The World Anthem

We are all of one Race, the Human Race.

Sunday, 25 August 2013


(Click on pic for clearer, enlarged view. Note Francis Yeoh Sock Ping,  standing 5th left, who was 1973 School Captain).

In June this year, I met by chance encounter ex-Victorian CK Lee at the Royal Lake Club in KL, through an introduction by mutual friends. One thing led to another and he purchased an autographed copy of my fiction/satire novel 'Tiger Isle - A Government of Thieves' and invited me to the VI Classes of 1959-65 and 1963 Golden Jubilee re-union held at the Marriott Putrajaya on 29 June. There, I presented him with an autographed copy of my VI book, 'Let Us Now With Thankfulness.'

Then on Monday, CK texted me that he'd just returned from the Vancouver leg of a Canada-Alaska VIOS trip organized by Chung Chee Min, who lives there, and that he wished to present me with a copy of  Chung Chee Min's recently published 'V.I. Tales', as quid pro quo. This he did Thursday at the RLC, where over drinks and toasted tuna sandwich, we talked about the depressing global economic outlook and the gloom and doom Fitch forecast on Malaysia, which, taking the lead from our stellar Prime Minister and government, I blamed on a Zionist and Goldman Sachs conspiracy.

But, I was surprised to find  on Page 388 of CCM's 'VI Tales' the following quote attributed to me:

"There was not a single student who at some stage in his life in VI did not secretly or openly harbour ambitions of being appointed to the Prefects’ Board. There was something impressive about these ‘Blue Shirts’ who wore their white jackets and stalked the corridors or stood by the doors of the School Hall during Assembly days, while the School Captain and Vice Captain stood to attention in front of the Assembly with their backs to the stage where the HM performed in front of the seated teaching corps!"

I wrote that in July 2009 when I was on a sort of writing roll. CLICK HERE for the full article and context. 

For those interested in purchasing online CCM's book CLICK HERE.

I had been intending for some time to get going on Volume II of "Let Us Now With Thankfulness', but got distracted with promoting 'Tiger Isle-A Government of Thieves' and suffered from lethargy. But that bit by CCM on VI Prefects got me thinking and took me back to that dark chapter in the VI Prefects' Board (VIPB) history, all the way back to 1972.

The VIPB's motto, probably coined (and CCM will correct me on this, I'm sure) by Head Master JH Sidney (1923-1926), was:

'On The Bearing of the Prefects Depends the Tone of the School'. 

At the VIPB 1971 re-union dinner held at the Royal Selangor Club two years ago, organized by 1971 School Captain Yap Kian Fui and Secretary A.Balachandren, a still alert, sprightly and ageless ex-HM V. Murugasu delivered a stirring and insightful speech on the VIPB's history, importance and Sidney's thinking behind the setting up of the VIPB. All of us left feeling pretty upbeat and thankful to Muru for some belated vindication, after the vilification, insults and quarrels, even with some very good friends and classmates we suffered during our tenure as prefects.

It all began with V.Somasundram who succeeded Tan Cheng Or as VI HM in May 1971. While my few run-ins with quick-trigger Muru over the years (Form 1- 4) had left me with some temporarily loose brain neurons and jostled brain folds, my close encounters with HM Somasundram were of the order of the 3rd kind, leaving mental scars that I still carry with me. CLICK HERE for details of my early debacle with Soma.

One of the prefects' duties was to recommend to the HM suitable candidates to fill up vacancies in the VIPB, including the preferred choice of Head Girl and Deputy Head Girl, for the following year. By 1971, tradition was such that the HM's had complete trust in the VIPB, and would rubber-stamp their recommendations. There was no hard and fast rule about it, but a board strength of about 24 was considered optimum. The selection process for new incoming board members was quite simple and straight forward. 

