or motivation, male bonding and team spirit
old turkey buzzard by jose feliciano
coconut woman by harry belafonte
The strength of the bonds of love, friendships, camaraderie and relations wax and wane throughout life. Between siblings, sons and fathers and daughters and mothers, and husbands and wives and old lovers, classmates and schoolmates.
When it endures for 40 years and more, then there's something special and magical there!
Nothing was planned that way. We did not have Steven Covey's 'The Seven Habits of Highly Successful People' or Jack Canfield's 'Chicken Soup for the Soul' to motivate or guide us. Most, including me, were not even aware of or had read Dale Carnegie's 'How to Win Friends and Influence People.'
Instinct and the VI spirit drove us.
I have been having an interesting debate with Jaspal Singh, an old classmate, and others about us 'meek lamb gathered for the slaughter,' lemming/herd behaviour and the influence on us, positive, negative or neutral, of authoritarian figures like legendary VI HM V.Murugasu and teachers like Valentine Manuel, Rajaratnam, Bernard Koay, E.J Lawrence, Ho Sai Hong, Yap Yew, Mrs. Yeap Kin Yin, Cheok Cheo Foh, Mrs. Balaraman, Terence Jayatilaka, Leonard De Vries, S.Peethamparam, Dharam Prakash, Mrs.Somasundram, Mrs. Teh and others.
Jaspal's honest and forthright opinion is that we succeeded despite, and not because of, Murugasu and his type; that, like Dr.Mahathir's 22-year premiership, we should perhaps judge by what more we could have achieved and not just what we collared, bullied and cowed as we were! Indisputably, some of the better respected and loved teachers provided us much needed balance and relief!
I have not put out a hit contract on Jaspal in London (I do have some Sri Lankan pro-liberation fighter friends from the old days there) because, quite frankly, I admire that kind of openess and confident assessment. Let's not pussyfoot around these things. Speak your mind because understanding these issues will do us all a world of good. Tomorrow you might have to go see the school HM because your son or grandaughter got into an entanglement with the school authorities or have to decide which school to send your wards to.
My opinion is that, on balance, Muru had a positive effect on us, though the memory of a vicious assault by Muru on Bryan Pereira in the school hall for skipping athletics practice, still chills me!! Maybe it's because I'm the Theory Y type. I have no doubt TODAY students, parents and society will not accept or tolerant that genre of headmasters; it was a totally different era. But I have run into Bryan here and there at the RSC in recent times and he wasn't moping about like a limping old wounded tiger or a depressed father with a chip on his shoulder who goes twice a week for psychiatric therapy waiting to pounce on unsuspecting old ex-VI HM's and satan teachers for a quick kill and blood-sucking! In fact, he looked quite the opposite - positive and chirpy!!
Then again, we have Abdul Hamid who says he still shakes whenever he thinks about the 6 strokes he received from Muru (the last of which was so severe he lifted Muru's desk off its legs with his bare hands) after Cikgu Shuib Kassa (much respected BM teacher and master in-charge of badminton) reported him for a misunderstanding over a rude gesture he made to a classmate which Shuib thought was directed at him! Apparently, Hamid kissed and made up with Shuib some years later, but has not had his day of reckoning yet with Muru!
Darwis Jamil too talks fondly about his dread of passing through the school gates towards the classrooms in the early years!! So too, a good lady friend from my F6 year, Tan Tiu Hang (Senior Chemistry teacher at Catholic High, PJ) who signed up for VI in L6; that's pretty weird given Muru and co had departed for better pastures by then!! I have not asked her (yet) what it was about VI that intimidated her so much!!
But the story which warms the cockles of my heart, or is it my by-passed and cholestrol clogged co-axial mitral bicuspid ventricular valve, I forget, has little to do with Muru or the teachers really.
In our quest to win the various inter-school sports championships - football, hockey, rugby - every year, someone came up with the idea in 1967 of intense centralised training. This meant a squad of some 18-20 players would be biouvacked for 3-4 weeks either in the School Hostel or the Junior Study Room opposite the Tuckshop for additional morning and week-end training sessions at the playing pitches of the school field to hone our skills, improve our stamina and build that oft elusive team spirit, which can oft turn a weaker team into world beaters! Or so they dreamt in their 'pursuit of excellence,' the sub-4 minute mile record and Olympic gold in 'Chariots of Fire' many years later!!
