Musings and
Reminiscences
of
Dato' Mahadev Shankar



Dato’ Mahadev Shankar joined the V.I. after the war from Pasar Road School and was active in debating and in drama. Indeed, he was the first president of the V.I. Dramatics Society, a successor to the long-dormant VIMADS (V.I. Musical and Dramatic Society) of the 1920s. He is well remembered for his title role as Antonio in the Society's first major production, Shakespeare's The Merchant of Venice, which played to packed houses for five nights in August, 1952.

He was also the V.I. Rodger Scholar of 1951.

Dato' Shankar is a barrister of the Inner Temple London and was enrolled as an Advocate and Solicitor of the High Court Malaya in 1956. Thereafter he practised law in Shearn Delamore and Company, Kuala Lumpur, till 1983 when he was appointed Judge of the High Court of West Malaysia. He served in Johor, the Federal Capital, and in Selangor till 1994 when he was elevated to the Court of Appeal.

During his career as a lawyer he served on the Board of Several Public Companies including Malaysian Airlines System. He was the advisor to the New Straits Times Group on libel laws and the resident representative of the Medical Defence Union.

He has also represented Malaysia on several international conferences on a variety of legal subjects. These included Intellectual Property laws in Sydney 1984, Canberra 1987, New Delhi 1995 and Tokyo 1997, and Kanchanaburi Thailand in 1998, Price Variation and Escalation clauses in International contracts at the Singapore Business Laws Conference, and the Right to a Fair Trial in Heidelberg 1996 as well as conferences on Aviation Laws in Dallas 1979, New York 1981, and Taipei in 1990.

Apart from the hundreds of Judgements he has delivered during his tenure as a judge he also served as a Royal Commissioner on two national inquiries and was the Advisory Editor for Halsbury’ Laws of Malaysia on Civil Procedure.

With specific reference to Arbitration, whilst in practice he has acted as an Arbitrator in the Whitley Council to revise the Wage Structure of the Postal Department of Malaysia, in labour disputes on the first Industrial Arbitration Tribunal, and in private arbitrations in disputes between dissenting partners in legal firms. He delivered the judgement of the Court of Appeal on the inviolabilty of the awards of the Regional Centre from Judicial review.

Dato' Mahadev Shankar retired as a Judge of the Court of Appeal Malaysia in November 1997.

Since his retirement from the Judiciary he has acted as an Arbitrator in a corporate dispute between joint venture partners on severance terms, a major dispute between the Owner and Main contractor in one of Kuala Lumpur’s prime building projects. The ongoing arbitrations in which he is now involved include a construction dispute in East Malaysia, and a dispute between two corporate conglomerates on the enforceablity of put options.

He is currently a legal consultant in Zaid Ibrahim and Company, a law firm in Kuala Lumpur.

In April 2000 Dato' Shankar was appointed a Member of the Human Rights Commission Of Malaysia for a term of two years.




(1) The Glue that Binds Us



ay 13, 1969 is nearly forty years behind us. What day of the week was it? Alas I cannot now remember! Perhaps it was a Friday? Friday the 13th has always had such an ominous ring to it!

It was certainly before Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad (the former prime minister) set our clocks back half an hour and thus took centre stage in our psyche. Of that I am sure.

As sure as I am that in 1969 with our Bapa Merdeka, Tunku Abdul Rahman as Prime Minister before he was deposed, we rose at sunrise and retired at sundown.

May 13th 1969 marked a turning point in the history of our nation.

I had finished with the Fitzpatrick case at Court Hill, and made an uneventful return home a little earlier than I should. My wife and children were out somewhere in town and got back just before sunset.

By twilight, all hell had broken loose.

The shouting of a mob in full flow seemed to be coming from the junction of Princess Road (now Jalan Raja Muda) and Circular Road (later Jalan Pekeliling and now Jalan Tun Abdul Razak) which was less than half a mile from our house on the corner of Jalan Gurney Dua and Satu. We were well within ear-shot of the commotion.

