From straight As student to Mom at 18
I finished my secondary school in a relatively unpopular all girls school known as Sekolah Menengah Seri Intan, acronym, SMSI (Seri Intan High School) situated in Fair Park, Ipoh, Perak, Malaysia.
When I started Form 1, I befriended sparkly eyed, spirited girls from Chinese and Tamil primary vernacular schools besides girls from other national primary schools like myself.
When class allocation began based on our UPSR results, I witnessed gross and close to malicious bias.
Students from Tamil schools, regardless of their perfect UPSR scores were relegated to the 3rd best class in school and the other descending classes by grade.
The reason or I'd say pretext given to this relegation was the students taking up Tamil language as a subject and the classes teaching it colliding with Mandarin classes.
Even at that young age, I was thinking, what a phucked up system is this and knew that it is indeed a form of race discrimination. But, I didn't have the balls to stand up and challenge the partisan system and just kept belted up like my peers. I had nothing to do with it anyway so I didn't want to be in the school's authority's bad books. Yes, it was craven of me.
As soon as the announcement of the class allocation was made, I saw my excelled and promising schoolmates from Tamil primary school's faces fall. I genuinely felt sorry for them. I mean, they have worked their asses off to be the best of the best and there they stand, unable to join the cream of the crop even though they are more than qualified for it.
I befriended Suji (not her real name), a girl with dusky complexion from Tamil primary school, who had scored straight As in UPSR and also my school mate who lived in my neighbourhood, Kampung Tawas. She was also my school bus mate and sure enough, we became close friends.
I was a public bus virgin before secondary school. There were co-curricular activities in school on Saturdays and school buses do not operate on weekends. Suji was my constant company during such trips to and fro school on Saturdays as well as Tun Abdul Razak public library where we went to study initially.
From then onwards, I witnessed Suji's steady decline which took place in a span of two years of afternoon session schooling and my mingling with her to places we traveled and went to together.
Failing to nab the top class, culture shock, (she was used to be surrounded by Indian classmates and schoolmates) as well as with trouble conversing in Malay and English languages disillusioned Suji and she began to be in bad company in the manifestation of Form 2 unruly, domineering Indian girls who were literally out casts.
Next to SMSI, there is an all boys school by the name Sekolah Menengah Seri Putera (Seri Putera High School) acronym, SMSP.
In the afternoon, before the school bell rings, some boys and girls from both schools can be seen loitering in the platforms of shop lots situated in front of both secondary schools. The same is true after school, while waiting for transportation to take them home.
Suji was a compulsive flirt. I was her unwilling companion on those endeavours at Medan Kidd, Ipoh's bus central. Whenever she embarks on such quests, I will be standing by her, numbed and dumbed.
Suji hooked up with our school bus driver's son who was his Dad's apprentice after dropping out from school. The both have been bermain mata (echange amorous eye contact) for some time, onboard the school bus. In fact, it was Suji who boldly told her feelings for him via the public phone and I was there.. for moral support of some sort although I was totally against her idea. I was too altruistic and friends are not supposed to oppose whatever shit his or her friend is getting into. If your friend is doing something stupid, you join in. That is the whole idea of friendship in teen years. Peer pressure is crazy when you are a teen.
So it goes, every other Meenatchi in my school has a Macha in her life and it was the unwritten rule that an Indian girl from SMSI must only choose her Macha from SMSP. I have witnessed tussles between several students from SMSP bashing up students from Anderson High School because they dared to chat up some Meenatchi from SMSI. Avanengge ellam nalla varuvanungge. (They all will reach great heights)
I was not an exclusion. I too had some boys hurling monkey love lines my way and pressure from Suji and another imposing Form 2 Indian girl to accept any boy as my Macha but I was too timid to accept and found the trend newfangled of which didn't hit the right chord with me. Yes, you heard me correctly; I was timid.. Once upon a time. Not now, once upon a time.
I have been to Suji's house; she lived in a joint family system. Her Mom and Dad were factory workers and she had an adorable little brother. I have eaten out of her mother's hand and I call her 'Amma'(Mother) and wholeheartedly regarded her as my mother.
Suji too, invited herself to my place and insisted on borrowing my garb. Even though I knew that I will be in hot soup if my Mom learns that I've lent my garb to a friend, I willed the gut wrenching feeling away and gave Suji one my clothes which she liked. It was a black and white Alien Workshop ladies tee sporting a plunging V neck and little did I know that Suji planned to don it on a date with her boyfriend.
It was only the day she returned my tee that she said she wore it on an outing with the now, 'the love of her life'. Then, she showed me the hickeys he gave her on her neck and chest and told me that it led them to sex. I just froze. She was wearing my clothes while she was at it. The very thought was revolting but I didn't say anything to her. Once home, I washed and scrubbed my tee with Dynamo to my heart's content.
Suji, wearing my garb to make out with her boyfriend put the final nail in the coffin. I decided not to borrow her my clothes anymore.
The next time Suji asked for my clothes again, I told her that my Mom found out that I had lent her my tee and that she forbade me to do such thing again. It was a white lie but it worked.
Soon after my refusal to lend Suji clothes, she went on shopping sprees at a boutique situated at the shop in front of our school. I was her constant companion during such shopping splurges.
Suji also began gorging on expensive snacks like Snickers bars, Peel Fresh, Kit Kat, etc that she bought from a mini market while waiting for the school bus after school.
