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Wednesday, 8 September 2010

1971/72 part 1 - No Oscars!

Almost every student has a run in with a teacher or headmaster at some point during their school days. Many can recall such incidents to the finest detail after several decades because they were treated unfairly or punished severely out of proportion to the nature of the perceived "crime." The incidents that affected me most were:

1. Encounter with Lao Tze in Primary 6 on which I shall elaborate further below.

2. Receiving a slap on the back of the head from HM Murugasu during a Hepponstall House Sports Day March Past Practice!!?? To this day I can't understand why I deserved that knock since I was serious during that practice day. I had not misbehaved in any way and when the house captain in 1968, Chan Tak Kwong screamed "Squad, Pandang Kanan" to face right where the honoured guests would be in the Grand Marquee on the actual Sports Day, I had responded instantly and correctly. I don't know from where Muru had been observing proceedings from, but he must have swooped down on me like an eagle and struck out and stepped back like a kung fu expert because of the moving procession. Or was it the guy in front or behind me whom he had aimed for and missed? Anyway I didn't have the guts to go ask Muru "Wtf, Sir?"

3. Run in with HM Somasundram (Soma) in 1971 which affected me in so many ways that it will form the main story of this particular blog.

Lao Tze or Mr. See Kiat How, was the POL Chinese teacher in primary school, i.e. Pasar Road English School 1 in 1965. The reason I ended up in his Mandarin class that day was our POL teacher was absent and so a whole bunch of "others" were forced to park ourselves there. Then Lao Tze decided there would no point in having Mandarin class with so many disinterested observers around. It was also a particularly happy day for him as his wife had informed him she was confirmed pregnant with child, which news he gushed out to all the students in class with great pride as confirmation of his fecund manhood.

Of course, to most 12-year old this CNN Breaking News was about as exciting as a game of tiddlywinks or bowls and so we ho hummed and yawned. Later, when I passed Football and Prefects' Master Mr.Paul Lee with whom I was close since I was the football captain, I mentioned, I don't know know why, Lao Tze's announcement about his pregnant wife which Paul then passed on to other members of the teaching corps.

It must have been 'pantang' or something because the next thing I knew a few teachers like Vaithilingam, Sophie Kong and Paul Lee spoke to me that Lao Tze was on the war path with me for informing Paul Lee about his wife's condition. Take it from me that I was a fairly well-known student among the teachers in PRES 1 and their concern for me was genuine. It was next my misfortune to be a spectator after table-tennis practice one Saturday morning, in a match between Lao Tze and School Clerk, the famous cross-eyed K.Selvanayagam aka Cobra. Cobra was a Selangor sprinter and hurdler of some distinction who was later promoted as CC of Victoria Institution in the '70's and played at full-back for the VI hockey team in the Selangor Div 2 League Championships - a mix of students and teachers.

All I did, as did several other school table-tennis players, was stand around and cheer the good shots, smashes and gameplay hoping to pick up some pointers. But I did not know Lao Tze was a bad loser who after a particular stinging smash from Cobra, flung his bat and cursing me, tried to grab me by the shirt. I avoided him nimbly, but he would not let up and began chasing me round the table until Cobra caught hold of him and calmed him down. The man was huffing and puffing and red in the face and I have no doubt had he apprehended me I would have been in for a good thrashing!

Thereafter, I avoided him like the bubonic plague.

Following from the last blog, K.Balraj, N.Indran and I reported to Eddy Chin Kwong Chin at the Prefects' Board Room in school to be grilled about some missing hockey sticks and footballs. A fourth person, 'Joe' Hiew Heng Foo, a rugby player in the mould of GI Joe, as well as an athlete and basketball player was also there to answer queries about missing rugby balls.To our jaw-dropping surprise, we found out that we had actually been summoned to be informed we were to be appointed prefects in April 1971. By this time we had received our MCE Form 5 exam results and all four of us had secured places in Lower Six in VI.

