As I Remember You

By Syed Rosley

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(This article was written by Old Boy Syed Rosley before he passed away)

We are all in the twilight years of our lives and living on borrowed time, so to speak. I have crossed sixty and that makes all the eleven others so much more ‘aged’, I being the youngest. CORRECTION: nine as two have already left us for the HEREAFTER. After a severe illness some months ago, I thought I was going to be next.

It is a time to repent for one’s past indiscretions and to say good-bye to all vices, however small. A time to endear oneself to HIM and to strive one’s very best to win His favours for an appropriate reward in the next world. A time to reflect on the past, to ask for forgiveness from one’s friends, to settle old scores and debts, if any. A time to ‘muhasabah’ (self-examination if one is really going, by the divine laws, and to get back on track if otherwise.

With so much time on my hands, having lived a life of complete retirement for the past several years, I have often indulged in recollecting the past. Giving it a free rein, the memory bank would inevitably play back scenes depicting MCKK days, so dominant are the events etched in my mind. Incidentally, as I write this down, it’s almost 52 years to the day (28th January, 1947) that the twelve of us made our way to the College, along 100 miles of bumpy, laterite road in a former army truck, crammed like sardines as humans competed with bags of clothing & bundles made up of mattresses and pillows and, even ‘botol kicap’, for limited space; followed next by a 20 or so hour-ride on a locomotive train – the ‘kereta lipan’ – that spewed fine particles of charcoal into our eyes, and left us half-dead on arrival at the Kuala Kangsar Railway Station in the small hours of the morning.

To be so far away from far-flung home that was Terengganu and left to lend for oneself for the first time in one’s life at such a tender age (nine years and eight months) was an agonising experience. I am sure I was not alone to indulge in the nightly weeping sessions for the first few days or even weeks. Next you experienced a kind of cultural shock: living in a strange surrounding, in a big, rather pompous building with all the modern amenities you came across for the first time: to fit in among a few hundred ocher boys from the other states speaking a variety of dialects some of which sounded like Greek, while your own lingo became the butt of their ridicule, and behaving in different ways. You had to put up with the pranks and silly ways of some of the bullies, especially if they were sons of Royalty, or you might end up in a fist-fight, and since you came from a humble back-ground and was on Government scholarship, you refrained from fighting back. I watched in disgust how Manaf Rahim became the victim of the bullying ways of Raja Ahmad ‘Kenok’, but Manaf maintained his composure throughout, never requiting. Dear Pop must have reminded him a dozen times or more to never get into a fight and to always be respectful towards others.

30 or so years later at the Kelab Golf Negara Subang, Manaf virtually challenged Kenok to a fight after an argument over golf. I was then Kenok’s golfing partner while Garib Onn partnered Manaf. It seemed Kenok was counting the number of strokes Manaf had taken, so when Manaf claimed he had taken a lesser number, Kenok disputed it, and this made Manaf angry.

The food served at the College in the early years was unpalatable and I had to go hungry for quite a long while. I remember trading my portion of rice for two slices of bread belonging to Yusof Muda for several days and marvelled at the good appetite Yusof always displayed. To this day Yusof and I remain firm friends, and it was only weeks ago that he visited me in the house. Eventually I forced myself to like the cuisine. Lucky for me I could run to a few relative’s houses in KK on week-ends to ‘tenggek’ ‘ lunch. I remember throughout the 7 years theme we were never allowed a second helping which did not do justice to our growing-up process.

I do not blame Wan Nik for writing in the Utusan Melayu in 1949 criticising the MCKK management for serving tasteless and poor quality during the Ramadhan. It was an act of courage by him but he had to pay a heavy price for it. He was heavily censured in public by the Headmaster and, if I am not mistaken he was stripped of his prefectship. But thanks to him that was the first and last time we ever had schooling sessions during the Ramadhan.

I remember Wan Nik as a very determined person to do well in his studies and in his adult life, conscious as he was of his less fortunate financial circumstances as a boy. He was the first among us to be made a prefect to look after the small boys at the Prep School. He was regarded as a very fierce prefect by the boys and was fond of flinging the word ‘bedukang’ to any boy who displeased him. The name ‘Wan Nik’ was mystifying to many a boy from the West Coast states. It was puzzling to them why the ‘Nik’ did not take first position as an honorific much like the other Kelantan ‘Nik’s did. Some preferred to refer him as ‘Mr Double Honorific’.

