The V.I. PREFECTS BOARD
by E. S. Shankar
The VI Prefects Board (VIPB) was created on Friday, 6 April 1923 by then Headmaster, (Major) Richard Sidney.
In the inaugural investiture ceremony held at the old VI premises at High Street (Jalan Tun HS Lee/Jalan Bandar), Sidney spoke of the Roman origins of prefects. He envisaged that the VI prefects would assist him and the teachers in maintaining discipline and order, during and after school hours. More than that, he hoped that by their very achievements in scholarship and sports, they would inspire and mentor the younger students to emulate them to produce and maintain a model school.
Of course, in the UK, "public schools" like Eton and Harrow are, really, private and expensive fee-paying boarding schools for the rich and elite, unlike public schools in Malaysia. Nevertheless, there were elements of elitism in Sidney's model, as only the best scholars and athletes from primary schools like Pasar Road, Batu Road, Brickfields, Maxwell Road etc. were selected to study in the V.I.
The first batch of VI prefects comprising 19 boys were chosen from the House Captains elected by the schoolboys and others nominated by the Headmaster himself. The first school captain was Othman bin Mohamed, an over-achiever by any standard. (No relation to the other famous Othman, Cikgu Othman bin Haji Mohammad Ali, also an ex-VI prefect who was a VI teacher and the 1st eleven football coach in the '60's and early '70s.
Two months later Sidney came up with the VIPB Charter and its motto:
"ON THE BEARING OF THE PREFECTS WILL DEPEND
The word 'whole' was omitted from the motto in later years.
We must also recognise that the words "scholarship" in this context includes not just those 4.0 GPA students, but also those who lead various school clubs and societies such as the Cadet Corps, the School Magazine, the School Band, the Library, the Debating Team, etc. So the road to prefectship was a very wide open one indeed. Sidney therefore established a system where promising youth which showed leadership qualities and sound character, was visibly and publicly recognised for it, encouraged to develope it further and inspire succeeding generations to continue a fine tradition.
I do not know if other than the elections for House Captains, there ever had been an election system for prefects. I doubt it. Even for the election of House Captains, there was no campaigning of any sort, and each House Member voted to select their own captain and office bearers at the first House Meeting held in January of each year.
1971 AND 1972
From my experience of having been a prefect from 1971-1972, I can say that in most cases, it was the incumbent PB members who nominated, discussed and voted on the appointment of new prefects, including that of the Head Girl and Assistant Head Girl.
Ordinary VIPB meetings took place twice a month at the Prefects' Room located immediately to the left of the Staff Room on the upper floor, as one faced the School clock tower. Some of these meetings would stretch past 10 p.m. when new prefects had to be selected. This once prompted the mother of Zahedi Zain (VIPB 1972-74/ Vice-Captain and son of then Auditor-General, Mohammad Zain Ahmad) to remark:
"Even Parliament would have closed by then. What are these VI Prefects discussing, the Constitution?"
The very last meeting of the year would be held on a day soon after the last HSC examination paper was concluded in December. This was the all-important meeting, sometimes held over two days, at which the nominations for new prefects for the following year would be deliberated and voted upon. As would usually be the case, the board strength would soon be seriously depleted by the outgoing Upper 6 members and would need an injection of new blood.
At this final meeting, each and every prefect would also be required to deliver a speech. The farewell speeches of the outgoing members would range from the inspirational to the challenging (throwing the gauntlet down at the new leadership), to the hilarious and the poignant and teary. It is often difficult to explain to outsiders how some would break down completely at the thought of the looming fracture of a camaraderie.
The outgoing School Captain, in consultation with the Vice-Captain, Secretary and Assistant Secretary, and perhaps other senior prefects, would also decide on their choice of the succeeding School Captain and Vice-Captain. The School Captain would then submit the final list to the HM for approval.