I was then out on our badminton court with my wife and children when I saw a young Malay, face ravaged with shock as he ran past us, intermittently stopping to catch his breath and then run on.

The panic he radiated was very contagious.

A few moments later, my neighbour Tuan Haji Ahmad shouted from across the road that a riot was in progress at the Princess Road junction and that we should immediately get back indoors.

Soon afterwards as the darkness set in, we saw red tongues of flame crowned with black smoke go up from the direction of Dato Kramat. From town there was a red glow in the sky of fires burning. The acrid smell of smoke was coming from everywhere. More to the point, the very air around us seemed to be shivering with terror.

Fearing the worst, we locked ourselves in and huddled around the TV set.

Then I heard this high pitched wail. It was a female voice in distress - "Tolong, buka pintu, tolong. buka pintu!" (Please open the door!)

A diminutive woman, with a babe in arms, was desperately yelling for shelter, obviously not having had much luck with the houses nearer the Gurney Road junction.

Without a second thought, I ran out, unlocked the gate and let her in. She was wide-eyed with terror and the baby was bawling away.

The sheer relief seemed to have silenced her and she was not registering my questions. And she was not talking.

Once inside, she slunk into a corner in our dining room and just sat there huddled with her baby, not looking at us but facing the wall.

It was now evident that she was Chinese, spoke no English, and was quite unwilling to engage in any conversation except to plead in bazaar Malay that she would give us no trouble and that she would leave the next day.

Our attention soon shifted from her to the TV set.

A very distraught Tunku Abdul Rahman, came on to tell us that a curfew had to be declared because of racial riots between the Malays and the Chinese, caused by the over-exuberance of some elements celebrating their election victories, and gave brief details of irresponsible provocations, skirmishes, and fatalities. He stressed the need for calm whilst the security services restored law and order. Well do I remember his parting words to us that night,

Marilah kita hidup atau mati sekarang.” (Let us choose to live or die now.)

As my attention once again shifted to the tiny woman and her tinier baby, let me confess to my shame, that the thought crossed my mind that living in a predominantly Malay area, I had now put my whole family in peril by harbouring this Chinese woman. It was manifestly evident from the TV broadcasts that her race had become the target of blind racial hatred.

It was an ignoble thought I immediately suppressed as unworthy of any human being.

She, too, had been watching the TV and perhaps even more intently was watching me, and must have seen the dark clouds as they gathered around my visage.

None of us were in the mood to eat anything. We all just sat and waited and waited and waited, not knowing quite what to expect.

Hours later there was a loud banging at our gate accompanied by a male voice shouting.

I realised then my moment of truth had finally arrived. I asked my cook Muthu, a true hero, if ever there was one to accompany me to the gate.

In that half-light, I saw the most enormous Malay man I ever set my eyes on.

With great trepidation I asked him what he wanted.

You have got my wife and child in your house and I have come for them,” he said in English.

Still suspicious I asked him, “Before I say anything, can you describe your wife?

Yes, yes, I know you ask because I am a Malay. My wife is Chinese and she is very small and my baby is only a few months old. Can I now please come in?

I immediately unlocked the gate. In he came and we witnessed the most touching family reunion.

He thanked us profusely and without further ado they were on their way.

In the excitement we did not ask his name or address.

What next?

I saw where my duty lay and immediately called the Emergency telephone number to volunteer for relief duty.

An armoured car appeared the next morning.

I was taken to Federal House and assigned to assist the late Tun Khir Johari (as he subsequently became) and the late Tan Sri Manikavasagam.

Our task initially was to transport and re-settle the refugees into the Merdeka Stadium and thence into the low cost municipal flats in Jalan Ipoh. We then tied up with Dato Ruby Lee of the Red Cross to locate missing persons and supply emergency food rations to the displaced. Some semblance of law and order was restored and the town slowly came back to life.

If that baby who sheltered in our house that fateful night has survived life’s vicissitudes, he would be 38 years old today.

All the ethnic races which compose our lucky nation were fully represented in our house that evening when the Almighty brought us together for a short while.

