My group’s “college days” began in January 1953 and did not end until December 1961. During those 9 years the 80 odd members of my group experienced a lifestyle that was unique in its ways and was subject to an enculturation process which was to last a whole lifetime.
We began our College lives as nine year-olds, at the King’s Pavilion on Bukit Chandan. The Pavilion or KP, belonged to MC then. The Resident Master was a Scot named Mr. Davidson. He was helped by 3 prefects and a Matron. The dormitories were upstairs on the first floor and the classrooms, playrooms and the dining area were on the ground floor. Discipline was very strict. Among the first things taught was ‘table manners’. We were taught how to hold the spoon and fork properly, and were reminded to munch our food with our mouth closed. Elbows on the table was taboo. Meals could only begin and end with prayers.
School hours were different then. The first bell was at 6.00 am. By 6.30, we were supposed to be in the Dining Room for our cup of hot milk. Lessons began at 7.00. At 8.30, we broke up for breakfast. Non-school days were Fridays and Sundays.
Thursday night was “games night” at Kings Pavilion. We were introduced to games like Ludo, snakes and ladders, snap and other board games. There was also an electric train set. It was fun to say the least. Most of us came from rural areas and such games were never played before.
Saturday night was “film night”. For that we had to march in rows of 4 to the Big School. It was far from fun. The film shows were seldom to our liking. Most of us would be “sleeping” while marching back after the show. One would think that we’re all suffering from somnambulism. I remember an occasion when half the group marched sleepily into the drain near the Police Station after an exceptionally boring movie.
We spent our second year at the Prep School. There was a “lalang jungle” by the side of Prep School then. That was our “play ground”. We played “Police and Robbers”, “Robin Hood”, and such games. It’s a wonder none of us were ever bitten by snakes or scorpions! But I suppose no self-respecting snake would touch our group.
We moved to the Big School at the beginning of our third year. It was then 1955. It was the year the College was to celebrate its Golden Jubilee. The pupils saw the biggest collection of VIPs ever, when the College’s had its golden anniversary on a grand scale. The sports meet, the speech day, the school exhibition, and the parent’s day were colourful events. The concert was extra special. Everybody had a wonderful time. It was a beautiful celebration. We were so proud to be Collegians.
By the time we were in Form Three, we were “big boys”. We had been with the College for 5 years. We had established our boundaries and were forever looking for new ones to conquer. It was then that we decided to bathe and swim in the Perak river. The time taken was Friday afternoons. The place was notorious with “Lubuk Mak Anjing”. Almost every Friday afternoon, a group of us would be there splashing and swimming, oblivious to all possible dangers.
One Friday, tragedy struck. A member of our group was swept away by the swift current. His body was found on the evening of the next day, some five kilometers downstream. It was a very traumatic experience. When we filed pass his still body at the funeral, only God knows how we regretted our foolhardiness. Members of our group got the expected caning from the HM, and all Collegians were banned from bathing or swimming in the Perak river.
1957 was the year when the Government introduced the LCE examination. We were the first batch to have to sit for it. No, we did not achieve a 100 percent pass rate. There was one failure.
Life as a fourth former was fun. There were no exams. It was the honeymoon year. Our favourite pastime was the “morning walk”. For that, we would be up by about 4.00 am and would “walk: in all sort of attire to “New York” – THAT place by the river. There we would have “nasi lemak”, horlicks and lemang with rendang. This went on for the better part of the year until one of us was caught by the police for behaving suspiciously in a sarong, at where the supermarket stands today. Some of us got four of the best from the HM and of course the morning walk was banned.
As a result of the ban, we began to eat at more reasonable hours. Our favourite haunt was the Queen’s Restaurant near the Grand Cinema. Invariably, we would order “egg steak”, kaya on toast and “ice kacang”. Payment was by rotation. Each week, a member of the group would be the “boss”. He would decide where to go, what to do, and what to eat. With that authority, came responsibility. The “boss” must pay for everything! But then, the following week, it would be another member’s turn to be “boss”. And also it goes on week after week.
