"Let us now with thankfulness..."
THE 1993 V.I. CENTENARY
or a school that has weathered an administrative shift from private trusteeship to public governance, a change of grounds from High Street to Petaling Hill, evacuation during the worst war to beset the world and a threat by the State Education Department to alter its 90-over-year old name, the hundredth anniversary marked a triumphant survival. But even more, the centenary of the Victoria Institution saw a well-deserved celebration of one hundred years of fine tradition. Yet, this anniversary was not to be for the school alone. This was a celebration for the whole of Kuala Lumpur as expressed in the dedication on the first page of the Centenary Speech Day programme book: "A tribute to the founders and the people of Kuala Lumpur without whose efforts this school would not have risen to such eminence."
Anticipation and groundwork had already been mounting since the late 1980s. In the Prefects’ Board report in the 1989 Victorian, it is noted that ‘.....the Board initiated special projects to instil the Victorian spirit especially amongst the first formers. In these projects, we incorporated the history of the school and various patriotic elements to achieve our purpose. We also formed a cheer squad (with the Athletics Club) for football tournaments. The first formers were selected because they will be in form 5 when this school celebrates its hundredth anniversary in 1993.’ (translated). Indeed, the prefects bore a pivotal role in preparing the school. At the orientation sessions for new students and in the School Captain’s speech during Founders’ Day, words like ‘centenary’ and ‘anniversary’ seemed obligatory. During my Form 1 orientation, the School Vice-captain, Ong Chin Siong, conducted a session on "The Administrative Structure of the V.I.". He prefaced his talk with the words "Pay attention so that in 1993, you know how to organise events and activities."
Yet, 1893 has not invariably been the sacred year of reference. For instance, in 1954, the school celebrated its Diamond (60th) Jubilee. The Victorian of that year was entitled The Diamond Jubilee Edition. In a now widely used photo, the then headmaster, Mr A. Atkinson, is seen cutting the anniversary cake at the Prefects’ Ball. One wonders if there was something amiss about 1954? However, this apparent oddity is justified by the year 1894 being the year when classes ‘officially started’. The Straits Times of 2 July 1894 records that ‘The Victoria Institution was completed yesterday and is now ready for opening’. And in Dr R. Suntharalingam’s A Short History of the Victoria Institution, it is noted that ‘...The official opening of the School in the new building was fixed for 30th July 1894’. And that is not the end of the conundrum. In Dr Suntharalingam’s volume, he also remarks that though the V.I. building was not ready, the Government English School was used so that classes of ‘...the Victoria Institution commenced its career, though not within its own walls, on the 15th January 1894’. Even if one accepts 1893 as the year of establishment, one could still argue that it was 15 June that saw the school’s birth when the Board of Trustees was appointed, as mentioned in the 1954 Victorian. So, should the hundredth anniversary of the founding of the V.I. have been celebrated on 15 January 1994, 1 July 1994, 30 July 1994, 15 June 1993 or 14 August 1993?
Nonetheless, most people agreed that 14 August 1993 was to be the proper date to celebrate. Indeed, who would deny that the V.I. was conceived on the day when Lady Treacher laid the first stone and plaque, which today reverently gazes across the grounds from one side of the school porch. Besides, its 75th anniversary had been celebrated in 1968 under the headmastership of Mr V. Murugasu. Many former Victorians will remember the celebrations with fondness. The longest serving teacher in the V.I. of all time, Mr R. Thampipillay, was then 90 years old but was still able to attend the Speech Day as a special guest of honour. Victorians rushed to buy memorabilia like pins, medals, trays, cups and files which were issued for the occasion. However the highlight of the celebrations must have been the arrival of the Minister of Education, Encik Khir Johari (now Tan Sri) by helicopter to officiate at the Speech Day on 14 August 1968.
