In December 1955 I was five years and nine months old and never bothered about going to school. I would only be going to school in 1957 and that would be a very long time to go. In the meantime I was enjoying life of a very young boy running around the house, playing with my cousins and the neighbouring boys of my age. We would play hide and seek and many other games where toys were not needed. We would climb trees that had branches within our reach and we would catch grasshoppers wherever and whenever we saw them. We would only return home for lunch when our stomach gave the signal. We kept on playing under the hot sun and when it rained we played in the rain even more happily. There wasn’t a moment we wasted and by dusk we would be at home ready for dinner. So obviously I had no worries not until one night when grandma broke the bad news.
While having dinner, grandma told everyone that next year I would be going to school and next year would be in a month’s time. I was shocked to hear the news and asked grandma why? She said I must learn how to read and write in Jawi because there would not be a lesson conducted in Jawi when I would begin my Standard One in 1957. Immediately my appetite eroded and the good food in front of me looked tasteless. Grandpa and the others (my uncles and aunties) did not say a word and kept on eating while I just played with my rice with a broken heart. That night before going to sleep I cried silently thinking what a waste having to go to school and missing all the fun the others my age would be enjoying.
A few days later grandma said tomorrow morning grandpa would be bringing me to the new school I would be attending for one year and to have my name registered. As the days grew nearer, I began to suffer insomnia and would toss around left and right at least for an hour before I could sleep.
Our maid-servant Mak Yang had prepared breakfast the following morning and grandpa was still in his room putting on his clothes ready to bring me to my school. It was a fine morning with the eastern sun rising steadily and the morning clouds moving gracefully. I was already fully dressed and my hair of center parting combed by grandma and Mak Yang smiled when she saw me with my stockings on. Our daily breakfast would always be boiled tapioca eaten with grated coconut mixed with white sugar but that day it was special; we had toasted bread spread with butter and sugar on top. Those days we toasted the bread on top of a wire mesh and underneath a bunch of very hot arang until we could see the white bread turning brownish in colour. After having my breakfast, grandma brought me outside the house where grandpa was waiting holding both handles of his bicycle. She carried me on to the steel bar of the bicycle and grandpa began peddling. I was on my way to my new school.
At five plus, I had never ventured outside the territory of our playing ground and so this morning many scenes that we passed by were alien to my eyes. I sat silently gazing at the new environment and noticed one or two cars in black colour passing our way in both directions. We passed Jalan Ibrahim leading towards Simpang Lima, the only junction in Muar town that connected to five roads. Grandpa kept on peddling without saying a word but being grandpa, he seldom talked even when at home. Grandma would be the one doing the talking. All my uncles and aunties would communicate with grandma first if they needed something (like asking for some money) from grandpa.
It wasn’t too long to reach the school situated along Jalan Arab. This school was known as “Sekolah Bandar Maharani” with a very typical English facade. Grandpa stopped at the front gate and I jumped down. He then parked his bicycle and locked it and walked straight into the building while I followed from behind. When we reached the office, there were only two people sitting on their respective tables. When one of them saw grandpa, he rose and went straight to see grandpa. Then grandpa took out my birth certificate which grandma gave to him earlier at home and he pointed at me and the office worker looked at me too. He nodded and began to write something while holding to my birth certificate. Grandpa asked me to sit down on a chair not far away and I did as told, sitting quietly looking at the surroundings inside the office. After a few minutes the office worker stood up and gave grandpa a piece of paper together with my birth certificate. I guess business was over because grandpa asked me to follow him to his bicycle.
Upon reaching the bicycle he carried me to the steel bar and I sat on it and again holding the center of the bicycle’s handle and he began to peddle. Grandpa did not go home and instead he cycled into town which was nearby the school. I was amazed to see so many tall concrete buildings (only two storeys) in rows and there were quite a number of people around. Around this place I noticed a number of cars all black in colours moving in both directions.
Then grandpa stopped at a shop selling satay. He carried me down, parked his bicycle and walked straight into the shop and I walked behind him. He went to a round table made of marble and sat down and showed me a chair beside him for me to sit down. An old Chinese man came and asked whether he could take our orders. Grandpa asked for a black coffee and asked me what would be my drink. I replied with a grin that I would like a cup of ‘Ovaltine’ because it tasted like chocolate. My head was slightly above the table and when my drink came, I could not drink properly and so I stood up to have my drink. Grandpa poured some onto the cup’s plate and gave it to me to drink while he kept on holding the plate. Then he asked the satay man to wrap some satay to bring home for grandma and the rest. When it was ready, the satay man came with some wrapped satay while the gravy was put inside a used condensed milk tin properly tied with a rope so that grandpa could carry it together with the wrapped satay. When we both finished our drinks we went straight home.
At home after we had our lunch grandma did the talking. She told me the building I went to with grandpa was the building of the school I would be attending to in two weeks’ time. In a day or two she said she would be going to town to buy my school uniform, a new rubber shoes and two pairs of white socks. After this she would tell me every day that I must learn as much as I could. I must learn how to write and read both in Jawi an Rumi. I must learn how to calculate numbers by heart. She would even tell me every night before I went to sleep and I could not escape her lecture because I slept with her.