The HM of course had the right to appoint his own candidates or to veto any candidate recommended by the VIPB. The teachers often submitted their own nominations to the HM. However my recollection is that the HMs had implicit trust in the the School Captain, and rarely (except in 1972 that I know of) interfered with his list.
As far back as 1 July 2009, I had written in my blog that:
"There was not a single student who at some stage in his life in the V.I. did not secretly or openly harbour ambitions of being appointed to the Prefects’ Board. There was something impressive about these ‘Blue Shirts’ who wore their white jackets and stalked the corridors or stood by the doors of the School Hall during Assembly days, while the School Captain and Vice Captain stood to attention in front of the Assembly with their backs to the stage where the HM performed in front of the seated teaching corps!"
It may be a little pompous and even downright silly talking about Separation of Power for a school like Victoria Institution. I mean we were not a Government. But VI ran like that! There was the HM, who was everywhere, the teachers who were everywhere and the Prefects who were everywhere. All day long! And sometimes, all night long too! Each knew his duty well and took his role seriously and conscientiously. All of them were working Executives; there was no place for sleeping partners and chairmen or lawyers with watching briefs. The Prefects were the bridge between the HM and the teachers and the students with whom they came into contact the most. There was no place anyone could hide and goof off. That applied as well to the school mandors (labourers) and jaga (watchman who resided within the VIOBA premises).
Inevitably the Prefects were the Games and House Captains, as well as heads of some of the societies. In some instances the leaders were the august members of Club 21 who were selected based on their outstanding contribution in any field including being top students in the public examinations. There was much mentoring of new leaders by the old guard which made life that much easier for the teachers in charge of various activities. The 1st and 2nd KL Scouts had student Assistant Scout Masters (usually King Scouts) who were the guys who actually ran the weekly meetings, jamborees, camping, ‘akela will do our best, dip, dip, dip, dop, dop, dop!’ and all. Even the School Librarians and Red Cross Chairmen were recognised and admired. (Remember Melville Jayathissa who joined the British Council Library? He was passionate about the School Library. Or Yap Chin Seong in 1972?).
I had also written elsewhere that the selection of prefects was based purely on merit, though there tended to be a (unintended) bias in favour of sportsmen as opposed to scholars. In my time, 24 was reckoned to be the ideal VIPB strength. This was partly also due to the limited space for chairs in the Prefects Room.
In 1971 and 1972 in particular, it was unfortunate that some who should have been appointed prefects were not. Why the cut excluded these deserving students was not clear for 1971 (since it was determined by the 1970 Board) but, for 1972, I can say that we simply did not think out of the box to expand the Board numbers from 24, to honour those who would have made it an exceptionally good batch. Sigh!
The composition of the 1972 VIPB was also lopsided in that only School Captain N. Indran, Assistant Head Girl Lee Yuet Mui, Wilfred Lazar and Yap Teow Khoon represented the F6 Arts classes. I assure you that this happened by chance as there were neither restrictions on the number of candidates who could be nominated, nor any quota vis-a-vis Science vs Arts streams. With the benefit of hind-sight, we ought to have rectified the obvious imbalance. It only goes to show that no system is perfect.
In most, if not all years, the students knew pretty much ahead of time who the new School Captain would be. The captains usually picked themselves due to their outstanding achievements and solid character. Many were groomed for captaincy as early as from F5. When I look through the list of school captains from 1966-1972, I have only one question mark - the 1966 selection of Tan Kee Kwong as School Captain over Nah Seang Hoo.
I would have thought that on paper, Nah Seang Hoo would have been the overwhelming choice of the students (peoples') and teachers. Most students were in awe of Nah. He represented the school in athletics (Captain), cricket and rugby as well. He had already won the Victor Ludorum award in 1965! He lacked nothing in academia either (he later graduated as a medical doctor, as did Kee Kwong). I assert nothing bad or sinister against Kee Kwong who was also the School Hockey Captain and an outstanding leader in his own right; one does not make it to the VIPB by chance or by curry favouring the teachers or the HM.