In the week following the last day of the Higher School Cerificate (HSC) Examinations, the outgoing and remaining boards members would have an all-day long meeting at the VIPB room next to the Staff Room on the 1st floor. Each prefect was entitled to nominate anyone he/she considered suitable, as long as there was a seconder. The Secretary would note down all nominations in his Minutes Book. There would then follow a briefing on each candidate and his/her pros and cons, merits and demerits by their proposer. Often, not everyone would know about a particular candidate or his/her contributions to the school. So, the briefing by the proposer, seconder and others was very important. 

In my two years on the VIPB, I cannot recall any rancorous debate, or sabotage or character assassination attempts over any candidate. There was no apparent bias in favour of sportsmen/sportswomen over academics or society and uniform groups leaders. When the discussions on all the candidates were completed, there would follow a free vote by show of hands. Thus, successful candidates were selected based on the strength of the votes they garnered. In the event of a tie, the School Captain had the casting vote. 

This system sometimes threw up surprising results. In the second half of 1971, there were vacancies for two prefects. Had it not been for the frank discussions and open mindedness of the members, we might have overlooked the eventual choice of the quite and unassuming Yap Chee Keong from L6 Maths, who was certainly not among the front-runners for that batch. Chee Keong was there in the same Form as I from F1 - L6, yet our paths had not crossed.  But his credentials were impeccable - much respected Asst. Scout Master, School Swimmer, Life Saver and Water Polo player. (Chee Keong was eventually, and deservedly, appointed School Vice-Captain in 1972). 

As an aside, I'll add something that tells us a lot about the quiet but determined character of Yap Chee Keong, who was also Shaw House Captain in 1972. So determined was he that he should win a medal at the Annual Sports Meet in his final year in VI, something he'd never achieved before, that he plonked for from scratch, of all events, the Pole Vault! I was stunned to see him and his then close prefect-buddy K.Balraj (my school/class mate from '60 through to '72, from PRES 1 to VI, and Hockey Captain/Athlete) practising pole vaulting late evening for a couple of months, without even the protection of sand and foam pieces at the drop area. Incredibly, he won the gold medal and trophy in 1972, with the more fancied Balraj (Shaw House as well) as runner-up! Shaw House also emerged Champion House at both Athletics and the Champion House competition that year. Last I communicated with YCK by email, he'd moved to S'pore where he runs an aeronautical company, a very succesful business, I hear.

Even more surprising was the rare selection of 5th Former Fong Meng Wai, who would have been School Captain in 1973 had he not left VI in 1972, either for overseas study or because he did not get through his BM paper in the MCE exam.

When school re-opened in January 1972, and a week before the first School Assembly where new prefects were awarded their badges, it was a red-faced Yap Kian Fui who informed us that for the first time in  VIPB's history, its recommendations for Head and Deputy Head Girl had been rejected by HM Soma. The board had voted for Tan Kiat Lan, a brilliant ex-BBGS top student (who later graduated as a doctor from MU) and Wong Kim Lin, (now a practising lawyer) from the Science and Arts streams respectively. Soma, relying on the advice of the teacher in charge of girls, who I believe was Puan Zainab, came up with Monica Chin Wylin (Bio-Science) and Lee Yuet Mui (Arts).

Admittedly, Monica had been Temporary Head Girl while in Lower 6, with Yuet Mui (from my House - Hepponstall) as one of her assistants and they had acquitted themselves well. And they were not bad choices either. But in reality, the teachers knew very little about the students, their character or their contribution to the school, especially the girls who all joined VI in only Lower 6. Soma let on that the teachers preferred a mother figure to lead the girls as opposed to, I suppose, a father figure!

More than that, Soma had added in a couple of other names to the prefects' list, like School Band Drum Major, Kwan Poh Woh, without any prior discussion with Kian Fui. There had also been an argument over the choice of School Vice-Captain for 1972. Clearly Soma, and not surprisingly, since he was not an ex-Victorian, was no respecter of fine traditions or the opinions of lowly student-prefects. It was a resounding slap in the face for the VIPB. 