Of course later on in life Wan Nik had a successful career path in the TCS and in the corporate sector, becoming the first General Manager of the National Car industry. From car manufacturing he moved into the business of making shoes and other leather goods in which industry I believe he is still in. To-day he is very well-off financially, but it is quite well known that he abhors to ‘belanja’ his friends.

After two years in the Prep School, I was transferred to the Big School and lived in the ‘C’ Dormitory. Salleh and 1 were the smallest boys in the whole of Big School. Some evenings just before ‘lights out’ we would be forced into showing off our boxing prowess, with gloves being supplied us, in order to amuse the bigger boys. Salleh, due to his ‘miniature’ size was ‘Liliput’ (of Gulliver’s Travels a text book in Form Remove), but later as he got slightly bigger, he was Joe Louis, after the Famous Heavy World-weight Champion at the time. Of course, what the bigger boys had in mind was not to equate him with the Champion’s size but rather the semblance in complexion. Despite his small size he could be venomous if provoked. There was this bigger boy nicknamed “Chiangaru” who used to bully Salleh. Infuriated by the frequent taunting, Salleh decided enough was enough, so one day landed blows on the boy’s face in spite of him being so much shorter. I was witness to Salleh’s jumping dexterity to enable his fist to reach the boy’s face. I think bullying stopped after that.

Salleh is an illustrious son of Kuala Berang which should be very proud of him for his significant contributions to the State, first for being a District Officer, and later, a Yang Berhormat and Speaker, Dewan Negeri.

Yusof Awang Omar (or was it Awang Pok) was then in ‘B’ Dormitory. He would visit me practically every evening in the first week just before ‘lights out’ for a vicious reason. Armed with a bolster, he would bash me all over for several minutes. At first I did not quite mind his pranks but when it was happening once too often, at the wrong time and place – when one was sleepy and tired – I told myself his badgering must stop. So, one evening I told him off, and seeing he paid no heed to my warning, I went into a tantrum or punched him or something. After that he stopped coming and for quite a long while we were not on talking terms.

Yusof did the same thing to Wan Mohamad later at the Six Formers Residence during one of those vacations when we were asked to stay back as the Terengganu Government could not afford to pay our air-fares, due to financial constraints. Only this time the method employed was more violent. Catching hold of one of Wan Mohamad’s hands, he swung the poor chap round and round making him shriek with pain at the arm. There were moments when Wan Mohamad’s whole body was suspended in mid-air. Wan Mohamad cried the whole night and swore he would have his revenge. The next day, catching Yusof off-guard, he rained blows on the former’s face so that for quite a long time a blue mark lingered on Yusof’s face, just beneath the eye. The incident left both of them in non-speaking terms for some time.

Years later, back in Terengganu, when Yusof lived in a Government quarter along Jalan Wireless (now Jalan Pusara) and had a room to spare, Wan Mohd. and I found it advantageous to be friendly to Yusof. As a matter of fact we found it convenient to visit him whenever ‘fortunes’ came our way.

‘Kong fu’ (the nickname he earned at the College) had a certain obsession for things mechanical, especially the mechanisms of the radio and the wireless system and therefore chose to work in the Telecoms Department which gave him job satisfaction. In the early years after finishing Senior Cambridge he contracted TB and was hospitalised for quite a long time. When I was warded in the same hospital for typhoid at about the same time, I could see Yusof from a distance from my ward, but we could not meet for obvious reasons.

Yusof was in Terengganu all his life, kept himself very much to himself, so that many of us seldom heard about him, or knew when he got married. The saddest part of it was we never knew until too late that he had passed away.

We were split into ‘Houses’. Four of us, namely, Raja Zainal, Engku Ibrahim, Mohd. Nor Abdullah and I were in Sulaiman House. Raja Zainal was the oldest among us, at 15. Of course, there were others older still from the other states, and a few had even been Carried. They had entered the College before the war but the war had interrupted their studies. As the most senior boy he was in the most senior class which also meant he had the shortest stint in the College – 4 years at the most. Incidentally, he also left Terengganu very early on to live with his parents who had moved to Batu Gajah but his love for Terengganu was and still is unequivocal. He wrote an article in the school magazine for the 1947 or 1948 publication entitled “SEEKOR KUDA TUA” and that earned him the nickname “Raja Tua”. The late Yassin was fond of telling others that the nickname was aptly given as Raja did look old even as a young lad and possessed the deportment of an old man.

