I had planned to write this for a very long time, in fact since the first day I clumsily agreed to “have a look” at the debating teams. What I did not plan was the manner and context it would finally be written, for it was intended as a tribute to the teams that would finally deliver our double PPMs (English and BM).
PPM 2006 ended this morning. As I wrote this, news must have traveled that Cagers did it with style and the debating teams lost yet another year, despite all the promises and prospects. I was happy to be at the court and be 17 again this morning – cheering for the college team and singing Gemilang. (Even the mention of Gemilang made me pause. I had pictured the scene post our winning the trophies in Putrajaya with the euphoria of Gemilang so many times in my head that I am at a loss to realize that it will not happen after all.)
Despite our laughter and cheer throughout the game, our eyes betrayed us. So many times since yesterday that my eyes locked momentarily with Sherry’s, Cikgu Umi’s, or the kids’ – Haqqa’s, Ed’s, Helman’s, Buck’s, Aslam’s, Fendy’s and Aleng’s – or the other coaches. Each time it happened, it was obvious that we could not hide the sorrow and pain, the emotional drain that sapped away all our energy and faith in people’s goodwill – our eyes betrayed us, the empty and sorrowful stares that each of us gives to each other blow away all the pretenses and illusions of calmness we tried to project.
I: “Self-defeatism will take place and we will accept unfairness as commonly as the sight of Big Tree”
I will not repeat all the reasons and line up justifications why we should have been in the final. I had done that before and it’s not only getting very trite, it is also mentally too tiring. Besides, it has the opposite effect – nowadays I have to go around checking with so many people to reassure myself that my assessment is consistent with others’, as I can no longer tell the difference between the truth (when it comes to the result of a debate) and the lies. Judges and adjudicators give excuses and reasons – usually beginning with phrases like “your team was better BUT….”, thereafter a series of the most irrational reasons an adult could give.
But you’ve heard this too often, you’ve gone through unexpected results too many times that despite your own belief that we have been cheated, I sometimes wonder too whether I was misled by my strong attachment to the kids that clouds my judgment (Fazurin always remind me to separate logics from emotions when it comes to the kids). There were times that I too could have fallen for it – but it was not long before I realized it was nothing but gerrymandering.
In the end, because it happens so many times, the shattering effect, the shock, the sudden pain of losing and being robbed, was lessened year after year.
I had tears welled up in my eyes in 2004 and 2005. I was very emotional and there were curses hurled. Not to mention the energy to list down one by one the mistakes carried out by our opponent and justifications why we should have won.
But tears were missing yesterday and today. I nearly broke down right after the result was announced because I could not stand seeing Ed in tears (all other old boys who were around had the difficulties to maintain composure when you have to go through anything like that) but apart from that one moment of weakness, I was quite surprised at how collected and composed I was.
I am not sure whether it was a good sign or bad. College boys are never afraid or shy to shed tears, especially for the one thing that is so much a part of you. We have cried so many times for or because of MCKK– when we came in F1 because they punished you for the most pedantic mistake there was, when we lost in any tournament because we failed the school and our brothers, or when we left the school because each knew nothing after that would have been as memorable.
The fact that as the years pass by we were so used to defeats that we no longer cried, sometimes worries me. It is as if the mindset of defeat and unfairness – that is we know no matter how good we are or how hard we try, we will not win because they will not allow it to happen – is beginning to take shape in our minds. If this continues, self-defeatism will take place and we will accept unfairness as commonly as the sight of Big Tree.
II: “Look at the bigger picture”
Perhaps not winning the trophy is not as bad as the thoughts of having to answer why we fail yet again.
I am too tired to explain anymore about the unfair judges, about the cabal taking place among our residential schools (the newer Science schools and SBPIs ganging up to make sure at all cost that the elite schools, let alone MCKK, will not win), about the narrow-mindedness of our teachers – I have said it too many times that I risked sounding like a Malaysian politician (point fingers to everyone and anyone, but never to yourself).
That is also the thought that will hound our boys for many weeks to come. How can they explain to the school and to their batchmates what had happened in the debating rooms?