If that was 1968, how much more impressive would 1993 have to be? Under the patronage of prominent V.I. Old Girl, Datuk Seri Rafidah Aziz (the Minister for International Trade and Industry), the Centenary Celebrations Committee was set up to meet the challenge. Chaired by Tan Sri Zain Azraai, then Chairman of Malaysia Airlines, it consisted of many eminent personalities like Dato’ Siew Nim Chee (former Chief Economist of Bank Negara), Dato’ Dr R.S. McCoy (famous obstetrician and nuclear disarmament advocate), Dato’ Jaffar Indot (Managing Director of Shell) and Dato’ Zaman Khan (CID Chief). Members of staff on the committee included Puan Robeahtun (the then headmistress), Puan Fitriah Yusof and Tuan Syed Abu Hassan Syed Mohd. Noor (the Senior Assistants), Mr Ngui Thiam Khoon and Mr T. Thiruchelvam (two current teachers who were also Old Boys). In all, there were 17 representatives of the V.I.O.B.A, the V.I. and the Parent-Teacher Association on board (the full list of names can be found in Victoria Institution: The First Century, 1893-1993 by Mr John Doraisamy). This was the committee which co-ordinated the seven defining events of the year, namely, the Cross Country, Sports Day, Tattoo, Concert, Speech Day cum Open Day, Countdown Open House and The Dinner.
However, it was not just officialdom that left its mark on the celebrations. The resourcefulness and energy of the present V.I. boys, too, would not be suppressed, as we launched ourselves into activity hyperdrive. We decorated our classes with school crests, pinned up posters featuring prominent old boys and wrapped our wooden desks with assortments of newspaper cuttings. (Of course, being the boys we were, many of these eventually fell into disuse but the main ornaments like the crests were always well-kept. After the Centenary Dinner I remember personally asking the waiters at the Shangri-La Grand Ballroom to remove a few crests for me to take home. The crests were neatly cut from polystyrene boards and spray-painted and were used to decorate the Ballroom for the Dinner.) Meanwhile, as in 1968, a huge array of souvenirs was produced by various clubs and societies. Call it commercialisation or call it mercenary but nothing beats the thrill of owning a shirt, pen, key chain, tie pin, file holder or umbrella embossed with words like ‘V.I.’, ‘Centenary’ or ‘Excellence’ and with images of the clock tower. Despite outgrowing some of the shirt sizes, many of us still proudly keep and covet these items today!
Anticipating a prodigious chain of events to be announced and organised by the Centenary Committee, I was rather dumbfounded when it was the Bukit Bintang Girls’ School that first stole the attention of the media. They, too, were one hundred years old. On January 1, 1993, they organised a massive carnival which included an exhibition of things antiquarian and historical, a parade and performances on their grounds, which welcomed thousands of present girls, Old Girls, old staff and many friends and well-wishers. Later, a feature article of their Centenary Song appeared in Utusan Malaysia. Then, in May, their celebration culminated in their Centenary Dinner at the Putra World Trade Centre Merdeka Hall. With the Hall squeezed to capacity, the organisers had to turn away many people who tried to book their tickets too late. Old Girls and staff had returned from all around the world for that once-in-a-lifetime event. It was, indeed, an extraordinary series of events with us Victorians watching from the sidelines!
But the V.I. was not to be left in the lurch. On 17 January 1993, we started to hog and subsequently stayed in the limelight of the 1993 calendar. The Cross Country was the first celebration. The route would take us from the V.I. to Loke Yew Road, then across into the Jalan Bellamy Chinese graveyard. Then emerging from the side of Kuen Cheng Girls’ School, we would run down Jalan Syed Putra to the Chinese Assembly Hall, up Jalan Changkat Stadium and then back into the V.I. for a sprint down the synthetic track to the finishing line at the other end of it. There was an Old Boys’ section too. I remember that morning clearly as the V.I. field was bathed with resplendent colours emanating from the different house shirts, the Milo signboards and the balloons that lined the track. There was something more than the eagerness to win. The Centenary excitement was starting to build up. As one entered from the side gate of the school, one could see a large white balloon stretching high into the air from the middle of the field. On it, the V.I. crest and the numbers ‘1893’ and ‘1993’. Just under it was a blue banner that read V.I. - 100 Tahun Kecemerlangan. Imagine the spirit that suddenly infused us.