Yet, HM Murugasu favoured Kee Kwong to Nah. Why? What was the tipping factor? Did the fact that Kee Kwong was the son of Tan Chee Khoon, nationally respected leader and founder of the Opposition party, GERAKAN, play any part? It would be interesting to know!
TEMPORARY PREFECTS (TP)
I understand that the Temporary Prefects Board system was introduced in 1955. It was certainly in force in 1966 when I joined the V.I.
Basically, the TPs were appointed from the F4 students at the beginning of the 3rd (last) term of each year, to relieve the permanent prefects from onerous duties while they focussed on preparations for the Form Five, Lower Six and Upper Six (HSC) examinations. The TPs term of office lasted only those three-odd months.
A TP Head Boy would also be appointed by the HM in consultation with the School Captain, and in most cases, he would inevitably become the Head Prefect in his Upper 6 year. Unless of course, he did not get through his F5 examinations, left for studies overseas or, turned out to be a thoroughly bad character (which never happened). Thus, N. Indran who was the TPHB in 1969, was appointed Head Prefect in 1972, as was the case with Kian Fui (68/71), Koe Hung Tatt (67/70), Yee Fook Phin (66/69), Vinayak Pradhan (65/68) etc.
The TP Board of 1969, as best as I can recollect, comprised:
1. Indran Narayanasamy (TP Head, & Football, Rugby, Athletics)
I cannot let this TP bit pass without recounting a famous incident in 1969 involving Indran and our class (4B2 Science) PE and also school Sports and Cricket Master, Leonard De Vries. Better known by the students as Lenny, he was a very popular teacher as well.
Lenny was known by all to be a strict but fair disciplinarian. On a certain Tuesday morning he had expected our class to be gathered in five groups, all lined up and at attention just before he arrived on the field. However, when he appeared, we were all still horsing around. This infuriated Lenny who then administered the usual "two tight slaps" on the cheeks to everyone of us there that morning.
News soon spread to School Captain Yee Fook Phin - we never found out who had reported it to him - that the TP Head Boy had been slapped by Lenny. Later that morning, Lenny was summoned to HM Murugasu's office, where he must have received a thorough and embarrassing dressing down.
It was a red-faced and huffing and puffing Lenny who stormed like a raging bull into our classroom later (located the last but one room on the upper left wing of the school as one faces the clock tower) to interrupt our maths lesson. He jerked his thumb back and only said one word - Indran! - and hailed him out. In the corridor, poor and innocent Indran got a tongue-lashing that would have stripped the skin off Atilla the Hun's back. Lenny did not give Indran the tiniest of openings to utter a single word in his defence. Fortunately, in a matter of a few minutes, the bell rang for the next class, and Lenny was forced to abandon his tirade as students from other classes poured out onto the corridor.
To be fair to Lenny, he had not specifically picked on Indran; all present including yours truly got slapped as well. At that moment, Indran, like the rest of us, had been in his PE white T-shirt and shorts, and it must have slipped Lenny's mind that Indran was the TP Head Boy as well. But that incident proved a point - HM Murugasu would not let anyone undermine the integrity of the prefects system, no matter what!
Rankings within the board were as follows:
1. School Captain
The remaining prefects followed in seniority based on the number of votes each had received when they had been voted in, as recorded by the Secretary in the Minutes Book. The Head Girl and Deputy Head Girls did not have a number assigned to them, as they strictly only handled the girls, with whom we never interfered. They were always treated as senior equals and with great respect.
The non-office bearing prefects were divided into equal groups and each would take turns maintaining the cleanliness of the PR and the exclusive wash/changing room located across the corridor from the PR. There would be a vote by show of hands at each VIPB meeting to determine if a group had performed its cleaning duties satisfactorily for the next group to take over.