With our 50th Merdeka anniversary fast approaching, and our hopes for racial unity so much in the forefront of our minds, may I leave it to my readers to ask themselves whether there is a pointer here for all of us.

Folded into our experience of the night of May 13, 1969 was there not the glue that binds all of us with the message that we must love each other or die?

May 13, 2007




(2) From a Culture of Violence
to a Culture of Peace
(The soft overcomes the hard;
water quenches fire)


irst of all I want to thank Sokka Gakkai International, Sokka Gakkai Malaysia and the Physicians for Peace and Social Stability for inviting me to share my thoughts with you on a matter of life and death for human civilization as we know it.

Physicians for Peace and Social Responsibility are so called because their avowed aim is to promote well-being, not by means of the knife, but to stimulate the power of self-healing inherent in all mankind.

Two parables should help to focus our minds on the psychological parameters of the issue which now confronts us.

Akbar, undoubtedly the greatest Emperor India ever had ruled India from 1556 to 1605. Although illiterate himself he was a great humanist. He had six prime ministers, each representing the interests of his particular community. The Hindu was Birbal.

Birbal,” asked Akbar “Why are there so many cows and goats in my kingdom and so few tigers?

Birbal took Akbar to the zoo where he had packed one cage with a herd of hungry cattle and another with a dozen ravenous tigers.

Into the cattle pen he tossed in a bundle of hay. Each animal took a mouthful and withdrew to make way for the others behind.

Into the other he threw in a dead buffalo. All the tigers immediately converged to start a fight to the finish, because each one wanted to eat the entire carcass dead buffalo all by itself. The survivors could not have had many teeth left intact to enjoy the meal.

Thus violence is self-defeating.

My second story concerns a millionaire named McArthur (not General Douglas McArthur - our man was a wealthy farmer) who decided in 1938 that the USA was inevitably going to be sucked into Europe’s war with Germany. So he moved, far from the madding crowd, to a small island in the Pacific. It was Guadalcanal which, just five years later, became the most bitter battle ground in the Pacific theatre.

So we cannot opt out of trouble by running away from it, since there is no guarantee of safety in the face of global crises today.

Violence in any shape or form brings immediate suffering for its victims.

It becomes suffering for its perpetrators in the medium and long term because it never even succeeds partially in achieving its original purpose.

Take Vietnam in the face of the French and the Americans who came after them, Cambodia under Pol Pot, and Iraq at the receiving end of the political ambitions of Bush and Blair – all glaring examples of this fundamental truth.

To understand why in spite of this lessons the power brokers repeatedly make the same mistake we have to start at the beginning.

The film South Pacific is a musical set against a back-drop of island paradises. But out of character with all the other songs is this one which carries a powerful message as to where the seeds of the culture of violence are sown and then germinate.

Let me sing it to you now:

You've got to be taught
To hate and fear,
You've got to be taught
From year to year,
It's got to be drummed
In your little ear
You've got to be carefully taught.

You've got to be taught to be afraid
Of people whose eyes are oddly made,
And people whose skin is a diff'rent shade,
You've got to be carefully taught.

You've got to be taught before it's too late,
Before you are six or seven or eight,
To hate all the people your relatives hate,
You've got to be carefully taught!


This is the kind of cultural programming which was institutionalized by Stalin, Hitler and Tojo.

By way of sharp contrast let’s take the Victoria Institution in our time. There was no racism there. In our school song we acknowledged our debt by praising the multi-racial fathers of our school. Down to this day I don’t look at Dato Kamarul and think he is a Malay. I don’t look at Dato McCoy and think here is a Eurasian of Scottish ancestry. We were taught that our school mates are just other human beings like us, each worthy of the dignity of any other human being.

Humanitarian values comes from a humanitarian education.

We here in Malaysia urgently need to determine whether it is not going to be too heavy a price to pay for breeding a single spectrum monocultural national identity.

To preserve social stability we must learn to value diversity.

And we must emphasize that truth and justice are universal values.

The engine riding on hate and fear is propelled by POWER and GREED.

In the 19th Century the fashionable definition of power was the capacity to bend another to one’s will. Today it is the capacity to direct how a nation’s resources shall be distributed.