Raja shone in his studies and came out with First Grade in the Senior Cambridge, a rare feat at the time. Thereafter he went to Singapore to study medicine but gave it up half-way through and switched to Arts, graduating later on at the same time as his younger brother, R. Iskandar. Perhaps it was just as well he never became a Doctor because knowing him as a very forgetful, absent-minded person, he could be capable of committing the most unimaginable errors. When he joined the TCS in 1959, if my memory serves me right, I was then an ADO in Kemaman. We met from time to time and became good friends. At the College we seldom talked, he being so much more my senior (an age difference of 6 years) and was in a much higher class. We’ve gone round the world together several years ago and performed the Haj also together. We see each other from time to time.

Engku Ibrahim Ngah was the tallest boy which also made him the biggest. in age lie ranked second after Raja. At one stage he was ‘Ungku’. He had always been a very well-behaved lad, very respectful to his seniors especially the teachers and was never quarrelsome. He was very friendly towards the younger boys and was very fond of having his picture taken in the studio with those younger than he. I still keep a studio photograph of him with Salleh, Raja Tahir and I, and another showing the two of us.

In the TCS Engku was my senior by a few years. In 1962, he was an ADO in Besut while I was an Assistant State Secretary in Kuala Terengganu. We were called for an interview by the Public Services Commission in KL along with ten or so others over our application to join the MCS. Afterwards Engku was very anxious to know the outcome of the interview and how he had fared, and used to call me over the phone to find out. I solaced him by assuring him that he had nothing to worry and was pretty sure he would be successful. I had my contact man in the PSC in the person of Raja who had _joined the MCS much earlier, so the next time Engku rang up I demanded, rather jokingly, that lie would have to pay me a fee when he .was officially notified. Engku was true to his words and gave my ‘demand’ a straight meaning and parted with 50 ringgit which I did not refuse.

In the MCS (PTD, later) we took turns to become Federal Secretary, Sarawak, a very important and prestigious appointment, representing Federal Government’s interests there. Besides us, 3 other former Federal Secretaries in Sarawak were MCKK products. Engku’s immaculate manners and over-polite is well-known in Sarawak. The joke went that if the three personalities in Sarawak, namely, Tan Sri Alfred Jabu the Deputy CM, Datuk Fauzi the then Head of Sarawak Religious Department, and Engku were in the same lift, the life would go crazy and would go up and down without stopping because the trio would be quarelling among themselves, each he should be the last to get out of the lift.

Sometimes his over-discreetness went too far. He was so resolute not to displease the State Secretary who was a thorn in the side of Federal Administration in KL that he even went to the extent of committing lapses in the local Federal Administration of which he was in-charge. I had to wash his dirty laundry later on, on the orders of my superiors. It was an unfortunate predicament I found myself in, considering that Engku was my good friend, but something I could not avoid in the line of duty, a fact which Engku himself acknowledged.

In Dungun in deference to the DO, he would first peek beneath the semi-swing door every time before entering to make sure the DO was in the right mood to receive him. This habit of his irked Yassin Malek so much that one day Yassin decided he would show Engku the proper way to do it. Thus it was that the next time Engku ,was in his usual. act, Yassin just barged through which had Engku almost tumbling over. According to Yassin., Engku was a TV Star for two times a year as he appeared before the screen to announce the impending Remadhan and Hari Raya.

I have no doubt that none can ever compete with Engku as the most suitable person to be the Keeper of the Ruler’s Seal. None can match the impeccable behaviour and the right temperament that he possesses to deal with Royalty. Someone swore’ he saw Engku behaving like he was addressing the Ruler in person even while on the phone – Engku employing proper body language and all.