You not only had to bond with the squad members, but also your prime hockey stick, the hockey pitch, the school grounds and all the land as far as the eye could see because there was a national agenda as well to fulfil. And if the earth moved as well, there, you are now a man!!
The usual 3 days a week intensive training from 3.30 p.m. to 6.30 p.m. would have felled an Olympian like Usain Bolt or a mountaineer like Edmund Hillary! But no, we were Victorians and so by divine right deserved more punishment!
Such was the fate of the 1970 and 1971 U20 VI hockey squads. In those two years we were billetted in the Junior Study Room during the CT hockey season. There were only ceiling fans for ventilation, no air conditioners. We slept at night on study tables made barely comfortable with thin matresses, pillows and blankets comandeered from the School Hostel store, with the windows bravely open and defended by mosquito coils and burners. Some finicky guys like Yoong Fong, brought their own pillows, linen and dutch wives!!
For toilets, we had the (in)famous stinky 206 and the better one on the ground floor at the extreme end of the school's left wing, while for showers we rotated among the facilities at the School Hostel in the mornings, School Sports Pavilion and 206 at night as a last resort!
All meal costs were borne by the school. The energy and 6-pack muscle building breakfast menu in the school tuckshop comprised an unremitting conveyor belt of half and full boiled eggs, white bread with planta margarine, jam and liptons tea or nescafe or nasi lemak/mee hoon goreng! Not for us Victorians poncy cereals, power bars (did not exist then, though there might have been an Ovaltine or Milo bar, I'm not sure), milk, ham, bacon and sausages! For lunch at the same venue, we picked whatever we fancied from the same platter laid out for all students - fried rice, curry laksa, chinese fried and soup noodles (no pork), malay mee rebus, rojak with sauce and half a piece of boiled egg, rice, meat, potatoes and veg etc and a drink of calories oozing sugar laden rosewater syrup, syrup bandung or hot/cold milo (no 100 plus or red bull either, though some plunked for glucose powder dissolved in water).
Dinner was something we looked forward to. We pooled our allowance of $1.50 per head and headed for the 'Mushroom' open air eatery opposite Merdeka Stadium outside the back exit/entrance from the school or for the stalls near Rex Theatre near Foch Avenue for variety to suit all taste buds and preferences.
Our home away from home soon had that bull halting and gagging smell of a male jock machismo hockey herd. There was the peculiar scent of linseed oiled Karachi King Super hockey sticks mixed with the pungent 'Horse Brand' oil liniment for strained muscles and of course the waft of body sweat, BO, soiled stockings, thigh and ankle guards and unwashed sweatshirts, shorts and jerseys. Between training sessions, classes, homework and inter-class and society activities from none of which we were excused merely because of centralised training, we had no time for laundry which we sent home through friends or brothers and had them collected or delivered on Sundays!
But something miraculous slowly emerged from all this testesterone and male bonding. No, nothing gay that I recall!! At first we were not aware of it. The training sessions became more intense and competitive as fitness levels rose and we became more conscious of the looming opening game of the season and of places in the 1st eleven! Team spirit began to soar!
It all started one evening after dinner when we gathered round the tables and were chatting about the usual nothing and indulging in the tumuscent humour of physically fit and bursting and strutting teenagers like young stags in rutting season, whose free thinking time was usually preoccupied with only one thing - girls and sex about which most of us had as much knowledge or experience as half a teaspoonful of sugar, or less. And let's not palaver about anything helping the medicine go down in a most delightful way either!!
Suddenly 'Pedro' Hariharan who had been by himself, stood to attention on his table and broke loudly acapella into a rendition of 'Old Turkey Buzzard' by Jose Feliciano which was also a hit song from the western movie 'McKenna's Gold' starring Gregory Peck and Omar Sharif. Soon, others joined in the chorus of this impromptu jam session while thumping on the desks and pillows with their hockey sticks:
"Gold, gold, gold we just gotta have that gold,
Gold, gold, gold, we'll do anything for that GOLD!!"
and then ending it with a stirring,
"Gold, gold, gold just remember that gold,
Gold, gold, gold, we can't live without that GOLD!!"
