Thursday, July 28, 2011

Remembering Convent of the Holy Infant Jesus Johore Bahru of the 50s and 60s

Today is the first day of my life as a blogger and i would like to start by writing about my school HIJ Convent jb. The fact that i can write is because of all my teachers who took me by my hand and led me into the world of the written word.

I salute my teachers who from the day I stepped into Standard one and until i left for the last time after my form five examination in 1967, kept me on the path to discovering the potential that i had in me.

i remember every teacher who was my class teacher and who taught me not just right from wrong but also how to be righteous.

My uncle Prakash who in 1957 was sitting for his Senior CAmbridge exam, studied French under Sister Helen, He registered me in the Convent. He was 17 and i was 7. He took me to buy my first books and it was the blue eyed Sister Helen sold the books to me. She stood there so straight and tall as she spoke to him. I did not know what she said.

I took in my hands the new books, so sacred and so holy and held them against my chest. That was a defining moment in my life. Until today, the thing i love the most is a book.

I could smell the books. I opened one and held it up to my face and inhaled. It was sheer joy and until today, when i open a new book i hold it close to my face and inhale the smell that only a book can have.

Once in a while i get a waft of that smell of my first book on Old Lob the farmer who opened my small world and took me into his world of reading, writing and speaking in English. It was the world of Percy the naughty chick, Master Willy her friend, a mischievous pig. Then there was Mr Dan the dog, Mrs Cuddy the cow, Mr Dobbin the horse, Mr Grumps the grumpy goat, Mother Hen, not sure if she had a name, Miss Tibbs the cat. That farm, the farmer and the animals were so real and so alive, that til today, when i think of them, my heart fills with the kind of joy that only a young heart can feel!

I was until i entered the Convent educated by my mother who had come from Kerala in India, and for a bit by the teachers of The Public School in Johore Bahru. Mum taught my older brother and me Sanskrit prayers, how to read and write in Malayalam and speak the language to some degree of fluency. She always spoke so highly of the Convent and how that school was second to none when it came to educating girls.

On reaching home with my new books, I could not put the book away from my face. So captivating was the scent of the paper, the words and the hidden knowledge. I could not explain to my mother what that smell did to me. Dad covered the books and i was heartbroken for a while. I wanted to see the colourful cover and not the brown paper. He wrote my name neatly in all my books. Then i began my wait for the first day of Standard One. Everyday i looked at my books, i touched them and held them.

Mum took me to a Chinese tailor in Jalan Lumba Kuda and she sewed my new uniform. I had three sets of uniform. It was a luxury to have three sets. She made them a few inches below my knee so that i could wear them for a few years - the blue pinafore with three box pleats in front and at the back, in cotton and the white blouse with peter pan collar, white shoes and white socks and blue, black or white hair ribbons and no jewellery. i wore that uniform until the end of Standard Four when it was a few inches above my knee and considered no longer a decent length.

January 1957 was slow in approaching. An uncle who stayed with us, found a trishaw rider who would take me and his nephew to school in a trishaw. We were in the afternoon school. I went to the Convent and nephew went to Bukit Zahrah.

Life was not rushed. The trishaw would come to the front of the house and the man would ring his bell. Mum would help me into the trishaw togeher with Abhi, the nephew. When it rained, the rider would pull a flap across the front and we would be protected from the rain. We enjoyed the slow, swaying ride. Cars were few in Johor Bahru and we felt so safe.

The young Malay rider would talk to us but we spoke no Malay and very little English. So we just smiled at each other. One day, he shared a snack with me. It was sticky rice. I was in a dilema. Mum had taught us not to accept food from anyone. The rider was insistent that i tried it. I took and held it in my hand for a long while. Then he peeled off the burnt banana leaf and told me to take a bite. I did. It was salty and did not taste like anything i had ever eaten before. i chewed on it slowly and with the man watching me, i managed to swallow it. The rider rode and i held the food in my hand, and when i thought it was safe, let it drop from my hand behind the trishaw. He never ever offered me food again. I remember his kindness and nothing else about him. I would like to thank him for sharing his food. i would like to apologise for my bad manners in throwing it away.

On the way home from school, the trishaw would travel in front of the Cathay cinema. The ride was an uphill one. The rider would tell us to get down and push the trishaw while he pedalled until we reached level ground again. Abhi and i enjoyed this part very much but we never mentioned it to our respective parents. This joy came to an end when Abhi's uncle saw us pushing the trishaw one day. That was the end of trishaw rides for us. Until today, there is nothing so tranquil as a ride in a trishaw with the wind blowing so gently on your face and through your hair.

To be continued.