Monday, June 18, 2012

Memories of Batu Pahat High School

The happiest day of my life was a day in late November 1967 when my younger sister came home to tell me that I had passed the Form Six Entrance Examination. That pass meant a lot of things to me. It meant that I would enter Lower Six in January. It meant I would be wearing the jungle green skirt, a white shirt, a jungle green bow string, black shoes and the whole world, well my world, would recognise me as moving nearer to my dream of going to university.

My father dropped me in front of Johore English College before 7.30 in the morning. I walked to the hall and I cannot find the words to describe the feeling that engulfed my entire being as I leant against the wall of the hall and breathed in my unfolding dream.

Nobody in that hall would have guessed what went through my head. Nobody would have guessed that in 1954 I had leant against that same wall and waited for my uncle who had told me not to move. He had taken me for a school concert and my neighbour Sau Siah's mother had dressed me in the little cheongsam the neighbourhood tailor had stitched for me. My uncle Prakash had told me that that school was only for bright students. He said that only those who were clever could gain admission into that school. That desire to study there had started then. Every exam that I sat for from Primary school through to secondary school had brought me that much closer to the wall in that hall.

I opened my eyes and saw Saroja Meyappan from the Convent who had also passed the examination. Soon a whole lot of my Convent friends joined me and I had to leave the wall. We walked in a happy group towards the front of the hall and the stage. We walked up to the boards and read the names of past Head Masters and Head Boys - their names in gold. Slowly the old hall filled up with boys and a few girls. We recognised some Upper Six students who had come from the Convent.

A teacher came and guided us to the area that we would occupy during assembly. The Head Boy Hasbollah Salleh called the school to order. I looked at Hasbollah and wondered what he would have to say if I had told him that his late father, Dr Salleh had been my mother's gynaecologist and he had delivered me! So did that kind of create a bond? He had no idea I existed and showed desire to know any one of us either. So the bond did not have a chance to grow.

Then I saw a vision. He was dressed in College white, had longish hair falling over his eyes, wore black rimmed glasses and walked with a kind of draggy swagger. All our eyes were turned on him. He walked most nonchalantly across the stage, pulled back the seat and placed himself in front of the ancient piano, placed a music sheet in front of him and waited for a few seconds before we heard the opening bars of our National Anthem. Never had that song sounded so sweet to my ears. The song ended. The sheet was removed. The pianist stood up. The seat was pushed back to its original place and the vision swaggered across the stage and disappeared into the crowd.

As soon as speaking was allowed we all turned and asked, "Who on earth is that boy?"
Some of the girls who attended church said that he played the organ in church.
He was from Batu Pahat High School.
He was a very good student.
He was an athlete.
He was an artist.
Of course I already knew he was a good pianist.

What is his name? BK Chiu they said. That is how I fell in love with Batu Pahat High School and with BK C. Love at first sight? Love at first sound? I don't know but it was a feeling that made that year the happiest year of my life - no major exams, a green skirt to indicate that i had some brains, more freedom from my mother and brother, great friends and a boy who made my heart skip beats and kept me smiling all the time.

1968 was a dream year. I made friends with BK and he introduced me to the world of music and poetry. He introduced me to his friend Wong Mun Kin also from BP High School and an artist as well.

The days passed like a slow moving stream but eventually we moved in different directions and our worlds never collided again.

Another reason why BP High School was magic for me was an old family friend of ours, Mr Lawrence Law, a graduate from the University of Malaya in Singapore and who was a Science teacher in that school in the sixties. Uncle Lawrence as we called him, emigrated to Canada and we lost touch with him over the years.

I graduated from the University of Malaya in Kuala Lumpur and registered with the education department for the post of temporary teacher whilst waiting to be enrolled in the university to study for my Diploma in Education. That was how I was posted to Batu Pahat High School in March 1973 as a temporary teacher. I was assigned to teach General Paper in Form Six. Dejavu?

Sunday was the first day of school. On Saturday i stayed with another old family friend Mrs Rajaratnam who was the former Head Mistress of a primary school in BP and well known in that town. She found the Pereira family for me and they took me in as their lodger. Their younger daughter Mabel was in Lower Six in BP High School.

I have to be very honest, I was not a great teacher then. It was after my training in Singapore that I realised that I needed to go back to BP and teach the students to show them that I had it in me to be a good teacher. Great teachers take years to evolve and they need to be trained.

My friends Cynthia Goh and Charanjeet from UM were also posted to that school. When I was introduced to the staff I found another old family friend, Mr Sugathan who taught mathematics. I walked all around the school and thought i was almost literally walking in the footsteps of BK and i came across the mural done by Wong Mun Kin whom i had met in EC.

Of all the students I taught most were very good, they were motivated and focused on their goals.  I remember Ng Yew Teck, Andrew, Philip, Kour Nam Ngam, Bee Hoon and many more who were among my students. I attended the wedding reception of Kour N N's son a couple of years ago in Kuala Lumpur. It was such a nice feeling when i met up with him in Tawau in 1990, at Far Eastern Pharmacy when I had gone there to raise some funds.

Cynthia and I helped to stage a concert to raise some money to buy textbooks for the students. It was great fun and I remember Philip and his friend, the duet singers, one group staged The Green Green Grass of Home and other skits. We had fun. Mr Amarjit Singh a seniour English teacher guided us.

