The Malay College of Kuala Kangsar (MCKK) is my old school. It is my Alma Mater. It lives, breathes and is a part of me almost every waking moment of my life. Sometimes when I am troubled, it lulls me to sleep with memories of schooldays filled with discipline and purpose, yet tinged with the freedom and exuberance of youth. I have never left MCKK since the first day I arrived in Kuala Kangsar as a bewildered 12-year-old to start life at Prep School. I have never left the school, the school lives in me.
I remember it so well. The Prefect in charge of Prep School then was Ramli Amir, a Sabahan, a larger than large man and stern in stature, but whose presence never left me – first as my dorm prefect, then as Ramlex, the legendary captain of the school’s rugby team and a power horse for the All-Blacks, the pseudonym of the team. He was also the captain of the Ahmad House, one of the four houses at the College. He was a BIG man, indeed.
Ramlex would give you lectures about things what was meant of being a Malay College boy on most nights before lights out. He would tell us about the traditions, the passion and the pride of about being a Malay Collegian. He would also tell us ghost stories and I remember him telling my dorm mates that he saw a ghost or sort of apparition squatting at the window sill next to my bunk bed. After that, I never went to the toilet after lights out to have a pee without my bunk- mate, Wak B accompanying me. He had a stint in Kota Kinabalu Port and whenever I go to Kota Kinabalu, I would try to meet up with him. And the stories about MCKK just flows when we meet up. After all, he is still my prefect at Prep School, my ‘big’ brother and he is still Ramlex.
That is what MCKK does to you. You trusted your bunk-mate to accompany to take a pee at the ‘haunted’ toilet. It was about lasting friendship, common bond and kinsman ship. What started in Kolej follows you everywhere you go and you are the better for it.
Small wonder then that MCKK, or the Eton of the East, simply had to be located in Perak, being the hub of the country’s British Colonial history and in keeping with its Anglo-Saxonian heritage, so that its sacred vision to turn out batch after batch of Civil Service rookies par excellence; Brown Sahibs moulded perfectly in the cultured ways and mannerism of their counterparts in Westminster, would be preserved. It taught the rules the game of cricket and proper Englishman dining etiquette, as well. We also acquired the everlasting taste of English tea and smell of English roses.
But I am not complaining. All that upbringing and culture in Malay College put me in good stead, until today, in my studies (way back), and travels, abroad in the Western Hemisphere. Proficiency in the language, good table manners, self-confidence, and a genuine and everlasting appreciation of the arts especially art itself, theatre, sports, sciences and music…. wouldn`t have had that kind of exposure from such a tender age, had it not been for Alma Mater. And what an Alma Mater! It has left me with an indelible scar of memories and ingrained tattoo of impression.
The Alma Mater was modelled after the quintessential English Public School and nowadays one tends to compare it to the fabled ‘Harry Potter’s Hogwarts School of Magic’. One also tends to remember the Headmaster during one’s tenure in MCKK has always been helmed by great Headmasters starting from Mr William Hargreaves followed by other ‘Mat Salleh’ headmasters up to the last Englishman Headmaster, Mr RJ Ryan in 1965. The headmasters during my time were all Malay Headmaters which included En. (now Dato’) Md Ghazali Hanafiah (1971-1972), En. (now Dato’) Nordin Nasir (1973-1975), and En. (now Dato’) Abd. Rahman Ali (1975-1977). All was there to guard the MCKK’s tradition of excellence and presided on its development, but with individual methods and means. All of my headmasters went on to become big guns in the Ministry of Education.
The various headmasters during my era had their idiosyncrasies and peculiarities that left a mark in the history of the college. En. Ghazali Hanafiah, a short diminutive man, (fondly known as Charlie Tot) was the first Malay ex-teacher of MCKK to be appointed as the Headmaster of the college. En. Nordin Nasir, the ex-Director of Studies (DOS) of the Boys Wing (though we like to think of him as the ex-Commandant) in RMC (Royal Military College). He was remembered as a strict disciplinarian, who ran the college like a military college. An avid advocate of idioms and proverbs, En. Nordin was a firm but fair HM who introduced a lot of reforms in the school. He re-introduced the best classroom and dormitory competition and pioneered the morning cross-country run and exercises in the mornings.
Then, En. Rahman Ali, an avid violist, came in as the HM and he was also an Old Boy of the college; the first of Old Boys to be appointed HM. A bachelor he was to many but to the college he shared his life as father figure and was instrumental in introducing the tutorial system, where teachers were appointed as foster parents to the Collegian. Memories of them would include being caned by them for our youthful indiscretions. Of course, inevitably with their common cliché before caning of “it’s going to hurt me more than it’s going to hurt you”.
