One of the most traumatic moment in a Muslim boy’s life of my time was the day he must be circumcised. In most cases, a boy must be circumcised upon reaching the age of eleven or twelve. I had mine when I was twelve while in Standard Six at the Sekolah Ismail School Two. My class teacher was one Cikgu Aziz (can’t remember his full name) who taught us Bahasa Kebangsaan.
I was in Standard Six B and was an average student. I was never intelligent but not stupid and the marks I received in most of my tests were just above the border line of 50 over 100. My worst subject was arithmetic and my best subject was history because it was stories all along and it became my favourite subject. Another of my favourite subject was singing. During my primary schooling, we had a singing lesson and the teacher was Mister Stephen Edward. I remember few of the songs we always sang like ‘Old MacDonald had a farm’ and ‘Twinkle twinkle little star’. Mr. Edward was a fine pianist and could play the piano by not looking at the notes. Sometimes after our singing lesson, he would play some of his favourite songs like Mona Lisa made famous by Nat King Cole. Mister Edward later married our Standard Three class teacher Miss Balasundram. From then on we called her Mrs. Edward.
In my earlier posting “My Days in Primary School”, I mentioned of my failure to enter Form One at the Muar High School because of my poor results in my Standard Six examination. I refused to go to other schools for my Form One and managed to get retained in Standard Six for another year because of my age. I knew why I did not get a good grade simply because I never studied. This time I was more serious in my determination to enter High School. My second year in Standard Six was very eventful and I was more serious in my study as well as other school activities. I was a school runner in the 400 meters and during the school sport, I managed to get third place in the 200 and 400 meters for my house. I was in the ‘Temenggong’ house. In the relay event of which I was one of the four, we managed also a third place. Orang Melayu kata “jadilah”. I was also a school prefect and executed my duties very well.
There was once a ‘Traffic Game’ contest participated by qualified schools in the whole of Muar town. I was a participant representing my school. There were ten of us and we practiced the game every evening at the school field and the teacher in charge apparently was our class teacher Cikgu Aziz. The contest was held at the Padang Muar Club in 1961. During the practice, we were provided with only one ‘car’ by the organizer and all of us were given the chance to sit in the car. It was made of metal and we had to peddle to move it. It was just like those ‘cars’ we played at the fun fair.
I remember the participating schools were from the Saint Andrew School, the Convent Girls School and some other schools from the Muar sub-districts. Before the game, each one of us were given a schedule of visits such as the Post Office, the Hospital, the Market, etc. We were also given a score card and ten tickets. Each one of us had to go to these ‘places’, parked our cars and get the person in charge of each post to sign on our score cards. We had to pass some ’roundabouts’, ‘junctions’ and the right place to park our cars. To turn right, we had to show our right hand horizontally and to turn left we had to spin our right hand round. There were few ‘policemen’ who would book us for any traffic offence, and once caught we had to give the ‘policeman’ one ticket. The first round I was booked once but I can’t remember for what and our school was qualified for the final round because we received few ‘summons’.
In the final round, surprisingly all the ten of us drove home without being booked for any offences. Our school was declared a winner with one hundred percent score. Cikgu Aziz was so jubilant that he jumped so high that he almost broke his leg when touching the ground. We ran towards him to find out whether he was alright. All the other teachers from the other schools came to congratulate him.
The next morning, our headmaster Mister Gurnam Singh came to our class looking for Cikgu Aziz and after congratulating him, he suggested that the ten of us be given some form of present as an appreciation for giving our school a good name. About two days later, the ten of us were invited by Mister Gurnam Singh to a tea party at the school hall attended by few other teachers and Cikgu Aziz was beaming with pride. It was during this tea-party that each one of us were given a present each wrapped with a nice colourful wrapping paper. On the way home, I opened the wrapped present and found out it was a book by Enid Blyton one of the “The Famous Five” series. I was so proud that I told everyone about it. I even had the urge to tell the kacang putih seller but I guess he was not too bothered.
There were few other momentous events during my repeated stay in Standard Six but the most unforgettable event was the day I was circumcised.
All the Malays in my class knew that they would soon be circumcised and the day would be somewhere during the school holidays. One week before the second term holiday, Cikgu Aziz made that frightening announcement. We were then given a chit and written on it the day and time we had to present ourselves at the Muar General Hospital. For the next few nights I had terrible nightmares.
Earlier, I asked some elders their experiences undergoing the circumcision and none had given me any good news. Some said the needle was so thick that it could bore a hard concrete cement and the scissor was so sharp it could cut a very thick leather spread. Everybody I asked presented to me such a frightening scene that I almost wanted to request for a postponement. It was my uncle Wak Jis who was very supportive. He told me that sooner or later I had to do it and so it was best that it be done now once and for all. Grandma was likewise supportive and told me that during her time, all her brothers had to do it at home with no anesthesia and so I should not be too scared. Those days bamboo tongs were used to clip the foreskin and then be chopped off; maybe by using a razor blade. It could not be an axe, could it?
The moment came. I brought along a sarong and cycled to the General Hospital with fear still dominating me. This was one journey I will never forget, a journey I wished had no end. The General Hospital was situated along Jalan Salleh and it was quite a distance from my house. It was approximately 8.15am when I started cycling and I had to be at the General Hospital by 9.00am. I knew after the circumcision I had to look for a beca (trishaw) and leave my bicycle at the hospital compound and to get someone to take it later. I knew I could not cycle home after my circumcision.