I shall write more in detail in another blog about the process by which prefects were selected and some fine traditions that prefects adhered to following their appointment.

The four of us were appointed prefects at a Monday morning School Assembly in April 1971 by HM Tan Cheng Or, who was transferred to the Ministry of Education in May 1971. We bid TCO farewell on Friday 14th May 1971 at a special assembly held in the school quadrangle. While TCO was a strict disciplinarian, he was not quite in the Murugasu mould. TCO was more approachable and well liked and respected by students and staff.

V.Somasundram was appointed VI HM in May 1971. The Government policy on the Malaysianization of headmasterships of local schools was now firmly in place, as Soma was, after V.Murugasu and Tan Cheng Or, the 3rd non-Caucasian non-British HM of VI. My run in with Soma began the very first day he entered his office!

The prefects would be assigned their duties for the week in advance by their Secretary and had therefore to be in school by 7 to 7.15 a.m. It was my misfortune to have arrived early in school that fateful morning. As I approached the main porch I noticed a Jaguar E parked there which was against the school rules. When I went upstairs to the Prefects' Room, the School Captain, Yap Kian Fui was already there and as soon as he saw me he asked me to go find out if the Jag E belonged to the new HM, Soma. I didn't think twice about it and went over to the HM's Office, knocked on the door and entered on cue. The tall and imposing Soma was immaculatelly attired in white shirt, black long-pants and matching tie, socks and shoes. But he looked a little nervous. I remember hearing from some teachers that prior to his stint at VI, he had been head of some Teacher Training college and had never been a Head Master of any of the leading schools in Malaya.

I introduced myself and then asked him the question.

Soma asked me why I wanted to know. I told him him the School Cap had asked me to find out if it was his car or someone else's in which case I would have to ask that person to move the car to the car park. He then stared at me and said ."Tell him I'm the Head Master and I'll park my car where I like!" Clearly, Soma had misunderstood me. Anyway, I thought nothing more of it, excused myself and reported to Kian Fui that it was indeed the new HM's Jag E.

But all hell broke loose the next few days. First, Robert Pachymuthu *1, my L6 General Paper Teacher called me aside after class and asked me if it was true I had told Soma to remove his car from the porch and move it to the car park. I denied it vehemently, but Robert informed me the matter had been angrily brought up during a Staff Meeting that morning by Soma. Later that day, Mr.Oh Kong Lum, the Deputy HM and Hockey Master informed me that Soma had been very upset about the "incident" and demanded an explanation why he had been treated "shabbily" on his first day as HM of VI. Of course, Oh, who was also my house master, knew about my character and that the whole thing had been blown out of proportion by Soma, and left it at that.

I did not know it then, but Soma had also summoned the school captain and asked that I be sacked from the Prefects' Board! I found out about that when mgf Indran, who was School Captain in 1972, allowed me a peek at the relevant entry in the 'Captain's Log Book.' All of which forbode ill in my relations with Soma.

Two other events put me further in Soma's bad books.

In the 1972  VIOBA Games fixtures, I had injured my thumb and pointing finger which were swollen up from a knock I had received while batting in cricket. I informed Mr.Robin Goh *2 (ex-Malaysian Hockey Player) , the Hockey Master, I would have to be excused from the hockey fixture later that evening as I clearly could not grip the hockey stick at all. Instead I ended up refereeing the game. Soma spied me from one corner of the field and stormed over to query Robin on my absence from the playing team.

On another occassion, as the HSC final exams were only a term away, I sought and was given permission by Robin from not playing for the VI staff-students hockey squad for the Selangor Division 2 League Championships. Again, it appeared Soma was not happy at my absence and had commented something about my commitment. There were one or two other incidents when Soma did not support me in my disciplinary dealings with students, where had it been during Murugesu or Tan Cheng Or's time, the support would have been unqualified. 

