Sunday, October 25, 2020

 This is a sequel from The Outsider In SIS from Mr. Thanda

The turning point in my life

Thanda Govindasamy/Wan Faridah Wan Jaafar


Big brother approach

As earlier mentioned, I grew up in a multi-racial kampong, and studied in a similar environment in school and college.  When I became the Hostel Master I was in the same environment as my growing up years. Race, colour, religion were no obstacles in performing my duties. All I saw were boys from poverty stricken areas of poor families. This made me decide, that I am not only a Hostel Master but an elder brother too to all these growing up kids. I vowed to help them grow up into responsible and useful citizens.

Food, their basic need, was there and taken care of.  Guidance was what they needed most.  Fortunately the hostel prefects were a great help. They helped to maintain discipline and made sure that the residents abide by all regulations and maintain regular study hours.  In these aspects I supported the prefects whole heartedly.  Our priorities were discipline and studies besides sports and games.

When I faced no problems with race and religious issues, I brought along my younger brother to study in the school and stay in the hostel. He too never had much problems in integrating with other residents, though food was a problem for him.  Minor problems yes but never on race and religion.


Kelantan bomoh debunked

My parents came over for a visit during one of the school holidays and stayed for two weeks in the hostel. They too were very impressed with what they saw and felt the simplicity of the people in Pasir Mas, very much similar to the experience they had in our kampong back home.  All the talk of charm and bomoh were hearsay and mere stories of the past. They found the people very friendly and welcoming. Possibly Pasir Mas folks knew me as a school teacher and that was indeed a big plus when my folks went about in town. The local people had a real big respect for teachers in those days unlike nowadays.



I was often called up by Mr. Ghouse to answer to the hostel management issues; why the electric and water bills were suddenly too high, why the hostel boys were too involved in so many games and school activities. He would from time to time request for students’ school performance.  Normally I had some ready-made answers to each of those questions. Yet one morning, I was called up and asked, "Who put my son’s bicycle up on the tree. It must be your brother. I want it removed, now".  Of course the bicycle was removed but no one mentioned who did it.  Till today I still don't know who did it. When asked, my brother’s response was, “No, I didn’t do it”.  The hostel boys never snitch on their friends.  Should any severe punishment be meted out, it was always the guilty party that owned up to their wrong doings or being caught red-handed.

There were times, the teachers staying in the hostel, found their biscuit tins emptied and fruits or some food missing. We teachers in the hostel, made no big fuss over the matter. Siapa lagi?(who else did it?).  It was years later when the culprit owned up.  Mohamad Zawawi Ahmad, in his essay, did mention quite a bit of things that happened or things committed by the hostel boys. But all were done in good spirits.


Pranking the boss

I have not told this incident to many but Iam sharing it now for us to share a good laugh.  During the year end long November-December school holidays only the Form 5 boys stayed back because their examinations were on.  I too stayed back to help supervise them.  One weekend, it was flooding and Mr. Goh, the Officer In Charge of Police District (OCPD) of Pasir Mas, used to go to flooded areas to help rescue flood victims and take them to safer areas.  One evening we went out to the Rantau Panjang area. We could not differentiate the road from the river, but the boatman was real good steering us away from potential problems. We rescued some people who were desperately waving from roof tops.

After the rescue operations we returned to the police station.  By then it was about 4 am in the morning. We were resting in Mr. Goh's house with hot coffee and having breakfast, when I decided to pull a fast one on the headmaster Mr. Yusoff Ghouse..

The hostel was supposed to be a relief centre for flood victims. I picked the phone and said, "Ini panggilan dari Bilik Operasi, Pejabat Daerah.  Kami akan hantar lebih kurang 30 mangsa banjir ke asrama sekolah tuan.  Tolong bersedia untuk tempatkan mangsa di asrama tuan”(This is a call from The Operation Room of The District Office. We are going to send over about 30 flood victims to your school hostel. Please be ready to place these victims at you hostel). Mr. Yussof Ghouse of course answered the call at about 5.30 am in the morning and said, “Ia boleh”(Yes, you can). We knew that the hostel was supposed to be a flood relief centre.

