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.