These days, of course, the memories will include the last time each of us met each other. And these stories are repeated year after year at the Old Boys’ Dinner, and again and again at other gatherings, formal and informal. Some of the anecdotes get passed down to younger old boys and have become legend. We are Budak Kolej ‘Dulu, kini dan selama-lamanya’ (then, now and forever). We are everywhere. There are old boys in politics, bureaucracy, business, sciences, the arts and even in a terrorist group or two. Our second Prime Minister was an old boy. And, of course, there are a number of Agongs, Sultans and Governors.
I always get a certain thrill when I meet a Sultan and greet him with these simple words: “Budak Kolej, Tuanku.” And the Tuanku would invariably respond with a smile and an extended hand. Ah, the privilege of having a shared past that transcends protocol.
Nothing quite defines an old boy as the tie he wears every Wednesday, or ‘samping’ every Friday or Hari Raya prayers, wherever in the world he happens to be. The tales around the wearing of this tie or ‘samping’ have also become the stuff of legend. Ties that bind and ‘sampin’ of Kolej quality. Strangers greet each other in Putrajaya, London, New York and even Moscow as long-lost friends on the strength of that tie or ‘samping’. Jobs and businesses have been secured because of that tie or ‘samping’ and many a friendship between old boys of different generations have been forged because of it. Meetings with captains of industry, KSUs and ministers have been made possible because of those four letters – MCKK, followed by a mention of your year (the year you left school) and then the house you belonged to – Idris, Ahmad, Sulaiman or Mohd Shah.
Time stands still when we think back on our days at MCKK. Indeed, the rest of the world may be rushing by at breakneck speed, but we Budak Kolej always have time for each other. We have respect bordering on awe for our seniors and patience and a fatherly eye for our juniors. We all have time for each other.
I know that every time I power on my mobile phone, there will be something of MCKK there for me. The batch, I once belong to, has a chat group for idle chatter, nonsense and bantering, but also thoughts about national and global issues and – most important of all — the grandchildren you just saw the weekend before last.
MCKK was a wonderful pressure cooker as well as a microwave oven full of memories. There was much pressure to succeed academically, and we were constantly reminded of our limitations. But when I was also there at a time when we were still allowed to grow and blossom as young adults. We were still free to explore our abilities and talents in other endeavours. We were still able to learn about life, our mistakes and our flaws through the slips, stumbles and falls. Suffice it to say that life in the College was a place of shared drama.
But the final equation was a great diversity of views, opinion and attitudes, which made for a healthy atmosphere in which people were not afraid to speak their minds, but also learned to be tolerant of others. All this was to the benefit of the College. It was a place, which encouraged tolerance, originality of thought and the cultivation of an open mind. These are the qualities, which the Collegians, past and present, adhere to, for they are the living embodiment of the College spirit. And they will always continue to wear the distinctive aura of Collegians, of having been to the Malay College.
As the Malay College assembles the crème de la crème of the Malays, it is a symbol of Malay achievement and excellence. In the college playing fields and classrooms, Malay feudalism was dismantled bit by bit through the history of this country to a point when everyone was equal, separated only by merit and ability. Prince or son of a fisherman, meritocracy amongst the students meant that the best, regardless of birth, excelled. Up to this day, the holistic excellence in all fields, academic and extra-mural undertakings, are placed in great importance, whether in the hot, humid classrooms or in the traditionally important debate and rugby competitions. The Malay College was obsessed in winning, and it rewarded winners greatly.
The Malay College has traditionally turned out boys into men with a sense of responsibility to things greater than themselves, which is perhaps another reason for the Old Boys now are mainly high managers (a category in which include all good businessmen, administrators and successful people or even politicians in general) in high places. Successful management requires abundant dealings of the qualities the MCKK has been known to cultivate; a vision of the Big Picture, and understanding of hierarchies and networks, a keen sense of identity and much self-confidence.
The Collegians believed that when they were the best, they got the best because they deserved the best and there is a big difference about getting the best given by King and country and having the best because their parents could afford it, or their fathers were Old Boys or even the Old Boys of the College had that bit of financial and political clout.
Given the crap the Collegians have had to swallow since they last strutted around in Kuala Kangsar on a Saturday morning leave in their white uniforms, the constant remaking of the Malays according to education models that change with the tides and changing current at the top of the education hierarchy, that’s something to be grateful for. None of the Collegian was truly alone, and when the changes came, they changed together. The Malay College brought home to its wards the truth that intelligence and potential had nothing to do with birth or breeding, and that there was indeed a unity of the Malays. The College educated its wards to see themselves as part of a national agenda.
For that, I am truly blessed that my father had insisted to send me to MCKK. I am the better for it. What I am today has been the product of the education and the friendships I acquired and nurtured from my Kolej days. Now, I belong to a fraternity for eternity. Old boys have shaped, pushed and assisted me to make me the person I am today. I know my friends from my enemies and who are really my true brothers. For that I am grateful and thankful in line with its motto “Fiat Sapientia Virtus” (Let Manliness Come through Wisdom).