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COMMENT | Malaysia Day - National celebration, family tragedy

COMMENT | I was just a 16-year old schoolboy when our first prime minister Tunku Abdul Rahman shouted the word Merdeka (independence) seven times in front of a joyous crowd at Stadium Merdeka on Aug 31, 1957, but by the time the country celebrated Malaysia Day on Sept 16, 1963, I was already a working adult.

I would like to share my memories of these two historic events.

Merdeka: Though we were not actually present at the Padang on Aug 31, 1957, my father S Ramanathan Iyer who was working in both Kajang and Kuala Lumpur Courts has told us that he saw the preparations from the High Court building opposite the venue.

As there was no television then, we heard the radio broadcast the next morning.

In Kajang High School, we witnessed the lowering of the British flag and raising of the Malayan flag by headmaster Mr Davidson. Over the next few days, we learnt to sing a new song - Negaraku, especially at the beginning of the school assemblies.

I can still sing the lyrics.

British officials remained: As this was a peaceful transition of power, many British officials including Davidson remained, basically to train their successors and finish their tours.

He even lent us the official van when we went to the Kuala Lumpur City Hall Auditorium to help out in some of the stage productions of the Malaysian Arts Theatre Group under the supervision of Woodwork and Metalwork teacher Satish Chand Bhandari.

I learnt how to operate the stage lights and move the props. As this building was in the vicinity of Dataran Merdeka, we used to walk around and revisit this historic place many times.

Victoria Institution: When I entered Form Six in VI after passing a competitive entrance examination in January 1958, GED Lewis was the headmaster.

Initially, I was the subject of ragging as to how an ulu boy could come out seventh among 500 who had taken this examination state-wide but later made long-lasting friendships with the likes of then students such as former Malacca’s Selandar MP Kok Wee Kiat, author M Shanmughalingam and member of Bank Negara Malaysia board of directors NNP Sadasivan. Not to forget, author and playwright Krishen Jit, and academic Rollins Bonney.

By this time my father had been transferred back to the KL Sessions Court in Court Hill Puduraya. In 1958, also I managed to persuade Lewis into admitting my younger brother Ramani into Form Four and the next brother Vengadesan into Form One, so father was proud that all his first three sons were admitted into the prestigious VI.

Here we also proudly sang Negaraku during the assemblies.

Since we had to wait for father until he finished work, we walked back from VI across railway tracks to Puduraya, had vegetarian lunch cooked by mother and packed in tiffin boxes in the garage of the judge's bungalow house and also did our homework there.

However, by the end of the year, father had rented a house in Lorong Hicks and we walked from there via Tong Shin Terrace and again across the railway tracks to VI and back.

Malaysia Day: This was memorable to the Ramanathan family - but for the wrong reason.

On that fateful morning of Sept 16, 1963, I was helping father polish his three-week-old Ford Cortina in our government quarters in Jalan Pegawai when we got a call that his friend Maniam in Kajang had passed away.

Father asked if I could come along but since I had to referee a hockey game in Sentul, I declined, so he went with my mother and two neighbours. The game was then called off because of rain and I was resting in my friend’s house in Jalan Kolam Air.

My brother Ramani located me via phone and asked me to come to the KL General Hospital as father had died. He had collapsed at the wheel while driving to his friend's funeral and had a massive heart attack on the way at 11th mile Cheras.

My elder sister Santha even had to be located via loudspeaker as she was attending the celebrations in Merdeka Stadium.

As the eldest son, it was my painful and heart-rending duty to cremate him the next day. And that is why my family can never forget Malaysia Day 1963.

The author is principal at Mediaplus Consultancy.

The views expressed here are those of the author/contributor and do not necessarily represent the views of Malaysiakini.

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