Monday, December 22, 2008

Sekolah Menengah Kampong Gajah: The school that my father built

The Roll of Principals in the Bilik Gerakan of Sekolah Menengah Kampung Gajah



Last Friday I went to Lumut for a working trip-cum-family vacation. After Teluk Intan, instead of taking the Bagan Datoh-Sitiawan route, we took the slightly longer but more memorable Kampung Gajah-Bota Kanan route.

Memorable, because during my pre-school days, we used to stay in Bota Kanan, and we frequently took the 20 km Bota Kanan-Kampung Gajah route on our occasional trips to Sekolah Menengah Kampung Gajah – my father’s school.

Apak was appointed as the first headmaster of Sekolah Menengah Kampung Gajah back in 1965 when I was a mere 4 year old toddler (oops, there goes my age!). It was his first big job after graduating from the Malayan Teachers Training College in Kirkby. For before that, he was a teacher in various schools in Ipoh, Parit, Bota Kanan and Telok Bakung.

It must have been a big challenge for him. For Kampung Gajah was a backwater of sorts. The area was more known for its Malay nationalism uprising against the British during the 1870s. It got into the history books when J.W.W. Birch, the first British Resident for Perak, was killed by Dato’ Maharaja Lela at place called Pasir Salak.

With the kampong folks more being more interested in tending their farms and padi fields, it was must have been an arduous task, I would imagine, even to persuade the parents to send their children to school!

But I think he must have done a decent job. The school prospered. And he gained the respect of the kampong folks. One crafty means of winning their hearts was by having the annual school "Pesta Durian".

Yes, what better way to do it? With Kampung Gajah being at the heart of Perak’s “durian belt” and Apak being a “hantu durian” himself I guess it must have just clicked together.

I remember going to one of those Pesta Durian. The school compound was literally filled up with so many “longgok” of durian and other fruits. It was a happy and joyous occasion for everyone – teachers, students and parents alike.

When we whizzed past Kampung Gajah last Friday, the mere sight of the school was enough to jolt me into stopping the car and turning around to enter into the school compound.

As soon as we entered the school compound, memories of my trips here with Apak more that forty years ago came flooding back.

And proudly, I exclaimed to my kids, and the Mem Besar, that this is the school that Atok built.

Apak was the headmaster of the school for five years until 1970. The school has, since then, been renamed Sekolah Menengah Dato’ Seri Maharajalela, taking after the name of the famous local Malay warrior.

(Above) Driveway to the school blocks. The old entranceway to the school compound used to be from the opposite side, that is, from the direction of the Sungai Perak

The two original school blocks
(Above) A closer view of the two original school blocks. Apak’s office used to be on the ground floor on the right hand side of this photo. It was a simple office modestly furnitured with wooden tables, chairs and racks. I remember a large calendar with the words “Rajan & Co.” used to hang on the wall. Crates of Kickapoo carbonated soft drinks could also be found “hoarded” in the room (much to my delight)

The ‘cute’ and unique stair case in between the two old blocks. Very simple, and doesn’t employ the boxed-up intermediate landing area found in most of today’s schools. The space under the stairs was where durians used to be gathered by the basket-loads during Pesta Durian

The Roll of Principals. Apak’s name is right there at the top of the list. I had to persuade the administration staff to open up their Bilik Gerakan to take this photo. Although initially reluctant, a quick phone call to the current principal did just the trick. With his kind permission, the staff were very obliging. Thank you Cikgu Nayan

The school hall, a new building addition to the school. It was not there when I was a kid

Monday, December 08, 2008

Aidil Adha

Just got back from Ipoh.

We spent the Hari Raya break with Emak. All my brothers and my sister were there too, together with their family. All came back home to be with Emak.

It was an opportune time to do a majlis tahlil for arwah Apak.

We remember him, everyday. The sadness lingers. The memory lives on.

There were sadness too, this Aidil Adha, for a section of our community struck by tragedy at Bukit Antarabangsa. Our heart goes out to them for their loved ones lost in the landslide.

Selamat Hari Raya Aidil Adha.