Without the trophies, how can they tell their friends that they are the best by far, that they should have been in the final, that they did brilliantly and made people laughed and clapped? Would anyone believe them? Wouldn’t they sound like idiots? What are the chances that people actually will believe in them? In all likelihood we sound nothing more than sore losers, sour grapes.
This is the most painful part of being an MCKK debater. At the end of the day, your story will never get told. People do not come and watch us unless we make it to the final. It’s only the core team of coaches and teachers who follow their trials and tribulations throughout the tournament and when it ends with moot results, no matter how loud they shout on top of their lung to point out at the injustices, they know it is more probable that they are viewed as sore losers, not victims of unfairness. In the end, they will bury it deep inside and vow that with whatever might God has given them, they shall come back and seek redress for the injustice they suffered. As Pojue (Class of 2004) poignantly pointed out this morning – “with each PPM, each of us will have the baggage that we have to carry through for many years to come”.
I wanted to tell the whole world how good the kids were. I wanted everyone that is ever connected to MCKK to feel the pride that I have seeing them in action. I wanted them to smile and giggle in awe when Bucks made his cheeky remarks or rolled his eyes, or when Ed came out with the most out of this world joke you could never expect, or when Haqqa analysed and shot down opponents’ points one by one like an adult. Or when the composed and collected smiling Aslam calmly explained his points, or when Aleng (the quiet Aleng) cracked a joke at the beginning of his speech unexpectedly that get you in stitches, or when Fendy (with his own fan club following him all over the place) made the opponents look like idiots with his witty and sarcastic rebuttals.
I wanted to tell how good these kids are.
I went down in history as the first speaker to have won the Best Speaker title twice consecutively for the BM category. I went down in history as the only speaker to have won the Best Speaker and PPM twice in PPM's 32-year history and that record still stands till today. Yet I am nowhere near these kids as far as talents and intelligence are concerned. At the height of my debating career, I would have been on the reserve bench if I had to go against these kids.
So as much as I would not fret too much about not winning the trophy, the lost opportunity to tell the world of how good these kids are, is the saddest thing to me.
It was obvious that Ben was worried how I would cope with another defeat yesterday. Many times he looked into my eyes, tried to force a reassuring smile (despite his illness, having been discharged from hospital barely a month ago from a minor stroke). I suppose my lack of reaction and emotion (for someone as extrovert) was unexpected for people who know me. I only asked him, being my own coach and mentor all these years, a question – “Was it worth it?”
The reply was – “Look at the bigger picture”.
I have no doubt that Haqqa, Helman, Bucks, Aslam, Ed, Aleng, Fendy and the rest will grow up to become great men, greater than we are today. They will go far and do many magnificent things. That is as sure as the hatred against MCKK by the majority of those who go to PPM.
But as much as I reassure myself that something good will come out of this, it kills me slowly to realize how much I need the trophy to tell their stories to the world. Yet again, the stories of perhaps the best English and BM teams I had ever since in my life will be left untold and buried deep inside our hearts.
The amount of pain this whole thing inflicts on Sherry and Cikgu Umi is as bad as ours. They had to go through the trials and tribulations with the kids 24/7 and they have loved the kids like their own children (on top of that they don’t have children of their own). These kids are their children, for all intent and purposes.
As always, our eyes betrayed the pretenses we put up. Miss Sherry summed up all our feeling too adroitly, when asked why we have lost yet again – “You should have come and watched us, then you will understand”. Unless you are there yourselves to watch what a fantastic bunch of kids they are, you will never know what happened.
III: “They know not what they sign their lives to”
I was told once that as an MCKK debater, if you did not win as a debater, you would try to win as a coach.
Haqqa looked longingly to me this morning and asked that I would never cut him off from the debating teams in the future. I don’t know what went through his mind this past two days, but he had paid the greatest personal prize to win PPM. He had put aside the most to deliver his part of the bargain, and hell he did his job. Likewise the BM captain, Helman – will stand tall forever in our minds for his maturity and self-sacrifice. Perhaps the only captain ever to sit on a reserve bench, he led the team in a manner that spoke volume of his integrity, kindness and sincerity as a person, something that I myself couldn’t have done when I was the captain.