One would think that the run would have sapped much of our energy, but we rejuvenated ourselves by tapping into a source more potent than the physical sciences can explain - the V.I. spirit. We knew what was coming, and we were eager for it. We were not disappointed for soon Mr Robert Sundram and Master Chan Hee Yew (one of the oldest Victorians alive and one of the youngest respectively) walked to the centre of the field to perform the Centenary launch. Every Victorian there then huddled closely, forming an enclosure, as if to ensure that those 2 special people in the centre would not fail in their tasks. They didn’t. Soon, the balloons were adrift in the sky, and the throng burst into a thundering V.I. clap that shook the highest heavens. The celebration of V.I.’s hundredth year had begun.
Three events followed closely on each other’s heels - Sports Day on 20 February, the Tattoo on 10 April and the Concert by the band on 8 May. It was gratifying to see Puan Robeahtun holding the V.I. so dearly and closely to her heart, as she tried to revive various traditions during her tenure, one of which was the house-tent competition. (Interestingly, she was a V.I. teacher for 15 months between 1973 and 1974). After a lapse of over a decade, in 1993, metal sheds were constructed for every house during Sports Day. And for the marchpast, the house captains were dressed to look like the personality their house was named after. These arrangements must have thrilled the guest of honour, Old Victorian Dato' Dr Mani Jegathesan, once the fastest man in Asia (he bagged three gold medals at the Asian Games of 1966). The day (and the lead up to it as well!) saw a titanic battle between Shaw and Sultan Abdul Samad. Rubendra Gnanalingam (Shaw Captain for 1993) recalled that never did he rest in the days leading up to Sports Day. Even when he had seemingly completed his house tent, Rubendra was still scouting meticulously for space to put up additional decorations. Both Shaw and SAS were sitting on over 600 points with fewer than 5 points separating the two! At day’s end, as if lifted by unseen spirits in a tribute to an inspiring headmaster, Shaw pipped SAS by just 2 marks; both houses were sitting on over 800 points! The Grand Old Man would have been pleased!
V.I.C.C. Band performing the Tattoo for the Guest of Honour the Minister for Defence, Dato' Seri Mohd Najib Tun Abdul Razak
Meanwhile, the Band and infantry Cadets played their parts as they put up enthralling shows for the Tattoo and the Concert. Besides traditional performances like marching formations and drum shows, the Tattoo also saw a mass band performance combining the V.I. and Assunta bands, a ceilidh by the PJ Scottish Country Dance Club and a show by the Tunku Kurshiah College band. The repertoire for the evening ranged from modern hits like Once Upon A Time In China and We Will Rock You to classics like Glendaruel Highlanders. The Infantry Cadets presented their precision drills and battle formation. A 44-page souvenir programme, befitting the pomp and circumstance of the evening, was published. It contained articles on the history of the V.I. Cadet Corps, reports and goodwill messages from two longest serving commanding officers of the V.I. Band, namely, Mr Jimmy Chu Sin Sang (band master between 1975 to 1988) and Captain Hassanuddin Abdul Aziz (band master from 1960 to 1971). However, it was the size of the crowd that one will remember most. Finding no place along the corridors and guest seats, Victorians and visitors stacked chairs and tables to create terraces that made the quadrangle look like a stadium. Many more flocked to the roofs of the corridor along the hall and the swimming pool. Danger was seemingly not anyone’s concern, nor was mess as people jostled for space even along the drains!
It might be easy to say that this large turnout was because the Tattoo was a free event, but how does one explain the bustling crowd at the City Hall during the Concert? Victorians and non-Victorians who simply could not get tickets - prices were RM5, RM10, RM20, and RM30 - were content to squat outside the auditorium and watch the performances on small televisions. Those inside the hall were treated to a sumptuous display of talent by a 43-piece orchestra (consisting of the V.I. bandsmen), a dikir barat and a gamelan group. Indeed, the venue was most appropriate, for through this event, the V.I., with its talented sons and daughters, was paying tribute to the people of Kuala Lumpur. This Concert was organised by Mr Jimmy Wong Yew Mun, whose undying devotion to the Band made this his fourth V.I. Band Concert since the inaugural event in 1979. The Concert was graced by the presence of the Mayor of Kuala Lumpur Dato’ Dr Mazlan Ahmad while the guest of honour at the Tattoo was the Minister for Defence, Dato’ Seri Mohd Najib Tun Abdul Razak.
