Ahmad was a bright, curious boy.
He was born in rural Kampung Sungai Liku - a typical Malay kampung in Negeri Sembilan, not far from Seremban town. His was the typical Malay kampung family. He grew up as the eldest among 4 brothers and sisters. His father had a small orchard and his mum was a housewife who occasionally sold kuih to city tourists who passed through the kampung to supplement their family income.
They were simple folk and didn't crave luxuries, content to enjoy the simple life – even though the cost of living had been creeping up steadily in the past few years.
From young, Ahmad had a sharp eye for nature. When he was only 3 years old, he was fascinated by frogs, mice, lizards and other small animals, often catching them to show his mum. Although she didn't like the things in the house, Pn Khatijah didn't want to disappoint her son. So she would smile and nod her head and then tell him to release the animals safely back into the wild after he was done playing with them.
Ahmad would always hold the little critters carefully in his hands and carefully observe their colours and patterns. When he had satisfied himslef, he would bring them back to where he found them and let them go. After all, he reasoned, he wouldn't have liked it if someone dumped him far away from HIS home.
As Ahmad grew older, his interest in animals grew deeper. He would ask for the names of all the animals he noticed (and he noticed a lot), where they lived, what they ate, why they behaved the way they did, and so on. He exasperated his parents and relatives – try as they might, they just could not answer all his questions. They looked forward to the day when he would start school and the teachers would be obliged to impart such knowledge to him.
As he approached school age, Ahmad's parents decided they should prepare him. They had seen pictures of screaming children on television year after year when they were ushered off to school. So they sat him down and told him about this wonderful place called “school” that he would be going to in a few months. There, he would have teachers who would teach him all he wanted to know about the world. Ahmad's parents were very surprised when he didn't hesitate to say that he wanted to go. In fact, he couldn't understand why he couldn't go NOW!
Ahmad waited impatiently for school to start. He had so many questions to ask the teacher. And because he didn't know how to write yet, he rehearsed his questions every night in case he forgot. He drew pictures of the animals he observed. Although he wasn't very happy that it didn't look exactly like them, he decided that the teacher would be wise enough to know.
The day finally came when it was time to go to school. He was up early and eagerly got dressed. His mum fussed over him as all mothers do, and his dad watched the fuss as all fathers do. Finally, Ahmad climbed up behind his father on the family's trusty Honda Cub and they were off to the great adventure called “school” at Sekolah Rendah Kebangsaan Sungai Liku!
When he arrived at school, he noticed many mums and dads coaxing their children to go into the classroom. As his father ushered him to his classroom, Ahmad noticed that there were many kids screaming and weeping and clinging on to their mothers skirts. Ahmad couldn't understand what all the commotion was about. Wasn't school such a wonderful place where you could find out everything you ever wanted to know about the world?
Ahmad settled down at his assigned desk, still bewildered by the weeping commotion around him. His father asked if he would be all right and Ahmad said yes. With a final goodbye, Ahmad's father left Ahmad to the good graces of the young teacher in charge of the class. The teacher smiled at him, one of the few children who wasn't kicking up a fuss in the classroom.
Ahmad sat at his desk, waiting for the commotion to die down and the teacher to start teaching. The teacher was still calling for the children to calm down and sit. Bored, Ahmad looked around and saw another boy who looked equally bewildered sitting nearby. He grinned at the lad who smiled back and introduced himself.
They spent some time chatting until the class finally settled down into some semblance of order. Ahmad was still chatting with his new friend when he heard the smack of the teacher's ruler on the teacher's desk It was the first time he had heard the harsh, cracking sound and it certainly caught his attention! He quickly turned around to face the front of the class.
“Murid-murid semua, sila pandang ke depan!” called the teacher, “Nama saya Cikgu Norliza!” She turned around to write her name on the blackboard.
FINALLY, the teacher was going to start teaching! But what was this language she was speaking?! It was different from the Negeri dialect he spoke at home! He could catch most of it if he concentrated enough, but he didn't feel comfortable that he couldn't grasp everything she said right away – how was he going to learn anything if half of his concentration was spent on deciphering the language?!
And what was the meaning of those markings she was scratching out on the board?!
To be continued...