Wednesday, 23 June 2010
The Paper Chase - 1962-1963 (CsH)
My Abah and I had no idea how my university studies were to be funded. We knew about free education for Malays up to University level. I was to discover later - when I was teaching at Yusof Ishak Secondary School - about the Government's strict definition of a 'Malay'. When your birth certificate and identity card - and your father's too - indicated your race as Javanese, Indonesian, Arab and Boyanese, you were not eligible for free education. Especially in Singapore, the Arabs, Javanese and Boyanese folks were keen to set themselves apart from the Malays. As for the Chinese, the Hakka and Hailam were regarded as 'different' from the Cantonese, Teochew and Hokkien. The Indian community was also divided amongst the Tamils, Gujaratis, Sindhis and Sikhs and of course the caste system.
When I finally passed my HSC we had to start thinking hard about finance. I supposed, at the back of my dad's mind, he felt we could muddle along on his salary as two of my siblings were now financially independent. But he was realistic enough to know that the frailty of his health could not guarantee me a secure sojourn at University.
He must have written to, and received a reply from, Pa'Tua Haji Majid (his half-brother) a Senior Administrative Officer in the Education Department in Malacca when he asked me to sit down for a serious discussion.
It seemed Pa'Tua could use his 'connections' to enable me to obtain a Selangor State Scholarship as I was born in Selangor; and so was my father and grandfather, who were of Tanjong Karang origin. Pa'Tua believed that I would not encounter any problem as he had seen how even applications for Secretarial Studies overseas were attended to - depending on the strings and cables you could pull, of course!
At that time there was no strict demarcation between a Singaporean and a Malaysian. In fact my Singaporean cousin, born of Singapore-born parents, moved to Kuala Lumpur to further his studies at Universiti Kebangsaan Malaysia. He thrived on the generosity of the Malaysian Government who subsidised his education all the way to post-graduate level.
I must admit that Pa'Tua's suggestion was a shock. I had to think hard. I looked at Abah and I knew he was giving me the option to decide for myself. He was not an autocratic father, not my Abah!! Somehow it was quite an easy decision for me.
I said to him, "Tak hendak lah Abah. 'Nor runsing dengan cara yang mengharapkan pada tali dan rantai. Susah kalau makan budi orang." (I don't think I will take this up especially with this unorthodox method of pulling strings and cables - the commitment of obligation is something I cannot handle). I remembered the old pantun.
"Pisang emas di bawa belayar
Masak sebiji di dalam peti.
Hutang emas boleh di-bayar,
Hutang budi di bawa mati."
He looked so relieved when he heard my decision and he said, "We started this journey together and we shall finish it in the same way." I was so pleased at our concordance and so proud to be my father's daughter, made from the same mould - truly "anak si Hamid".
So I applied for a Singapore Government Teaching Bursary which was not too difficult to secure because they were upgrading the teaching profession. Many graduates cocked a snoot at becoming teachers and so the Bursary was like a carrot to entice graduates into teaching. During that time, if you were a graduate, especially with an Honours degree, the world was your oyster - well almost - all other things being equal.
More daunting was getting into Singapore University. At the very minimum you had to pass at least two subjects at Principal level (grades ranging from 1-6) and two more at Subsidiary level ( grades 7 and 8). Grade 9 was a Fail. Even with these credentials, you might have found yourself on the waiting list. However a Credit in Mathematics at 'O' Level would be a boost. But the one major stumbling block for entry was the General Paper which consisted of critical comprehension and essay writing. I knew of some of my peers who scored good Principals but were denied a place because they failed the General Paper.
And so I spent three years at the Bukit Timah Campus. And my dear Abah, despite his poor health, kept on working. We all could see how tired he looked at times and I just wanted time to fly.
I recalled his response when my uncle, Pa'cik Omar, congratulated my dad when I finally graduated. He simply said, "It was all her hard work." Only a loving, honourable man and father could have the courage and magnanimity to make such a statement. My love for my mother is boundless but this unique Malay gentleman is irreplaceable.
BUT my education did not end after the much sought after Degree. I was about to be enrolled into the school of hard knocks when I ventured into the teaching profession in Singapore.