Soon, May was over, and then June, and July also drew to a close. Everyone was wrapped in a frenzy of activity. Teachers and students were busily cutting, sewing, drawing, painting, arranging, typing - the list goes on. Most normal classes were suspended as the school geared up for the most important week of the year. It would begin on 7 August with the Speech Day in conjunction with the Open Day exhibition for 2 days, followed by the Centenary Countdown: V.I. Open House on the night of 13 August and would finally climax on 14 August with the Centenary Dinner at the Shangri-La Hotel. I was shuttling between assisting the head teacher of Kemahiran Hidup in setting up one of the many exhibition rooms at the new Form 6 block, helping the scouts in their gadget construction on the field, and coaching the choir with the Centenary song. Boys, girls and teachers stayed in school until late at night. Many even stayed overnight as D-Day approached. It had been many years since the V.I. had set up exhibitions on the scale of the glorious Science and Maths Exhibitions and Arts Expos that welcomed the public into the school. In fact, it used to be said that the Exhibitions were of such high standards that even university students would learn much from them. The V.I. Exhibition was to awaken in this Centenary year after a long hiatus, to once again prove the mantle of Victorian prowess.
With all this effort which showcased the V.I.’s brilliance at its fullest, it wasn’t surprising that the Minister for Education, Dato’ Amar Dr. Sulaiman Daud, who was the guest of honour for the Speech Day, was deeply awed. Awed by the displays that ranged from nitrogen superconductor demonstrations to recitals of Mark Antony’s funeral oration (the speaker was appropriately dressed in a toga) to the Scouts’ sturdy suspension bridge on the field. Whatever corner one turned to in the school, there would be a Victorian - smartly attired, whether in their cadet greens or band ceremonials or scout uniforms or in their ordinary olive green and white, and radiating a merry glow on their faces. Even the teachers wore batik or baju kurung of the same material and design, specially tailored for the Centenary celebrations! Everyone was proud to be in school, even on a Saturday and Sunday evening to help in the Open Day, tirelessly giving directions to confused visitors, inexhaustibly explaining each exhibit or simply just lending a hand.
From left: Minister for Education greeted by Puan Robeahtun; trying his hand at batik design; visiting the science labs; presenting prizes and awards.
Indeed, inspiration was not scarce in supply. The V.I. Exhibition and the newly-built Form 6 Block near the V.I.O.B.A. were declared open by the Minister shortly after he had officiated at one of the most important and solemn functions of the V.I. calendar - the Speech Day ceremony. Tan Sri Zain Azraai, in his message in the Speech Day programme book, said, "…Every student who sets foot into this school is duty-bound to ensure that its excellence never fades. Excellence in academia is mandatory. Success in sports and other fields is a priority. Only the highest standards of achievement are acceptable. Discipline is maintained at the highest order. These obligatory demands on the students to maintain the excellence of the V.I. are indeed onerous…" (translated). Such reverence for excellence has been a cornerstone of the V.I. since its inception, and this Centenary Speech Day was preserving that legacy. Puan Robeahtun, in keeping with time-honoured tradition, donned her academic gown, reminiscent of those worn by the medieval scholars of Cambridge and Oxford. The top scholars from each Form and the recipients of the Full Colours for co-curricular excellence were acknowledged at the ceremony. And in his speech, the Minister lauded the V.I. as the supreme breeding ground of society’s leaders. Then, with five strikes of the specially crafted Centenary Gong, he launched the V.I. Speech Day and the Centenary Week. Doubtless, this was a ceremony above all ceremonies.
Then the big night arrived - Friday, 13 August 1993. The car park along the swimming pool was turned into a street of hawker stalls, classes on the ground floor of the main building transformed into game arenas run by the students and the hall set up with a projector screen for a slide show. But the centre of attention was to be the sizeable stage on the quadrangle in front of the stairwell leading up to the Form 5 classes. There the crowd was thickest. There were performances from various groups like the Old Boys’ band and the V.I. choir. How the throng was entertained with I Will Follow Him (adapted from the jazzed-up version from the movie Sister Act), the Centenary Song and many popular tunes, new and old like Shanghai Beach and Blue Moon. It was a casual night – boys were dressed in casual but smart attire, the old heartily chatted with the young, howls of laughter periodically rattled the different corners of the quadrangle – what a night!
