I’m going back to the past; of things that had happened more than 30 years ago… of how the drug addiction had all began. This is the continuation to The dark side of the moon Part 1 of more than two months ago.
There was something that I had mentioned in that one – of the need to let go of the past. But to do that, one has to look at it first, and it’s something that is quite difficult for there is the risk of emotional pain. And that’s precisely the reason why I have had difficulty starting that Part 1.
But unless the bad memories are dealt with, they will always be there – and they will always be a burden on us. So, this journey is a necessity – have a look at it for what it was… and then leave it. Only then can we move on.
There’s something good about that post for I had discovered this: Just write. No “writing plan”, “points” or any other “writing-aiding techniques and tools”, but to just write whatever comes to mind.
1976 – that was the year when my psychological addiction to drugs had started, especially to the “king of drugs” – heroin. Physical addiction came about soon enough. I was 16, in Form 5 (express class) and would face the MCE in November that year. If I remember correctly, my first introduced to heroin was around June. I was in Form 5H – it wasn’t “Hijau” (Green) or “Harimau” (Tiger) but the eighth letter of the alphabet and last class.
How did I get there? Remember that this was Sultan Abdul Hamid College, Alor Star (also Kak Teh’s former school; not to mention Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad’s), and it was an age where there was a `caste system’ when it comes to education. The students were selected based on examination results in primary school. During my first year, the cutoff mark was at “70%” (I was at 75%). The rest would go to one of the four other English-medium secondary schools in Alor Star – Sekolah Menengah Darulaman (nearest my house); Sekolah Tengku Abdul Rahman, Mergong or Sekolah Menengah St. Michael (near SAHC). Oh, it was also a “No-Girls-until-Form 6” school – the girls go to Sultanah Asma School (my elder sister’s) or St Nicholas Convent (my younger sister’s – also Kak Teh’s and Marina Mahathir’s school) until Form Five.
So, things were very competitive there. I had also wasted the whole of Form 4 in 1975 (Kak Teh was in Upper Six then), when I was in a better class, by having a rip-roaring time. I still remember the “001 Card” where we filled in our ambitions; and which the teacher would read out loud one by one for all to hear: Mine were 1) Musician (was influenced by Led Zeppelin, Deep Purple and Uriah Heep) 2) Journalist 3) Lawyer.
CAPTION: Led Zeppelin (1977). From left – Jimmy Page (Guitarist), John Bonham (Drums), Robert Plant (Singer) and John-Paul Jones (Bass). Bonham died tragically a few years later when, drunk and alone, he had choked on his own vomit.
Number One was also the choice ambition of my best buddies in that class; although mine was met with friendly mockings and derision for this sole reason – I didn’t know a single chord nor took the trouble to learn. Number Three had also met with some sniggers, but practically everyone respectfully nodded in agreement when the form teacher read out my Number Two ambition. They must have sensed something; especially when I was “the class’ taikoh” (big brother) in these three subjects – English Language, History and English Literature (yes, we had that one then).
CAPTION: The Led Zeppelin IV album (circa 1974). This rustic cover is one of the most beautiful I’ve ever seen, and contains that classic rock anthem of Stairway to Heaven – a song that begins s-l-o-w-l-y before building up. The exhilarating part is Plant’s laser-sharp rendition around “When all are one and one is all; To be a rock and not to roll” that reached a crescendo with Bonham’s thumping drumming, Page’s hypnotising hurried guitar riffs and supported by Jones’ heart-kicking bass. Outstanding! (Click on the first pix for Wikipedia entry of Stairway to Heaven)
There were other great songs here; like Rock and Roll, Black Dog, Going to California and Battle of Evermore. They were my most favourite group from 1974, whose cassette was replayed over and over, until 1978 … when I first heard Pink Floyd; especially that haunting Time, and The Great Gig in the Sky, which had a woman screaming her guts out. Pink Floyd have remained my most favourite band until now – 31 years later. Part 3 should see where and how I was first introduced to Pink Floyd and Time… (Click on the Led Zeppelin IV album cover for a review of it at Amazon.com).
But the main reason why I was in the last class was because of “demotion”: During Form 4, my History marks were made null and void (and got zero) because I had allowed a friend to copy my answers. I remember his nickname – it was “Pak Ngah”. What had irked me most was this: While five other friends had copied my answers too – unlike them – Pak Ngah got too greedy for “very high marks” and copied verbatim (the others had taken only the points).
The trouble was that the History teacher also taught English (a Chinese woman, Mrs-something, who looked a bit like Angie Dickinson of the then-popular “Policewoman” TV series); and she knew Pak Ngah’s style of English (never more than five words in a sentence). And knowledge of History (Didn’t know which country King Mongkut was from). `Interrogation’ of him went on like this:
Q- It isn’t yours, is it? Whose answer did you copy? (With the class looking and listening in suspense; especially me!)
Answer: “My one, teacher!…
(Threat from `Policewoman’): “No, I’m sure it isn’t yours. Can you write them again? No? Well, if you don’t admit that you had copied AND copied from who, I’ll have to take you to see Mr Sheshadri” (the very strict, zero-sense-of-humour Senior Assistant).
