From Kuala Kangsar to the UN and Kesington

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When my classmates and I – 22 of us – were at the MCKK in 1954, each of us could reasonably expect to become, at least, a police inspector, and at best, a State Secretary or Mentri Besar (the two highest jobs any Malay could ever aspire to in British Malaya).

Bigger and prestigious jobs such as the Chief Secretary, Attorney-General, Inspector-General of Police (IGP) and Chief Justice were exclusively reserved for the British, and to hold these posts they need not have gone through public schools or Oxbridge. British elitists then as now stay at home, unless, of course, they were and are in the British diplomatic service.

Although Great Britain was the biggest colonial power in the 19th and 20th centuries, the colonial service was always a secondary service.

Hanif Omar became the Inspector-General of Police (IGP). Now he is a high-powered tycoon. Mokhzani Abdul Rahim, (a one-time boss of the Kentucky Fried Chicken franchise in Malaysia) and a long-time Deputy Vice-Chancellor of the University of Malaya is now managing a private power company; the late Nik Mahmood Fakhruddin Kamil was the Deputy Chief of the Army until he passed away on Jan 31, 1990. He was a three-star general.

I became the first Deputy Minister in the Prime Minister’s Department (although I acted more as Tun Razak’s political aide and adviser). I have achieved less than what was reasonably expected of me. That is another story, of course.

There were a few other successful classmates lesser known than us.

The 1954 class was a successful group. We restored the Malay College prestige following the lamentable performance of the 1953 class and the disgraceful Cambridge examination results of the previous class (1952).

What I want to tell young Malaysians – the bumiputra in particular – is that then, it did not cross our minds to own Mercedes, Jaguars or a Rolls Royce which we could drive all over the country, or to graduate from Cambridge, Harvard, the London School of Economics or head an organisation earning hundreds of million ringgits, and choose a profession with a galloping gaji.

I know at least an old Malay collegian who now owns a private jet and many have their own yachts, alas, none of them are my classmates! Four of my juniors have yachts. One junior – by a good ten years – owns the jet and another is the acting Prime Minister.

Many old Malay collegians also now live in Kesington, Chelsea and Belgravia, and in New York’s famous Upper East Side along the equally famous Central Park, and blessed with even better and cleverer children. I know an old Malay collegian who owns a penthouse in Trump’s Towers and a private jet. Those days – only 43 years ago – one could only aspire to own a Ford Prefect, an Opel, a Fiat or perhaps a Volvo!

We did not pay much thought to our future. Indeed, many of us had no idea what we wanted to do. Several had vague visions.

Two or three knew what they wanted: I always wanted to be a journalist and I did become one before moving into politics, the late Ariffin Muds wanted to be an army officer, achieving the rank of colonel in the Royal Signals, and had he not died young – as our military attache in Jakarta in the late 1980s – he would have become, at least, a two-star general if not higher for he was not only intelligent and able, he was also a clubbable sort.

Syed Zainal Hussein Wafa had always wanted to minister to the sick and he became a doctor, and then an academician until he retired five years ago from the Teaching Hospital of University Kebangsaan Malaysia. He is now practising in Pulau Langkawi. Abdullah Bakri and Razak Hitam, two clever students, ended up as architects. Razak Hitam was an all-rounder and today he goes all over the world playing golf, having made enough money to do what he likes best.

Several of the 1954 class wear designer suits (albeit some with protruding stomachs”, diamond-studded cufflinks and Colombian emerald rings! I cannot for certain swear that none has two wives although, at least, three have not been very lucky in love. Ariffin married Tina, a Swiss air stewardess and ended in a divorce. He subsequently married a Malay girl who I understand is still lovestruck and deeply mourns his sudden death. Syed Zainal who was separated from his Irish wife, refound love and is now married to his old sweetheart from his hometown (Kuala Kangsar).

One remained a bachelor all his life. Anuar Yahya was a good hockey player and an above-average student. He lived with his parents at Jalan Damai until he died several years ago. Razak Bahaman, an engineer, has a well-trimmed grey moustache and beard. Bakar (Buku) Mahmud, was the Director-General of Agriculture. He now only drinks fruit juices and mineral water after becoming a teetotaller. Until two years ago he was “our man” in Taipeh.

The remaining 19 of us are either in our very late fifties or just past 60, like me. Most of us – well, I had anyway suffered trials and tribulations on the way up. Some have found contentment in retirement even though not all drive Jaguars, live in Bukit Tunku or in luxurious condominiums in Ampang Hilir, or own yachts, jets and pedigree racing and Argentinean thoroughbred polo horses as several older and many younger “old” boys do.

Once the employment prospects of all MCKK graduates were excellent; in an earlier age, jobs were guaranteed. The message for those still at MCKK and the recent leavers is: none of us had the humiliating experience of being unemployed or ever had any difficulty securing jobs. Our youthful dreams of riches and fame might not have been fully achieved, however, none suffered the worse for it.

Our alma mater has changed and is changing because time changes. Time completely governs all our lives – from the minute we are born until we die we are its slaves. All we can do is to keep pace with it and seize the opportunity it creates.

We hope we will be left in peace in our autumn years to the moment we take our last breath – and thence to heavens or wherever – to enjoy our retirement and to pursue our interests and hobbies.

Dato’ Abdullah Ahmad is Malaysia’s Special Envoy to the United Nations

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