I reached the hospital at almost 9.00am and I saw two of my classmates waiting for their turn (can’t remember their names). The three of us were so scared that we did not talk to each other. Inside the operation room, one boy was undergoing the circumcision and we could hear his groan and that made us more traumatic. Few minutes later the dresser came out from the operation room and when he saw me he immediately recognized me and said:
“Aaah Din, datang nak sunat ke? (Din, are coming for your circumcision?).
I looked at him and likewise I recognized him. He was my uncle (brother of my step-mother) Pak Ghani. He was a very nice and kind person. I nodded and just smiled refusing to show the extreme fright in me and I became more at ease now knowing that someone I knew would be doing the operation.
“Pak Ghani dah habis shift, mari ikut Pak Ghani masuk” (I have done with my job, follow me to the room), he said as he held my hand into the operation room. On the way he told me not to be scared and assured me things would be alright. He said the only painful part was when the needle would be injected and even then it was just like the bite of an ant. That was indeed reassuring.
Inside the room, a new dresser had just entered and beginning to prepare all the necessary instruments for his job. Pak Ghani then said to him:
“Ni anak sedara aku, nak sunat. Tolong sunatkan baik baik” (This is my nephew coming for his circumcision. Please have him circumcised with care). The new dresser smiled and nodded and he kept on preparing all his instruments to be well in place. I then knew Pak Ghani would not be doing the job and that made me unhappy but I didn’t show.
I was asked to sit on a chair before the operation started. Pak Ghani then bade me goodbye and I thanked him. The trauma in me was beginning to be more worse but I tried to console myself and kept on praying for the better.
Then the moment that had made me having sleepless nights began. This was it and it took approximately half an hour to complete. During that half an hour, I had my eyes closed throughout the ‘ordeal’. I must insist that when the needle touched my skin it was extremely painful and later I could not feel anything. This is no need to explain in detail how the operations went but it was a truly an unpleasant event that I never wish to be repeated.
When it was all over, I had my sarong on and walked slowly towards the entrance of the hospital. I sat at the bench quietly and thinking how to go back home. I did not seem to notice any beca around. I was beginning to worry because obviously I could not cycle home. Few minutes later, I saw my uncle Wak Sheh (Sheikh Muhammad) coming and he was smiling seeing me sitting alone with my sarong. He had just arrived from Tangkak and upon hearing from grandma that I was at the hospital to undergo my circumcision, he immediately drove to the hospital to look for me. It was very kind of him to come over and to bring me home. Wak Sheikh married my auntie Mak Jah (Azizah bt Abdul Hamid) and he was an Arab descent. He was a headmaster in one of the schools in Tangkak, the same school my auntie was teaching. During school holidays, he would bring me to Tangkak to spend the time with his family. Their first born was Salim, about three years my junior and he was my playmate. Their second child was a girl named Narimah and after her was Zulkifli whose family name was “Toy”.
On the way home, Wak Sheh drove his car slowly avoiding any possible bumps ahead because he did not want me to feel any uneasiness. While driving he kept telling me that soon everything would be alright and in a week’s time I could even run. Such a wonderful man my uncle Wak Sheh was.
Later (I can’t remember) someone had gone to the hospital to ride back the bicycle I rode on.
Back home, the bed was ready for me and they had tight a sarong with a rope and the rope’s end was at the ceiling above my bed. I lay down and covered my lower part with the sarong. Grandma said I must refrain from eating all kinds of food, in other word kena pantang and I took heed all her advice. Three hours later I could feel the pain coming and it was unbearable. I remember the dresser gave me some pills to take whenever I felt any pain. So every time I felt the pain, I would take the pills and that really helped. It was always during the middle of the night that the pain kept coming and I would cry alone controlling the unbearable pain.
The next morning I did my own dressing and it took me almost an hour. For the next one month I would spend some time in the toilet doing my dressing…yes one month. When school reopened, I was still not recovered but I noticed almost all my Malay friends who had their circumcision done was running around while I still had to walk very slowly. My good Chinese friend Eddie was very supportive and would sit besides me and buy for me anything I wanted at the tuck-shop. Much as I can remember, it took me almost one and a half month for me to recover and to be fully healed.
When I took my son for his circumcision sometime in the early nineties, he was already playing football a week after. Looking back on the days when I had mine, medical facilities were not as good as they are now. You can’t blame our elders those days for not wanting to go to the hospitals. Even having to pull one rotten tooth was a torturous moment. If we could gather all those instruments the doctors/dentists used in the early sixties and have them displayed, I think even today’s generations would not dare to go to the hospitals.
To those who circumcised, we are not alone. More than two third of the male population worldwide are circumcised and I am glad I am.
Studies show that circumcision reduces the infection rate of HIV by 38-66%. The World Health Organization (WHO) campaign slogan “Go Circumcised” recommends considering circumcision as part of its programme to combat HIV. Furthermore circumcision reduces HSV-2 infection by 28% and reduced the UTIs and penile cancer.
So young boys of twelve who are yet to be circumcised; don’t worry, be happy.