Another incident that i remember is that i wore saris to work. I used to wear them low and i thought it was okay until one Chinese lady teacher took me aside and told me that i had to remember that the boys i taught were only about three years younger than me and it was not proper attire at all! Cynthia and i thought they were the prudes of the school. I continued to wear my saris.

The Principal was Mr Khairul Faizi who was very kind to the young untrained teachers. After school we rode bikes in the school compound and then there was the Peace Corps Mr Christopher Reed. I remember one holiday when he had gone to Bangkok and came back with a lovely gift for me. Those were uncomplicated happy days. One night Cynthia, Christopher and I drove up in Sugathan's car to a hill top overlooking the sea and watched the ships that sailed in the night. Those were also safe days.

Only one student told me that I was a hopeless teacher, after he failed to do well in one of my tests and his remarks bothered me for a while but then why had he not told me earlier that he could not follow the lessons, Cynthia asked me? One of my students in Upper Six Science B, was a Chinese boy who did not speak or write good English. GP was the only paper where he could not score an A. I told him to write an essay a day and he did. I marked the essays for him and pointed out his errors. I asked him if i was hopeless and he told me that I was the only one who had helped him. He did well and went on to become an engineer.  Years later I heard about it again when I was posted to Tawau and was acknowledged as an effective teacher. This same person happened to be stationed there. His wife whom I knew casually was a very nice lady.

I have gone back to BP but not to that school. I visit the Pereira family ocassionally. They still stay in the same house. Mabel is in PD.

How can I speak of my stint in BP without mentioning two other people who had such an influence on me. One is the late Rotarian Eddy Fernandez and the other the late Father Martin from the Catholic Church.

Going to church with the Pereiras reminded me of 1968 when i espied BK in the Form Six library. I went up to the librarian and asked him if there was a copy of the Bible in the library. He told that there was none. I then proceeded to sit and stand on my toes to look for the non-existent Bible! BK was there and I turned around and asked, "Can you please help me find the Bible?" We searched and we searched. Seeing my downhearted face, he lent me his mother's bible which i kept very safely next to my copy of the bible in my drawer. That was how i befriended BK from BP High School during my first week of school in EC. When Father Martin introduced me to Mrs C in church the bible she was clutching was not the one i had borrowed from her son five years earlier!

The late Mr Eddy Fernandez, an architect by training introduced me to the world of Rotary and genuine service before self. He was always on the go doing something or the other for the less fortunate. His lovely wife Shirley was an amazing cook and years later when I became a Rotarian i never failed to tell my fellow Rotarians about Eddy. Sometimes i accompanied him when he went on his rounds to distribute food and clothes to the needy.

Mabel introduced me to Father Martin. We enjoyed playing Scrabble and chatting and swapping books. One day Father Martin gave me a statue, the Legion of Mary and told me to go back and keep it with my heathen gods to be on the safe side. I am a born Hindu and have remained so. But going to church and listening to his sermons in English with a marked French accent and his sermons in Cantonese was sheer magic. I kept in touch with Father Martin for a while after i left BP. The nature of my husband's job meant that we moved frequently.

Years later when i was going to Paris for a holiday, i learnt much to my sorrow, that he had passed away recently in France. Never at any moment in church did i feel that i was not a part of his congregation.

BP High School, my first posting as a teacher. If any of the old boys or current students should read this, please check the Form Four English textbook that is currently being used. I am happy to say that i am one of the writers. It is not in the same class as Etherton's books which were for teaching English as a First Language. Look at the back cover and I am the person in the middle.

Being my first school, i feel like i have had a love affair with that school, a love that never died.


  1. Hi, I believe that the Hasbollah you mentioned in this blog post is my late father. Just thought I'd let you know that he passed away on the 12th of October 2012. I was just googling his name and came across this post :)

  2. Hi

    Thanks for letting me know and i am reading your comments with a touch of sadness at the passing of a great student. my email is please drop me a line, i would like to write to you. regards prasanna

  3. enjoyed seeing all the old photos in your blog.

  4. Hi Prasanna,

    My father would have been thrilled to bits to know you remembered him and to see his name in your blog. Thank you for your kind words. It's been about 40 days but we miss him every day.


    Farrash Hasbollah

    1. The pain is so real for the person is irreplaceable and he will live forever in you and your children. I have so many questions but this is too public a forum. If you could drop me a line at my email i would appreciate it. Head Boys those days were true giants and so was your Dad.


  5. Hi, you mentioned Ng Yew Teck, Andrew, Bee Hoon. Can you remember the sisters Wah Hoon and EU Ken and many others? I as same class as them, a tall thin shy specky boy Teh Oh Kian, in BP High Upper Six Sc 1, 1973. I graduated from UM in 1977 with First Class Honours in Mathematics. I retired as Super Principal

    1. Hi I have the class photographs. I remember 2 sisters. All the students were motivated and good. Congratulations on your excellent accomplishments. You must remember the maths teacher, the late Mr Sugu. it would be nice to meet up with all of you. Regards Prasanna

  6. Thanks for the reply. Yes, I remember Mr. Sugu, I think I was his pet student in Maths, especially in Mechanics, lol. I was the last row 5th boy in the USS1 class photo, on the right of Tee Lee Yong, on the left of Tee LY was Ng Yew Teck.
    I have the class photos and other BP High photos, and my humble contributions in the education arena in my FB, account Teh Kian