. M. Pathmanathan's 1959 contribution, A Note on the Constitution of Singapore the year the colony achieved self-government foreshadowed his passionate interest for politics and government. Today Professor Pathmanathan helms the Centre for Policy Studies. Wan Ahmad Hulaimi, fluently bilingual in English and Malay, could just as effortlessly pen James Thurber: An appreciation and God save the Queen’s English, as he could two Malay poems, Pronounciamento and Choretan Hari Natal for the Analekta. Hulaimi went on to read and lecture law with his V.I. senior, Rafiah Salim, who herself contributed two Analekta pieces for the Malay section - Meperkatakan sadikit tentang Sajak and the other Hamka – Pujangga Romantis yang berdasarkan Islam. Rafiah is today Vice-Chancellor of Universiti Malaya.
On an equally lofty perch on the other side of the causeway, stands Tan Lee Meng, a judge of the Supreme Court of Singapore and former Dean of the NUS Law Faculty and Deputy Vice-Chancellor. Displaying flashes of his future legal skills, he penned the 1966 Commonwealth, whither art thou?, a six-page examination of its role and purpose. Then, donning his historian and political scientist's hat, Lee Meng wrote for the next Analekta a critique of the Mainland China and Taiwan standoff in The Chinese Republic. Voon Phin Keong’s 1961 piece on World population and its problems seemed to presage his first vocation as Professor of Geography at Universiti Malaya. Likewise, his other contribution, in the History section of the same issue, on relations between China and 15th century Malacca, foreshadowed his present position as director of the Centre for Malaysian Chinese Studies. Pamela Sodhy, today a history professor at Georgetown University in Washington D.C. was a non-contributing editor in 1964. A most unusual article in the 1963 issue was entitled Conjuring (Magic) and Hypnotism in a new catch-all General Section. It was written by Yee Thiam Fook who, after his V.I. schooldays, converted his pastime into a life career. He is today a professional magician residing in Italy with the stage name of Shaun Yee!
Another high profile personality was Mohamed Noordin Sopiee (later Tan Sri), future chairman and CEO of the Institute of Strategic and International Studies Malaysia. One would like to think that Noordin Sopiee first honed his analytical skills in the V.I. with Analekta pieces like The Communist Thesis: A Critique, Lloyd's Open Door and Some Obstacles to industrialisation in under-developed countries. Many captains of industry, too, made their writing debut in the journal, including Datuk Mizanur Rahman, future Managing Director of the Chemical Corporation of Malaysia (A Survey of Rubber) and N. Sadasivan, Director-General-to-be of MIDA (The Essential Qualities of a Democracy) Then there's Shiew Wan Shing, future Group Managing Director of UMW Holdings, who surveyed Cocoa in Malaya as well as Liu Tai Fung, destined to helm the various Kerry companies of the Kuok Group in Hong Kong, who edited the 1960 Analekta and contributed An appraisal of the British Judicial System. Returning from the 1964 V.I. tour of India, R. Thillainathan was moved to ask Why not a Ministry of Family Planning? in the 1965 Economics section. A top scholar in his university days, he went on to be firstly a professor of economics, then to helm several local banks, before taking up his present stratospheric position as Genting Berhad's CFO. His junior, Gan Wee Beng, followed a similar trajectory. Writing Marxian Economics: a Critical Appraisal on his own and co-authoring with Cheong Kwok Yew a 1967 case study of the rural economy of a fishing village in his native Trengganu, he served as an academic before leaving for the corporate world to be a senior economic advisor to the Monetary Authority of Singapore. Wee Beng now sits in the commanding heights of the CIMB empire. M. Shanmughalingam (Datuk today), penned a 1958 Analekta review of the economic progress in Malaya a year after Merdeka, an ideal dry run for his future role as economic advisor to the Minister of Finance. He runs his own consultation company Trilogic Sdn Bhd today, whose corporate colours are light blue and dark blue!
As for our pioneering editor, Hamzah Majeed (also Datuk today), he charted a glittering career in government, serving as Director-General of three departments as well as secretary-general of the Ministry of Culture and Tourism. Now in the private sector, Hamzah is tirelessly engaged in international business ventures as well as his family-owned private education interests.
There was no 1962 Analekta. Old Victorians and old teachers in the arts stream of that year unfortunately cannot recall the circumstances of this. It is a deliciously speculative thought, that had there been a 1962 issue, two of today's well-known personalities would certainly have contributed articles, or even edited the journal. One would have been Datuk Rafidah Aziz, the Minister for Trade and Industry today who launched her working career as an economics lecturer. A Rafidite treatise on rural economics perhaps? Her classmate, Chuah Guat Eng, a published writer whose first novel, Echoes of Silence, is a prescribed text in the English departments of some Malaysian universities, would almost certainly have contributed an article, a poem or even a short story.
