Everlasting impact

By Syed Nazri

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Art teacher Syed Bakar Syed Salim (right) and former student Ahmad Rashidi at the MCKK Class of 1971 reunion.

IT would have been remarkably fantastic had Miss Perak 1969 made it to our reunion of old classmates in Kuala Lumpur last Saturday. But more than 40 years on, we knew the chances were remote.

No, Ooi Mei Lian was never at any time a peer during those schoolboy days at the Malay College Kuala Kangsar (MCKK). She was our Science teacher and a very good one at that. If she had made an appearance at Saloma Restaurant that night I am quite certain that Miss Ooi (as we call her till this day) would still be as ravishing as she was when she stood in front of the Form Five classes in the boarding school in 1971, not long after she was crowned beauty queen.

The fact that it was an all-boys’ school made it more significant as every MCKK student in those magical years seemed to have been swept off his feet by her elegance and charm.

The same went for Hooi Ah Nooi, another delightful grace of a teacher we were fortunate to have around the science labs, but could not make it to the dinner as, like Miss Ooi, had to remain in Ipoh that day.

Such was the tie-in between teacher and student in the days of old that despite it being 43 years since we sat for the all-important Malaysia Certificate of Education (MCE) examination in Form Five in 1971, the close attachment has endured.  Several other teachers, in fact, came for the Class of ’71 reunion that night and they included two who had served as headmasters of the school during our time.

There were no airs about everyone even if we could recall that a few of the teachers were too free and honest in their assessments of us when we were 17-year-olds — like commenting “very bad in his studies” on the report card of a student who, as fate would have it, went on to become a very successful doctor.

With the presence of the teachers on that occasion, we felt that our age gap has narrowed considerably.

It must have been us as their students or the correct environment that we created that did it, but somehow MCKK teachers do not seem to grow old so easily as evident from that momentous get-together which was also to commemorate the joint 60th birthdays on the pupils’ side. Either the teachers have not grown old or it was us who have matured too swiftly because many among us were starting to look so much alike that it was hard to differentiate who was the teacher and who the student in many cases.

Most of the teachers were past 80 but they could remember us by name.

Syed Bakar Syed Salim, our Art teacher, for instance, was there with his trademark flowing hair and beard, looking very much like one of us. And he never seemed to have lost his great sense of humour one bit.

All this is a powerful embodiment of how teachers played their roles those days, leaving their marks so deep that the bonding has remained long after the students have left school. Trust and dedication was free-flowing. There was no racial apprehension despite the students being 100 per cent Malay and the teachers mainly Chinese and Indians, with a just a handful of Malays plus a few Europeans and Americans. Nobody talked about race and the students did not lack self-confidence at all.

Most of all in the quest for excellence, there was never any doubt about honesty and integrity as leaks in examinations were unheard of and expensive tuition classes were never a practice.

As for us in the Class of ’71, it was a night to remember as more than 70 per cent of us turned up. A few have passed on so those who made it were reminded that it was a time to savour what is left among us in life. Many are retired, yet quite a number are still chugging along, basking in the limelight.

It was a night of nostalgia, full of memories thought to be lost. Even the commemorative coffee-table book about us that was given away had that sentimental feel about it, looking like a packaged boxed-set of records lost in the horizon.

At 60, it should not be our last gathering.

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