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Monday, March 5, 2012

Tuanku Muhammad School, Kuala Pilah: Reminiscences of schooldays

Tuanku Muhammad School, Kuala Pilah: Reminiscences of schooldays
by Wan Chwee Seng

“TUANKU MUHAMMAD SCHOOL!” The sudden shout that rose from the car rear’s seat snapped me out of my reverie. As the car swung through the unmanned gate, I caught sight of the school in Kuala Pilah, Negeri Sembilan where my brother, Chwee Guan, and I had our early education in the late forties and early fifties.

Tuanku Muhammad School in 1946

The car came to a halt next to the school canteen and we set foot once again on the school-ground of our youth. Excited children were milling around the canteen, as they waited anxiously for their SPM results.
 That December morning of 2008 as our eyes fell on  familiar landmarks , they evoked a montage of memories that had lain dormant for more than fifty years.
I gazed at the hill behind the school building and my mind drifted to that day long ago when we used to start our cross country run from the top of the hill. The hill which was clad in verdant foliage was also a favourite meeting place for the school cubs. We would make dens from the ubiquitous creeping ferns and I remember the enjoyable nights when we sat around the campfire; singing, playing games and sharing stories.  

My brother, Chwee Guan, at the school's corridor

I peeped into one of the empty classrooms and my mind drifted to a particular morning just after the Second World War.
 We had risen early that morning with that typical feeling of excitement and anticipation of kids who were about to begin a new school‘s term. Out on the front lawn in the wan glow of a breaking dawn, a rickshaw puller with his rickety rickshaw was waiting for us.

A rickshaw puller waiting in front of
the house

I stared at the unfamiliar contraption with a twinge of apprehension as I recalled tales of rickshaw pullers ‘accidentally’ losing grip of the rickshaw’s shafts. The unfortunate passengers we were told would be sent sprawling backward with arms and legs flailing wildly in the air. As we clambered onto the high seat, we eyed the puller with suspicion.

Residential Area, Kuala Pilah
Fortunately, there were no untoward incident during that morning trip and on subsequent trips. We felt a sense of relief when we were finally allowed to join our friends from the Residential Area on our daily walk to and from school.

I remember the many mornings when I would stroll leisurely with my friends, Kok Wee, Nathaniel, Leo, Chelvarajah, Subramaniam and others along the side lanes of stilt-raised colonial houses and follow a hard-beaten dirt track that meandered off towards the distant school.
Primary school classmates. Photo courtesy
of Dr. Aaron Yong

On the first morning we were grouped together with some over-aged pupils who had been deprived of an education because of the War. The War had also left the school with a shortage of desks and chairs and so we had to sit cross-legged on the cold cement floor. Our first teacher was a young Miss Wong who taught us letters of the alphabet written on a blackboard which rested on a wooden easel. We were later made to copy the letters onto a book-sized writing slates with the aid of slate pencils.

The strident clang of a brass bell signalled the start of recess. We stretched our tired limbs and after being taught to queue up we followed timorously behind Miss Wong as she guided us to the school canteen. As the War had left many of us malnourished, each pupil was provided with two pieces of bland biscuits and a glass of plain milk.

I remember our first reader was ‘Look and Read’, which had a dark green, fabric cover. The lessons were mostly about the different occupations of the day such as the ‘Ting-Ting Man’ (the itinerant haberdasher), the fowl seller, and the cake seller. Our English lesson included spelling and dictation, and recitation of poems. We had to commit to memory the many poems and later recite them in front of the class without faltering or else a gentle tap of the ruler would land on the palm. Nobody dared to complain to their parents then as this would be an open invitation for further parental discipline. For Arithmetic besides the usual written exercises we also had to memorise the multiplication tables and we also had mental sums when we were expected to add, subtract, multiply and divide mentally. .
That December morning of 2008, as we stood on the step overlooking the field, I recalled the Monday morning assembly when we had to stand to attention and sing ‘God save the King'.

On the steps overlooking the field

“Can you see the cricket pitch?” I asked my brother as our eyes scanned the field which was covered with ankle-high grass. It was sadly missing. I remember the well-manicured cricket pitch where my elder brother and his friends used to bat and bowl while I kept score for a game that lasted from morn to dusk.

The leafy hedge that used to enclose three sides of the field and fronted by angsana trees planted at regular intervals had been replaced by a solid brick wall. Only a few angsana trees with gnarled trunks and virtually bare branches stood pathetically beside a covered stand. I remember the evenings when we used to have our hockey practice under the shade of the stately angsana trees with their thick, spreading canopy. We did not wear watches then. We played until the hockey ball was a blur in the deepening darkness and then we knew it was time to head for home.
“That’s the school’s hostel,” my brother said as he called attention to a building that stood on a low tapering hillside. While others in the group gazed at the building I gave it a cursory glance as the sight had rekindled a long-forgotten incident. One recess we were playing the game of hide-and-seek when I accidentally strayed to the back of the hostel. As I pushed through the dense undergrowth, I found myself standing at the edge of a partially covered hole half-obscured by a tangled mass of vegetation. The hole was ringed by an unusually luxuriant growth of ixora with a profusion of colours. An eerie silence enveloped the place and I sensed an invisible presence. A sudden fear gripped me. With pounding heart I scrambled and bashed through the dense thickets until I reached the safety and security of my friends. After school I related the incident to mother and was reprimanded for playing behind the hostel.
“Don’t you know that’s the place where the unfortunate war victims were buried during the war,” she said. Later as I listened to our hostel friends recounting their encounters with headless apparitions in the dead of the night, I shuddered at the thought of the morning’s incident.
As the car eased out of the school’s gate, I glanced back to take another look at the school which held so many fond memories.

Related articles: Click below links

In days past

Finding our way home

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