I continued visiting Suji's place and got to know all her family members and I observed their lifestyle. It was just a couple of notches down from lower middle class. At that time, Suji had already begun to neglect her studies and was going on an orgy of illicit not to mention illegitimate sexual adventures with her boyfriend who is much older than her. Her parents knew nothing of this.
I begun to wonder from where she gets all the money from. Her parents are not well heeled, so it was a paradox. I thought that perhaps they were giving it to her so that she would not feel deprived. Little did I know I would be embroiled in Suji's ploy in this money matters.
During sports practice, my classmate, Angie (not her real name) gave me her billfold for safekeeping when her turn to the long jump in a sand pit came. I wanted to go to the loo and I gave Angie's wallet to Suji. I trusted Suji. It was a major mistake.
I returned from the loo and got Angie's purse back from Suji and returned it to my class mate when she asked for it.
Later, on the way home on public bus, Suji gave me 2 RM 10 notes, one old note and another old note and told me to keep them until she asks them back. I innocently complied.
The next afternoon in school, there was a commotion outside my classroom and I came to know that the fuss was about Angie's money being stolen. Angie was stating that she lost RM 20, one old RM 10 note and another new RM 10 and I instantly knew that Suji was the culprit and that the money she gave me belonged to Angie.
I produced the money forth in a heartbeat and convicted that Suji was the one who gave me the money to keep and Angie, together with some of our other classmates and me marched to Suji's class to see what she has to say for herself, her turn for vindication .
Suji vehemently denied taking the money and nefariously framed me. A contention of accusation ensued and finally, Angie settled the dust. She gave both Suji and me the benefit of doubt. I was not gratified by Angie's amiable gesture and I made it as evident as possible. I wanted to go to the discipline teacher to report this incident and clear my name but Angie pulled me aside and said she trusts me, not Suji. The case officially closed and my idea to get the school authority arbitrary intervention was put paid to.
After that bitter apple of discord, I stopped talking to Suji and witnessed her deterioration from a distance; we took the same school bus and were schoolmates for five years after all. I got the hang of taking the town bus through the years and no longer needed Suji's companionship
Days went to years and we got into morning session school. I became a prefect and wayward, garrulous, Indian girls who are my fellow school mates loathed me. I refined my body language and mien and became stiff with the attitude of a Mastiff and no one dared to cross my way, be it girls or boys. Confidence is not sexy and appealing when you are a teen.
Suji didn't do well in her PMR. I don't know the actual grades but what I heard was that her PMR result was abysmal.
Suji and I continued to drift apart until we were in our final year in school. I was travelling on my own track and Suji, on her own track and it was forked, going opposing directions. Rajini soldre maathiri, "Yen valli, thani valli." (Like Rajini says, "My way is an indie way.")
I last saw Suji on the last day of SPM exam and met her again in the Kampung Tawas wet market 2 years later, when I was studying HSC in Raja Perempuan School, acronym, RPS.
What I saw literally made my jaw drop. Suji was heavily carrying and she had one kid on tow. I just stood rooted to the spot. I just couldn't believe my eyes.
Suji caught a glimpse of me. I mustered a smile as she made eye contact and she approached me.
"Hema, yeppadi irukke?" (Hema, how are you?) Jolted out from the spell I was under, I stammered, "Yeah, naan nalla iruken." (Yeah, I'm fine) I go nuts when I am nervous and I pointed to her tummy, "Ithu yeppe?" (When did this happen?)
Suji replied in a small voice, "7 maasam aaghuthu." (It is nearing 7 months)
Suji disclosed that she got pregnant with the school bus driver's son she was dating and, they got married in immediacy, before her stomach shows. And, there was Suji's toddler kid, holding onto his Mom's dress. I pinched his chubby cheeks and he gave me a smile that would warm the coldest of hearts.
It seems Suji flunked her SPM. Wiping a tear off, she said in a thick voice that she regrets that she didn't get her priorities right. When she is supposed to be continuing her academic excellence, she had been gallivanting with boys. She said that she had thought that no matter how sublime she is at studies, she will be considered as a dreg of society, her achievements, met with disdain and prejudice. Yes, the class relegation for those who are from Tamil schools made a such a negative impact on her. Plus, the fact that Suji didn't own a built in life coach is another reason for her to go from straight As student to Mom at 18.
Some of my other friends from Tamil schools went on to pursue tertiary education and some failed to follow the sequence through.
At hindsight, I am feeling guilty. I had abandoned my friend whom I knew was travelling on the wrong track. I folded my arms and watched my friend get screwed.
Maybe some of you may think Suji dug her own grave but if only I had thwarted her moves, she would be a somebody now. The point is, I did nothing to steer Suji from the path of dereliction and I am filled with scruple.
Perhaps I didn't have the maturity and critical thinking like I have now. You know our school system, exam orientated that disallows cogent thought process, producing donkeys.
I had eaten out of Suji's mother's hands and I had let her daughter go when she needed me most. A betrayal in its own right. That guilt will not leave me till the day I breathe my last......
This is a story that needs to be told. This is also the driving factor why I wrote that vernacular schools should be integrated into national schools. But, for that to come into reality, restructuring and planning is needed and it may take decades for such a system to materialize.
Ours is a relegating system where the deserved is banished and the undeserved given opportunities at the cost of excellence. A point to ponder.