The Good Ol' School Days

Dharm Navaratnam
Sunday, 7 Sep 2014

It is said that you never truly appreciate what you have until it is gone. I think that is so true of my school days.

When I was in school, I never realised how much my school, the Victoria Institution, would influence me. Looking back after 30 years, I see how those years in the school left a lasting impression and moulded me.

We came to the secondary school when we were in Form One. From various ethnic and social backgrounds, we came to school each day from all corners of Kuala Lumpur by bus, car, on our trusty two-wheelers and by foot.

Once inside the school gates, we were simply students, all subject to the same treatment, the same school guidelines and rules - and the same cane too!

We did not wear name tags in those days and teachers who couldn’t remember our names would generally refer to us as Ahmad, Ah Kau and Muthu depending on our ethnic backgrounds. No one took offence. Some teachers who were more politically correct would simply refer to us as “young man.”

Prefects would call everyone “boy”. They would stand on the upper floor overlooking the quadrangle where we lined up and yell out “You boy”, to catch our attention if we fell out of line.

There was hardly a racial slur or derogatory word used against even the naughtiest among us.

There were lots of rules that had to be strictly observed at all times. No walking on the grass. No walking aimlessly along the school corridors. Three students couldn't walk abreast; we could only walk in twos! There were two staircases on either side of the hall, leading up to the office and prefects’ room respectively. Students were not allowed to use the staircase that led to the office as this was only meant for teachers. Only blue or black shorts were allowed for sports activities. Whenever a boy was late to school, he had to run no less than twice around the school compound.

We had to line up before and after school, and prefects would check on or “inspect” students to make sure that every boy had pinned his school badge properly — it had to be above the pocket at a certain height. Our belts had to be of a standard size and thickness with absolutely no fancy buckles on them; shoes and socks couldn’t have any coloured stripes or patterns; branded shoes or pants were not allowed, and all labels had to be ripped off.

Failure to conform would mean the offender had to “go to the back” of the line, where they awaited a ticking off from a prefect, or worse, write lines or draw maps. The worst was when we had to polish the brass hinges of the doors in the school hall. All these tasks were carried out in “Detention Class” after school.

Looking back, these rules were to inculcate discipline, pride, honour and self respect in all that we did. They also built responsibility and we certainly learnt the importance of being punctual.

Extra-curricular activities were a must and each student was supposed to join a uniformed body.

It wasn’t uncommon to see the seniors screaming at the younger boys to get into line, to do push-ups and to follow orders during extra-curricular activities. The seniors took it upon themselves to teach the younger ones different skills, be it in playing an instrument, marching or carrying out first aid tasks — which made it more meaningful. These seniors taught and moulded the juniors and this cycle has continued year in and year out.

This is where the boys learnt the importance of self control, respect and discipline, and to be independent, and to coach and lead others — values and skills that would help shape them once they left school.

There were many other lessons that we learnt indirectly.

We sang the school song with gusto and learnt what the school spirit was. We were disciplined for not remembering the capitals of the various African nations or mathematical theorems, and we learnt what being a scholar was.

We stood at attention at the end of sports day as the flags were lowered and learnt the meaning and value of the school spirit and tradition.

We cheered together when our teams were winning, and even louder when they were not victorious. We were gracious in victory and humble in defeat and we learnt what sportsmanship was. We learnt how to greet our teachers each time and what being a gentleman was.

We all stood together in the blazing sun for causing noise and learnt what solidarity was. We all took the fall for one person’s mistake instead of ratting on someone and we learnt what camaraderie was. We learnt how to be brothers even when there was no blood link between us.

For over 120 years, many a young boy has walked through those hallowed halls that have given him his formative education. Many a young boy was moulded and inspired in the classroom, in the field and in the quadrangle. Boys grew to become men in this school. The school has produced many luminaries, captains of industry, scholars, educators, sportsmen and other Malaysians who have contributed to society in some way or another.

There was a common thread that united these boys and continues to unite them as men.

With the recent Merdeka Day festivities and Malaysia Day coming soon, I must point out that we are all Malaysia’s own sons. It is with honour that I count myself in the ranks of the Old Boys of the Victoria Institution.

Also see:
Stories From My Schooldays
by Dharm Navaratnam

VI The V.I. Web Page

Created: March 6, 2018.
Last update: March 6, 2018.