An open letter to V. Murugasu, legendary former headmaster of Victoria Institution
Without you I would have probably become a doctor, engineer, or lawyer instead of someone who wants to bring down governments — because all governments, never mind when or where, are evil. And I am sure millions of other Malaysians thank you as well.
NO HOLDS BARRED
Raja Petra Kamarudin
Dear Sir (our 1960s generation always called our teachers ‘Sir’), yesterday half my family was assembled in Manchester celebrating Hari Raya when we started talking about our school days. My six grandchildren are aged between 7-21 and, of course, their classroom experience is a far cry from what we suffered and endured 60 years ago.
By the way, Sir, I am now 73 pushing 74, and probably 20 years or so younger than you, while you must be a couple of years younger than Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad. As they say, only the good die young. I am told you are just like Dr Mahathir, in that everywhere you go you create havoc. In that sense you are the same as me; you attract controversy and leave chaos in your wake.
Before I joined the Victoria Institution (V.I.) in 1965, I was in the Malay College Kuala Kangsar (MCKK). In MCKK I was known as a quiet and shy boy who never mixed with others. While most boys played games and engaged in other activities at teatime, I sat alone under the ‘Big Tree’ to read my books. I went through a book every day or two and would not put it down till the end.
The Big Tree: MCKK
Then, in form three, I transferred to V.I. and the life I knew for 15 years changed. I was in an all-English primary school (the Alice Smith School) and then an all-Malay secondary school up to then. Suddenly I was in a mixed-race school and had to learn new vocabulary such as pundek, lanchow, tiu nyamah, and much more — which opened me to the fact that the Malaysian vocabulary is far richer than English.
In 1966, I made the mistake of rubbing you the wrong way when I raced my motorcycle in school. I mean you must admit that the road in the V.I. ground makes a wonderful racing circuit. I noticed too late you were doing a 100-metre sprint chasing me and shouting for me to stop.
I had never seen you almost get a heart attack before that, so I decided to stay out of your way and hide in the toilet. I heard you shouting at the prefects to hunt me down and realised my mistake: I had trapped myself in the toilet. Anyway, I was eventually flushed out like a rat and dragged to meet my fate.
I knew I was not going to escape my fate of receiving ‘six of the best’ on my very royal backside. Was I pleased when you swung the cane so hard (like you were swinging a golf club) it broke into two when it struck my backside. But my elation was short-lived when you replaced the balance five cuts with a hard slap on my face. My ears ‘rang’ till the next day. If you had done that today, I could have sued you, complained to SUHAKAM, and brought my case to the United Nations.
Since that day I suffered discrimination, selective prosecution, and persecution at your hands. Every Monday I had to report to your office to receive six cuts on fabricated charges such as my hair was too long, my shorts was too short, my homework was not done, and all sorts of crimes that you created impromptu just to justify canning me.
My best friend, Sivaraja, who we called “Tengku”, would ask me, “How many did that panakoteh give you this time?” Hey, I know that is a racist term, but it is not me who called you that, it was your fellow-Indian.
Anyway, I suddenly started believing that heaven and hell really do exist. Hell was V.I. under Murugasu. More importantly, the very quiet, shy, bookworm, Raja Petra Kamarudin, transformed overnight. I started hating authority. You turned me into an anarchist.
I am what I am today because of you, and I owe you that. Today, I hate the establishment. When Barisan Nasional was in power, I supported the opposition. Now that Pakatan Harapan is in power, I still support the opposition.
I supported Khomeini because he fought America. I supported Saddam because he fought America. I supported the Taliban because they fought America. And now I also support Putin for the same reason. And that is all because of you: you turned me into a supporter of the underdog.
As they say, we are never born that way. We are moulded into what we are today. And you moulded me from a quiet, shy boy into someone who is anti-establishment. And for that I thank you, Sir. Without you I would have probably become a doctor, engineer, or lawyer instead of someone who wants to bring down governments — because all governments, never mind when or where, are evil. And I am sure millions of other Malaysians thank you as well.