Dorakim, the first School Peon

The Victorian of August 1926 reported the retirement of Dorakim, the school peon, after more than 30 years service with the school, a period longer than that of Mr B. E. Shaw, the V.I. Headmaster under whom he served for 28 years. On March 17, 1926, a meeting of the staff was held in the school hall for the purpose of presenting Dorakim with the sum of seventy-eight dollars collected among the masters in recognition of his long period of service. The Head Master, Mr G. C. Davies, made a brief speech in which he referred to Dorakim's excellent record in the school. Mr Mohamed Ameen Akbar, an old Boy and teacher, translated the remarks in Malay to Dorakim. In reply, he thanked the masters for their gift.

Dorakim may have been a mere peon but he must have been a prominent enough icon in the old V.I. to merit two interviews and a full page photograph in the school magazine. As gleaned from the interviews, his duties included tolling the school bell to mark the end of each period, keeping track of the time on his gold watch. Each end of day, according to old Victorian Syed Shaidali, he limped behind Mr Shaw, carrying for him in a bamboo tray the days' complement of exercise books to be marked. This unlikely pair trudging daily across the school field from Block 1 towards the Headmaster's bungalow must surely be one of the enduring images of the old V.I.

One can only guess at the totality of the events Dorakim witnessed in his years at the school - the growing pains of a fledgling school, the procession of famous personalities who dropped in at the V.I., the challenges of the Great War. Following are the two interviews with him which provide glimpses of life as it was in the old V.I. and in Malaya in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. The first interviewer, identified as "O.B.M." is almost certainly Othman bin Mohamed, the first V.I. School Captain who later went on to a successful career in government. The identity of the second interviewer, "A.B." is not known.

If only Dorakim had talked just a little longer....

Venturous Interview: The Oldest member of the Staff

O.B.M., The V.I. Echo, April 1923

e is the oldest of the Old Boys, that is, those whose reminiscences of the V.I. go back to over a quarter of a century ago must remember very distinctly the familiar figure of the senior school peon, DORAKIM.

Today, his figure is equally familiar to the numerous Old Boys' sons who are present students of the school. The editor thought no more popular subject for our first interview could be found than Wak Dorakim and so, accordingly, I went off to seek him.

I found him sitting on the front verandah intently gazing at the busy vehicles passing by.

"Well, Dorakim, what do you think of all those kereta?"

"Oh! When I first came to this school there were very few to be seen."

"How long have you been working in this school then, Dorakim?"

"Sudah dua puloh lapan tahun; ini tahun masok dua puloh sembilan."

He then related his history to me which I will summarise. This old man came to Malaya at the age of 16 years when Kuala Lumpur was a tiny village. He was an immigrant from Semarang. He worked in the General Hospital for five years as a tukang kebun. He left because he was ordered to dig graves. Then he went as a tukang kebun to a small missionary school which was then situated somewhere behind the present Selangor Club before that building was erected and before the railway line was made. The school was closed down and he had to seek other employment.

"Dorakim, tell me how you first came to this school?"

Dorakim and Shaw "One lucky morning I went to Mr Shaw and asked for work; Mr Shaw demanded my testimonials which I produced to him, having obtained them from my previous employers; and I was engaged as a tukang kebun."

"Was the V.I. then as it is now?"

"Bukan. Block 1 was the only building." He went on to say that he contentedly worked as a tukan kebun for one year.

"Well then, how did you become peon?"

Here, the old man's face lit up and he thought very fully of that event. I will relate what he said.

"One day, Mr. Shaw told me not to work as a tukang kebun any longer but to become his peon in the office."

"At first I refused because I thought I was incapable of doing the work, but Mr. Shaw said that I need not be afraid for he would teach me the work: thus I began and so have continued ever since. Ini sebab saya kerja betul dan tiada buat apa-apa salah."

The old man could retire on a small pension if he liked but he prefers to continue working.

Since Mr Shaw's retirement, Dorakim continually enquires about him, and one of his proudest possessions is a photograph of Mr. Shaw and family.

This old man sometimes may be heard muttering, "Three thousand ducats for three months and Antonio bound." I asked him the reason for this. He explained that at a concert in this school there was acted The Merchant of Venice. He often heard this phrase during the rehearsals and has remembered it ever since.

Suddenly, he gave me a pat on my right shoulder at the same time most carefully pulling his famous watch from his tunic pocket.

"Wah! Another two minutes to one; run away to your class," he said. Instead of doing what the old man suggested, I could not refrain from watching him limp to the bell-rope which he has tugged for so many times to warn so very many different ears.