Economic duress is the constant companion of military might and that is what the global culture of violence has become.

The worrying part of all this is that the ordinary individual seems totally impotent not just to prevent nation-states from going nuclear but to bring any meaningful pressure to bear on Governments to ensure that a nation’s wealth is distributed in a just and equitable way.

Our concern here today is to discover whether there is any way in which this trend can be reversed.

Can a culture of violence be transformed into a culture of peace? At first sight this question looks like an invitation to participate in an exercise of futility.

And indeed so it would be, if you thought you could wave a magic wand and immediately effect the desired transformation.

Don’t ever say I am only one sorry lonely man. What can I do to change things?

Remember that constant dripping wears away the hardest stone.

Constancy is a close cousin of other virtues - courage, confidence, and conviction.

Let’s take some examples close to home.

Chee Kim Tong was a humble bus conductor in the Trengannu Bus Company then owned by Lim Eng, Dato Lim Ah Lek’s father.

Those days it was the done thing if you knocked someone down on the East coast roads not to stop but to scoot to the next police station and come back with an escort.

When a bus knocked down someone outside Kemaman, the driver and all the passengers bolted off leaving Chee Kim Tong to face a mob of parang wielding villagers. He disarmed everyone of them without any weapons except his martial arts skills, which can be traced back to my eternal hero, an itinerant Buddhist Indian monk – Daruma- who created the art of ShaoLin, the prototype of every other form of Asian martial art whose core message was that it was a discipline for the purification of the human mind and not a tool for bullying others.

Statistically the control freaks in whom power and material wealth are concentrated only form about 0.1% of the countries they lord over. How such a small minority manages to hold sway over the multitude is one of the great paradoxes of human history.

But mercifully history is replete with individuals who have wrought great cultural changes armed only with the force of their personalities and the justice of their cause.

Buddha was not born in Britain, Jesus was not a Japanese, and Muhammad was not a Malaysian Bumiputra.

This is a very important observation because these prophets are revered not only in the country of their birth but all the world over.

However potent their personalities and however meritorious the justice of their cause they would not have acquired their universal validity if the means were not at hand to spread the message.

We have today the Internet which spreads information at the speed of light.

With such an ally our capacity for reform is limitless.

Do visit the website www.writespirit.net/authors and you will find a host of great leaders there to inspire you.

One caught my eye. She was called Peace Pilgrim – a woman who just walked across America spreading her simple message and thereby accelerated the end of the Vietnam war.

Have you noticed that when a tree of a particular species flowers, all the other trees of that species world-wide follow suit.

Civilisations also share that characteristic. Akbar’s reign was contemporaneous with the Renaissance in Europe, and the Ming Dynasty in China. These kingdoms were far apart and yet they reached their zenith in terms of artistic and cultural achievement together.

I am optimistic that we are on the verge of a new Rennaisance.

Despite the apparent might of greedy power brokers and war mongers we have more than an even chance to transform the culture of violence to a culture of peace.

We need to empower ourselves by making common cause with others who share our aspirations.

We need to discard our fears.

We must become living proof of our capacity for compassion.

As we gain momentum we will surely become a global force that cannot be ignored.

The transformation we so earnestly desire must take place because however hard-hearted a person is, there is nothing so troublesome as a guilty conscience.

Cyberspace is a huge mirror from which power crazy persons cannot escape looking at themselves.

The weapons of war have changed over time in the pursuit of the capacity to out-reach one’s enemies in terms of speed and range.The tragedy of nuclear weapons is that this differential has been bridged between its opponents. Even a pre-emptive strike will be followed by mutually assured destruction.

Fortunately the art of war must always remain the same because of the limitations of the human beings who want to wage it. And they are the ones we must redeem by getting them involved in our commitment to a culture of peace.

Let us rise to our ultimate challenge which is to get everyone to share our belief that service to humanity is the best work of life.