But perhaps, the one other serious incident was the en mass resignation of the Prefects' Board in 1972 (about which I shall write in another blog) which Soma blamed on me although all communications with him had been undertaken by the School Captain and Vice Captain, Indran and Yap Chee Keong. Soma, though he never made it clear why, felt that I had instigated a   revolt which was a unanimous response by the Board to an undermining of the School Captain's authority. He fumed and complained to Oh that I was the mastermind behind it all!

Where did it all lead to?

Yes, when the award for School Colours, the Blues, was announced in 1972, my name was conspicuous in the honours list, by its complete absence!

I had also been told by my Cricket and Biology Master, young Anandakrishnan (Andy) *3, that he had recommended to Soma a half-colour for me for cricket. I had only represented the school cricket 1st eleven team in 1971 and 1972. However, prior to that I had represented my house from Form 1 onwards. I took special pride of place that in the four years from 1968-71, I bowled out some of the top school 1st eleven batsmen and also scored a couple of fifties in the inter-house fixtures. So, a half-colour was not unreasonable.

When the hockey Captain, K.Balraj, Robin and Andy reverted to Soma about my omission from the honours list, he would not budge and that's how it stayed. I grit my teeth and attended the award ceremony since it was ingrained in us that that was what sportsmanship was all about. But there were many puzzled faces that day at my no-award status.

After four decades, I have still not got over it. It rankles like an unlanced boil. It's still there simmering and occassionally boiling over as I think about young men and older men and teachers and students and head masters. If today VI were to make some kind of a belated award I would accept it. I had paid my dues and earned my stripes from U/13, U/15, U/18 to U/20 school hockey 1st eleven and hockey vice-captain. There's nothing worse than knowing you deserve something 100% and then being denied it by the power of a miserable One.

Back then we were immature 18 and 19-year olds; neither men nor boys. Perhaps as Kipling said, we were man-cubs, in the shadowy world between adults and teenagers. We were learning to grope with new responsibilities and challenges and we stumbled and fell and got up and charged forward and stumbled and fell and rose again.  There was also that thrilling lust we felt for some of our female peers about which we hardly dared to speak to anyone about. But deal with it all, we had to!

But, what was Soma's excuse? I was 18/19; he in his late forties or early fifties.

What was his goddamn excuse?

Some years later, when I was auditing at the Ministry of Education, I took special relish in querying a discrepancy in petty cash and some over-claims for travelling allowances by the Chief at the London office of the Malaysian Students' Department.

I addressed my beautifully worded query to one Mr.V Somasundram and gave him hell!!

*1 Robert Pachymuthu had earlier taught at lower secondary in VI before he left for UM and got his BA (Hons).

*2 Robin Goh, ex-Malaysian National Hockey Team right winger taught Maths and was perhaps the best technical hockey coach we ever had in VI. He was also a devout Christian who I understand lives now in Australia

*3 Young Andy taught Biology in upper Secondary and Form 6. ('Young' as opposed to 'Old' Anandakrishnan who taught Pure Maths).

Robert Pachymuthu, Robin Goh and Young Andy were all lovely gentlemen as opposed to the 'fire & brimstone' variety of teachers. 


  1. Hi Shanker,

    You are absolutely right in your assessment of that never had been a HM of a "well dressed" man with nose in the air!

    He too did something stupid as a HM to me just as we were about to sit for our Econs paper (A'Levels / HSC) in 1971. He came in front of my exam desk (10 mins before the exam starts) and accused me (all arts class students are rebels) of some disturbance at the school lecture hall then behind the Arts Classes opposite the Library. I told him off and said if I failed the Econs paper I will hunt him down.

    Shook Kong

  2. Jagdish Singh Dhaliwal8 September 2010 at 23:25

    I never knew Soma but accuse him of being the architect of the demise of a cricket tradition in that before him we never lost a cricket match to a school side..ever. i was watching the game while on holiday ans saw the VI Blues get thrashed. Of all 3 HM's mentioned I still respect Muru! Strict and reasonable at most times. Jagdish Singh Dhaliwal. Shook Kong's year..1971

  3. Hello Shankar

    Yes i do ascribe to your sentiments - been belted by Soma on more than 1 occassion, one of which involved the whole class- monitor included.