I can take comfort that in these kids lie the future for the teams for many years to come. Just as they are greater debaters than us, they too will be better coaches than I will ever be. Already it’s quite obvious that Izzat is carrying out his job better than I did all this while.
They will take another round of journeys in the future – similar but slightly different, for they will take the journey that I took for the past three years. I smiled sometimes thinking how foolish they are to swear fealty to this cause and promising that they will come back to continue what we are doing when the time comes, for they know not what they sign their lives to.
Yet they also represent the best of MCKK values – the pride, passion and tradition. One day when the time comes to pass the baton to the next generation, I can take comfort that we are in good hands.
Defeats like these harden us and our boys. Cikgu Safuan was very concerned on the emotional effect it will have on the kids. But the kids braved the day nonchalantly – it wasn’t long before they gathered their thoughts and gain composure and acted as if nothing had ever happened (despite the occasional empty stares thinking of what it could have been, when they were caught off-guard).
It taught them the reality of the world, that rewards are not always based on merits. It taught them to have faith in a cause and to hold steadfast to that cause, no matter what comes their way. It taught them that for everything in this world there is a price to pay. It taught them that you could cheat your way to win today but if I keep to my high standards and integrity, tomorrow is ours. It taught them that we could be robbed today, but no robbers can rob everyday without getting caught once.
If I were to put things in perspectives, if ever there is any doubt at all that all was in vain – the whole journey, as Canoe (Class of 93) is very fond to remind me, is “priceless”. I learnt a lot from these boys compared to my time in student activism and all the other crazy things I have done in my life (and they were quite a few).
Most importantly, these kids taught me the meaning of undivided devotion and unconditional love – something that I never had a shred of belief in before, a notion that I could give unconditional love to anyone beyond my immediate family was as “truistic” (to use debating lingo) as “the Sun rising from the West”. Yet it’s that undivided devotion and unconditional love that keeps making us going back – despite the draining emotional and physical toll each year.
IV: “I wish the whole college family would understand too”
I don’t see any point anymore telling the world what we went through individually and as a team, or the level of preparation (and the madness of it all) we put ourselves through. It shall remain an untold story and we shall bury it deep in our hearts in the same manner we bury the untold stories of the teams’ greatness.
But I would not do justice if I do not pay tribute to the most kind hearted people I have encountered throughout my stint as the coach.
I don’t want to mention names as it is the unspoken acknowledgement that perhaps means more to us. To all of you – from the Debating Masters, to my contemporaries to the junior groups – the pureness of your hearts reminds me that there is still a salvation left in the world that we live in. It reminds me that despite our going separate ways, our passion and quest for little fairness in this life is never lost. You and your own untold stories of the length you went through for a group of kids whom you nurtured and loved as if they are your own – represent the best of MCKK.
To Miss Sherry and Cikgu Umi – we have come to a stage that our eyes speak better than our tongue. I have not met more dedicated teachers than you, who give your life for a group of young boys you know one day will fly away and maybe will never come back. Both of you are the rocks that provide the stability in the emotional roller coaster that all of us have to go through. You were there when I was a kid myself going through what these kids went through now; you are still there when we are older than the majority of the judges at PPM. In our prayers we ask for God to grant His blessing to our selfless teachers and the two of you no doubt rank highly.
To Izzat, Pojue and the junior coaches – the trial awaits you and all we ask of you is to love them as much as we have loved and cared for you.
To Haqqa, Helman, Bucks and Baku – you will now join us from this side of the fence and sometimes it is more rewarding to win as a coach, so we say to all Form 5 debaters. Go out and seek glory, put in the same passion and hard work you showed throughout your debating career – no doubt you will fly higher than anyone of us.
To those left behind – in front of you is yet another opportunity to undo so many years of unfair treatment against us. On your shoulders is a request that so many before you shall now put on your shoulders – please tell our stories to the world, do not let it be left untold from generations to generations.
Finally, just as the college bus was about to leave, I met Cikgu Safuan – “Please tell their stories to college for you were there and you would understand”.
I wish the whole college family would understand too, even if they were not there to share my pride.
Class of 94
1 June 2006