Recently my good friend Ramachandran whatsapped me a picture of a brass hinge which he had apparently retrieved from a School Hall door consigned to the rubbish dump for replacement. I wish he had saved some of the doors as well. Well, I can tell you that the result of the Cleanest Classroom of the Week Award - a framed up school crest with a certificate which said exactly that - at the Monday morning School Assembly was always, always, one of the announcements most eagerly awaited for by every class monitor. There was also a Cleanest Class of the Year Award based on records diligently maintained by the Assistant Secretary of the VIPB. All those brass hinges in the doors of the classrooms, School Hall and the Lecture Theatre HAD to be polished every day with Brasso!
These awards were introduced in 1947 by HM Frederick Daniel whose name is eponymous with the annual Daniel Shield Games between the Old Boys and the Present Boys. It was also Daniel who commissioned an English literature teacher, G. F. Jackson, to compose the three-versed School Song of which the first line was "Let Us Now With Thankfulness". It was officially launched in February 1949.
Of course, it was the duty of the prefects to award the marks every morning (Monday to Friday) for the Form 1 to 5 weekly cleanliness competition. Once, when 4B2 was singled out by the prefects as the dirtiest classroom, our class monitor, Jaccob Thomas, was seized of a maniacal drive to remove the stain upon his leadership. We were whipped into shape by Jaccob to even re-paint our classroom, the paint financed by equal contributions from all classmates. By dint of sheer perseverance and effort, 4B2 did win the cleanliness competition once in 1969. You should have heard the roar from us in the School Hall when it was announced. Even HM Murugasu flashed an approving smile!
Our standard uniform was the light blue long-sleeved shirt, prefect's tie and badge (different from the school tie and badge), white long pants and dark blue or black socks and black leather shoes. For morning duties and the School Assembly, we had to don our white jackets as well. When attending official school functions such as Speech Day, Sports Day etc. and that of other schools, we had to put on our two piece dark navy-blue suits. Some ex-prefects would loan their white and navy-blue jackets to those like me who could not afford to have new jackets tailored. When not in use, these jackets were kept in the PR.
(Temporary Prefects wore white long-sleeved shirts and long pants, and black leather or rubber shoes and TP navy-blue ties).
Another tradition was that every prefect's birthday was remembered with a card signed by all and presented to them. In turn, the birthday person had to 'belanja' (treat) the entire board to a 'makan' on his/her birthday. This would often be an outing to a hawker stall area like Imbi Square, Campbell Road or Medan Selera, where we would adjourn to at night after a board meeting. Sometimes, two or three prefects whose birthdays fell in the same month, would pool their kitties. Then, we would enjoy a really good gnosh. We would also make it a point to visit each other during the major festive occasions of Deepavali, Chinese New Year, Hari Raya and Christmas.
I recall reading somewhere that Sidney used to host an annual dinner at his bungalow for the prefects.
How long this tradition was maintained by succeeding HMs is unknown. However, I attended a generous prefects' lunch hosted in 1971 by HM Tan Cheng Or. We stuffed ourselves full with superb fried chicken, mee hoon, chicken curry, fried rice etc. at his bungalow located within the school premises. I remember spotting an art-deco piece of some kind in a corner of the bungalow hallway. This was a huge, round stoppered glass bottle filled with red-coloured water about which I jokingly asked Cheng Or if that was the syrup for our lunch. A red-faced Kian Fui quietly pulled me aside and let on that the HM's house was not a place for my kind of puerile schoolboy witticisms!
As for other dinners, I know for a fact that as late as 1974, the HM and teachers would have a sort of formal dinner once a month, out on the balcony adjoining the Staff Room; formal in the sense that the men would have to don ties as well, while the ladies wore formal dresses (except for the Indian ladies who wore their Deepavali sarees, I guess). It was more of a buffet and not a sit-down dinner. There was either a Ministry of Education budget allocation for it, or it was financed by collections from the teachers and the HM. Catering was outsourced (not from the tuck shop) and I was told the food was always excellent. Some of the frying, such as for prawn balls, chicken wings and satay, was done right at the balcony to make it make it fresh, hot and irresistible. Often, there was a three-piece band which included a violinist, and the teachers whom we thought were all stiff and boring would 'get on down' and do some ball-room type fox-trot and waltzing.