An Interview with Dorakim

A.B., The Victorian, March, 1924

Dorakim, at the extreme right.
Mr B.E.Shaw with his staff in the mid-1910s. Dorakim is at the extreme right.

he occasion when I had to interview Dorakim, perhaps the oldest member of the school, personally, is still fresh in my mind. The fact which inspired me to seek this interview I must not promulgate but all I dare tell is that I did this against my will, for though I have known this man for a long time, he is in no mood with me for an event of trivial molestation which had provoked resentment against me. But, however, I just had to do so, for neither the real reason nor any other which was spurious could convince anyone of the futility of such an interview.

Reluctant as I was, and with the cold grip of fear clinging with loving tenacity to my heart, I approached the Prefects' Room where I had been told I could see him. My heart began to beat so hard under my coat that I could hear the noise and see the movements made by it, and, standing on the threshold, I saw two insolent eyes, with the flames of hatred, being fixed on me. As I approached and sat down, cold beads of perspiration moistened my face, and under cover of a genial smile I managed to hide my real emotions.

Looking on the ground I stammered, "D-do w-why I have come here?" and looked at him askance. "I understand you want me to tell you all that I know about H.H. Sultan Abdul Samat and his descendants," he said; I answered him with a nod of affirmation.

For some minutes we sank into taciturnity, and then I broke the profound silence with this question, "Have you lived long enough to see H. H. Sultan Abdul Samat?"

His lips parted into a friendly smile which gave me new courage, and said, "Yes, the first and the last time I set eyes on his Highness was when he came to Kuala Lumpur years ago accompanied by Mr. Sayers. Never in my life have I seen such a graceful and glorious personality, and the memory of this accidental meeting shall live with me forever."

"When did you first see His Highness Sultan Suleiman?" I asked. "In the infancy of the school," he said, "H. H. the Sultan with other members of the royal family and some Europeans, paid a visit to the school in which were assembled boys of the three Institutions in Kuala Luinpur, who displayed their skill and manoeuvring in drill before his Highness, who, on his departure, confessed that really he had been thoroughly entertained and poured a torrent of thanks to Mr. Shaw: I almost forgot to mention that during his presence at the sports, I was greatly honoured by bringing a chair on which H. H. sat, and when he departed he gave me $10/- for which I thanked him with due respect."

"What state of condition was Selangor in when you first came here from Java?" I asked. "Well, there is nothing of great importance that I still retain in memory, except that Selangor was not under the protection of the British flag - though there were some Europeans most of whom I am proud to say, I knew intimately". Here, he donned an expression of mingled pride and sorrow; he was sorry perhaps at the thought that he could not hide from himself the fact that they had either gone to "the land from whose bourne no traveller returns" or returned to England and then continued.

"To return to the former subject, I nearly forgot to add that His Highness Sultan Suleiman has two sons who were both educated here. During their study in school I found time always to indulge in playing with them (for then I was young) and soon grew to love them. After two years at school they departed for Kuala Kangsar, there to get better provisions of intellectual necessaries before they started their Journey of Life. Often, in my solitude as I sit and gaze into infinity, my mind wanders back to those days when I used to have such a wonderful time with them." He hung his head down in sorrow to recollect the events of the past life and then fell into a reverie.

He was drawn to attention from his little dream by my question. "Do you happen to have known or know still any Malay aristocrats who were educated here in the Victoria Institution?" Again his peculiar lips parted, this time wearing an expression as if to ridicule my statement. "Certainly my lad; first of all, the two sons of the late Raja Muda (Raja Laut) were educated here and, when they had graduated, emerged into field of brilliant careers that awaited them. Then comes the distinguished member of the Selangor State Council, Raja Hagi Bot, whose son Raja Sulaiman, at present a probationer to Assistant Commissioner of Police, was once a conspicuous figure in the school.

"These men too played important parts in the history of the school - Abdul Hamid bin Datok Kaya; Rajah Tahair, now Assistant District Officer, Kaajang; Abdul Manam; Mohamed Nazier and Raja Osman, etc."

His attention was so absorbed by this conversation that he forgot to ring the 10.45 a.m. bell, and when I did remind him of it, it was already 11 o'clock. He ran at his topmost speed - though that was still very slow indeed, but that was faster than he had ever run before - to the bell and when he did get there and ring the bell he was already breathless. He came back, wiped the perspiration on his forehead and then continued.

"Sons of the late Kathi Osman of Kuala Lumpur, too, began and finished their education here. Ibrahim, now superintendent of the Boarding House, was rather successful in school life and the work which now demand his attention is indeed very respectable. Abdul Rahman, the second son of the above-mentioned Kathi has also been successful in planning and laying down the foundation of his happiness on a secure basis.

"Last, but not least, comes Abdul Majid who is now high in the people's esteem as being the Headmaster of Matong College in Perak."

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