After the call we went back to the hostel. I was reading the papers at about 6.30am, when Mr. Yusoff Ghouse came and said, “Thanda, about 30 flood victims will be sent here shortly”.  So we walked through the hostel and he gave me instructions, “Lock your area and do make sure that they only stay inside the hostel. We don’t know who they are or where they are from. Anyway be careful. Am not sure what time they will come, be prepared to direct them”. When he left after a few more instructions, I went straight to bed, feeling sorry for the old man. May his soul rest in peace.

An Outsider In SIS Pasir Mas

 This is the story about Mr. Thanda, my former teacher and Hostel Master from Bukit Mertajam Penang who came to teach in a far flung school known as Sultan Ibrahim Secondary School in 1962 immediately after graduating from Malayan Teachers College.

An Outsider in SIS Pasir Mas

Thanda Govindasamy/Wan Faridah Wan Jaafar

 Racial integration

The Kelantanese are generally friendly and helpful.   However, they do keep an arm’s length from people from outside the state.  This is especially so with people whom they recently meet and do not know too well.  These outsiders are normally termed as orang luar(outsider).  Despite this idiosyncrasy, once an orangluar is accepted, the Kelantanese will usually embrace an orangluar as a family member.

I was prepared for life in this Malay dominated state.  I had a two-year stint at Penang Malayan Teachers’ Training College, being thrown in the dormitory together with mostly Malay students from Kelantan, Terengganu and Johore. Furthermore, I had an early dose of racial integration as I grew up in Kampong Baru, Bukit Mertajam, Penang.  It was multi-racial kampong (village) and people of all races mixed freely. We assimilated so well that in school, it never crossed my mind that I must be careful with what said or did, so as not to hurt thefeelings of friends. Race, religion, culture and food were never issues of concern at all. Life was easy going for all of us.

At the end of our second year in the training college we were given forms to fill.  One was for us to indicate where we would like to be posted to start our teaching career.  My Kelantanese friends said to me, “Come to Kelantan”.  So I wrote “Kelantan”. I never told my parents that I had requested for a Kelantan posting otherwise they would have freaked out! For whatever reason, they believed that Kelantan then was not a safe place to be.  Those days there were too many stories floating around of bomohs(shamans) and black magic practised in these states, especially in Kelantan.

As requested, I got posted to Sultan Ibrahim Secondary School (SIS), Pasir Mas, Kelantan.  I was happy but dared not show how thrilled I was in front of my parents. Of course my parents were persistent that I appeal against the posting. I told them that if I were to appeal I might be posted to a worse town or a more remote village. I must have appeased my parents with that reasoning for the appeal issue was never again raised.

Getting to Pasir Mas

There was a nationwide railway strike in 1963 and all train services in the country were put on hold.  So how was I to get to Pasir Mas then? There was nobody from my village whom I knew were knowledgeable enough for me to ask about getting to Pasir Mas.

In panic, I forgot that schools had already reopened after the December long year end school holidays.  I also forgot that in Kelantan schools start on Sundays. In desperation, Icalled and spoke to the Principal, Mr. Yussof Ghouse.  He told me that I should take a flight to Kota Bahru. Flight? ButI have never flown before! After some inquiries I managed to get a flight to Kota Bahru, but the seat was only available a week later.  The airport was then in Butterworth.  All set, my flight was on 13th January even though schools in Kelantan had reopened on 2nd January. Never did it cross my mind that I was going to a Malay dominated state with different culture and customs.