But perhaps, it is a little-known VIPB tradition that would make this article really very, very interesting. Among the prefects, this tradition was known as 'The Week' and 'The Night'.
THE WEEK & THE NIGHT
I have not been able to determine when exactly the VIPB tradition of 'The Week' and 'The Night' began. But I do recall being briefed by my seniors that the form it was practised in was given a permanent touch by 1957 and 1958 School & Football Captain, Mustafa bin Mohammad Ali.
Mustafa must have been an exceptional student, which is putting it mildly. He was School Captain for two years! In my time, the Captains always spoke reverentially of Mustafa, who was some kind of a leader by then in the corporate world. We always associated him with the Malaysian Tobacco Company (MTC which later became the British-American Tobacco Company or BAT), where I believe he worked for some 20-over years and became its Managing Director as well. He also sat on the board of directors of some of our leading plantation conglomerates such as Sime Darby and Guthries until his retirement in the '90s.
THE VI SCHOOL CAPTAIN'S LOG BOOK
I remember being told in 1971 that it was Mustafa who in 1958 started a School Captain's Log Book in which each school captain since then had recorded the highlights of his tenure of office and thoughts and opinions on various events that happened during his term. The log book too served as a kind of guide to a new captain on how to handle certain sensitive issues within the VIPB and the school at large, as well as the teachers and HMs. It was kept under lock and key in the drawer of the School Captain's desk in the Prefects' Room. No other prefect or person was allowed access to that log book, not even the HM! I doubt anyone outside the prefects' circle knew of the existence of that log book. It's even possible that many prefects themselves were not aware that such a log book ever existed.
That log book is apparently no longer part of the records kept in the Prefects' Room or the School Archives. It's gone missing. Besides that log book, the Prefects' Room also housed the minutes books of every PB meeting, as recorded by successive Secretaries (of which I was one in 1972). And of course, all late-comer's attendance and detention class record cards as well!
I was appointed prefect at a Monday morning School Assembly in April 1971, by HM Tan Cheng Or, in a batch that included N. Indran, (Joe) Hiew Heng Foo and K. Balraj. Immediately after the school assembly was over, a board meeting was held at the PR, at which, much to our surprise, each of us was asked to make an acceptance speech, with me, being the most junior by votes, going first. As soon as I began with 'Thank you my illustrious seniors for selecting and accepting me to the Prefects' Board', I was interrupted by loud hooting and derisive laughter from those very seniors I had just pompously praised as "illustrious":
"Whoa, using big, big words ah?"
"Thank you? Who said I voted for you?"
"Accept you? We'd rather accept the school mandor!"
I was shocked at this cat-calling and and turned red-faced.
"But, I thought..."
"Who said you could think? Did you ask permission? Besides, you don't have a brain, so how could you have been thinking"
I then turned stone-silent as this commie-like ambush from all-quarters was totally unexpected. I did not know what to say next. The seniors then moved on to my other three compatriots who were all treated with the same disdain and rubbished as they attempted to make their inaugural speeches.
We were then told the rules for 'The Week' which would last from that Monday to Friday:
1. We, the 'freshies', would be assigned regular tasks
as set out in the Duty Roster.
This last bit shook us to our core as we had no idea that having been installed as prefects in front of the whole school by the HM, that we were on some kind of probation or that there was a possibility that within a week, we could be defrocked! Mama!
Later that afternoon, the four of us had our own meeting and it was clear none of us had a clue what was going on, and we all agreed to play it by ear.
Throughout that week, we were ragged, not only by the incumbent prefects, but also a few ex-prefects who, I am sure, were specially persuaded to dropped by to increase our misery by dropping dark hints about 'The Night' and "Are you prepared to answer the five questions?" What five questions? We had no inkling.
