The Muar High School was the secondary school I attended to. After my standard six results was out, I received a small note indicating my admission to the Muar High School. It was in 1963 and believe it or not, there were twelve classes for Form One and I was admitted to the last of the Form One Classes, Form One L. Our class teacher was one Mister Quek (I can’t remember his full name). Our class monitor was a small guy named Yunos and I was the assistant monitor. Those days to be a class monitor you must be more intelligent than the rest and Yunos was surely the most intelligent. Mister Quek suggested that I became the assistant monitor because of his fear that Yunos being small could be bullied by the rest and so I was appointed to make sure nobody bully Yunos, not because I was bright. In this class, almost half of the students came from the remote areas of Muar some as far as Pagoh and most of them were of the Javanese descents. So we have names like Marto, Sinapon, Marion and few more all sounded like Italian. They all cycled from Pagoh starting from their houses as early as 5.00am to reach school by 7.00am.
Since my class was the last of all the Form Ones, it was situated at the very end of the building which was very close to few Malay houses. Sometime we could hear their bickerings but what was more irritating was the sound of their frying pans while frying something and the whole class could sniff the fishy aroma.
We had a very good English teacher named Mister Maniam whose pronunciation in English I must insist was superb. In one of his classes, he asked us the meaning of a very difficult word “Phenomenon”. “Can anyone of you tell me what is the meaning of phenomenon?” asked Mister Maniam. Of course none of us knew the meaning of that word and we were all silent for quite sometime. Mister Maniam was walking from front to back few times until finally he said, “Now listen to me. I must explain to you properly for you to understand the word phenomenon. If a cow, eating grass on a field, that is not a phenomenon. If a bird flying on top of a tree, that is also not a phenomenon. But if a cow flying on top of a tree, now that is a phenomenon. Do you now understand the word phenomenon? With that kind of explanation, who wouldn’t.
Our Bahasa Melayu teacher was a tall and stout Malay man named Cikgu Hasrin. He taught us the correct Malay grammer and all the pantuns, the sajaks, the selokas, the gurindams and few other Malay literature. Sometime he would tell us stories of the epic of Ramayana. One day he caught me playing truant and the next morning he summoned me to the teachers’ mess. That was the first time I could really see stars over my head after being slapped by him. He taught us until we reached Form Five and I must admit he was a very good teacher.
Throughout my schooling days I have had very good realtionship with most of my teachers. We had Cikgu Nasir our P.E teacher, Mister Charlie Chua, Mister Stephen Edward our music teacher and later Mr.Eapen, Miss Wong who taught us English Literature and few other good ones but there was one teacher whose realtionship with me was more than any others.
Eight kilometers away from my house is a small village called Parit Bakar and here lived my great grandmother Tok Jilah whom I have always considered as my grandmother. In the early fifties when most of her children moved away to raise their own family, she stayed with her two adopted children, a Chinese whom we all called Pak Hussein and a young Indian girl named Fatimah. She had two of her granddaughters also staying with her we called Che Chah and Mak Ram. One of her son named Taib (Wak Yeb) was studying Law in London and he had four young children who would frequently stay with her. One of them was Wak Yeb’s eldest named Kalsom known among family members as Chom. Whenever I paid Tok Jilah a visit I would normally find Chom around but seldom mixed with her because of our age difference. When Wak Yeb returned home for good, obviously his four children would be staying with him. Grandma was very close to her younger brother Wak Yeb and when he was posted to Kuala Lipis, we would sometime pay him and his family a visit. I remember going to Kuala Lipis with my grandparents sometime in the mid-fifties. The journey from Muar town to Kuala Lipis was torturous and I think I vomitted a thousand times. Whenever we paid them a visit I would mix with Wak Yeb’s two boys Don (Hamidon) and Mod (Mahmood) and both were five and two years my senior respectively. Of course Wak Yeb’s two daughters Chom (Kalsom) and Noni (Normah) were also around but I did not mix with them. I can’t remember whether Kem (Kamaruddin) their youngest was around.
Later Chom studied in University Malaya and she became not only the pride of her family but ours as well. When she graduated she took a teaching job and was posted in Muar town. One evening when I returned home, I observed a sports car Triumph Spitfire at the front of the house. Seeing a sports car those days was something spectacular and I was curious whose could that be? When I entered the house there was Chom talking to grandma. I greeted her and she returned my gesture and then asked me:
“Where are you schooling?”
“Muar High School”, I answered.
“What Form are you in” she asked again.
“I will be in Form Four when school reopen”, I answered.
“Oh yes? I will be teaching in your school when school reopen. Maybe I will be teaching in Forms Four and Five”, she answered smilingly.
“Oh no”, I thought to myself. I hope she won’t be teaching in my class.
Technically Chom is my auntie as she is my mother’s first cousin but because I was brought up by my grandmother (her auntie), I have always considered her as my cousin. During the days when I used to visit Tok Jilah in Parit Bakar, Chom would surely be around mixing with her cousins Che Chah, Mak Ram and few others while I would be running all around the house with boys my age. She was quite reserved in her own ways and that could probably made me avoid her most of the time. Now, as time passed, she had grown into a woman with a bright career ahead of her but until she pursued her career in other challenging sectors, she had taken a job as a teacher at the Muar High School. The year was 1966.
