So, on Friday evening, Jan 4th 1952 with smattering of English learnt in afternoon classes I joined the evening classes at a private school, hoping that, by the end of the same year, I would have learnt sufficient English to be admitted to the only government English school in the state of Terengganu, Sultan Sulaiman English School (SSES). Whilst proficiency in English was never a necessity for one to further his studies in Cairo, it had, for unexplainable reasons, suddenly grown in importance in my case- the work of an unseen hand.
The morning classes at the religious school (MSZA) went well in 1952. Today I relate to my children with pride how their father completed a seven-year course at MSZA in five years, something unheard of until then. The two years saved was a gift from heaven without which I would never have an earthly chance to join the government English School. The age alone would put a stop to it and I would very likely be on a long boat journey to Egypt (Gaddafi would be a boy of about 12 then!) to join my other school mates.
I had to satisfy three conditions to join SSES viz,
i) Joining a class appropriate with my age group.
ii) Possession of a leaving certificate to show proof of
acceptable level of English education.
iii) Passing an entrance test in two subjects,
English and Maths.
AS mentioned above, the two-year credit the religious school was a blessing. I could be pegged to join Form 3.
The first condition satisfied, I was left with the impossible task of meeting the other two. It was simply impossible. How could one own a certificate when he had never sat for the exam? How could one pass a test for admission into Form 3 after a year’s study in the evenings.
Could we do it by-hook-or-by-crook principle?
Should we change the rule of the game so that crooked means justify honourable ends?
Yes, apply the ‘darurah’ (sheer emergency) rule and all should be legal!
Today I live to marvel at how with five ringgits (mind you, that was in 1952!) I became a proud owner of a leaving school certificate that came from someone/somewhere, the details of which transactions best left undisclosed. The certificate categorically stated that I had passed Form 2 in all subjects. This satisfied condition (ii)
Having achieved to satisfy the second condition, we began to work on good ‘human relation’ practices – one must cultivate the skill of intimately knowing who and who. This town was a small town where almost every one was connected to everyone else by blood or whatever. So it was not all that difficult
The long and short of it I was discreetly given a chance to study the test questions while everyone's eyes were closed. Armed and well prepared, on Monday, Jan 13th (lucky number!)1953, as recorded in my diary, I sat for the entrance test and with sheer brilliance I DID IT!
And so, as recorded in my diary, on Sunday ( Fridays being weekend in the state) Jan 18th, 1953, I joined one of the two Form 3 classes at SSES, coy with inferiority, to be with a group of about 30 pupils consisted of Malay, Chinese and Indian boys and pretty girls. And the English teacher was an elegant English lady (in knee-length skirt!) named Mrs Patton. This was my first taste of ‘culture shock’.
How I envied my new friends, seeing them socializing with ease, and merrily conversing in English among themselves and with teachers. And I, in the course of the next few weeks, was a laughing stock when I, with sheer ignorance, read aloud certain words like ‘stomach, rhythm, volume’ etc (pronounced sto maach, raai m, vo luum etc) like an Arab!
However, it did not take long before I began to get on very well with them, albeit keeping my safe distance from the opposite sex. And, soon, I began to be myself again, a serious and determined fellow.
A dream is just another dream
Circumstances and new atmosphere created new ideas, new aspirations and new dreams.
In those days Bukit Besi in Dungun, if one studied geography as a subject, was known as having the world largest tin mine. Those who managed to be employed by the company operating the mine were seen as especially privileged people, earning good salaries and all, against the backdrop of farmers, petty traders, fishermen and so on in the state.
‘It would be nice to be a mining engineer working in Bukit Besi’, a seed of a new dream began to germinate to rival that of a graduate from Al Azhar university.
The following three years saw me being carried forward by my own momentum. All went on so well that I found it hard to step on my brake. It was just what Frost said:
‘ …….. Yet knowing how way leads on to way
I doubted if I should ever come back.’
Five of these seven musketerrs (1956) have sadly gone
Early 1956 saw me taking a two-day bus ride with a group of friends heading for KL, my first ever trip (Pakcik reminisces – Pt 11), to join the Higher School Certificate Class at two prestigious schools having ‘Mat Salleh’ principals, teachers and all; but at a price. Must I join my new non-Muslim classmates in the school chapel on Monday mornings (me, the product of a religious school with a headful of Quranic verses)? - more cultural shocks
I was beginning to come to terms with who and what I was in life – and more to come.
Just as I was settling down nicely in KL, getting acquainted with the busy Batu Road, Malacca Street, the week-end ‘pesta’ at Lake Garden nearby, the marvel of Robinsons departmental store, and my new hostel life of course, I came yet to another fork , two roads diverged in a yellow wood.’
One morning I was summoned to see the school principle who asked me whether I would be interested to be nominated a candidate for interviews with a multinational company which was offering two scholarships to boys in MALAYA. Successful candidates would be packed overseas to do an accelerated one-year A-Level course followed by a four-year tertiary education; and, all being well, would need to serve the company for a specific number of years somewhere on earth.
A new challenge; but what became of my earlier dream, a prosperous engineer mining this good earth?
Subsequently I did attend a series of interviews, only soon to be advised that two Chinese boys from other schools had topped the list. That ought to be my first bitter taste of appointment. But was it really?
Look at the opening page of my 1953 diary.
from 1953 diary
The highlighted words coined in Arabic told me on no uncertain terms : Never cease to expect His bounty. So as early as three years earlier I instinctively forewarned myself that life was not going to be a bed of roses. Be prepared and never cease to expect better things to come.
But there was an unexpected twist of event. Hardly two weeks later, came an official from the multinational company to my hostel. He was a bearer of good news that one of the two successful candidates had failed his medical check-up. Would I accept it or was I too proud to be just a stand-by? God works in mysterious ways. I did not win it but someone lost his chance by default. With little thought I made up my mind to go for it, knowing fully well that
‘I doubted if I should ever come back’
Accordingly, in early Sept 1956 I bade farewell to my parents, leaving behind a dream of the revered posts of an Al Azhar graduate and the prestigious position of a mining engineer. As Robert Frost said:
“I shall be telling this with a sigh
Somewhere ages and ages hence
Two roads diverging in a wood, and I,
I took one less traveled by,
And that has made all the difference.”
I will end this posting with one saying that I learnt some 60 years ago, one that I do not expect to forget ever. It came from an early Islamic thinker/philosopher (before Imam AlGhazali), Yahya ibn Muaz Al Razi. He once said:
Yahya Ibn Muaz Al Razi
A person who truly understands and knows who and what he is, is indeed, one who knows who his Creator is.
Today I know better who and what I am, my weaknesses, strengths, failures, successes and how I have been led from one path to another less traveled one; and I think I know HIM better.
And today whenever I raise my two hands, I never fail to say in whatever little Arabic that I learnt sixty years ago, “My God. I thank You for the very life You have given me, and for giving me a wife, children, sustenance, knowledge ………”
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