At seven years old I was tall enough to climb grandpa’s bicycle and when we began our journey it was almost 12pm and school would start at 1pm. Today would be my first day in primary school and by now I wasn’t crying, in fact I was quite excited. One year at the Sekolah Bandar Maharani had given me enough confidence to begin another chapter in my schooling life. The Ismail School was situated along Jalan Temenggong Ahmad, approximately two miles from where we lived. Grandpa began from home at Jalan Omri then rode along Jalan Abdul Rahman and later turning left towards Jalan Sultan Ibrahim and eventually reached the junction of Jalan Temenggong Ahmad where the Central Electricity Board (CEB) building stood. Jalan Temenggong Ahmad was quite a long stretch and the road would lead to Parit Bakar Darat and eventually to Parit Jawa and Batu Pahat. Halfway through Jalan Temenggong Ahmad we turned left and approximately half a mile further inside stood the school where I would be attending to for the next six years. As I sat at the steel bar of grandpa’s bicycle holding tightly the center of the handle, I gazed at the new surroundings and I’d better be familiar because soon grandpa would not be sending me. It was in 1957 that I started my primary school.
This time grandpa need not wait for me as I was quite confident and knew where to go and would come later to fetch me home. Many boys were crying and their parents had quite a stressful moments consoling them. I asked one man in a uniform and showed my birth certificate and he brought me to the school office. I remember the Headmaster was Cikgu Ali and he brought me to my class and was shown where I should be seated. Cikgu Ali however was not long in this school and was later replaced by Mister Gurnam Singh.
Our class teacher was a young Chinese lady I remember only as Miss Lim. She was such a nice lady and I sat beside a boy who was suffering from epilepsy. We didn’t know what was his sickness then and so we called it ‘sakit gila babi’. I cant’ remember his name and I truly pity him whenever the sickness came, it was as though he was in a trance. When he recovered, I could see that he was feeling so tired. Many students would not want to be near him but I became his close friend and whenever his sickness came, I would stand by him. Another of my classmate was Mohammad Shah, the son of Suleiman Ninam Shah (Tun) and he came to school driven by his father.
The first few days we learned Nature Study and so we wrote:
Today is Sunday.
The sun is shinning.
It is a sunny day.
Then we must draw that sunny day. The picture would have a mountain, then half of the sunrise behind the mountain curve, two or three coconut trees and on top some small v-shaped depicting birds flying near the top of the coconut trees and sometime a river and a small sailing boat on the river.
At home I showed to everybody even to our maid-servant Mak Yang and was very proud because I wrote in English. Every moment at home I would say ‘Today is Sunday’, then the next day I learned another sentence ‘Today is Monday’ but after one week I became a bit confused because I couldn’t remember which day was Sunday and which day was Thursday.
Pak Malek the beca man was again booked to send me to school and fetch me after school but this time grandpa had to pay him twenty dollars per month as the journey was much longer than when I was in Sekolah Bandar. However, Pak Malek stopped peddling when I was in Standard Three due to his age. Luckily the school bus began to operate and since then I took the bus to school. This time grandma gave me twenty cents per day without having to cry. At school I normally spent ten cents at the tuck shop and after school another five cents for the round ice kacang which later I could speak in the seller’s language ‘tokay, antaupeng ngo chiam’ (air batu kepal lima sen).
I can’t remember much of my days in Standard One and at the end of the year I received a letter from Miss Lim that I would be promoted to Standard Three together with nine other boys. My grandparents were proud of my achievement and I looked forward to begin another chapter of my life in to Standard Three.
However, jumping from Standard One to Standard Three was actually not a good sign for me because the lessons were a bit tough as far as I was concerned. I could only catch up in the middle of the year and from then on I found the lessons more suitable. Our class teacher was an Indian lady by the name of Miss Balasundram who later married to our singing teacher Mr. Stephen Edward and from then on we called her Mrs.Edward.
Then I moved to Standard Four in 1959 and our class teacher was Cikgu Aziz. All the teachers were very good people, there was our PE teacher Mr. Charlie Chua whom I thought looked like Elvis Presley, Cikgu Karim, Mister Henry Tan and his brother John Tan and there was one Chinese teacher we all called Miss Chua. Everybody agreed that she was a pretty young lady who looked like Sandra Dee. However, there was one lady who became the most hated lady in the whole school and her name was Mrs.Yap.