Shah Alam
2nd September 2007





(3) Tunku Abdul Rahman Al Haj
on the 48th Anniversary of Merdeka

Tunku Abdul Rahman

he value of tradition lies not only in its own sake but also for the glue it provides in consolidating our integrity, both as individuals and as a nation.

We can clearly see where we should be going only if we have a clear understanding of where we came from.

Our forty-eighth Merdeka anniversary is barely a month away and as good a starting point in this inquiry is to focus on the man who was the architect of our independence, our first Prime Minister Tunku Abdul Rahman Al Haj.

Much has already been written about all aspects of his political development. So this little vignette will focus on some incidents where our paths crossed from 1956 when I returned from England a young barrister of the Inner Temple eager to make his way in this world.

I first came face to face with the Tunku in the Banquet Room of the Lake Club in November of that year. Sir Charles Matthew, the Chief Justice, had given up his post to go on transfer in the Colonial Legal Service to head the Judiciary at Addis Ababa in Ethiopia. Tunku had arranged a personal farewell party for him. My father was then Sir Charles’ private secretary and had secured an invitation for me.

When the Tunku walked in, the imprimatur he impressed on all of us was that Malayans were no longer a subject nation but stood on an equal level with our erstwhile British Protectors. Merdeka - even though another nine months away - was already an inevitable reality.

Thus did all of us in the Hall also stand tall as we exchanged courtesies with all the other officers from the Residency, no longer racial superiors but equal partners in our national development.

After Sir Charles said his piece, Tunku’s riposte was short and sweet, "Let's drink a toast to Sir Charles - May he be happy wherever he goes.” And that was that.

Dataran Merdeka, as it is now known, was the focus of national and international attention on 31st August 1957, but by then the Tunku had already won the heart of every Malayan by his winning attributes. Tunku had the supreme ability to get the best out of every one not ever by instilling fear but by spontaneously inspiring love for him both personally and as the personification of the Nation. Tunku’s other endearing attributes were his love of sport, his impish sense of humour, his loyalty to his friends, and his genius in getting ordinary men and women involved in the act of nation building. What form the National Flag should take and what tune and words should go to make up the National Anthem were both the subjects of a national competition. Well do I remember Mrs Kathleen Foenander making various efforts to make Terang Bulan more upbeat, and my father spent many long hours comparing the flags of other nations which appeared on the inner cover of Pears Encyclopaedia before submitting a design of his own. Almost equaling the unifying force of the Merdeka celebrations on the Padang were the Asian Football Championships held at the Merdeka Stadium. When Ghani, Dutton, and two others carried our national flag in triumph around the stadium the roar of 80,000 people around the Stadium was a resounding declaration to the world that Malaya had arrived to take her place alongside all other independent countries as a sovereign member of the United Nations.

An Old Victorian, the late M. N. Cumarasami, one of the Tunku’s confidantes, told me that Tunku would like me to join the Foreign Service, but I replied that I wanted to practice law a for a few years first. I was told by M. N. that the loss of seniority would not make the postponement a viable proposition. Old Victorian Dr. Lakmir Singh Sodhy was the other one who conveyed Tunku’s desire that all first generation Malayans of Indian origin should mark the occasion by perpetuating all their children with the same surname instead of calling themselves A.B. a/l (or a/p as the case may be) C.D. This I readily acceded to and Shankar has been the family surname ever since.

The years from 1957 to 1969 were happy ones indeed for the Nation and its peoples. Indeed, Tunku boldly told a BBC commentator that he was the world’s happiest Prime Minister. We were entertained with a regular stream of anecdotes by those close to him. Some of the more humourous ones came from Tan Sri Taib Andak, Tan Sri Ghazalie Shafie and Mr Ferguson. Even those who had met Tunku casually on the streets or in the shops had only kind words to say about him - as, for example, the man on the Muar Bridge who was there first and was not allowed by the Tunku to reverse in order to allow the Tunku to pass first. His compassion for the weaker members of the community came out best when Old Victorian Tan Sri Tan Chee Khoon demanded in Parliament that our then High Commissioner in Australia be stripped of his title and his post for going missing for two weeks in the bosom of some sultry Australian siren.

