The forgotten houseboys of MCKK

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The houseboys serving the Prep School Boys 1954.

There was a time in the history of the Malay College Kuala Kangsar that apart from the employed teachers, there were an array of support staff namely the matrons, clerks, drivers, office boys, houseboys, lab assistants, gardeners etc that was part of the community of MCKK that has touched the hearts of many of its alumni.

House boys are well-known in the MCKK system as the backbones of many breakfasts, snack time, lunch, tea-time, dinner and supper every day of their College life. The houseboy system was probably started in 1909 with the completion of Big School (the Main Hostel) when it was a boarding school for sons of Sultans, aristocrats and Malay elites. It ended in 1999 when the last of the houseboys retired. The houseboy system become extinct as the cooking and serving services (plus all other support services) were outsourced in the name of now common term of rationalisation. Pity, they are rarely pictured in the annual school magazines or any old boys’ anniversaries coffee table books.

A houseboy is typically a male domestic worker or personal assistant who performs cleaning and personal chores. The term has history within British colonialism, Royal houses or military contexts. It describes a boy or man employed to undertake domestic duties like cooking, cleaning, gardening, hair cutting, boot polishing, etc; an occupation that one undertakes from boyhood to manhood.

Most of the houseboys began their occupation as youngster until they retired and being houseboys was the only vocation they know. Pre 1999, all meals were prepared by a team of in-house houseboys & cooks who are assigned to the meals as per set agreed menu, cook them in large cauldrons (kawah), lay plates and cups at the Dinner Hall, serve the boys and then clean up after each meal. It was sort of the catering activities for a ‘kenduri kahwin’.

The houseboys were the engine room of our meals. They were the wonderful people who toiled from dawn to midnight just the to feed the Malay Collegians. You can hear them working with the clattering-clang at the kitchen at the early mornings and at nights when you are about to sleep as they concluded their last tasks. They would slaughter live chicken at the back of the kitchen, buying and bringing over the groceries and market items, cooking the necessary menu of the day, washing the utensils, plates (before the change to aluminium trays) and the cleaning up after each meal. They would collect all the waste food and put it into bins behind the kitchen which would later be collected by the local pig breeders.

The army of houseboys & cooks has the capacity to cook and feed 700 College boys at time. At times, food is cooked at the central kitchen and delivered by tricycle and later van to the various hostel blocks scattered on the College campus. The houseboys took turns to serve the various hostel blocks.

They were the salaried government employees working in the dining hall and kitchen consisting predominantly of local Malays and amongst them many Indian Uncles as well. They were the jovial unsung heroes that you learnt the local ‘Kuale’ dialect (the kome, mika, bior, tak sior etc) that had endeared as part of our own ‘language’. The houseboys & cooks were part of the big Malay College family and befriending them would get you the extra ration of ‘bubur kacang’ (bean porridge), hot water for your Maggi mee, extra biscuits and bananas. The Malay Collegians respected them and addressed them as ‘Pakciks’ (Uncles) and some of them are legendary to these days.

In the Big School Dining Hall 1965.

In the 50’s to the 70’s, the Chief Houseboys were Pak Yan, Pak Samad Rahman, Pak Idris and Ariffin Pin (Pak Pin) or Pakcik Walrus for his demeanour. They were the Major Dumos of the Kitchen and Dining Hall supervising the various activities.

There was Pakcik (Uncle) David who retired in 1990, as well as with Pakcik Ashok who loves to take pictures of our activities and help clean the picture (50 cents apiece).

Pakcik David (Uncle) as I remembered him as the guy with the thinnest legs for anyone connected to football (soccer). He was also a qualified FIFA football referee who umpired many football matches in College and the district of Kuala Kangsar. If Pakcik David was not blowing a whistle on the field, he’ll be pouring tea in your cup from his kettle.

If I remember correctly, he was the referee of the football match between MCKK and SM Kati and we were leading 16-0 when SM Kati teacher in charge called his team off the field and staged a walkout claiming bias refereeing. When the match was replayed a few weeks later, we won with a far bigger score 22-0 without Pakcik David as referee.

There was Pakcik Hasni Onn, a houseboy who became turned to be the Librarian of the College Library. Hasni Onn has since retired, but from the day of started work at MCKK in 1965, he had archived all newspaper cuttings pertains to MCKK and any newspaper articles on any Old Boy. His daughter married an Old Boy and nowadays Pakcik Hasni spends his time at the neighbouring Ridzwaniah mosque and doing voluntary work.

We also would not forget the kind-hearted Uncle Salam who would collect the waste food after our meals to feed the roaming cats at the College. There was a small Indian named Bunga, an unusual name for an Indian chap. Maybe he likes to pick flowers, I would presume. But Pakcik Bunga would serve you the biggest ayam kurma and ayam masak merah on Friday and Saturday night Dinners. Then there was a Malay houseboy (forgot his name) who sells nasi lemak bungkus every morning at the entrance of dining hall at Prep School. Indeed, these houseboys had kind hearts with kind souls.

Pak Cik Salam or Arunasalam (or mainly known as Aya) has been working in the College for more than 40 years since 1953 and he retired in 1993. He would buy packets of kuay tiaw (after taking from the boys) in Kuala Kangsar at night and delivered them to the boys in the dorm. (He was both doing a favour and doing business at the same time.)

However, since his retirement, that did not end his connections with MCKK where afterwards he became a bicycle food peddler in College selling buns, capati, drinks, tit-bits and crisp until he could cycle anymore. I dare say that some Collegian has not cleared their debts for the things they ‘bought’ from Aya to these days.

There was also the houseboy turned gardener named 9-digit Suppaya, the College groundsman, who apparently cut his toe while lawn-mowing but somehow managed to pick it up, bandaged it up, brought it to the doctor at the hospital but found it was stitched upside down!

Even former Houseboys never actually left the College. The gentle giant Hagrid-like ex-Houseboy, the pot-bellied Mutalib, could still be found in the College Surau (renowned for his Tarzan-like ‘azan’ and his explosive farts) and used the College toilets for quite sometimes, much to the disdain of many College Boys. You can just imagine a big size man using a small size toilet cubicle and leaving a big stool, and the pong lingers on. There was also a retired houseboy named Arshad or Pak Chad who would come over to College during sports or games day and would usher the boys to be behind the lines with his trusty umbrella. He travelled free on trains from his place up north.

It was rumoured that when Dato’ Seri Anwar Ibrahim returned to MCKK, after decades, as the Minister of Education, to officiate The Speech Day 1994, ‘the non-teaching staff’ were over-whelmed by his presence, and tried to keep their distance as a mark of respect for their Y.A.B. However, Dato’ Seri Anwar went searching for them – houseboys, the cooks, the sweepers and put everyone at ease by thanking them for looking after his welfare during his schooldays.

Those were the endeared ‘pakcik’ houseboys that had touch our life in MCKK and many of the College would have stories and anecdotes about them. Our wings were small then but the ripples of their heart were infinite. It is the sweat of those people that make their us look smart and good with the food they cooked and served.

There’s nothing very special about them, just ordinary folks, we might think. We all forget. Then we forget what we forgot. And that’s how they survive. We should honour those you had fed us during a time that we were growing up. To the ‘Pakcik’ Houseboys, we honour you. Terima kasih pakcik-pakcik!

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