Mrs.Yap lived right across the Sekolah Sultan Abu Bakar Girls School (SABGS) and she had a son name Ronald and a daughter named Yevette. Ronald became one of my close friend in later years. Why was she the most hated woman in the school? That’s because she was the school dentist and she had her own clinic in the school. Every boys must be presented to her to have their dental check up. When it was my turn, God knows how much trouble I had to get to sleep before that ‘fatal’ day.
“Aiyoo..what’s your name?” she asked me as she looked at my card sheet. “Oh, Kamaruddin, why you never brush your teeth one aah? Come, first I have to clean your teeth and then I have to check which tooth is rotten and must be pulled.” When she was ready, I had to open my mouth as wide as I could and then she began her job. When I saw the apparatus lying on the table beside us, I was shivering to the bone. When she finished cleaning my teeth, she took something like a spanner and began to knock at every tooth there was. “Aaah, this one no good, must pull one”, she said as I began to sweat. First she injected me and the pain was terrible and suddenly I felt my whole mouth numb. When the pulling began it was ‘honest to goodness’ extremely painful that I raised my whole body and she had the nerve to tell me to relax. I suffered one whole night groaning with pain and since then I always make sure I brush my teeth everyday, in fact everytime after my dinner and before going to sleep. Six months later when my turn was up again, she could remember me and when she checked my teeth she said happily, “Waah, look at your teeth, like this lah very good”.
While I remember vaguely my days up to Standard Four, somehow I don’t quite remember the days when I was in Standard Five and Six. The only thing I remember was my Standard Six’s result was very poor. I obtained only a ‘C’, those days we used the alphabet A, B, C and D. After collecting my results, I was extremely scared to go home and spent some time in school until as late as 7pm. Our school bus had left an hour ago and so I walked home, the distance of about two miles. I was so down that I stopped and cried quite a number of times. It was almost 9pm when I arrived home and grandma was so worried. When I told her about my poor result she was obviously disappointed but she gave me the encouragement and said this should be a good lesson to me and that in future never to take my education for granted. Grandpa did not say anything but I knew he was very disappointed as well.
When school reopened, I went to school and met Mister Gurnam Singh our headmaster. He told me that my ‘C’ grade could not grant me a place at the High School but he would recommend me to study at the Saint Andrews Government Aided School of which I refused as I really wanted to go the Muar High School. Since my age allowed me, he told me he would recommend that I be retained for another year in Standard Six and this time to prove my worthiness. I decided to stay for another year in Standard Six although I was quite ashame to face some of the students.
It was in my second year in Standard Six that I began to shine. Some of my classmates who were not promoted to Standard Three were now my classmates again. I was made a school prefect and was a school runner. I belonged to the “Temenggong” house in our sporting activities. I remember getting 3rd prize in my 200 meters and I got second place for 400 meters.
My classmate Eddie Chua became my very close friend and we cycled to school together, had our lunch together and went back home together. Eddie is still my very good friend until today. There was another student whom I found out later that he was related to me. His name was Mohammed Kemal and his father was Dr.Hamzah Taib, younger brother to grandpa. His mother was the great woman orator who at one time became the first woman to helm the Wanita UMNO. Her name was Khatijah Sidek. Apparently she was the second wife of Dr.Hamzah and because she could not agree with some of Tunku Abdul Rahman’s policies, she left UMNO and joined PAS. When Dr.Hamzah passed away, Khatijah Sidek pursued her political career and became a very famous woman of her own substance. She was greatly feared by the Wanita UMNO then. As for Mohammed Kemal, while schooling in Ismail School, he stayed with his auntie Yang Chik who was grandpa’s younger sister. After our Standard Six, Kemal left Muar town and since then I have never heard of him.
In my second year of Standard Six I read a lot and did my homework well. When the result came out I obtained it with flying colours and was ready to be admitted to the Muar High School. Looking back, the Ismail School was certainly a school that had given me many worthy lessons. It was in 1963 that I began my Form One class in the Muar High School.