It was only quite recently that we were both invited by the Jabatan Arkib Negara to relate our respective experiences before a group of people in the Arkib Negara Auditorium as former Federal Secretaries in conjunction with the Department’s “Pengkisahan Seiarah” programme series. We have also been recorded in History. An INTAN publication entitled “JABATAN SETIAUSAHA PERSEKUTUAN SARAWAK DAN HUBUNGAN ANTARA KERAJAAN PERSEKUTUAN DENGAN KERAJAA NEGERI SARAWAK 1963-1995 devotes a chapter each to all the former Federal Secretaries.

I have always remembered Mohd. Nor Abdullah as a cheerful, friendly kind of person with a pleasant face who always dressed smartly. He was one of the more affluent among us who never had to worry about being broke, unlike some of us, he was always loaded. He kept company with boys of other states who were just as affluent. He was ‘Labu’ to differentiate him from ‘Mohd. Nor Pisang’ and ‘Mohd Nor Terong’. He did well in his studies and after leaving school joined RIDA along with Wan Nik and Osman.

After some years we, in Terengganu, very little about him. He hardly went back to Terengganu and if he did, we never knew about it. He did not, believe in keeping in touch with the rest of us, except probably Yassin. He is currently in Terengganu, leading a life of retirement and devotes his time driving his children to school and fetching them back. The last time I met him was in Yassin’s house in Kuala Terengganu where we had nasi dagang together with Salleh, Manaf, and Sidek Embong some years ago.

While holding the post of Federal Secretary, Sarawak I had to report toAlwi Jantan besides the KSN. Alwi was then Deputy Secretary General in the PM’s Department, KSN’s Deputy. When I submitted a Report to the KSN recommending the closure of the Federal Secretary’s Office, back in i982, the KSN passed the Report to Alwi to examine the merits and demerits of my recommendation. When he made an official visit to Sarawak while I was there, I made sure he was taken very good care of, and even personally attended to some of his ‘unofficial needs’. He came a second time later to officially announce the impending closure of the Office at a Press Conference after meeting the Chief Minister, just on the eve of my departure.

As is well known, Alwi rose to become the No.2 senior-most Civil Servant, as Ketua Pengarah Perkhidmatan Awam, Malavsia before he retired. As my big boss and friend at the same time, it felt good to be in that position. He had a hand in the promotions that I earned afterwards, and in 1989 arranged for me to attend an Advanced Management Programme at the University of Pi.ttsburgh, USA. Alwi has done the nation, and Terengganu in particular proud for his outstanding achievements in the Civil Service and for being one of the first from Terengganu to be conferred with the Tan Sri-ship. Many years earlier when he was in his late twenties he was already made a Dato’.

As a boy he had always been the studious, steady type of person, well-groomed and exuding a sense of self-confidence. The three of them, Yassin, Manan and Alwi were like leeches – sticking together. While Yassin was ‘Gone Nelson’ after the Hollywood actor at the time, Alwi was ‘Joe’, after ‘Joe E. Brown’, the clown actor of Hollywood at the time. Manaf was ‘Jack Carson’, also another Hollywood actor, but Yassin preferred to equate Manaf with A.R. Tompel, the local comedian. Manan however could not be nicknamed after any Hollywood actor, so had to be contented with ‘Korea’.

Alwi might not have known about it which I now own up and ask for his forgiveness. Back in 1961 when I was Senior ADO, Dungun, and ‘Pok Cik’ Jantan was one of my Settlement Officers, I had to carry out the unpleasant task of reprimanding ‘Pok Cik’ for making ‘coffee-shop reports on land applications. This referred to the act of writing the report without inspecting the land in question, an official taboo which was a dangerous thing to do as the land under application could already have been occupied or be the subject of conflicting applications. It was his peers who reported the matter to me.

Manan Othman was a happy-go-lucky boy, pre-disposed to laughing at the slightest joke and was always cheerful. Sadness never seemed to visit him. The late Yassin was fond of relating the following story about Manan. in their class it became the fashion to compete who could explode the loudest from FORT ARSE. Not wanting to be left out, Manan gave his best shot, but it turned out to be the quietest sound of all, yet it was the most impactful. For the next hour or so a stinking smell had pervaded the room. After the class teacher had gone, Yassin made a search to find out where the smell had come from. Yassin did not have to look far, because lo and behold.! right next to Manan’s desk stood ADMIRAL SHEET in all its glory! I believe after the incident Manan was known as’Manan Tahi’.