There were already hints of a malaise in the school's extra-curricular scene by that time. The relentless annual surge in new societies and clubs over the past five years had reached the limit of the membership supply lines. There were some forty clubs/societies/uniformed bodies vying for members to fill their thinning membership rolls. Victorians were having less and less time for more and more clubs. This was, of course, on top of the perennially heavy demands of the school curriculum and unceasing Inter-House competitions. A 1963 Seladang editorial lamented the ominous spate of interclass schisms, anti-arts or anti-science cliques, and even a deep divide between Upper Six and Lower Sixth pupils. Rival groups, if they turned up, reportedly sat apart from each other at society meetings.
In April 1964, under the aegis of the new Headmaster, Mr V. Murugasu, the Senior Literary and Debating Society, the Geographical Society, the Historical Society, the Economics Society held two long seminal meetings. After much heated debate, they decided to merge into an new all-encompassing entity, the V.I. Arts Union. All members of the Sixth Form arts community would be automatic members while Form Five Arts students and science students could become associate members. In one stroke there were three fewer Societies in the school and, hopefully, reduced demands on members' time. One consequence of this cosmic event was that the Analekta now had a parent, becoming in the process the official organ of the Arts Union. Its role vis-à-vis its parent mirrored that between the Scientific Victorian and the Science and Maths Society. Like its science counterpart, the Analekta would henceforth publish, together with its think pieces, the annual report of its parent body as well as the various section reports of the school exhibitions.
But all was not completely well. While the Analekta continued publishing and the school's arts population dutifully supported it, the V.I.'s main rival schools were giving it the cold shoulder. (Things were a little better in the girls schools and in PJ schools though!) Its circulation had plummeted to around 500 by 1965, which required a subsidy from the school to keep the journal afloat.
To be fair, the Malaysia of the sixties was no longer the Malaya of the late fifties. The values of Malaysian society were changing, slowly but perceptibly. The pressures on the Malaysian schoolchild, the V.I. pupil especially, were enormous. Under the Murugasu regime, there was compulsory participation in extramural activities without any let up in academic and sporting expectations. Errant pupils queued outside the Headmaster's office to receive a stroke of the cane for each subject failed in the trial exams. In 1963 the education department began a policy of “localization”, taking in First Formers based on the proximity of their homes to the school. The traditional feeder school arrangement was being dismantled dragging down the quality of pupils joining the V.I. Reading anything other than one’s textbooks became a dying habit, and writing - good writing - a lost skill. Eventually something had to give and, in the case of V.I. student publications, the dearth of contributors and readers became a recurring annual headache. Even the Victorian, the venerable school magazine with its guaranteed captive readership, needed the Headmaster to coerce contributions with liberal strokes of his rotan. What hope was there for the Analekta?
In 1967, a guest editorial by former teacher Mr John Doraisamy, then a lecturer in education at the University, decried the situation in many Malaysian schools, stating that "the whole aim of pupils and teachers is to cram for the various public examination to the utter neglect of personality development.” The time might come, he feared, when thousands of pupils would leave school without being able to write one sentence of correct English nor be able to grasp one passage of an editorial. (Crucially, too, 1967 was the year when the Bahasa education policy kicked in, with Standard One taught in Bahasa for the first time. The inexorable decline of English was beginning.) Doraisamy concluded: "It is my frank opinion that materialistic values which dominate Malaysian society also dominate the daily lives of the teachers. In too many classrooms in our country it is a case of ‘the hungry sheep look up and are not fed’."
Writing in the journal's Bowsprit and steering a similar tack, the 1967 editor, Wan Ahmad Hulaimi, now a free-lance journalist in London, noted bluntly that “a decade of creative writing has brought it to a point of decadence – that writing for its own pleasure is, in this institution, a dying art. Optimists have attributed this unproductivity to literary dormance, pressure of work and sheer laziness; and that we are merely experiencing a period of lull. While hoping that they are far from wrong, we still think demise is a better word, for in the world of creative writing, laziness and death are dangerously synonymous. The existing state of affairs is a cause of concern as it is symptomatic of the future of publications of this nature.”
Alas, his words were prophetic. Despite a fresh cover design featuring a photograph of the school overlaid with the title The Tenth Analekta, sales were tepid. A botched marketing campaign to extend sales beyond Selangor brought that evil day ever closer. The Analekta failed to appear in 1968; Mr Murugasu probably decided to let the patient die to save the subsidy the school had been pumping in The May 13 incident resulted in a blanket cancellation of just about every major iconic school event in 1969 including the annual school sports and the school play. The Analekta, if ever it was even considered for resuscitation or resurrection, would have been low down in the list of priorities.
For a while it lived on in spirit in the memories of some V.I. pupils. There were some token attempts to revive it in the early nineteen seventies when the Arts Union distributed gratis to its members cyclostyled articles stapled together under the title “Analekta”. The Union had hoped, perhaps vainly, that these would be of some use to its members in the year-end HSC exams. By the mid-seventies - with the entire secondary system virtually converted from English - the raison d'être for such specialty publications had gone and the Analekta disappeared quietly into the night.
Created: 1 June 2007.
Last update: 29 October 2007.