I give the freedom to readers to choose which entry is most appropriate for this year’s PPM adventure for MCKK debating teams; which concluded this week.
“THE TIME OF THE ELF HAS COME TO AN END AND I SHALL SAIL TO THE WEST”
By the time I finally decide how to start this entry; it would have been the tenth deletion. This is the problem when you decide to write on what has become an annual entry around this time of the year – a reflection of the year’s PPM.
We lost at octofinals for English and BM categories yesterday. I could have written about how the poor adjudication is a reflection of our society which rewards mediocrity – but I had written it in 2005. I could write about the length that we went through to prepare and that no other schools even has the capacity to even dream of copying the level of our preparation – but I did this in 2006. I could write about how much our boys had changed from the time we picked them up – but I wrote and said this in almost all entries to the point that I myself found this rather self-delusional.
This time I just want to write what I feel – not to analyse, not to reflect, not to make sense. After 5 times going through the nightmare, there’s nothing much to analyse or reflect. Nothing would ever make sense.
And I feel tired. Not even sad. It is a resignation that PPM championship is beyond me, or Cikgu Umi or Miss Sherry. This time around I finally come to the realization that there are things in life that you cannot achieve. I concede defeat – to the system out of which PPM has deteriorated to become, to the school, to the boys, to MCKK old boys in general and to myself. They (the system and the mediocre society) have won and I have lost.
Conceding defeat is not as horrible as I thought it would be when I was younger. In previous years from 2004 onwards, each time we lost I quickly picked up the pieces and within 2 weeks (at most), I would have thought of what else needed to be done, put this in a piece of document and began the planning for next year in earnest. Year in and year out; because each defeat just strengthened our resolve to come back with a vengeance so that we can claim our justice.
So when I finally conceded defeat this year, it was a relief that I feel (not fear, sadness or feeling of great loss). That finally, I don’t have to worry about what I have to do with the boys anymore, or the training that I need to conduct – or which debaters I have to fix. I don’t care how they behave; I have no concerns of their actions or (usually) inactions anymore. I feel I am absolved from my responsibility.
If Arwah Ben is alive, I can stare into his eyes and proudly tell him that I have done my best and never once I put a half-hearted effort – I put more efforts in the last 5 years than what I put in back then in 1992 and 1993. I won twice back then, I lost 5 times in a row now.
I would have told Ben that I delivered on my words now the same way I delivered on my promises on that candle-light night in 1990. And pray that finally despite his feelings in the last few years of his life (and our friendship) that I was wasting my time; he would have approved my venture.
I really wanted to win this year because I want it as a gift to Ben, even posthumously. It would have been a good closure, so that I can move on as so much has changed since we started out 5 years ago.
It felt very different now compared to when we started out back then. I started out with 9 old boys (mostly my seniors and contemporaries) but now I am the only one left. Each year when we were defeated, I had someone to look up to or to comfort me. We usually have a post-PPM dinner or holidays just to recover and to reassure each other.
But now I am the comforter, the driver, the coach, the housemaster, the financier – I am the reason they lose or win; and after a while it feels so lonely and tiring to switch from a driver (shuttling the boys around) to a debating coach and to multi-task as a counselor and housekeeper. And worst, when there is nowhere to turn to make sense of each defeat unlike before.
I read the writing on the wall very clearly. The time has come to move on and seal the transition. It is not as perfect as I planned it to be, but being a perfectionist has always complicated my work all this while – so this time around, I shall not look for perfection.
The time of my generation has come to an end; it is now the time for the generation of the millennium batches to continue the work.
As to where or what “West” is – I now have the leisure of time and peace to decide.
“..BUT IT IS POSSIBLE THAT YE DISLIKE A THING WHICH IS GOOD FOR YOU, AND THAT YE LOVE A THING WHICH IS BAD FOR YOU. BUT ALLAH KNOWETH, AND YE KNOW NOT” – Al-Baqarah 216
The routine that we go through each time we face a defeat at PPM is to review what went wrong. The first thing is to validate whether we should have won or not; because the manner adjudication has been carried out at PPM has always been a cause for great concerns. There were the years that we accepted defeat; there were those we admitted there were minor mistakes but if the debate had been judged holistically; we shouldn’t have lost. Usually we took the minor mistakes very seriously and went on to institute changes so that we wouldn’t repeat the minor mistakes in future debates.
The validation and review process is more rigorous this year, involving internal and external parties. Even Syed Asrul (who had kindly agreed to help me looked after the boys throughout the tournament) participated actively by playing devil advocates to ensure the process is carried out impartially without sentiment.
Unfortunately, for each reason discussed that supposedly could have led to the defeats, there are a plethora of other reasons how we had managed it much better than the opponents and therefore had adequately nullified the factors.
In short – we had covered our grounds too much this year that Cikgu Umi, Miss Sherry and myself are now out of our depths to figure out what else should we do to win. If a preparation like this is not worthy of PPM (compared to other teams which went to semi-final which were not even half as prepared as us) with an array of debaters that other schools can only dream of – I don’t know whether even a miracle can win us a PPM.
We went through the notion that maybe our arguments are too high level and matured that the ‘poor’ adjudicators (‘poor’ not in the sense that we should pity them; but that of someone “poor” in knowledge, wisdom, language commands and maturity) cannot understand the arguments compared to the most simplistic arguments given by the opponents.
But time and time again, we come to the understanding that we shall not dumb down for the sake of winning PPM, because our real prize is the boys who one day will grow up and do wonders (and not the trophy that I can commission and pay anytime, if the boys really want it!). It is in their best interest to reach a level of maturity ahead of their peers so that they can reach their potentials.