The Tunku challenged -“Let any one amongst us who is without sin, stand up and cast the first stone.” Tan Chee Khoon was the only one who stood and remained standing while looking Tunku straight between the eyes.

After a pregnant silence Tunku who at first seemed at a loss for words said, “David Tan Chee Khoon - I really pity you.

In the uproarious laughter which followed, an embarassing situation was averted.

Even the flamboyant Sukarno in the talks to defuse Confrontation was deflated by Tunku with just the smell of cheese!!

But the storm clouds were gathering and there were those who thought that the Tunku had distanced himself too far from the interests espoused by the Ultras. Nor was he helped in this by the extremism amongst the other communities. May 1969 was a dreadful time for us. In his speech to the nation which came on TV on the night of the 13th , after calling for help from volunteers to stem the tide of lawlessness which had befallen the nation well do I still remember his last words, “Marilah kita hidup atau mati sekarang!”

It was his darkest hour. It was left to Tun Dr. Ismail to come to the fore that night with a stirring call for unity and courage to overcome the odds.

A few days later he came with Tan Sri Manickavasagam to the hospital bedside of the little Indian girl from Sentul. She had both her arms chopped off at the elbows by someone who had got caught up with the madness that had swept the city. What can we do for this poor girl, Manicka asked Tengku. By then the reigns of power had passed on and Tengku replied, “All we can do now is to cry,” he said his heart breaking with sadness. And the Tengku shed his tears as did Manicka and all of us who witnessed this sorry spectacle.

We had rallied to his call in the service of the nation. I was assigned to Tan Sri Khir Johari, and the late Tan Sri Manickavasagam and, after the initial spurt to find food and shelter for the huge numbers of people who had been driven from their homes, setting up the National Relief Fund under the Chairmanship of the late Tan Sri Justice H.T. Ong, the National Goodwill Council was also set up under the Chairmanship of Tunku. But it all seemed in vain. We were unable to lift his spirits and he seemed to dwell in the depths of the darkest despair. He kept saying, “Laugh and the world laughs with you; Cry and you cry alone.

But bounce back Tunku eventually did. His column in The Star - Sudut Pandangan: Points of View - did much to voice the concerns of a silent majority. The Tunku chided and cajoled when the occasion required and always was there to prick the consciences of all concerned to hasten the process of a return to full democracy.

Alas, after Operation Lallang and the restoration of its Printing Licence to The Star, the Tunku’s voice was no longer to be heard there as well.

My last sight of him was at the Istana for the Agong’s birthday celebrations. He had to be wheeled in to the front row in a wheel chair - his head unbowed. After the ceremonial addresses had been read and the Royal Birthday honours had been bestowed, the proceedings were adjourned for us to mingle with each other and take refreshment on the lawns. I was there informed that someone went up to the Tunku and asked him what was the secret of his longevity. He replied he had two good doctors who gave him a reason to live - one was his personal physician, and the other was Doctor Mahathir.

I did not see the Tunku again. When I got news of his demise I made haste to the Royal Mausoleum to pay my last respects to Bapak Malaysia. But by the time I got there I was told his body had been taken to Kedah for burial with full honours.

Did the Tunku make a difference to Malaysia? After all, that is the test of the value of a life.

Mr. Robert MacNamara, then President of the World Bank, said in his opening address at the first Tun Abdul Razak Memorial lecture that he was envious of the Malaysians in the audience who had walked with the Founding Fathers of this nation, whereas he had to get to know them though the history books.

The memory of Bapak Malaysia doubly sanctifies us because we have a living memory of this great man - great not only in his hour of triumph when he thrice roared out that Malaya was a free nation at midnight on the 31st August 1957 but also great in his hours of darkness when he took his sorrows in his stride and came back to do what little he could to keep the humanity and the sanity of the nation intact.