As I recall, it rankled with us for a few days, but once the appointments were announced and badges publicly awarded in front of the whole school body, we forgot about it and went about our duties without any recriminations. The new members who were not voted in by us were treated as we would any other, especially since they were classmates or students whom we all were fairly familiar with. Kwan Poh Woh and I had been class/school mates since Standard 2 in Pasar Road English 1 (1960-65), where he was School Captain, and I the Vice-Captain, in our final year! And mind you, the VI Band Drum Major has always been an iconic figure, and Poh Woh has always been a lovely gentleman. We last met earlier this year at a wedding dinner of another classmate's son. But, Soma had confounded our voting system and process like no other HM before. 

But more bad weather was to befall us.

At the beginning of the second quarter, the VIPB membership was not at its optimum level. Again, without consulting School Captain Indran this time, Soma insisted on appointing three new faces - Zahedi Zain, See Tho Puk Lim and Salim Ramli. Again, in itself, the choices were not neither bad nor lacking in merit. All three had been temporary prefects the previous year. All three were in fact outstanding candidates, - academically sound, scouts, cricketers, rugby players and the like, except that they were all fifth formers. We had felt that appointing fifth formers would be unfair on their time, given the crucial Malaysia Certificate of Examination (MCE) public exams they would be sitting for in November. More than that, we felt they would face serious problems handling Sixth Formers on disciplinary issues, and they would would be better equipped to do so once they were in Lower Six. But Soma would brook no opposition and brushed our reasoned objections aside. So, the appointments went ahead. Again, we embraced the new members wholeheartedly and took them in as equals.

This straw that broke the camel's back was Soma's announcement that a Disciplinary Committe comprising three teachers would be set up to hear disputes between prefects and students. This was another curve ball Soma threw at us, considering that as far as we knew, no one in VI had asked for one. Indran felt that if the School Captain was not to be consulted, his judgement respected and his word not trusted by the HM, it was too great an insult for the VIPB to bear. 

At that time, the four senior members who had served since 1971 were School Captain Indran, Vice-Captain Yap Chee Keong, Secretary, myself and Assistant Secretary K. Bakraj. We had long discussions on what we should do. Between studies, games and society work and prefects' duties, all the prefects had their plates full; they did not need to spend anxious time worrying if they had an enemy within and above, undermining our authority. We unanimously decided that the best course of action would be to tender our resignation.

This was not an easy course of action for us to contemplate or act on. We had our hearts in our mouths; we were man-boys, more boys than men, trying to figure out the adult world of Soma. There was no prefects' master and we were too afraid to consult a senior teacher. We called for a full board meeting and put our concerns to everyone. We had to stand up against the belittling of the School Captain. We asked for free a vote on tendering our resignation en masse to the HM. Surprisingly, there was only one vote against en masse resignation, the lone dissenter being See Tho Puk Lim. There were no recriminations against See Tho; we really believed in his right to act  according to his conscience.

The next day, Indran drafted an en masse resignation letter and delivered it personally to Soma, by which time See Tho had changed his mind. I would have too had I been him. What would have been the point of holding out? It wasn't as though See Tho could hold the fort all by himself.

I'd like to think all hell broke loose. But it didn't. At first, Soma only let on the news of the en masse resignation to Deputy HM Oh Kong Lum, who also happened to me my house (Hepponstall) master. But the students realised something funny was afoot since the prefects were not there to man stations like the tuck shop during the morning recess or shepherd students to line up at towards the end of the recess. This work-to-rule by the VIPB continued the rest of the day and week. Bereft of early morning and recess duties, for the first time since I was appointed prefect, I was able to join my class before the teachers arrived, and immediately after recess periods were over.

