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Thursday, August 26, 2010

My Early Years - part 2

Although there were 3 of us from the same school living together in the house (in different classes), somehow I felt alienated when it came to matters of the school. And it was not the studies that I’m talking about. It was about what to do and what not to do. There were many occasions when I had gone to school with a bag-load of books only to discover that I needn’t have to as it was ‘prize giving day’…. Or it was ‘exhibition day’ or ‘school concert’. Until today I still wonder how the information didn’t flow to me or was it because I was a dreamer. I remember going to year 2 in 1965 in the morning only to be told that I had to come back in the afternoon as they had placed me in ‘express class’. I didn’t have any inkling on what it was all about but went along anyway. Unlike other kids my age, I didn’t have anyone to chaperone me to school or seek clarification from the teachers. My folks were far, far away in a God forsaken estate, working hard to put food on the table for 6 kids. With my Dad’s meager income as Hospital Attendant cum Dispenser and my Mum as a Ward Maid cum midwife, it must have been financially tight to cater to my needs too since I was living away from home and I am sure they had to pay something for my board and lodging. But they never once complained. My orthodox parents always gave priority to education at any cost.
I went on to spend another 3 years in Butterworth with my uncle’s family before finally being transferred back to a school in Kulim after my Standard 5 in 1967 having gone through Standard 3 and 4 in the same year in 1966. Doing 2 standards in one year might have been a novel idea catering for bright kids but it didn’t quite work out for me as I struggled through Standard 5 as the express class syllabus of year 3 and 4 didn’t quite cover many of the subjects leaving me sort of lost and confused the following year. But after Standard 6, I was ok though. In later years, I would return to this place where I spent my early school years namely to my Uncle’s house at No. 88 Kampung Bengali many a time to relive fond memories of my childhood.
Back in the estates after that, I was enrolled at St. Patrick’s primary during the last quarter of my Standard 5. It was a missionary school and I found it strange having to address the Principal as ‘Brother’. Once again I didn’t expect this as my brothers who had studied in the same school hadn’t mentioned about it before……or maybe they had but it hadn’t quite register in my mind since as a kid, I was always preoccupied and drowned in my own thoughts (we know it as ‘day dreaming’ now). And there were a lot of Christian boys in my class too. There were Raymond, Ruban James, Andrew, Victor, Peter S, Albons and a few more who I cannot recall. From this list, only Raymond and I went on to foster a close relationship…… (He has been mentioned in many of my other stories). Although he has since settled down in Norway, we still keep in touch.
After the December holidays, I prepared to start my Standard 6 and as usual found a seat beside Raymond until an hour or so later when the Principal appeared in the class, said something to the class teacher (Mr. Chinniah) and soon led me away to his office where he informed me that he had not received the green light as yet from the Ministry on whether I could go to Standard 6 as being younger by a year, I was under-aged to be in Standard 6. Disheartened and disappointed, I was sent back to Standard 5 again where I remained for another month until I was cleared by the Ministry to continue in year 6. Wow! What a relief that was!

Saturday, August 21, 2010

My early years - part 1

The year 1964 was the only year when all 6 of us (siblings) were still in school, with me starting in Standard 1 and my eldest sister completing her Form 5. There were no English schools at the estate where my parents lived; the nearest one was about 20 miles away through laterite roads in Kulim, so my Dad had put us all up at my Aunty’s place in Butterworth to get through our education. Like all orthodox families, Dad was steadfast in his belief that a good education was the only key to success.
After my sister finished her Form 5, it was felt that we should all return to live in the estate as we were big enough to endure the 35 km travel to school. The estate provided 2 school buses leaving each morning catering to the needs of the more than70 students studying in the town. It meant that we had to wake up by 5 each morning to catch the 6 o’clock for the journey that would usually take about an hour. There were not many vehicles on the roads then to compete for space, so the travel was hassle-free except that the white uniforms turned beige by the time we reached school. But I didn’t have to go through all these then……not for the next 3 years at least. The reason was that my folks felt that waking up early to make the arduous journey to school would be too much for me to bear at that age. Moreover I was one of those selected to go through “express” class….meaning, I get to complete the next 4 years of classes in 3 years. And schools in Kulim didn’t practice the express class system then.
So in 1965 when the rest of my siblings moved back to study in Kulim, I had to stay back to continue my education in Butterworth. They put me up at one of my uncle’s place where there were a host of other school going kids too with whom I soon bonded and blended in to become one of their own, travelling back to the estates only during school holidays. Initially I felt lonely….. extremely lonely, especially each time I came back after the holidays. There had been moments when I’d just bury my face in the pillow and cry my heart out. Although I was surrounded by so many of my relatives here, it was never the same. I missed my mum especially.
So it was here in Butterworth where I grew up the next 3 years until I completed my Standard 5 in 1967. My uncle was a tailor. He starts early usually by 8 or 9am and I have only seen him working through the day without any real breaks in between, often rushing to complete his orders. I remember doing errands for him once or twice, running over to the shops nearby to get him his favourite ‘rough-rider’ cigarettes……..not much of a smoker though as he only smoked about 4 or 5 sticks a day. Such was his discipline. I remember him as a mild mannered person and had never ever seen him admonishing his kids in any way…not once! Disciplining was the forte of my aunt (his wife).
There were many of us in the same age group including the neighbourhood boys. Vidya, being the last son, was naturally the blue-eyed boy in the family. He seldom joined us in our activities preferring to stay back with the family. The other cousin Ravi (often referred to as Big Ravi as we both shared the same name) was the head of our pack. Together we engaged in all kinds of games….kite, tops, marbles, police & thief, rounders etc……games that have almost disappeared from this part of the world now. Many of the neighbours were muslim boys. But back then friendship was not built along racial or religious preference. We were just harmless young kids who happened to get along well with no such inhibitions whatsoever. There were the bad guys in the group too (Gabriel and his Donald) who fortunately, we avoided mixing with after being advised not to by the elders. Later in life, Gabriel & Donald went on to become wanted criminals in the country. I didn’t keep track of what happened to them after that but with no news of them in the tabloids these past 20 or 30 years, they must have met their Maker, like everyone else like them.
The girls in the house treated me well……Chandrika, Subathra, Sumathi and their cousins Thangam and Uma (or Parija as she was called). They had a large room upstairs for themselves while the boys slept in the other smaller room. The blue-eyed boy, of course, slept with his parents. I went on to spend the next 3 years here during which time I missed home dearly but seldom spoke of it to anyone. I missed being with my siblings who I got to see only during school breaks.
(….to be continued)

Friday, August 20, 2010

Hem Raj's graduation

Finally, Hem Raj has graduated with a degree in Mechanical Engineering. The challenges of life will begin from now on for him. But I'm sure he will be able to endure them all in his stride.

Congratulations Hem Raj!