There was almost no physical ragging. Psychological pressure on us was applied as our every movement within the school was observed by the regular prefects, and as the week progressed, our points on the dreaded score sheet slowly approached zero! Every error or omission, serious or not - like knotting the tie untidily, crooked badge, stain on white jacket, tie slipping over the collar, a little late for morning duty, exercising poor control over students lining up or in handling a stroppy student, messing up the prefects' washroom after games, failing to greet someone with a 'good morning' etc. - was observed by hawk eyes and negative points quickly inked.
I was forced to play a singles badminton match in the School Hall with George Yap Koi Meng, a school U20 player and warned not to embarrass him by scoring more than five points off him. In the event, I was lucky to take two points off him, for which I received 5 marks for trying and -10 for not trying hard enough!
Joe Hiew and Balraj were introduced to the mystery of lockers 18 and 19 in the PR. Each prefect was assigned his own locker. Joe was made to stand with his backside very close to the door of locker 18. Now, there was a hole in the common cardboard wall between these 2 lockers. So when Balraj forcibly slammed the door of locker 19 shut, the door of locker 18 whacked into Joe's butt. There was a lot of guffawing and back-slapping, after which Balraj got -10 points for violence, and Joe too -10, for turning red-faced. I don't know how Joe, sometimes referred to by us as GI Joe, controlled his emotions and his shirt buttons did not pop off.
You could be docked 10 points for failing to know who the school bell ringer was, when the VIOBA was founded, who composed the school song and the like. We had to find out the nicknames of some of the regulars which could only be done by a begging requests and treating them to teas or cokes.
Outsiders suspected nothing as proper decorum was observed by all prefects when in public. Most of the ragging took place late in the late afternoons or evenings in the PR, or even later, when most students had gone home. We were instructed not to go home unless permission was given.
By the end of the week, the four of us were a very nervous and stressed out lot indeed. On the Thursday of that week, we were informed by Secretary A. Balachandren to bring along our regular PE kits the following day, and to inform our parents that we would be only be returning home early Saturday morning as we had to attend a prefects' party!
By Friday afternoon, all 4 of us were staring at huge negative totals on our score sheets.
Later that evening, at about 9 p.m., the entire board headed to the open-air Campbell Road Food Court in four or five cars. We freshies had already changed into our PE gear and as soon as the seniors had organized a long table and seating for everyone, the "party" began. As though by magic there appeared a 'Kiwi' brand black shoe polish tin and brush. We had our faces and T-shirts suitably painted and our hair greased. Then, we had to stand at attention on our chairs while waiting for the seniors to decide on each one's choice of food and drink.
We next went around taking the orders, and then to the various stalls to order, fetch and serve them to the seniors. While the seniors ate, we went back to our standing-on-the-chair positions. When, the satay arrived, soon the bare satay sticks were planted in our hair, and we all looked like right charlies, standing on our chairs or running hither and tither to the seniors' commands, looking like caricatures of local aboriginal Malaysians.
Half-way through, we were asked to form a band and sing some songs to "entertain" the seniors while making motions as though we had guitars, trumpets and drums as back-ups. This scenario must have been familiar to the food-court operators from 'Friday Night' of previous V.I. prefects' boards, as they played along with this ludicrous, but hilarious theatrics of ours. There were fair numbers of the public there as well. But they must have cottoned on that some kind of ragging was going on as no one made any protest or called the cops who were just a stone's throw away at the Campbell Road Police Station! (I was told that the the School Captain had obtained a police permit for our night).
How we got through that session, I will never know, but the black polish served us well as it hid our embarrassed and red faces! This went on till about 11.30 p.m. when the seniors wrapped up the "party" and we drove over and parked the cars at Lake Gardens. From there, past midnight, we jogged over to a well-known scouts' camping spot in Johns Valley in Jalan Duta, led by the Secretary and Vice-Captain. It was scary dark there and the seniors only had a couple of flashlights to guide us. Waiting at the designated spot were the School Captain, Head Girl and the other seniors.