as we carried Pedro who was in his sarong and dumped him on a cushion of goalkeeper's pads! We all fell about laughing till the tears rolled out, but Pedro was not quite finished yet! Without missing a beat, he launched into Harry Belafonte's calypso 'Coconut Woman":
"Coconuttu voman (woman) is calling out...Coconuttu vater, good for your dahter (daughter)...make you strong like a layan (lion)..." in a heavy Indian (not West Indian) accent with drum solos, duets and orgies manufactured from the chairs, walls and desks with hockey sticks, balls and testicle guards. Nothing was safe for indoctrination as musical accompaniment from the marauding mardi gras group. Pedro's storming improvised finale of "cokiki cokiki coke coke cokiki cokiki coocnuttu water, dahterr, hotter, got her, shot her, rotter, otter, potter, totter" was the stuff of legend which had them rolling in the aisles, though for a moment he had us wondering if he'd got a chicken bone or something stuck in his throat!!
It was a riot and a half as someone else broke into a punjabi favourite 'Main Shair To Nahin' and a song made famous by 1969 hocket captain, Daya Singh - 'Big Bad John.' Later, when the lights were out, no one slept for another hour or two as someone or other would burst out with "Old turkey buzzzzarrrd" to be drowned out by guffaws and hoots and when it died down someone else would trickle off with "coconnuttu vater, good for your yindian dahterrrr...."
Thereafter the squad trained, showered, ate and jammed as one. The team teacher-coachs, Mr. Oh Kong Lum (Arts/Asst. HM from 1971) and Mr. Daniel Chan (Biology) were both ex-Victorians. Though they were technically not as sound in hockey as their predecessor, Mr.Lenny De Vries (who left VI in 1969 to do his Sports Science PhD in Canada), they joined us in the practice games and followed our fortunes right through till we won the Cup. Different strokes for different folks, but the more personal involvement of the teachers got us pumping even harder.
As far as team discipline was concerned, Oh and Daniel left it pretty much to the prefect team captains like Surjeet Singh (1970), Eddy Chong Kwong Chin (1971) and other player prefects, viz., G.Tharmasegaran (Tharma), A.Balachandren and Raja Ahmad.
By virtue of his 1st team place in several preceding years, appearances for the Selangot State Sr Team and short-listing for the National Squad, Goalkeeper Tharma should have been the 1970 school hockey captain, but was first appointed 1970 school football captain. Cikgu Othman, the school football coach would not allow him to hold simultaneous captainships in two games whose championships were being contested at the same time. So Surjeet, playing at left inside forward, being the next most senior player got his hockey captainship. Surjeet was also appointed school cricket captain in the 2nd term of school.
The 1971 hockey squad was thrilled to have as coach Wong Choon Hin, then 1st choice Centre Half for M'sia's National Hockey Squad and working for PKNS in PJ. We did not apply to the MHA or anything like that. It just happened that WCH, originally from Malacca, had moved into one of the Shaw Road flats directly across the road from the main school gates and spotted us training from his loft. He then walked over to the school, picked Eddy at random and offered to coach us while keeping himself fit during his off season months. This was the hockey equivalent of having a Pele or Maradona as team coach !!
WCH opened up our eyes to the more robust and modern physical game. He tutored us about confidence by relating the majestic manner in which India's centre half would execute a penalty stroke by walking tall with a swagger and flick the ball into the net all in one motion while locking eyes with the opposing goalkeeper all the way! We then had to practice this John Wayne macho school of executing penaty flicks. It was a real hoot as shorter arses like me had to act like 6-foot tall mesmerising cobras!
In particular, we worked on scoring from dead-ball set pieces - free hits, short and long corners. A deadly and lethal move I was trained to finish was to pedal backwards at full tilt towards goal while waiting for 'thunderbolt' Eddy Kwong Chin to slam the ball from a short corner take straight at me and for me to deflect it past the goalkeeper into the net! I imagined I was 007, Bond the cold, ruthless executioner! That sure was the god awful theory of it. I succeeded mostly in fending off these killer zingers from offing me from the face of this planet for good! Oftentimes in my mono-maniacal pursuit of excellence, I would mouth grass as I twisted and fell while tangling on my own legs. I called it the Hirohito Kamikaze Harikiri Short Corner Stragedy (no error in stragedy there) because if anyone was going to die while playing in a hockey match that year, it was yours truly!! I informed WCW and captain Surjeet that in the event of my untimely demise, my wish was to be buried in the centre of the school hockey pitch and I wasn't kidding either!!