Of course, Soma could not blank out news of the 'Prefects' Revolt' as he labelled it, for more than a day. As the Tamil saying goes "you can't hide a full pumpkin in half a plate of rice." Soon, the teachers we were familiar and friendly with approached us to understand what was going on. The students got full wind of the situation and were chuffed there were no prefects around to "boss them about." Soma would not meet us and put on a very hurt face. Two days letter Oh informed Indran that he, as instructed by Soma, wanted to meet the full board to "get to the bottom of it."

At that meeting, Oh attempted the tested and tried "divide and conquer strategy" by asking each of us if we had any specific run-ins with Soma, and if not why should anyone resign? I, of course had, as related in the link above, suffered a "major incident" with Soma, to the extent ( I learnt years later) he wanted me sacked from the VIPB! We were rank amateurs and Oh played us like a fiddle. We were like lambs waiting to be slaughtered by a man who had a degree in philosophy! The short and the long of it was that Oh reported to Soma that I was probably the mastermind behind the en masse resignation gambit, although we, the four senior board members had explained to him clearly that the issue was the undermining of the School Captain's authority.

Then for a few days, everything went quiet. We carried on attending our classes on time and participating in our games training sessions etc. The prefects were also in a quandary. We did not know whether our resignation had been accepted and whether we should go back to wearing white shirts and hand in our prefects' badges. So, the Big 4 had a secret meeting at which we decided I should go talk to Soma. I can't recall why I was elected to be the Group spokesman, thought I figure it must have something to do with the fact that I was the school debating captain.

I recall taking a slow walk one blazing afternoon to the HM's old majestic colonial house situated within the school compound. I knocked on the door and Mrs. Soma opened it. I was quivering in my black leather shoes. I was sweating buckets all over. She warmly welcomed me in, but I took a step back as I spied Soma taking a noon power nap on a living room sofa. Mrs. Soma gently woke him up. Soma registered a look of disgust in his face. I immediately offered an apology and launched into a Mark Antony like (at least I thought it was) but totally unprepared speech about our loyalty and love for VI and how we had all  sacrificed a lot for the schools etc., etc. etc. and that really, really, we did not want to resign, but had no choice, since we were not prepared go down in history as having allowed the sinking of an institution like the VIPB and the office of the School Captain.

Soma would have none of it. He accused me of being a dangerous rabble rouser, possibly a Communist. If this had been post 9/11, he would have labelled me a Taliban. After being at the receiving end of a tsunami-like verbal tongue-lashing for some 10 minutes, I was close to tears. Soma must have realised from the pathetic look on my face that I was close to breaking down. He suddenly stopped his tirade and said, "Okay. You all withdraw your en masse resignation letter. Tell Indran to come and see me in my office tomorrow. Then we'll see."

Frankly, I had no idea what there would be "to see." I wobbled out the door on shaky knees, pronto,  and reported Soma's orders to Indran and the others. Of course, I did not mention anything about the encounter with Soma having pretty much gone mostly one way. I hammed it up about rendering Soma speechless with my oratory skills.

The next day, Indran visted Soma, the letter of en masse resignation was withdrawn, and that was that. There were no reconciliatory gestures from Soma. The VIPB of 1972 continued functioning as it had before, without any encouragement from the HM. We drew on the inspiration of established tradition and some support from previous schools captains and prefects who understood the situation. The Disciplinary Committee was set up and whereas in previous years the School Captain's word would have been accepted as final, now they talked about burden of proof. Soma left VI on promotion to the Ministry of Education at the end of 1972, and was succeeded by Victor Gopal. As related in one of my earlier blog posts, I got a small measure of revenge against Soma, when he was head of the Malaysian Students' Department in London, and I, executive examiner at the Auditor General's Department, Ministry of Education Branch in KL!

Perhaps we were too immature and naive all those years ago. Perhaps, we grew up under a regimented system, and did not know how to look at it from the outside of it. But, I'm glad we stood up for what we believed was right, albeit without any real success to revel in. Growing up is hard to do, isn't it? But really, looking back at it after 40-over years, it looks like a storm in a teacup episode in student life.