In 1956 I succeeded Manan as ADO Ulu Terengganu when he left to do law in the UK. During his last few days before departure, Alwi and I kept himcompany on a daily basis. Alwi was then during University vacation.

Of course, as is generally well known, Manan carved a name for himself in the world of politics, rising to become a Cabinet Minister. Here is yet another illustrious son of Terengganu whom we are proud of. When he was Minister of Agriculture he called me personally over the phone when I was in the PSC once or twice asking me to look at certain things in the matter of his constituent’s request, which I was happy to oblige.

His political stance and vacillations are also well-known. Now, of course he is back in UMNO, and who knows he might be picked to become a Minister again, under the present-day political ‘turmoil’. Of course it would make no difference to him as he is very well-off financially, as is Alwi. Nor does it matter to us very much, as Manan like Wan Nik also abhor to ‘belanja’ others.

Yassin will alwavs remain as the most unforgettable in my life as I believe in many others’ too, a person fun to be with. He was everything and all things. Boisterous, happy-go-lucky, jovial, a prankster, lovable, insolent at times. At the other end of the scale: kind-hearted, helpful and a good provider (for his family). An emcee par excellence, he

was irreplaceable and, as an entertainer he could be depended upon to enliven parties. Basically he enjoyed the company of friends and would seek them out every now and then. He made sure our luncheon group, comprising Alwi, Wan Adnan, occasionally Manan, himself and yours truly met once a month without fail and he was the one invariably who would be doing the rounding-up. Yes, he had that special trait, the drive, missing in many of us. Now without him the group has faded into oblivion.

I remember him as a small boy who preferred the company of bigger boys who were affluent so that he could ‘tenggek’ them. He was a first-class strategist, one might say. He was also a boy in a hurry to outgrow himself, and in later adult: life, in a hurry to climb to the top. He was a person you some times dreaded to have around because suddenly without warning he would drop you a bombshell – pulling your legs, calling you names or telling others the ugly side of you. Just as you were ‘about to boil with rage he would negate the story he made about you, would then pick his next victim, so that you felt pacified that you were not alone for the picking. As a matter of fact lie spared no one, and after a time you kind of enjoyed his banter and how he got away with it, so that if you harboured a dislike for someone and wanted him to ‘kena’, the next time Yassin was around you egged him into telling stories about that ,someone.

Yassin was a very talented person whether in sports or in other fields. He rose much faster than many of us in the beginning as a working person. Of course he changed jobs many times to better himself and he was an asset whenever he was employed. He never retired and kept on working till his last days. The stories about him are quite endless. I have written an article “REMEMBERING YASSIN MALEK” two years ago which I passed on to some friends to read.

Earlier on, in my introduction, I had alluded to some ‘botol kicap’ which found a place in the already packed truck that was going to take us to Kota Bharu. These ‘botol kicap’ actually belonged to Osman Abdullah. Dear Mom (‘Mok Mek’) had insisted that her loving son bring along a year’s supply of ‘kicap’, his favourite sauce. If I am not mistaken, along the way some bottles got broken and caused quite a commotion.

Osman was everybody’s friend. We all remember him as the boy with the most number of ‘tahi lalat’ on his very fair face. He had a certain style of walking which Manaf was very fond of imitating. Osman joined RIDA soon after finishing Senior Cambridge together with Wan Nik and Mohd. Nor. He stayed in RIDA throughout his career. There was a time when we were both in Kemaman, back in 1958/1959. We are both products of Batas Bahru and our houses were literally at arm’s length of one another.

He currently lives in Petaling Jaya. He used to suffer from asthma but I believe the ailment has left him. Some time ago I met him at the famous Restoran Raju at Jalan Cantek and before that, or perhap’s earlier, at Wan Mohd’s wedding function.

Looking back over the years at past activities, incidences, personalities, little anecdotes and the like at or associated with the ‘KOLET’, never fail to evoke a certain nostalgia, a certain affection and a certain fondness . Pak Din’s ‘spring’ (cucur udang) was and still is ever the best. By the way, I just learnt after all these years that the ‘cucur udang’ actually came from Pak Hashim’s (the College Clerk) house. The information came from the horsels mouth – Baayah, Pak Hashim’s daughter (now Puan Sri). Incidentally, I recently discovered an exact replica of the ‘spring’ at the ‘Celebrity Corner’ at Desa Pandan.