One final luxury we may permit ourselves at the midnight hour on the 31st August 2005 is to ponder what Malaysia might have been if he had been with us today at the full height of his powers. With his implacable hatred of racialism in any guise, his healthy disrespect of academic experts with their esoteric theories about how we should re-structure our society mindless of the harm it would cause to people least equipped to resist such condign measures (and, in retrospect, little to boast about except the creation of a money-driven group of people who have grown rich beyond the dreams of avarice), his fundamental love of humanity and his common sense, it is very arguable that ours would have been a better world. And how would he have achieved this. Simply by searching for consensus, playing with all his cards on the table instead of feats of legerdemain dependent on lies, damned lies and statistics, and always keeping in the forefront of his mind the big picture, when putting sectional distortions right.

The Tunku was not corrupted by politics and he died a comparatively poor man. We shall remember him as the man who kept the faith, and who fought the good fight until the very last. We shall remember him as the leader who gave us hope even after he was forced out into the political wilderness, as the humanitarian who was boundless in his charity even for those who did not agree with his views. We shall remember him also for the love he inspired in us for each other regardless of racial origins, community or creed, for his sportsmanship in taking wins and losses equally in his stride. But most of all we shall remember him as the leader who brought us Independence from our Colonial Masters not by the force of arms but the power of persuasion that only from the unity of our communities comes the strength that ensures our survival as a Nation.

So as this Merdeka Day approaches and especially at midnight on the 31st of August 2005, let us once more salute the memory of Tunku Abdul Rahman Al Haj, Bapak Malaysia, the national leader who proved beyond a peradventure that a Nation divided against itself can never prosper and that all Malaysians must love each other regardless of race, colour or creed, if we are ever to achieve greatness as a Nation. Nor should we forget that once when we disregarded his example the nation descended into an abyss of internecine conflicts. We cannot afford to make that mistake a second time.

August, 2005




(4) Chan Bing Fai
on his Seventieth Birthday

Chan Bing Fai

In December 2000, Chan Bing Fai, an old Victorian and an Old V.I. Teacher, celebrated his 70th birthday. To the large group of friends and relatives present, Bing Fai, a photographer par excellence, gave a slide presentation that traced the past seven decades of his life. This was followed by an address by his classmate in his V.I. days, Dato' Shankar, which is reproduced below.



irst and foremost on behalf of all of us here and those who have not been able to make it for one reason or another, let me once again extend to you our warmest congratulations on attaining your seventieth birthday and wish you most sincerely our very best wishes for many happy returns of this day.

I can say with total confidence, along with everybody who has had the good fortune to have shared time with you, whether as a classmate, friend, or student, that you are surely one of Malaysia’s fairest sons. You have done us proud with your creativity, achievements, and your character as a role model of what a human being should be. We say now with one voice A VERY BIG THANK YOU for being and becoming what you are to all of us - a good teacher, a generous friend, and a perennial inspiration to aspire always to what is noble, good, and exalting.

I am sure that we who grew up together have always secretly wondered what our purpose in life was. In more than one sense it is you who have been the Hon. Treasurer of some of our most significant milestones through the years. All our hearts must have missed several beats as we re-lived our golden years watching those photos when we were still wet behind the ears.

Yet there is more to the perception of reality than what is merely seen. What we felt, and heard must take an equal share in the shaping of our souls.

Bing Fai, our paths crossed when the Pariah Roti Sellers, (as the Pasar Road School boys were known) and the Bengali Roti Sellers (from the Batu Road School) met in Standard V, and were commingled in the Houses dedicated to the School founders. You were in Yap Kwan Seng, and I in Loke Yew.

We had great teachers and this is as good a time as any to reflect how they infused the magic of what it is to know that a thing of beauty is a joy forever. For me it was through poetry that they came closest.

"Never look behind boys
When you are on the way,
Time enough for that boys
On some other day.
Though the way be long boys,
Do it with a will;
Those who reach the top boys
First must climb the hill."

which we learned in Standard 3 from Mr Goh Keng Kwee, Queen Scout, had already given way to more serious stuff in Standard 5 like:

"What is this life
If full of care
We have no time
to stand and stare.
No time to stand
beneath the boughs
And stare as long
as sheep or cows.
No time to see
When woods we pass
Where Squirrels hide
Their nuts in grass.
No time to see
in broad daylight
Streams full of stars
Like skies at night.
No time to thrall
at Beauty’s glance
And watch her feet
How they can dance.
A poor life this
If full of care
We have no time
To stand and stare.

