August 15, 2013

The Victoria Institution remains one of the top choices
for secondary education. Pic by Danial Noordin

Where big names went to study


BUILDING CHARACTER: Victoria Institution old boys reminisce about classroom days where big names went to study

KUALA LUMPUR: Who would have thought that famous people like Tan Sri Ramon Navaratnam, Razif Sidek and R. Sivarasa were naughty when they were in school at the Victoria Institution (VI)?

Yesterday was the VI's 120th anniversary and in conjunction with this, the Asian Strategic and Leadership Institute's centre of public policy studies chairman, former national badminton player and Subang member of parliament, respectively, shared their memories with the New Straits Times.

Navaratnam, who attended the VI from 1949 to 1954, said he was a naughty student and was sent to detention several times.

"I used to arrive late to school because I always woke up late. Because if this, I would be sent to the Detention Class. I even got knocks on the head from the science teacher, Mr. Lim Eng Thye, if my performance was not up to his standard."

Navaratnam also spoke of how he and several classmates got into trouble when they shot rubber bands at a newspaper that a teacher was reading.

"There was this teacher who was a sports enthusiast, but was disliked by us. He would always read the sports section of a newspaper at his desk. We would irritate him by shooting rubber bands at him."

However, one day, the teacher made small holes in the newspaper, Navaratnam said. By doing so, he "discovered his perpetrators."

Navaratnam said the teacher then slapped him and his friends. He added that corporal punishment in schools was accepted during his time.

As for Razif, badminton was the reason he joined VI in 1975.

"The school was revered for its academic and sports performance. This led the Badminton Association of Malaysia to ensure that I enrolled in a school that provided the best facilities and opportunities for me to train professionally."

He was the first among his five brothers to join the school and became the Malaysian Schools Sports Council champion in the under 15 and under 18 categories, in both singles and doubles, in 1976 and 1979, respectively.

He also had his mischievous tendencies and one of them was causing a ruckus during the morning assembly, which resulted in him often being made to sit outside the hall in the sweltering heat.

Post-schooling years, Razif created history by becoming the first Malaysian athlete to win an Olympic Games bronze medal in Barcelona, Spain, in the doubles category, with his younger brother, Jalani in 1992.

Sivarasa said he enjoyed the years he spent at the VI as they played a pivotal role in shaping the man he is today.

"I was mostly involved in the Drama and Debating Societies. I was the first president of the Interact Club when I was in Form Six."

Sivarasa said he was a non-conformist and often grew his hair long, which quashed his chances of becoming a prefect or librarian.

"The school maintained strict discipline and talking back to a teacher meant a private caning session in the principal's private chambers," he said, adding that he was once caned for talking back to a teacher.

The VI is an all-boys school, but girls are admitted at the Form Six level. Sivarasa cheekily said he and his friends did "meet several pretty girls during our time."

As a former Victorian and member of the Victoria Institution Old Boys' Association (Vioba), I found the coverage on the Victoria Institution (VI) in the report "Where big names went to study" (NST, Aug 15) interesting. It brought back fond memories of my alma mater.

I completed my Form Five in 1963 and played rugby, cricket and football for my house, Yap Kwan Seng (the light blue House), and later, played cricket for the VIOBA for a few years.

My meetings with the then Prince of Brunei Sir Hassanal Bolkiah (now Sultan Hassanal Bolkiah) during rugby sessions were always exciting. He was much bigger then, seldom smiled and was a stern-looking student. He was also part of the VI cadet Corps and Band. He always had armed guards and his food was brought from the Brunei palace in the city. Despite being highly protected, Sultan Hassanal was never accorded any special treatment and this was the beauty of the VI.

In those days, the VI was a great rival in rugby to Kajang High School and the annual match between the two schools never failed to draw a maximum crowd turnout.

The school's Rugby Captain then was Lim Chooi Tee.

Another memory was that of hearing the swishing sound of the cane coming down on buttocks from the headmaster's room. Although corporal punishment was accepted in those years, it did not fail to instil fear in us.

The VI was also famous for its 25m pool. I used to forge my father's signature and fake an illness since I was aquaphobic and acrophobic.

I can never forget my VI days. It was a school filled with the sons of "who's who" - illustrious people and cabinet ministers.

Also, to get into the VI was like breaking into Fort Knox or the Bank of England.

Tarun Kumar Sheth, Kuala Lumpur

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