One of my most enduring memories is of THE Dr G.E.D Lewis. Not a strand of grey hair was out of place as he attentively watched and listened to the night’s festivities, grinning at passing quirks like sexagenarian Mr Yeoh Cheang Swi’s slick dance moves (to upbeat rock music!) on centre stage! Though my first and last chat with Dr. Lewis was short and awkwardly littered with perfunctory remarks like "What a great night" and "Enjoying it?", that memory will linger forever. It was a night of meeting legends. Tan Sri Dr Tan Chee Khoon, despite his partial paralysis, was wheeled into the quadrangle where he stayed till late that night. Malaysian cricket great, Mr Hector Durairatnam, whom I had not previously known, chatted with me like we were old friends. There were no barriers. When the large, 3-metre high painted cardboard clock (with manoeuvrable clock hands) and the Centenary Gong were carried out to the centre stage, all other activities ceased.
"Ten, nine, eight..... two, one..." Great throaty roars soared from the crowd to carry those words towards the stroke of midnight, at which instant the School Captain, Shahrin Albakri Mustafa Albakri, pounded the Centenary Gong. He did it eleven more times to ring in the School’s One Hundredth Birthday. Then, with heart-lifting gusto, the first strains to be heard on the grounds of the V.I. on 14 August 1993 were "Let us now with thankfulness....". Tan Sri’s, Dato’s, and the young Victorian who had just joined Form 1 - everyone was transfixed by the power of the six verses of the School Song, three in English, three in Malay. Everyone had tears in his eyes.
Left:Dinner Venue; Centre: The Prime Minister, Tan Sri Zain Azraai, the Sultan of Brunei; Right: General view of the celebrants.
The same nostalgia permeated the Grand Ballroom of the Shangri-La Hotel on the night of 14 August 1993. I must admit, for me it was like "Tan Sri here, Dato’ there, but not a single one I know", until His Majesty walked in. In a procession led by the V.I. bagpipers, the Sultan of Brunei, accompanied by Dr Mahathir and a host of dignitaries entered the ballroom as the Guest-of-Honour for the evening. Today, I still amuse myself with the memory of what happened next. As His Majesty arrived at his seat, he continued standing, and so did the rest of the guests, except for one. Me! But it wasn’t out of disrespect, for I was the pianist entrusted to lead in the singing of the school song. Indeed I was humbled by that experience, for the emcee, Mahadzir Lokman was standing just metres away from me; he was the school pianist in the 1970s. A few metres away, too, was the tall, unmistakable figure of General Tan Sri Dato’ Seri Hashim Mohd Ali. He was seated with his brothers Dato’ Jaafar Mohd Ali and Haji Zain Abidin Mohd Ali.
Imagine the suspense and confusion in that Ballroom if, at that moment, my fingers had been stricken with arthritis and had refused to descend on command onto the keyboard or if they had done so but the M.B.S. School Song had thundered out instead! But play I did and correctly, too. Who would dare to hold up one hundred years of the V.I. in the presence of the following people?
