School Days #2

I gave all my teachers a hard time.

Story 1: some class (can’t remember) 1984. I was thumbing through a comic magazine under the desk. The teacher, Cikgu Mokhtar (I remember coz he was our teacher for 3 years in a row) was doing whatever it was that he was doing.

He called me.

I stood up. 

What were you doing? he asked.

Reading the comics, I answered.

He walked to my desk and consficated the magazine.

If you are so smart, he said, tell me what is your father’s occupation.

I looked at him. He repeated the question.

I can’t answer that, I said, because I don’t know what ‘occupation’ means. [yes this exchange happened in English]

I thought you were the brainiest person in school and don’t need to learn anything, he retorted.

I straightened my back. Then I told him, if you had taught me what “occupation” means, we would not be having this conversation. Koko was the one who taught me what “brains” mean. (Koko was my classmate and we had this little dictionary that we passed between us back and forth every day, and yes he was the one who taught me that brains means “otak”. We hadn’t gotten to “O” yet).

Cikgu Mokhtar slammed the magazine on his table. Don’t be so cocky, he said. I am still your teacher and I will tell your father what a rude student you had been.

Ok so tell him, I said. 

I had to stand on the chair for the rest of the period. He didn’t even bother to tell me I could sit down. When I was tired, I sat down on my own accord. I was ignored for the rest of my primary school years. So, I studied on my own. Never did any homework. If I was bored, I would go to the library and rearrange the books, looking for something that I hadn’t read. And so that was the way the cookie crumbles.

Story #2: Physics class, 1991. We had a new substitute teacher. I remember his name because it was the same as mine (Rafi). He was young, barely out of varsity I think, and nervous, of course.  For some reason, he gravitated towards me. Maybe the names had something to do with it. The other kids in class were always teasing me, hey Ijah if you asked Cikgu Rafi to give us a free period, I am sure he would. Things like that.

It was obvious to him, and possibly the rest of the universe, that I had little interest in physics. Actually that wasn’t true. I was deeply interested in physics. At 17, Feynman had infected me very profoundly. I had read Hawking’s Brief History of Time, and Feynman’s explanation of the Challenger Disaster when he served the Rogers Commission. We were doing an experiment, I forgot on what but it involved measuring some liquid. He came to my table and asked why was it important to make sure that there were no air bubbles. I looked at him with this “Are you kidding me?” look on my face. I closed the workbook and showed him the graffitti that I had scribled on the lab table. It was the lyrics for Whitesnake’s song “The Deeper The Love” from the Slip of the Tongue album. All the class was eavesdropping, I knew they were, they just pretended that they were disinterested in this little exchange.

He didn’t back down. He asked me again, why was it important to make sure that there were no air bubbles. I gave him the answer (so that the measurement is accurate),  then asked him, why do I need to know about air bubbles if I want to be an accountant some day (I didn’t, I just said it simply because).  You did not take aeronautical engineering thinking that you’d be teaching physics to a bunch of high school students, did you? He looked shocked. And flabbergasted.  I bet he didn’t know that I knew what he majored in. If you can tell me how Physics will apply to me in my ambition to become an accountant, I’ll get you an A, I told him. I don’t have any interest in it, but I’ll get you an A. You will have bragging rights and show it off to the other Physics teachers. 

I waited for his anwer. Then he said, very slowly, if you can complete the workbook, you don’t have to come to any more physics classes.

In the next physics class, I went up to him and gave him the completed workbook. We did not have any verbal exchange. He just nodded and accepted the workbook, period. No more physics for me for the rest of the semester. 

Story #3: 1992 Foundation Studies for Science (Asasi Sains). I was doing my matriculation in pre-accounting (no no, despite the obvious pattern I did not end up as an accountant). Our class was small, less than 25 students I think. It was during an English lesson. Instead of paying attention or taking notes, I was writing a letter. This was before emails and blogs. You had to actually write longhand and I spent a small fortune buying stamps. Anyway, so I was writing a letter.  

The tutor suddenly called my name and asked me to stand up. What were you doing, she asked, sounding, quite warranted really, annoyed and displeased with my obvious lack of attention to what it was she was teaching. I stood up. Everyone looked at me. The writing pad fell to the floor. It was those kind of carel tables you see. I picked the writing pad up and placed it on the chair.

The whole class was silent. 

I was writing a letter, I said.

The tutor looked shocked. I guess she was secretly hoping I would lie. 

Why, she asked? This is an English class. You are not allowed to do your personal stuff while you are in class. 

I looked at her. She was probably in her late twenties, doing her masters I guess. All the tutors were doing their masters. She had the text book in one hand, and the white board marker in the other. Everyone else looked down at their shoes. Shoegazers, that’s the term for it, I was told. 

So I answered,

Because this class is damn boring.

The whole class drew a sharp intake of breath. The tutor stared at me, I stared back. Then, she asked me to leave. I picked up my books and left, sat the the curb to wait for the next class to begin and continued writing my letter. I did not go to any more English classes from that day but the tutor always marked my attendance as present anyway. It was a tacit understanding between us.  


A leaf is not green. Behind the green are chlorophyll and the theory of  light and colours. 

I make no excuses for my behaviour. I know why I did what I did. 


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