Pak Ngah: “Yes, I copy. Don’t know whose one… Err, from Che Mat.”
So, as punishment in that prim-and-proper school, this Che Mat was sent to the last class in Form 5. But don’t mistake it for a “stupid class” – people who were in that school were anything but that. It was a class where many “had an attitude problem”; with poor discipline and such… always pushing to see “where the limits and boundaries were”. On a few occasions, while waiting for a teacher to come in, we shared a cigarette and smoked it in the class!…with the `winners’ being those who dared to take at least two puffs (I was one).
It was also where one-third of the school’s football and rugby team – Kedah state champions – were from. 30 years later, I was to see that, in a way, Form 5H was something like… Asrama Cendana of Pusat Serenti Gambang! And I loved it; my best year at SAHC…
Given the choice, no teacher would have volunteered to teach that class. There was one incident where the Form teacher – a Chinese male with a Science degree, who also taught Mathematics – was in tears over how a few guys had responded, and stormed out. But being in that class was a blessing in disguise for me. Since primary school, when it comes to examination results, I was usually either in the middle or slighly lower in class – something like “Number 18-23 in a class of 40.
But in Form 5 – for the first time ever – with just a bit of extra effort, I managed to obtain Number 1 during the first examinations! I was amazed and so proud of that achievement… although it was `nothing’ compared to what my elder sister had just achieved: Grade One in the MCE, Science Stream, Second-best result in her whole school, Best Malay Student in the state, and had her name mentioned in the newspapers…
She was in Lower Six at my school for a month before receiving (expected all-round) news of being selected for higher education overseas – medical studies. No “Bumiputera quota” of any sort for her – she’d take on any obstacles and beat anyone, that’s my elder sister’s character. Her friends who remained at my school – they had a lot of respect for her; and I was filled with pride when they talked of me as “CS’s younger brother…”
These had all encouraged me to do my best in my studies too. It would have been embarrassing had it been “CS is a brilliant student…BUT her brother is sooo stupid!” I was also fortunate to have real good friends in that class – people who laid their hopes on me “to create upsets and bring academic honours to the LAST CLASS”. We heard from our seniors that “consistent studying and having discussions help”. So, a few of us obtained permission from the principal to use a classroom at night for us to gather and study.
My discipline was better than all of them (about 15, from different classes… the `lower end’). Somehow, the others had lower concentration spans and would often waste time chatting (and smoking cigarettes) along the corridors. Or, they’d take lengthy breaks at the coffeeshop in front (30 mins of study, 60 mins rest), But I was serious… Gradually, I became someone whom people – friends and teachers – assumed “would most likely get Grade One”. My 5H friends were genuinely proud and happy that I – “from the last class” – was one of the three representatives selected to represent the school in a district History competition. And becoming the champion (beating Marina Mahathir’s former school, St. Nicholas Convent in the final).
It was also in Form Five that I discovered something – I could do real well in English. And that was cause for some prestige for my class and also self, of course. I couldn’t figure out how it all came about exactly – it just did. Previously, I was just in the “Above Average” category. But now I was “a contender”… And I always remember my English language teacher then – a young Indian, Mr Raj Kumar – who gave me the confidence. He had once told me – in front of the class after reading an essay – “You can be a journalist one day – at least”; and explained that was “like a newspaper reporter”. How proud I was!
There was another thing that I remember; of being the top student in English AND Malay Literature in the school during one important examination – one of the proudest moments in my schooling life. And how proud my classmates were too – of “the underdogs” beating the cocky and pompous “good students”. It was something to see the announcement and list on the school’s notice-board. For all the other subjects, it was the Form 5A class that monopolised; with two subjects going to 5B and 5F (Art).
But for English Language (which was second below Bahasa Malaysia), it was: Ahmad Cendana287 – 5H… Malay Literature: Ahmad Cendana287 – 5H. And I had received prizes for these during the school’s Speech Day that year – from the Sultanah of Kedah, Al-Marhum Sultanah Bahiyah. What a proud moment for me, my friends and my parents.
By the way, I hope the readers don’t see this post as self-indulgent. There’s a reason for all these details – these were the last moments before I dropped into the abyss… times when I was not psychologically or physically addicted to drugs, even if I had already had an experience of them.
After that exposure with “Ahmad Zaki”, quite a few weeks had passed before I had another dose. So, there was no physical addiction. Mentally, I’d remember how good it was, but the pull wasn’t strong. And my friends: despite them (including the class monitor) having taken drugs too in heroin and ganja/dam (cannabis/marijuana) – these were only “on special occasions”. Like during the school’s “Talentime” night. A few friends from other classes were already addicted (including Zaki and Hisham). But none in Form 5H. There was an unwritten rule for us: Don’t ever get addicted.
So how did I get addicted – and just a few months before the all-important MCE (GCE-Levels)? Because “I left the flock for new friends”…
(To Be Continued in Part 3)