A few days before school begun, a man came to our house looking for grandpa. His name was Malek. Grandpa then invited him in and asked grandma to look for me. I was running all over the house with my female cousins when grandma called me. As I entered I saw the man talking to grandpa and grandma introduced me to him. Pak Malek would be my beca (trishaw) man, ferrying me to school and to fetch me after school.
The first Sunday of January 1956 I started my first school day crying non-stop. From the moment I woke up, in the bathroom and while grandma was dressing me, I cried and cried. I would only stop crying when grandpa starred at me but he could not stare at me all the time and so every time he was not around I would resume my crying. Grandma gave me ten cents for me to spend at the tuck-shop.
It was almost 7.15am when Pak Malek arrived and I was still crying. Grandma brought me out of the house and we both went straight to the beca where Pak Malek was waiting. Inside the beca I saw another boy my age already seated inside the beca. I was still crying when I sat beside him and Pak Malek began peddling on my first journey to school. Along the way my crying began to subside and the new boy kept looking at me. When we arrived at the school I noticed there were many school children and some of them were bigger than me. Then I saw grandpa waiting at the entrance of the school. He had gone to the school earlier to check which class I would be attending to. Then he brought me to the classroom which was situated at the back of the building. Many boys of my age were already seated and some were wearing their songkok. Two or three boys were crying but by now I was not crying any more. Grandpa then told me to go to the entrance after the end of the school session and to look for Pak Malek and he left for home.
A few minutes later our class teacher arrived. His name was Cikgu Rahman Mahmood. He was wearing a white long sleeve shirt with a white trousers and a songkok. After introducing himself, he gave a very short speech about the importance of learning and the advantages of knowing how to read and write. Then he asked each of us to stand up one by one and to give our names after which he would write our names in a book that was on top of his table. I noticed a boy whom I used to see at our family functions named Shahroldin and later I found out that we were related.
Our first lesson was to know the Jawi alphabets which the teacher wrote down on the blackboard. He would recite these alphabet and requested us to repeat them after him. It went on until the bell rang for a short recess. All of us then went to the tuck-shop to have our meal. I bought a plate of mi goreng and a glass of rose syrup that cost five cents. After my meal I walked around alone looking at the new environment I be must accustomed to for the next eleven months. The bell rang again and we all went back to our class to resume our learning. This time Cikgu Rahman taught us the Rumi alphabets. The class ended at around twelve thirty and I ran straight to the school entrance looking for Pak Malek. When he saw me he waved at me and I ran straight to his beca. The boy who was in the same beca this morning came running towards us. We then went back home sending me first.
At home I was like a celebrity. Everyone was looking for me to find out how was school. I told them that the building of the school was taller than the coconut trees. I told them that I now knew the alphabets of both the Jawi and Rumi and when they asked me to recite the alphabets, I told them that they had to go to the school to find out when actually I had forgotten. After school my life became vibrant running around the house with my female cousins of my age only to be sad again the next morning.
For the next few days or more I would cry every day before going to school and was a real nuisance. The boy who sat beside me in the beca must have thought the same about me. I would cry even inside the beca and this boy would just stare at me. A few days later a girl joined us and the three of us became friends. I stopped crying because I was shy to cry in front of a girl. The three of us would talked and laughed inside Pak Malek’s beca while he kept on peddling the beca happily. The boy’s name was Murad bin Hassan but I can’t remember the girl’s name.
Although I would cry every day before going to school, I was a different person at school. In fact I began to like many things while in school. In the beginning we did not have exercise books to write but were given writing tablets made of wood and a small blackboard for us to write on and we wrote by using white chalks. Only after one month we began writing on our exercise books.
Although we have quite a number of teachers, I can only remember one. Cikgu Rahman Mahmood was a good man who taught us with great patient and never scolded any of us. In later years, Cikgu Rahman became a politician and craved a name for himself in the history of Muar Umno. He stood as an Umno candidate in few general elections and became an assemblyman for his constituency. He was made a Dato by the Sultan of Johor and sometimes in the late 70s he became an Executive Committee (EXCO) of the State Government of Johor. I had the opportunity to meet him one night at an Umno function in Johor Bahru sometime in 1985. When I told him that he was my class teacher in 1956 at the Sekolah Bandar Maharani, he exclaimed, “Yes I was but you can still remember me after so many years?” I replied, “Teachers normally can’t remember their past students, but a student can remember a teacher particularly a good and kind teacher”.
As for Murad the boy who sat beside me in the beca, he was not long with the school as he had to follow his parents who moved to Johor Bahru. Later I was informed that Murad left for Australia to pursue his studies. His father became the first elected Menteri Besar of the State of Johor. He was Tan Sri Hassan bin Hj. Yunos and the state government honoured him by naming the Larkin Stadium of Johor Bahru as “Stadium Tan Sri Hassan Yunos”. Murad had a colourful life travelling around the world until finally he met his old JB sweetheart and they tied the knot.
My classmate in the class Shahroldin bin Ali who is related to me excelled extremely well in his later years and was made a Dato.
My beca man Pak Malek continued to ferry me to school and later in 1957 to my new primary school which was about four miles from home. When I was in Standard Four Pak Malek retired and after that I cycled to school.
Both Murad and Shahroldin are still among my best friends today. Whenever we meet, we will always remember those wonderful years when we had no worries and life was so simple. As we grow older, we realize how precious life was then but we had no regrets; we spent those wonderful years with great happiness.