I landed in Kota Bharu to be welcomed by my first shower of the heavy northeast monsoon rain. After asking around, I got into a shared taxi and headed for Pasir Mas. After over an hour’s ride, the taxi came to an abrupt stop.  It stopped near a wide river and while I was still at a loss as to what to do next, the other passengers got out of the taxi and rushed to some small motorised boats moored by the jetty near the river bank. I was told that the school I was headed to was across the river. I had to get into one of the boats, what the locals called ferry, to cross the river. In spite of my initial apprehension, we got across safely and again I looked for a taxi to take me to my final destination.

Upon inquiry, I was instead greeted by good-natured shouts of, “Mana ada teksi? Inilah teksi”,(What taxi? This is the taxi) from a few men standing under the shade.  They were pointing to what were really trishaws or beca. My first language lesson of the local dialect! However, I found that the people were very friendly and helpful, just like what my friends mentioned in college.  I relived the teksi ride many times over, a beholding sight it was!  Imagine tall me fitting into the small teksi cabin, with my luggage on the cabin floor by my feet and the poor thin teksi rider huffing and puffing across Pasir Mas town to deliver me to the gates of SIS.

On entering the school compound I met with two teachers, Mr. V. V.George and Mr. Leslie Abraham. They showed me to the school hostel as directed by the school Principal.

 A life new chapter

Came 14th January, I reported to the Principal.  After the formal welcome greetings he directed me to ask Mr. George for my class timetable.  Only then did I realise that Mr. George was the school Senior Assistant.  He had heard a lot about me from Mr. Pang Chok Chu, who was my college mate. Apparently, Mr. Pang had told Mr. George a great deal about me; that I was this and that, and could do this and that.  Thanks to my absentee introduction, I became a home teacher, teacher in-charge of the English Literary and Debating Society, and the Scouts Master to top.  Matilah saya!(I am dead!)

Worse of all, my class was in the afternoon. There goes my time for games.  After this initial introduction, I headed back to the hostel.  The hostel residents were looking strangely at me, as if I had just arrived from Africa!  The smaller boys, with all heads popping in and out of the windows, looked frightened.  It was further terrifying for them to know that all of them were going to be in the afternoon session class with me!

Next, I was to enter a strange world, Form 1B, my home class.  To my surprise the class had only eight boys and 16 unruly girls.  To every question of mine, it was the girls who answered.  I told myself that this would not do.  For the first time I became biased against the girls!  Just to niggle the girls, I chose two of the quietest boys as the class monitor and  assistant.

I taught English to my class and woodwork lessons to all Form 1 class boys.  There were two form one classes.

It was much later when I realised that I had a mixed class of students; a group who came through bridge class and another from Standard 6 from the neighbouring English Primary School.  A bridge class in the school was essentially an adjustment class meant for students from vernacular schools who opted to continue their secondary education at SIS.  SIS was then the only English medium secondary school for the whole district of Pasir Mas.  In SIS most of the bridge class students were from the surrounding Chinese primary schools.  No wonder there was such a vast difference in speech, mannerism and level of confidence.  I decided I had to do something about this major differences; not according to race, religion and culture but based more on the confidence level of each student, especially that of the boys.

As months passed by, I managed to get the boys and ex-bridge class students to be more vocal and participative in class activities.  Little did I realise then that these devils I had would later break the school’s record with their Form 5 examination results!

To those who came through the English primary school, they had Mr. Vijaya to thank for developing their confidence while in Standard 6.  He did a great job and I was sure of that from the boisterous sample I had in my class.  Many still recognised his contributions.  Some from the bridge class who also managed to do well in Form 5, went on to university to further their studies and became successful in their chosen careers.  Well done to all my ex-students!  Surprisingly one who did not manage to do well quit school early but later in life was able to build by himself, his own two-storey house in his later years.  He is a successful man now, all by his own making.

Race, religion and culture were never ever mentioned or uttered in all the six years I spent in SIS, be it among my colleagues or students.  A big syabas (congratulations) to my ex-students especially the ones who completed their Form 5 in 1967 and 1968.  I had the privilege to move with the same class from Form 1 to Form 5, except in 1966, when I left for a one year in-service training course at the Specialist Teachers’ Training College in Cheras, Kuala Lumpur.