H.M. Sultan Hassanal Bolkiah
(Sultan of Brunei and Victorian of the early
These dignitaries were seated at Table A. Next
to them was Table B around which were gathered
several former V.I. headmasters and two very old
Old Boys, namely,
Dr G. E. D. Lewis (Headmaster 1956 to
Centenary Dinner Menu
FOUR HOT DISH COMBINATION
Like the four founders of the VI
SHARK'S FIN SOUP WITH CRAB ROE
Represents the virility of VI boys and the fertility of VI girls
DEEP FRIED BONELESS CHICKEN WITH SPECIAL THAI SAUCE
Suitable for the teething Class of 1938
STEWED ASPARAGUS WITH CHINESE MUSHROOM
A Malaysian adventure in ethnic blending
DEEP FRIED SEA BASS WITH BELACAN SUCE
Would have curled the beard of Ganga Singh
STEWED HONGKONG NOODLES WITH SHREDDED MEAT
Happy Anniversary and long life to the VI
SWEET SAGO WITH HONEY DEW MELON
An aphrodisiac requested by the Classes of the early 30s
Representing the golden-hearted VIOBA Foundation
To promote insomnia and a 70-million population
Befitting this auspicious occasion was a lavish spread of exotic cuisine including shark’s fin soup with crab roe, stewed asparagus with Chinese mushroom and a cake shaped like the V.I. main building. There was a laser beam show as well as a comic performance (on things V.I.) by comedians Bibik Kim Neo and Ah Chim of the television Baba and Nyonya fame. Following this was a performance by a classical dance troupe swinging to the different dance styles over the century. Trying diligently to capitalise on this experience of a lifetime, I souvenired programme booklets, the menu, the invitation card, photographs and even the styrofoam Centenary Celebration crests specially mounted on the walls of the Ballroom! When the curtain had fallen on the night’s proceedings, I nervously sought the autographs of several great headmasters like the stern disciplinarian Mr V. Murugasu and Mr Victor Gopal. Indeed, it was a night of gaiety and revelry, but it was the seeing and meeting of the many V.I. heroes that I remember most.
Many Old Boys had flown from all corners of the globe to pay homage to their grand old Alma Mater. But as the Dinner was a tribute to age and achievement, the most significant presence of the evening must have been that of Mr George Yap Swee Fatt, then a sprightly 83 year old, seated at the main table with the Sultan of Brunei. Arguably the oldest Old Boy alive at that time and even today, he is the sole surviving grandson of Capitan Yap Ah Loy, the founder of Kuala Lumpur. The historical and spiritual connection to the past was thus complete; the Dinner was a fitting celebration of George Yap's school and George Yap's grandfather's town, both of which have risen from nothing in the 19th century and flourished hand in hand to become vibrant and famous institutions admired far and wide. Mr George Yap together with Mr Leslie Mervyn Keun and Mr Robert Sundram, being the 3 oldest Victorians, were given the honour of cutting the Centenary cake. Meanwhile, admiration for the school inspired the guests to willingly part with RM100 for a historical memento - the centenary book Victoria Institution: The First Century, 1893 – 1993, authored by Mr John P. Doraisamy. A St Paul’s Old Boy, he taught English and Economics at the V.I. from 1955 to 1963 and in 1966. The financing of this ambitious project, which took Mr Doraisamy 6 months to complete, was underwritten by Mr Siew Nim Chee (now Dato’), the then president of the V.I.O.B.A.
The V.I. Centenary Year was not just a celebration of grandeur - many other less publicised but equally significant happenings punctuated the calendar. Take the scouts, for instance. For many years, First K.L. and Second K.L. had travelled their separate trajectories. Yet in 1993, both troops agreed to organise a combined campfire to mark the special year for the V.I. Even more remarkable was that the successful campfire, held on Saturday, 26 June, was fully organised by the students without the assistance of the school administration or the Centenary Committee. Nonetheless, it was not just the students who were filled with Centenary excitement. Parents were involved too. Mr G. Gnanalingam, the father of Rubendra (prefect and Captain of Shaw House) generously financed the construction of a permanent V.I. museum, which was officially opened on 11 August 1993. And the Old Boys? Ah, who can forget images of Old Boys like Dato’ Siew Nim Chee who in his signature grey suit, would many a day sit in the school canteen, slowly sipping his tea? Or seeing Tan Sri Zain Azraai frequently marching along the school corridors despite his heavy schedule of appointments as a leader in the corporate world?
When one remembers these events, one will marvel at the extraordinary effort, energy and devotion marshalled by the Old Boys, the teachers, the parents and the students. Exhaustion was a word absent from our vocabulary. Being a part of the celebrations not only filled our treasury of memories but also inspired us to believe that human effort is unbounded in its possibilities. Human effort gave us the V.I. in 1893 and it was human effort that built the legacy for over a hundred years. All this and more, indeed, we remember ‘with thankfulness’.
Last update: 4 December 2018.