My other major contribution to the hockey squads of '70 & '71 and its morale was developing a very unique talking style we labelled 'Hockee Speeakee." It consisted of drawing out words to make them sound longer. Thus 'Let's go eat kway teow and nasi lemak lah brothers' might sound like 'Leetts gooo eeet kwaayy teowww and nasee lemaak laaah broddeerrs!" Now this hockey squad also had some loyal followers and supporters among whom were Bryan Pereira, Leslie Ratnalingam (Rattat), Hanif Abu Bakar (Ash Burn), Thevakumar, Sugunabalan, Reuben Chelliah, Tan Lip Ping and a few others who would not only join us for dinner but also hang about for idle chats or occassionally, overnight stays. These guys too got into Hockee Speeakee and soon many in Form 5 and Form Six were imitating and adding ad hoc to a new language I had the sole copyrights to!
More than that, boys being boys, we would raid the tuckshop at 2 a.m. and then haul the stash of coke, miranda orange, greenspot, fanta, biscuits and peanuts to the open roof top of the Pavilion for a late night scoffing party! But there were one too many tuck shop raids and we all got caught by a trap laid by tuckshopmanboss. I'm sure Pritam Singh, our talisman right winger will recall that pitiful night, though tuckshopmanboss was a gentleman and did not rat on us to the HM!
At other times we would crawl army style on our bellies to spy on lovebirds parked in their cars in the open area byond the school fence by the side of FAM House on Jalan Edinburgh (now Jalan Maharaja Lela). Of course there were the usual mass leap frogging, smacks on the back of heads and wedgie pulling, all taken in good stride and spirit. Things cooled down a bit, a wee bit only, after an incident affecting Rattat (a lovely fellow who's been with the Civil Service since graduating BEcons from UM and whose elder brother in VI, cadet corp Ampalavanar, a good chappie, later a CA and partner at PWC, inspired that international hit Cuban number 'Am-pa-la-vanar, Guajira Guan-tana-mera' which echoed throughout the halls of VI for many years)!! '
As we headed for dinner one night, Leslie Rattat, as a result of a mass wedgie attack, stumbled, fell flat on the road and sustained a deep gash over his left eyebrow. His spectacles snapped at the hinges. But fortunately for all, the lenses did not shatter!! For a moment, and just a moment, we stepped back in horror as the blood began to drip on to the tarmac. Next second someone pronounced amputation above the knee as the best cure, another buddy queried him if he wanted to have his will written while a concerned squad member asked him solemnly if he preferred cremation to burial! I have over the years tried to figure out my thinking on why I removed Rattat's shoes and wiggled his toes. But for the life of me, I just can't! But Eddy had the presence of mind to drive him over to the emergency outpatients' ward at KLGH for a quick stitch up and plaster bandaging job.
A fair amount of ragging of juniors took place but nothing really that could be termed truly vicious or spiteful. Though no one will forget what started off as a bit of splashing fun took a turn for the macabre and bizarre with V.Sitsabesan having his family jewels painted with hockey ball and pads chunam (quicklime) paint!! He was duly knighted 'Vellai Sunni' which loosely translated from coarse Tamil means 'Chief Dick White (though Chief White Dick is also acceptable)!!' I forget whether he was well hung or if it was 'wan hung low' or not, but no damage was done to his human right to further his lineage, as he's now the proud father of 2 kids (happily married as well)!!
I can now reveal the names of the perpetrators of that dastardly dark evil deed which took place in the junior study room - stand up G.Tharmasegaran, Eddy Chong Kwong Chin, Pritam Singh and A.Balachandren. Lol!
But I am guilty as well by association and more so as I was among those who laughed and hooted to glory. Sitsa shed a few tears then, but we've laughed about it countless times over the years over many barrels of beer just as they have ribbed me on my morale bashing name which I'm too embarrassed to divulge - I plead the 5th amendmend of writer's privilege not to incriminate himself!
No offence taken, none given - the true VI spirit!!
(to be continued soon - rebellion in the ranks, showdowns, poker and of romeo & juliet!!)