All four of us were blind-folded. I was then led some thirty metres away and asked to kneel down at a cemented spot after having my T-shirt removed. The Captain made a short speech about prefectship being a test of character. I was asked to dip my hands into a pail of water which apparently was right before me. Someone guided my hands in and then the shock hit me like a tsunami wave. It was chilled water with blocks of ice still floating in it. I gasped and I started shivering. It did not help that we were in a valley with mist swirling about!
I was asked by several voices if the water was cold.
I said yes.
Surely not, the chorus came back.
I said yes it's cold.
Someone splashed a few drops of the cold water on my bare back. I winced and convulsed.
Is it cold, the chorus chimed in on cue.
I said yes.
Well, someone said, you answered truthfully three times. That's good. Remember that!
Then came five questions in rapidly succession:
1. What was the exact date the school was founded on? (14 August 1893).NB
VI once lost a TV quiz final to St. Johns in the '60s when none of our 3 reps - Ishwar Nahappan, Liew Fah Kong and Julian Fong - were able to answer this question correctly on prime-time national TV!!
I was fated to stumble on the last question. My answer was Nah Seang Chew (Seang Hoo's younger brother who was Vice Captain in 1968). Splash!
Then it was over. Someone threw a dry towel on my back and escorted me back where my civilian clothes were in my satchel. I changed and waited for the others to finish their night. When it was over for all of us, the Captain beckoned everyone to form a circle, and then came that emotional and magic moment. As we sang the school song, we felt like a huge weight had been lifted off our shoulders. We all shook hands and made our way back up the hill to the cars. Someone, probably Eddy Chong Kwong Chin or Chong Kok Weng, drove Indran, Balraj and myself back home at about 3 a.m., as we all lived more or less in the Imbi area. I had to shampoo off all that black polish and grease on my hair and body before I crashed out on my bed. The T-shirt went in the rubbish bin. Joe Hiew was also sent home by car; I never saw a more exhausted Joe than on that night, or a more elated one, at the end.
Without exception, every ex-prefect I have talked to, will recount that 'magic moment' of singing the school song. In some years, not just the girls, but also the boys, shed tears.
I believe that in earlier years - the '50s to the early '60s, - this kind of ragging was not a tradition. In some years, the Friday night was concluded with a dinner cum dance party to which even prefects from other schools were invited. In later years, the Campbell Road Food Court was the favourite haunt, though I do not know if proceedings were adjourned for the icy test!
In 1972, my good friend Abdul Rashid (nickname Mamak, Footballer/Thamboosamy House Captain) threatened to organize a boycott of the ragging, but eventually came around. He was famous for his "I have my limits" defiance. His, the first batch of 1972, was a particularly large and difficult batch to handle. It comprised the two senior girls and perhaps some ten guys, which included popular students such as Ng Chee Peng, R. Mahendran and Kwan Poh Woh. The girls were ragged but not subjected to the ice test.
But when it came to his turn to dish it out with subsequent batches, Rashid performed superbly. We recently whatsapped reminiscences over those times and he did not fail to mention the emotional singing or how honoured and proud he had felt about being appointed prefect. Similar sentiments were expressed during schooldays by Chong Yoo Nam (Treasurer) who joined VI from Setapak High School in 1971, and Loon Kuan Liong from Rasah/KKB. [I once followed, as Sports Editor for The Seladang, the school basketball team then captained by Kuan Liong in its games against teams in Rasah and Kuala Kubu Bahru (KKB). Rasah, then a rubber estate town already looking deserted, comprised one straight main street about a hundred metres long, with single-storey houses on either side and huts further behind. We had a superb dinner there where I was introduced for the first time to a local delicacy, chi pau kai or paper-wrapped chicken. Not knowing what it was, such was the sheltered world I lived in, I initially bit into the paper wrapping, which produced a burst of laughter from everyone there!]
