To some extent I liken slavery to death.
Marcus Tullius Cicero
We stayed in a hut of timber and thatch my father built on my uncle Haji Hamid’s property not far from his big house.
My father was to have a good education from his uncle (my grand uncle for whom I was named) Haji Ismail in Pontianak Indonesia where he was the local Kadi. My father’s mother doted on him but his father despised him saying that he was a lazy bum. Two months into his stay in Pontianak he had to return to Malaya as my grandmother was pining for him. Thus ended his short education but still he managed to hang around his father and learned some useful things: he learned how to read the Koran and to recite the sermon the Imam reads to marry couples who had 6 ringgit to pay him. He obtained a certificate to perform marriages and to witness pronouncements of divorces for which the fee was higher at 8 ringgit. This job was part time. His regular job was tapping rubber in his brother's smallholding. At that time rubber tappers were the lowest form of life except sellers of salted fish. Both professions stank.
Over time I came to learn the sermon by heart and I thought I found my life’s calling. Yes I would become a registrar of marriages like my father. This was before I went to school. I knew what a school was because my oldest brother Shafii went to one and when he came home he would recite loudly all the names of animals in Arabic. I learned those by heart and could not wait to go to school myself.
“If you go to an English School you will go to Hell when you die”: thus shouted my uncle Haji Hamid from his house up the path to ours. I thought, he of all people should know what he was saying. He had been to Mecca and was Imam of Pangkal Kalong. He had 2 wives while my father could hardly eke out a living to feed Mum and 6 of us from his daily job as a rubber tapper and part-time Imam. I was 11 years old then and his edict somehow did not frighten my father or me at all except that I still remember the incident to this day. I never knew what my father thought of it.
The English School started in Kuala Krai in 1951 and I was one of 30 of us admitted as a first batch. The headmaster was Mr. M. A. H. Wyatt. The thirty of us had to find board and lodging. A group of 15 of us was taken in by Sheikh Mubarak who ran a restaurant and we had to pay 30 rgt per month board and lodging. I was paid 10 rgt a month grant by the government then and my father gave me the required 20 ringgit to top up. I never knew where he got the money from.
In the third month my father came to Kuala Krai and said I had to follow him home as he could no longer come up with the 20 rgt per month to keep me in school. I began to sob of course as I enjoyed learning English and singing Land of Hope and Glory and God Save the King every week. What am I to do?
The landlord kindly said I could stay and he would adopt me as one of his family and I needed to surrender to pay him only the 10 rgt per month grant I was receiving from the government. The adoption turned out to be a farce for I was made to fetch water and firewood and to wash the clothes of the other 14 lodgers. I had to do the ironing too and carried bags of rice and groceries while selling curry puffs at the school was part of my duty as well.
In the third year the government raised my allowance to 40 rgt and I though since the lodging was 30 ringgit I would have 10 of my own spending money. The condition of slavery however continued and all 40 rgt went to him for the next 2 years. I did not have any money to spend on myself. I had to scrounge the dustbins of the shops to find things I could use such as an old pair of shoes and even a used toothbrush. When the others go back to their villages for the school holidays I would be left alone with not much laundry duty. I remember going through the pockets of their shorts and shirts hoping to find 5 cents so I could buy 2 pieces of sweets. I was disappointed.
Finally when we were in Form One the school announced it was not going to have form 2 and the Form I class had to transfer to Kota Bharu at the beginning of the next year 1955. I opened a Post Office Savings Bank account and deposited the last 2 months grant of 80 rgt for my uniform and shoes and told Sheikh Mubarak a lie that the school had not paid me the November and December allowances.
I gained my liberty at year end. One month in the new school Sheikh Mubarak arrived at my hostel and called me and started lecturing me for withholding the 80 rgt from him. I just did not answer him and stayed in the open area so he could not beat me. He left peacefully and I wrote him later my explanation and told him he had the better end of the bargain in the 4 years that I was there at 60 Main Road, Kuala Krai and that I was fully justified in keeping the 80 ringgit to pay for my new school uniforms and books and shoes.
I joined Form 2 in SIC Kota Bharu and that was when Dato Zaman Khan joined the school in Form 1. In Form 3 then was Huang Chew Siong who was to be my guide to take the train ride from Kuala Krai to Kuala Lipis and the bus across the gap to go to VI in January 1959. I found civilization at last.
That is a summary of the period of slavery. Maybe I am exaggerating calling it slavery. After all I was free to pursue my education in English. I even took part in the school concert as one of the soldiers on the occasion of Queen Elizabeth's coronation.
(This was originally written for the VIOS group which explains why I mentioned two other VIOS by name)