He was the Deputy Headboy. He was in the first eleven in cricket and football. He was Captain of Ahmad House. The credentials were the epitome of life in the Malay College, that king of schools and schools for kings. The Eton of the East. The credentials were enough to make him a hero.
He had a privileged life. The father was from the Pahang noble family. After the Malay College off he went to Cambridge. Such elitist and privileged life could cocoon and isolate a man. When he became Prime Minister after serving loyally under Tunku, pursuing an elitist policy would be expected. To the contrary, Tun became the father of Development. And it was no ordinary development, it was rural development.
To present day kids the conditions of the 60s and 70s would be unimaginable.
Living in a kampung in the 60s were tough. In the kampung heirachy, my family would be in the upper strata. My Father was the imam of the kampung mosque, so was my grandfather. My Great grandfather built the biggest and most beautiful house in the district. The kampung mosque was built by him. After the war and even after merdeka life was but a struggle.
We were the kampung elite alright but we were poor. But so was everyone else. I remember the most well to do were school teachers, and even the guy who was a ‘peon’ or the dispatch earning 90 ringgit per month was more well off.
The reason was the price of rubber. When a catty of rubber became cheaper that a catty of rice I remember my father telling everyone that it was going to be “beras hancur” and ubi kayu that will become our staple diet. That was just before 1969.
It was a DEPRESSION. We heard about the Baling demonstration, but Johor was just too peace loving for such show of discontent. It must be temporary, so they felt.The euphoria of Merdeka has just ended.
Honestly Merdeka had brought some benefits. For the first time we have a community Hall or Balai Raya. Its openings was officiated by a young parliamentary secretary . The kampung folk organized a feast. A cow was slaughtered. I did not get to eat the nasi minyak, the feast was reserved for the visitors. Forty years later when I told Tan Sri Muhammad Rahmat about my first encounter with him, and the nasi minyak, he laughed the Muhamad Rahmat’s way. He could remember that visit to the kampung.
Rural development was under Tun. We had our first rural clinic. Again the opening was grand. I had my inoculation. When there was an outbreak of cholera my auntie had to take me to another clinic, 15 kilometres away for that mass jabbing exercise.
The laterite road would be muddied during the rainy season. And our kampung was supposed to be one of the better developed . The kampung boys would be playing barefooted as the school shoes were meant for schools and the only pair everyone had.
Ugggh. Diorhea was common the late 60s. Deworming was by consuming this bitter concotion of lempuyang. It was so bitter that nobody took it. So to see wriggly stuff in your stool was quite normal. They were so poor that even basic hygiene became a low priority. Even proper toilets were novelties. Yet the kampong folks were so cultured and proud.
It was depressing if seen from the present. There were many landless. There were many sendoffs kenduris for uncles and cousins migrating to Felda schemes.
The school became the bastion of their struggle. I remember how dedicated my teachers were. I learnt my first English word. We learnt about hygiene and we also learnt to be proud Johoreans.
When Tun became Prime Minister the kampung got its water supply. Still the laterite roads remained. When the price of rubber stabilized life improved.
Was he my hero because of the physical development? No it was not. It was his emphasis on education that made him my Superman. Amongst the Malays strict meritocracy was introduced. Irrespective of your background, as long as you get good grades you will be given the opportunity to get the best education.
I became one of the top scorers in the Lower Certificate Education examination in the top school in the district, High School Batu Pahat. Lee Thian Chai and Keah Seah Hean were the other top scorers.
I was the only one from the school to go to the school Tun went to, the Malay College Kuala Kangsar where he was a living legend. He came back to his alma mater in 1973, and I was in the guard of honour. During the Prize giving ceremony I was seated next to Tan Sri Abdullah Ahmad or Dolah Kok Lanas his protege so he claimed.
When the news of his premature death in 1975 , I was doing my electronic laboratory exercise in my advanced level class in Dorset England. We were wiring up our radio which we just built. Mr Dixon the physics teacher came in.“I have just heard from the radio you just built that your Prime Minister has just passéd away while undergoing treatment in London”.
I was devastated.
I moved on. The country moved on. The following year, I was accepted to do my engineering in that prestigious university, the University College London. I was reunited with Lee Thian Chai who was doing medicine at university college hospital.
I was also reunited with Yong Yee Yin, the son of a goldsmith, another high school class mate, who did law at Kings.
A superman saved souls in distress. In my case Tun plucked me from a fourth world to the world that I am so familiar today, a self proclaimed citizen of the world.
His spirits live on and I promise I will make sure the flame be kept alive.
When I came back from England, the laterite road had been asphalted and we had electricity.