But, I suppose all things good or bad, depending upon one's views, must come to an end.
In early 1973, as the seniors were about to drop off a freshie, they were cornered outside the house by his parents who kicked up a huge fuss about the late night and the lack of a coherent, solid explanation. On their way back, as bad luck would have it, the same thing happened with another freshie and his parents!
Later, again in 1973, another batch's night was interrupted when the cops detained a prefect's parked car which looked similar to a getaway car involved in a robbery that morning. To make matters worse, they spotted what looked like a gun in the back-seat. It turned out to be a toy gun left there by the prefect's nephew. Several prefects ended up at the Travers Road Police Station, wrapped in towels under which they only had on their wet swimwear or PE shorts! They were eventually released by the cops when it was confirmed that they were only schoolboys out on an extraordinary ragging night.
The writing then was on the wall.
In 1975, apparently the seniors and freshies were caught in the Batu Lane pondan (transvestite) area of KL by none other than HM Victor Gopal!! And that was it. He then banned the ragging and the night completely. I have yet to get the full story of what transpired, as it could hardly have been a case of HM Victor Gopal wandering by coincidence into one of the most infamous red-light areas of KL on a freshie's night. What happened in subsequent years, whether the VIPB reverted to a Friday night party, I do not know. Perhaps, prefects from the '80s and later can shed some light on it.
It could not have lasted much longer, could it?
Yes, Abdul Rashid had a very important and valid point. The prefects could have bonded and gelled well with a party or perhaps several parties. 'The Night' could have been conducted within the school premises. But of course, for speedy and spellbinding results, the ragging and the icy end in the dark of a misty valley served its purpose.
But keeping it all secret from the HM and senior teachers is a definite no-no. It's a miracle that in all those years, nothing seriously untoward ever happened during 'The Night'. If it had, who are the persons who would have taken responsibility for it? Would the HMs have pleaded mea culpa?
On reflection, many of the events that occurred could only have happened during that era. This includes the regimented approach of the cane wielding and free-striking headmasters and teachers who imposed discipline and order to secure, no doubt, outstanding results.
And this is a discussion I am still having with many of my alumni. There is a school of thought that VI excelled despite the heavy-handed school administration, and not because of. After all, top scholars and sportsmen were pre-selected for entry into the V.I.
Had the HMs and teachers taken a more liberal and even-handed approach, might they not have inspired the student-body and produced better, stellar students who would have passed on an even greater legacy to succeeding generations? Possibly.
Against this, there is the Lee Kuan Yew-Singapore argument. Would Singapore have achieved all that it has and MORE with a LESS iron-fisted LKY?
Hindsight is always 20-20, is it not?
The art of governing and administration is not an exact science, and the line between an inspirational leader and a tyrant, often a thin one.
If anyone, it's our parents of that era who should have shown much greater interest and taken responsibility. Sure, there was a social contract, but they placed too much trust in the HMs and teachers without setting up an effective oversight mechanism.
But, has the pendulum swung too much the other way, where HMs and teachers nowadays are hamstrung by the top down approach of the Ministry of Education and Parent-Teacher Associations (PTA)?
As for us students, and this applies to 99.99% of us, we simply did not know any better then. It was a kind of, but not quite, herd-mentality response. When you are thrust into structures like the VIPB or the Cadet Corp or Scouts, you either go with the flow, or drop out quickly. The environment and national culture simply did not then allow for the development of independent minds and unilateral actions, and rare indeed was the student who defied or bucked the system.
I also think it serves no purpose now to dwell too much on 'what might have been'. Suffice to say we should always strive to learn from our own mistakes and that of others.
But, I, like many of my VI Class of 1970-72, bear no mental scars of those schooldays. We got over the darker moments a long, long time ago during our schooldays itself, and have got on happily with our lives. We still cherish our VI years, warts and moles included!
Last update: July 26 2016.