There were other places where we went to eat. There was the Taufique Restaurant with its “passembur”, the Muslim Restaurant for its “Mee India”, the Panjang stalls for “popia” and “sotong kangkung”, and of course the legendary “kedai pau”. But Queen’s beat them all because it had a juke box. It was the in thing then to eat while listening to Elvis and Cliff Richard. No self-respecting Collegian would pass the chance to eat and listen to his favourite number at the Queen’s.
1959 was our Form Five year. As tradition would have it, the fifth formers were seen as a special group. They took it upon themselves to be the “special leaders” of the school. The Prefect’s Board was always seen and regarded as “the enemy”, although there were fifth formers on the board. Thus there was the “Form Five Union” on one side, and the all-powerful and at times power-crazy Prefect’s Board on the other. They were such opposing forces. The Prefect’s Board strategy was to hold “midnight courts”. As the name implies, the “court” operated at midnight.
The unfortunate soul would be woken up just before midnight and brought before the court for summary judgement and punishment. It was a Kangaroo court where the hapless souls never had a chance really. Mind you, some of those called before the court: were real scalliwags. But the “court” took more than it could chew when our group was called to be tried for misbehaving during Friday prayers at the mosque. The prefects were told in no uncertain terms that an axe-man would be looking for anyone of them the day he stepped into Kelantan. The prefects got the message.
The end of the year saw the parting of ways for about 60 percent of our group. These were the individuals who failed to gain places in the sixth form. Places in the sixth form were decided through an examination called the sixth form entrance examination. Those that failed would have to leave and either start looking for jobs or join teacher’s training colleges. There was no ITM, no A-level, and no direct entry into universities on the strength of your school certificate. The sixth form was the only avenue for further studies.
The parting of ways was both memorable and sad. Photographs were exchanged. Poetic words were written in autograph books. The farewell concert was most emotional, as were the speeches at the farewell dinner. The final night was reserved for the “dragon dance”. Dragon dances were actually a regular end of term affair. On the final night of any school term, the fifth formers would gather all the metal dustbins around the Big School and with a bang and a shout would start a bang bang clang clang procession along the Big School corridors. Naturally this would be at midnight! The “band” would stop at the cubicles of all the prefects that they considered to be despicable and serenade with all gusto to the tune of some popular songs but with the lyrics suitably altered.
I went back the following year as a sixth former. The College announced the names of the new prefects. I was not chosen. Well, I thought since I was not going to be a prefect, I would be union leader. And so I organised the sixth formers (the pure Collegians plus the new ones who had just joined from other schools) and convinced them that there should be a Sixth Form Union. I was elected president. Right from the beginning, we became a pressure group. Sometime during the term the sixth formers became very upset about certain matters ad we decided to go on strike! We packed our bags and sent a message to Mr Ryan the Headmaster, that unless our grievances were met, we were going back to our respective kampungs. The response from Mr Ryan was immediate. The moment we were to leave the school gates, we were to consider ourselves expelled. We got the message. We unpacked our bags and went back to the classrooms.
I was made a prefect at the beginning of the second term. It was a very cunning move on the part of the headmaster. At one stroke I was alienated from my friends – the non-prefects in the sixth form. There was a moment when I thought of rejecting the offer of prefectship by the HM. But I thought what the hell… Surely I could be of service to both organisations. Obviously the members did not think so. Not only did they threw me out through a motion of no confidence, they refused to acknowledge the fact that I was the union president for four months when the union activities were reported in the College Magazine the following year. Some members of the committee also refused to speak to me. I am writing all these with no malice towards anybody. Really, we were young boys then. As a matter of fact, all of us who were involved in the above episode are the closest of friends today. Such was the strength of the Malay College socialisation process. It lasts a lifetime.
So, what have I actually achieved after nine years at the College? Seen from the structural point of view, I was a form Monitor from Form 3 onwards, committee member of a couple of associations, president of the Senior Literary and Debating Society, member of the college debating team, president of the Sixth Form Union (?) and a school prefect. But all those actually counted for nothing compared to the friendship that was nurtured by the College system and the feeling of camaraderie that evolved thereon.
And so I left the College for the last time as a student in December 1961. But I left much more. I left a whole way of life. Nothing would ever be the same.