Every students had by now enterted the school hall and our headmaster Mister Pierrera sat at the center of the podium surrounded by other teachers likewise in their seating positions. When all the teachers stood up, all of us gave them a simultaneous thunderous greetings of GOOD MORNING TEACHERS. Then our music teacher began with the first song of Negara Ku, followed by the Johor National anthem and lastly the School anthem. It was the first day of our first term and Mr.Pierrera gave a short speech. Then he began to introduce new teachers who would be teaching various subjects. There were two American Corps; a young tall American lady and a stout man in his early thirties, and finally a young Malay lady with the kebaya. Before she stood up to introduce herself, I knew that was auntie Chom, I had that special privilege to know first but I didn’t tell a soul.
On our first day there wasn’t any sign of auntie Chom teaching in my class and to me that seemed to be a good chance that she would not be teaching in my class. When class ended for the day, I met my Form Three classmate Shahid Yassin who was in Form Four A. I wasn’t as good as him and so the reason why I was in B class. It was him that told me of a new Malay teacher named Kalsom Taib who would be teaching history lesson. No wonder there wasn’t any sign of auntie Chom on the first day as we did not have our history class but tomorrow there would be a history lesson and I had better watch out.
At home during dinner grandma asked me whether I met Chom in school. I told her that Chom was introduced to the school during the morning assembly but I did not meet her in person but tomorrow the chances of me meeting her would be very great. “Then please send my salam to her”, grandma said.
When class began the next morning, I was prepared for the worst. I now knew she was going to teach us history and my history wasn’t that good, in fact I wasn’t good in anything except for singing and drawing. My worst subject was Physics and to make it even worse, our Physics teacher was an American Peace Corp whose accent was akin to that of John Wayne. At the end of every Physics lesson, I did not have a single clue what was he talking about. Somehow I liked English Literature simply because it was more of story telling.
My close classmates were Zainal Abidin Jaafar, Hamid Othman, Zainal Sakom, Medali Karto, Onn Aziz and there was one new guy who came from Malacca and of a Portugese descent. His name was Alfred Walter Lopez, and he looked like a younger version of Trini Lopez. I liked to tease him by saying, ‘Hello Kuih Lopes’. Apparently Walter (as we all called him) was a good history student particularly about the Portugese’s invasion of Malacca. Sometime I would tease him by asking, ‘Are you related to Alfonso D’Albuquerque?’, and he answered smilingly, “No, he was my ancestor’s neighbour back in Portugal”. Walter somehow was very proud to be a Malaysian and kept telling everyone that he was more Malaysian than any of us as his ancestors came to Malacca much much earlier than any of ours.
My seat was at the front row on the left side of the class and the teacher’s table was on the right and that gave me some breathing space. Then the moment arrived, our history lesson was to begin soon and not far from our class we could see our new history teacher walking towards our direction. This time she was wearing a Baju Kurung. “Pheeew”, my inner self began to crumble to pieces.
As she entered the class, all of us stood up to greet her and she returned our gestures with a smile. She began introducing herself and I pretended that ‘ok now I know’. She began with a scanty speech emphasizing the importance of learning our country’s history. Then she requested each one of us to stand up and introduced ourself and that must begin from the front row and she pointed at my row. As I was sitting at the front, I began first by introducing myself and she nodded maybe pretending also ‘ok now I know’. When all of us had introduced ourself, she began to exhibit her teaching skill.
Walter and me became her favourite targets when questioning time, maybe she was not familiar with the rest with many sounded so Italian. Walter was not a common name so that made her more easier to remember but others must have wondered how come she remembered Kamaruddin Abdullah so well, complete with my surname.
I remember most vividly her first question to me: “Kamaruddin Abdullah, what year was the Pangkor Treaty signed? And who was the Governor-General then?
Wow, I didn’t know what was the Pangkor Treaty all about in the first place and now she wants me to tell her when was it signed? I stood up and faced straight to the wall in front of me pretending to think which was not necessary and after few seconds she told me to sit and asked Walter and his answer was swift. “I hope she won’t tell grandma”, I said to myself. For the next few weeks I spent most of my time reading history books
As months passed, Chom began to gain the trusts of many students and their history improved tremendously. She was very kind to everyone and even allow some of her students to drive her Sunbeam Alpine but only around the school compound and Zainal Abidin Jaafar was one of them. Sometime she would even walk around the tuck shop to see what food was available.
In June the same year, my whole world collapsed because grandma passed away suddenly. She was the pillar of my strength and was everything to me. Chom took a day’s leave to assist in all the funeral preparation and was a great help all through. Since then, my life slowly deteriorated and I was always in grief and my study likewise did not improve. That was another chapter of my early life.
Chom taught us only in Form Four and left after the school term ended and began her new career in Kuala Lumpur. Later she got married to a good man named Shafee Yahaya (Dato’). I attended her wedding and that was the first time I met our second Prime Minister Tun Abdul Razak in person. The Sultan of Johor, Sultan Sir Ismail Ibrahim likewise atteneded her wedding.
I was a dumb student in history but became even dumber when my history teacher was my auntie but in later years, somehow my history improved tremendously and today I read a lot of history books. Thanks to auntie Chom.