    In the same vein, lesser mortals like me, Rabin, Nimal, Yin Fook etc etc took a lot of 'overdose' from the prefects too - whose names I wont divulge. We have moved on but still feel hard done by. One of them mentioned in your article above.

    On the day i read your blog, Kevin, the son of Robert Pachymuthu landed in Perth as yet another 'runaway'and is staying with me till his apartment is ready. Like Robert, there were indeed gentlemen prefects. Morgan ( Rodger house captain in my time). Sock Ping, Raja Ahmad - just to be 1 Malaysia about it!

    Our class of 73/75 - depending on when you left still meet regularly = garnering 40 is no problem and in the rabble that ensues, the scars of what was meted still surface be it from teachers or prefects but they make for merryment now.

    Roland Selva

  4. I am an ex vipb and i just scanned through your blog. just a few minutes. ok, so you are vipb in the 70's.

    what the hell are you trying to say? why is your blog so convoluted in its layout with every damn issue in the world, quote, font, picture, photo, slogan etc. Just another indian who think he's shakespeare or hemingway, and talks way too much? i am an indian by the way.


  5. Thanks for your comments Shook Kong. Great to hear from you after so many decades.

    For those of you who dont' remember, SK was a product of Pasar Road English School 2 and also a member of the highly successful VI badminton squads of 70-71 and like Lee Kok Ping, in the National Team as well. SK also represented VI in rugby and athletics. He was much admired ad respected by all the students. It was a pity he was not appointed a Prefect though he did make it to the exclusive Club 21.


  6. Hi Jagdish

    We last met at Tharma's daughter's wedding dinner.

    Well, it will be interesting to know what others think about the various HM's.


  7. Hi Roland

    I certainly remember you as a member of the VI hockey squad junior to mine, not to mention Tenaga (NEB) you played for after leaving school.

    Everyone has a differeent perspective of VI days and the treatment they received from prefects, teachers and HM's.

    I hope we have all learnt from the past so mistakes are not repeated.

    Thanks for taking the trouble to respond.


  8. Hi Kuna

    I don't know why you have to make stereotype comments about Indians and Shakespeare and Hemingway

    If you don't like what I write about or the style etc., I can live with that. "What the hell" am I trying to say?

    The English is simple enough and if a few others can grasp it, so should you, unless of course you think I should write in Malay or Tamil to make it easier for you.


  9. Hi dpp,

    Thanks for reminding me about the parked Jaguar.

    BTW, Paramjothy was running the last leg of the 4x400m relay. He was battling it out with the leader when he dropped the baton at the 200m mark. By the time he picked up the baton, he was already metres behind. He gave chase and the whole stadium cheered him on. He was catching up, the only worry was he was running out of track. But he caught up with the "leader" and with a final lunge, beat him to the tape, then fell over. What a finish!
    That was the final event of the meet. When the schools were gathering in the field for the prize-giving, Muru walked over to the VI athletes and spoke to Param. By Monday morning, the whole school had already known that Param would be bestowed the Club 21 membership before the Assembly.

    Ken Yap

  10. Hi Kian Fui

    Great to hear from you. Perhaps you can give us some details of the conversation between you and Soma that fateful day and what transpired thereafter. Nothing shocked me more than later hearing from Indran that Soma had considered sacking me as prefect over such a trivial incident!


    ps Ken Yap or Yap Kian Fui was another PRES 1 product who was not only VI School Captain in 1971, but also Victor Ludorum. I'm sure he also won colours for Rugby (captain) and Athletics.

    The incident involving Paramjothy he refers to was I think in 1967 about which I had written in an earlier blog.

  11. Hi dpp

    I remember Lao Tze - a scrawny, big eared and ill-tempered man who meted out punishment with gusto (rather abnormal and quite disturbing behaviour, on reflection) on the inattentive and talkative boys in the classroom. He sure left an impression on me, but not a good one. Little wonder I've forgotten most of what I learnt in his class and had to be re-educated in Mandarin in Australia!