Thayu, the butler was a figure of efficiency despite some feminine traits in him. I remember attending his wedding function held in the Squash Court and relishing the ‘nasi daun pisang’ that was served more than Thayu’s wedding. We all remember Pak Chad, the Barber who later on was assisted by Din KK (who later on became a TV actor). I remember this Pak Din chap who once cut my hair and grumbling at my rather coarse hair which not only made his task difficult but caused quite an irritation as the minute fragments kept flying into his mouth each time he administered the trimmer. Pak Chad the Barber must not be mixed-up with Chad,the mentally deranged vagabond who liked to ‘usik’ the small boys.

Once in a while we had to ‘sunbathe’ our mattresses to bid good-bye to MR. BEDBUG and his company.. As it was done collectively and openly, it was certainly not a pretty sight to behold all the various ‘maps’, ‘outlines’ and ‘countours’ found thereon.

Remember those times when there was an outbreak of mumps and chickenpox infecting half the population and putting pressure on the local hospital as the boys were downloaded into the second class wards and third class as well. Not to be forgotten is the worm treatment exercise at the hospital requiring an overnight stay and the dreaded ‘chinapodium’ (pardon the spelling).

We watched each other grow up right before our own very eyes, visibly noticing the pimples appearing on each other’s face and the hair on the legs. From short pants we switched on to long pants, thereby signifying we were now seniors. Then our voice started to crack and our libido increased. Sex talk became a favourite pastime and we became ‘pandai mengurat’.

There are endless anecdotes to pen down but that is not the purpose of this article. Which brings me to the last character – Manaf Rahim. To this day, Manaf remains to me as something of an enigma. I have never been able to understand him. We entered the same class in the College, left at the same time, got accepted into the TCS at the same time, joined MCS at the same time, and went to do management courses in the UK (although in different universities) also at the same time. Nonetheless, our relationship had been a series of ups and downs, a case of “now we talk, now we don’t”. He was a peculiar sort of person who behaved strangely in his young days. He would be cheerful and fun-loving one day and morose and contemptuous the next. Sometimes in his pensive mood, he would be muttering profanities to himself, and then, suddenly out of the blues, he would resort to yelling on top of his voice, thereby disturbing the peace. A little later he would be laughing.

He was essentially a clown and laughed to clown around. He enjoyed laughing and had an infectious laughter. He had – funny, rather amusing way of telling jokes. Immediately afterwards he would be laughing at his own jokes, much earlier than his audience, but they could not help laughing too, not so much at his jokes but because they were greatly amused by the funny side of him.

His obsession was tennis, and later, golf but you would not wantto be around when he played badly. He would be cursing himself, then his own father and God-knows-who else! As if that was not enough, he would then hurt himself with the tennis racket or the golf club, as the case may be. The late Yassin had lots of jokes about Manaf and would not hesitate to tell anyone even in front of Manaf, but as usual Yassin would get away with it. Although the two of us are not compatible I have never harboured him any ill-feeling, but if he chooses to keep his distance that is really up to him.

It now remains for me to seek everyone’s forgiveness if any characterisation, as above, offends anyone. It is certainly not my intention to belittle or humiliate anyone. I might, however, have mixed up some facts or incidences or allusions to the wrong people for which I must apologise most humbly. It happened so long ago and my memories may have got the better of me, quite understandably, as I am no longer young. Whatever the objections, I still prefer to remember every one of you for the way you were. I wish you well.

KUALA LUMPUR
JANUARY, 1999.

1 COMMENT

  1. Syed Rosley Abu Bakar Jamalulail was my mother’s younger brother, so when I gained entry into MCKK Form 1 in 1966, we became even closer. He visited me quite often when I was there so much so that I began to wonder whether he really wanted to see me or simply because he missed the Kolej so much…! Eventually, after Kolej, and after graduation, I got to know all of those friends of his, Yassin, Manaf, Raja Zainal, etc. I remember his telling me that Manaf was ambi-dexterous so that when he plays tennis, all his strokes were forehand…no backhand.

    Anyway, I have with me a stack of his writings starting from his early days even before he entered MCKK. I will gladly pass it over to MCOBA to make a copy of, and to use it here for MCOBS to read.

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