H M de Souza S Murugesu Choon Wing Hong That was Herman De Souza whom we affectionately called Tojo. Nor was our class teacher Mr S. Murugesu spared – Gunong Tahan. Choong Wing Hong whose specialty was art must I think have had some impact on you and escaped a nickname.

In Standard 6 the best of Pasar and Batu came together under Austin Foenander. As you may remember he was more given to spicy stories rather than poetry. Since we are here to laugh as much as to reminisce let me recount one of his stories of how a man got richer and richer. [Story recounted]

We found ourselves together again in 7A under Foo Chong Choon who even then feared old age but outlived all his contemporaries.

"You are old Father William" the young man said,
"And your hair has become very white;
And yet you incessantly stand on your head -
Do you think at your age, it is right?"
"In my youth," Father William replied to his son,
"I feared that it might injure the brain;
But now that I am perfectly sure that I have none,
Why I do it again and again."

The following verses which expounded how in his youth he took to the law and argued each case with his wife and the muscular strength that it gave his jaw lasted him the rest of his life – even then struck a chord in the legal aspirations of some of us.

Lim Ching Keng’s admonitions on restraining our donkeys in the interest of higher learning need not delay us too long here especially when he was so overshadowed by the year which followed in 8A under Ganga Singh and how he constantly sharpened our wits with mental arithmetic. One of the other teachers told me that this was to avoid having to take home any books to correct! Yet shall he be remembered for his love of Shakespeare and the warning he gave us against being too greedy for wealth.

That year we came under Lim Eng Thye - one of the greatest Science teachers - so go and hee haw outside etc.

T B F Hunter And who was there to surpass Lai Nyen Foo who taught us the perfection of Euclidean Geometry and the joys of pure mathematics, of Miss Khong Swee Tin and British History in India, Leong Fook Yen and his geography notes which had defied history.

Others who deserve honourable mention are T.B.F. Hunter, and of course F. Daniel our live-in Headmaster and his obsession for clean lavatories as a benchmark of civilised conduct.

Lim Hock Han To list all the others would take all night so let me content myself thus. If Ganga preached ad nauseam that MENS SANA IN CORPORE SANO we are indeed most fortunate that man who spent all his time making sure we did our physical training is with us here tonight to share this happy moment. I refer to no other than Mr Lim Hock Han who should take a bow. (applause)

Looking around us tonight I somehow feel bold enough to say that we cannot have been a disappointment to OUR teachers the way we have turned out. The pride and joy of any gardener is to see the shrubs he has planted grow and flower. So also our parents and teachers.

Civilisation would have been nothing if it were not for continuity and almost all of us of our generation are grandfathers now. Beng Fai’s son is here to share our joys and our pride tonight. I do hope that the children of the rest of us will be as kind and thoughtful for surely the greatest solace at our age is to have the satisfaction that the world we helped to shape is in good hands.

Naturally we all hope to be around when you celebrate your 80th and 90th birthdays as well and provided we are all still in good health your 100th too!!!.

With those words let me now make my concluding remarks.

The wealth of a mature man which nobody can steal from him are his sweet memories. You, Bing Fai, were one of our better scouts, and your passion for travel to far off places is proof of that. The most poignant moment of a scout’s life is at eventide when he and his mates gather around the campfire. I was taught a poem about that by teacher Goh Keng Kwee. Let me leave you with that:


CAMPFIRE

Have you ever watched a campfire
When the evening sun is low?
When the ashes start to whiten
Around the embers crimson glow.
With the night sounds all around you,
Making silence doubly sweet.
And the full moon above you
To make the spell complete.
Tell me, were you ever nearer
To the land of your heart’s desire;
Than when you sat there reminiscing
Around the camp fire?

Thank you and God Bless.

December 3, 2000.




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Created on 7 February 2001.
Last update on 6 September 2007.

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