Those were the days, most memorable, unforgettable and the best part of my teaching career and life too.  A big thank you to all my good friends.

 The hostel story

My hostel story is another unforgettable episode of my days in Pasir Mas.  My SIS hostel days were so interesting and memorable, so much so that I am not sure how to start and end writing about all the experiences that I went through.

Mr.Vijaya, the Hostel Master, told me frankly, loud and clear that my hostel stay was only transient.  At the most I will be allowed to stay for another two or three days, after which I would have to move out and find accommodation elsewhere.  When I returned to the hostel after my first day in school, Mr.Vijaya was waiting for me, all dressed up to help go look for a room for me to reside.  So we went room hunting, but no rooms were available.  The few that we saw, Mr.Vijaya did not take a liking to them.  Privately, I was happy.  This went on for next two or three days.  Fortunately for me, Mr. Peter Souster started saying, “I don’t mind sharing room with you, further I am supposed to return to England in August”.

By that time Mr.Vijaya had taken a liking to me as he found out that we shared common interests.  He asked about his ex-students who were in my class then.  Our conversations became interesting and Mr.Vijaya suddenly said, “If Peter doesn't mind, you can continue to stay on”.  Peter was happy too because we played the same games; hockey, cricket and rugby.  We clicked well and what a relief it was for me as I no longer needed to worry about food, laundry or transport.  What more could I asked for?

Gradually I got to know some of the bigger hostel boys, especially those who played games.  The feeling that I was accepted by the Hostel Master and the student residents took a load of pressure and tension off my shoulders.

Yes, I became part of the hostel and enjoyed every moment of my stay there.  Sometimes in June/July, Mr.Vijaya gained admission to the University of Malaya and Peter left for England in August.  Both left and I was appointed as the Hostel Master.  With the job came the responsibility.  Mr.Yussof Ghouse told me in no simple term, “You cannot be smiling and just be a good friend to the boys.  These boys are mostly from the kampongs and need to be developed with proper discipline and mannerism.  They need proper supervision and you have to be strict.  Punish them if necessary”.

There were only three Chinese boys staying in the hostel and one of them was the school Head Prefect and automatically became the Hostel Head Prefect.  This further reinforced my belief that race, religion and food were not sensitive issues at all.  I had a meeting with the Head Prefect, got all the information I needed and began the task of working with the tiniest to the naughtiest.  Soon I found out that the Rantau Panjang gang was calling the shots in the hostel.  Most of the boys from other kampongs were scared of this Rantau Panjang gang.  I got around them by getting these big Rantau Panjang bullies involved in games.

The hostel residents were outstanding in nearly all school activities.  I found them well-behaved too.  The boys had nothing to complain because they had four meals a day compared to some of their classmates.  They were indeed well fed as just after three months in the hostel, one could see them gaining weight, looked healthy and were very active.

Having the opportunity to stay in the hostel was indeed a plus point for these boys.  However, these privileges came with strict conditions.  Should they be caught breaking the hostel rules, they could be expelled.  But I do not recall having to dismiss anyone from the hostel.  They were mostly from poor homes and life in the hostel was more than anyone could ask for, me included.  Similarly,  should I fail to perform my duties, I too would be replaced.  This made all of us in the hostel took our roles seriously.

 An Outsider Accepted

I was the Hostel Master from August 1963 till the end of 1965.  In 1966, I was away for a one year in-service training.  Mr. Pang then took over the role of the Hostel Master.  When I returned in 1967, the Principal asked me to take charge of the hostel again.  That was a surprise to me.  More so of the news of Mr. Pang getting married and moving to the teachers’ quarters.  I continued to perform the Hostel Master’s duty till the end of 1968.  By then I was fully accepted by the students and especially the hostel residents, that the orang luar feeling was all gone. It was indeed sad when I had to leave the place.