So, torn in between all these factors, we fall back to the most reassuring and safe justification – that it has been pre-ordained that PPM shall not be ours, for reasons only Allah SWT knows. It is not my, or Miss Sherry’s or Cikgu Umi’s rezeki to win PPM during our tenure as coaches/teachers – and I accept this justification with humility.
The next question is – if this is the justification, logically all three should excuse ourselves so that the boys can stand a better chance of winning PPM; given the level of preparation the boys had gone through; under different coaches and teachers. Fresh breath of perspectives is always better.
In the coming weeks, we shall come to a conclusion and closure on this.
“THIS IS NEVER ABOUT WINNING ANY TOURNAMENT. THIS IS ABOUT MAKING MEN OUT OF BOYS”
Our boys were taught from the beginning that the measure of their success is not how many championships they win – but whether in the final analysis, they live up to the badge and expectation of a MCKK’s debater.
In our simple words – it is about making men out of the boys. Of the so many coaches from among the ex-debaters whom they have come across, I am the only one who actually won PPM. The greater among us – like Arwah Ben – actually never had the opportunity to lift the trophy. As you grow up and reflect, you would realize that PPM is but a small event in your life; because by then we would have come across much bigger things.
So each time we conclude yet another disappointing season – the first question that I ask: to the coaches, to myself and to the teachers – what is the objective of this? Why do we go to this extent for a mere trophy, in a competition where everyone knows we are better; it’s just that by design we didn’t win (to the cheer of the rest)? Why not make a drastic move of ignoring PPM because we are one class above the rest and start our own elite debate? Why not concentrate on international competitions? With the amount of money we spend on the boys each year, we can easily send them to regional competitions.
Fortunately, the answer to that very vital question has been consistent and has never failed to remind me that unlike other schools; or other teachers; or other coaches – we are in it for a different reason.
These boys will go through tournaments after tournaments, having put the best efforts that other people do not come close to match; only to face defeats. In the process, they know the reality of the world – that increasingly we are ruled by our inferiors. They learn that life is about giving our best shot (in almost an engineering precision manner) in whatever we get our hands on – because this is how other people (from other cultures and more successful civilizations) have done it before us.
They will also learn that at the very heart of it, is the HEART itself. That each and every single MCKK debater knows that what they do today is not for their glory, but to make sure the people after them inherit a purpose in life in and out of MCKK that defies age, time and defeats. A life of service, a life of giving so that people after us will always be better than us – for what is life without giving; as we have drummed in their head from the first day they are accepted to the group.
By this objective, we have been pretty successful.
Over the last few days, talking to the debaters (especially the junior English debaters) strengthened our resolve that we have not wasted our time.
“But we should not dumb down just because we want to win, that defeats the purpose. It is about doing the right thing, even if the rest disagree with us” – Adam, a F3
“It doesn’t really matter if we don’t win PPM, so long we become successful in life later on” – Fauzan, a F3
And they said this in the most innocent manner yet full of conviction.
My only regret in this department is my failure to prove that the “formulae” works. We have trained them to appreciate values and hard work. That they should never take anything for granted and lead their life with humility.
That’s what I practice, that’s my belief. It worked for me – from my MCKK days to this day; comparatively I have done better and I have got most of the things that I set my eyes and efforts on. It was quite easy for me.
Yet despite emulating the same thing, they have not managed to get the single thing they have worked so hard for. It will not be long before they begin to have doubts on the “formulae”. With doubts come wavering and eventually they bring themselves lower (to the level of others).
It is in that perspective that PPM and the mediocre culture that it propagates is very poisonous and counter-productive to the very objective of PPM. Instead of creating world class future leaders, we create petty teachers and petty students thick with narrow-mindedness; who relish seeing MCKK defeated (even when they know MCKK should have won) and thought they had won the day. Yes, a winning for a day only to suffer for many years to come; from the mediocrity that defines their character.
From a different side of that perspective, we are doing well in producing a group of intelligent young boys who know the value of the brain and hard work – and are confident enough to defy the norm and reach new boundaries; knowing the limits and reaches of their abilities and values in life.
Other people call it MCKK’s snobbery; but it is that snobbery that had put many of us before where others can only envy.
“Dear ******, I need to catch up with you. Need a favour – my boys will go through a new debating format so need to accustom them to the new format”
“Miss Sherry, I know we are all still tired. I was thinking that we should ******** that should put us ahead of others. Had contacted some people. ***** then we can see whether there was allocation”
“I am up for it. If we plan early, we can do it. Not just ******* but workshops and *******”
“I am worn down and tired. But I want my revenge too”
Thank you so much to Saudara Syed Asrul Shahrim Syed Abdullah (Class of 94), without whom the entire tournament was impossible for the contingent. He arranged for accommodation, transport, food, looked after the kids, befriended them (and along the way grew attached both ways to them) and even went on to coach them indirectly.
(Knowing that he is reading this) He is the same person I have known from the early years of MCKK – one of the most reliable and honest people I have met, one whose opinion I value above others.
He is also the person who started out the cheering t-shirt in MCKK (which have become a tradition for a generation). It was the Economics Bureau under his leadership that introduced cheering t-shirt to MCKK.
A tribute to the First-III of English team: Zulikhwan, Fido and Rashad. All three I had doubts when they were in junior forms whether they have the potential to represent koleq – I had confined some of them to a support role all along. But they took my criticism with humility, worked hard and by the time they took the stage early last week – they were at par, if not better, than the teams before them.