    Fortunately, I did not have the 'displeasure' of being headmastered by Soma as I left for OZ after doing my MCE.

    Seng Tee

  12. Certainly brings back fond memories of my 7 years in VI from '71 to '77. It means our paths would have crossed 2 years though I still have no inkling of who you are. In the early day, I had looked up to your peers like Yap Kian Fui, Lim Shook Kong, Indran, Yap Chee Keong and a host of other schoolboy heroes you mention on and off in your blog. But I just cannot place you.

    Anyway, I’d like to share my first day experience in VI.

    Taking a lift on my father's motorbike, I was dropped off at the school porch around 9.30am one weekday during the 1970 December school holidays. Wearing my primary school (BRS) uniform and armed with an acceptance letter, I looked for directions to the school office. I found myself using the "wrong" staircase, the one on the right reserved for staff (must have guessed the restriction only applies during school days). Anyway, I knocked on the cowboy-style saloon door as I entered the office of the Chief Clerk. Richard Pavee was present, so was Anna his future wife. In my nervousness, I proceeded right away to tell Pavee that I was registering to enter F1. Pavee just looked right through me! There was no verbal response from him. I repeated myself - again Pavee did not say a word. After what seemed like a full minute, I made for the door totally totally flabbergasted at what had (not) transpired. Even my father who was waiting outside, was most confused when I told him what had happened. A couple of minutes later after gathering my thoughts, I walked in again and repeated what I had said earlier. This time, Anna spoke up: "What must you say first?" Without giving me a chance to reply, she said: "You must say good morning first!". That was it, after greeting them, the entire registration was completed in under 2 minutes.

    In short, that was probably my most unforgettable introduction cum lesson on good manners and etiquette, many thanks to VI, in particular Anna Pavee.


  13. Sure I remember Spidy Renga well. My lab partner in 4 Sc. 1 Lim Siew Kit and I used to repeat a word he taught us well in his Integrated Science class in 1974.

    Whenever he gets distracted and turns his head to look at any female passerby outside the classroom, we would shout under our breath in unison: "Stimulated!" For Rengy probably 30+ then, was still single. When it comes to human anatomy, he would always find it most difficult imparting knowledge to "Prof" Siew Kit who has a knack of "knowing" more things about the female reporductive organ than Spidy Rengy! Btw, Prof Siew Kit was not being "boastful", he is now a medical practioner in OZ. Renga's drawings of the anatomy was also (deliberately?) hopeless so he always turn to Yusri Yahya (hope i got the name right) who if my memory serves me right, monopolised the High Jump throughout his 5 yrs in VI.

    TT 71-77

  14. Hi TT

    Perhaps you'd care to identify yourself and that I can jog your memory. I was Hepponstall Captain in 1972, my last year in VI.

    Glad you enjoyed reading my blog. Any more recollections? Many thanks.


  15. I was in VI under Mr.Muru.Just as any other VI boy we had received slaps,cane,hurting shouts etc.Once we were sent to DC as the class was nosy.We were asked to clean the toilets in 206.In Form 6 I single-handedly organised the Pan Malaysian Secondary Schools Conference.Neither the Head Librarian nor Mr.Muru even thanked me for the great effort.Whilst the Head Librarian Yong Lum Sang was given Club 21 membership,none cared to even give a verbal thanks.Even today almost 50 yrs later it hurts to think of such ungratefulness.So as mentioned by others let God reward us rather than unkind humans

    1. Hi Shankar and everyone.
      I was in 68 batch and Heponstall House too. I remember you as a smiling and innocent boy. The sports day incident I remember - one of the many injustices we suffered during Muru's time . We went thro GED Lewis' and Alan Baker's time and it was a gracious time indeed.
      Good to hear from you guys - Shankar, Shook Kong , Kian Fui.
      Pak Kuen .