The World Anthem

We are all of one Race, the Human Race.

Tuesday, 1 September 2009

1968 (part 1) – some are born to teach

To 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 (John) Jacques Rousseau, Robespierre, Danton and Marat to the struggle among the monarchy, aristocracy, bourgeois (middle class - pronounced as boor-zhwah) and the proletariat (working class) 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’d 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 (B.A./B.T. Travencore, Kerala, S.India. Anyone know what the B.T. stands for?). Anyway Siva only taught us that 1 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 Thuraisingam 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'.

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 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 was I 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 who was seated next to him, 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 ‘yindian yaccent’ 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 EPL English commentators referred to ‘Joesay’ Mourinho when he was manager at Chelsea. Help!!

For dedication, hard work and caring about her students, you could not fault her. 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 $ 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 7A’s 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 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 for 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. being made to stand on one’s chair which became lethal (minimum - 3 of the best) if HM Murugasu happened to pass by the classroom!

2. doing twenty squat-ups while holding on to the earlobes cross-armed (mild)

3. ear lobe pulling (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? Anyone out there who can help?

But sometimes it’s 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 U15 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 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 ‘ThunderkicksChew 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, EJ 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 encounter 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 that trip to Kuala Kangsar and football match with MCKK was something that all who played for the teams or came 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. Inevitably there were delays at several junctions and we 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, since a week later he, along with Wong Chee Kong and Julian Fong were appointed to the VI Prefects’ Board!

- to be continued (next instalment – more about MCKK, FAS U15 Cup Final, Michael Nettleton, Mokhtar Dahari. As well as Raja Azlan & Hariharan (Ramachandran’s younger brother) from the U15 hockey squad).