What is much more important than money?Many things actually, but for now let’s focus on joy, reputation, vim, vigour and a love for language. On Jan 15, 2018 a supernova in Malaysia’s educational expanse flickered, dimmed and died. It made me cry.
Mr MP Rangganathan was my Bahasa Malaysia teacher; yes, that’s what we called the Malay language back in 1981 when we weren’t abbreviating it to BM. That was the year I sat for my SPM (Sijil Pelajaran Malaysia) in Malaysia’s second oldest school, Malacca High School, established in 1826.
Our motto, Meliora Hic Sequamur, is Latin for: “Here we strive for better things.” That was Mr Rangga in a nutshell. He was this stern, tough, talented BM teacher whose vocation was also his passion. Decades after I left school and a few years after he officially retired, Mr Rangga was awarded Malaysia’s highest possible teaching award, Tokoh Guru Kebangsaan, in 2003.
As a teenager I found his subject painful. Let me give you an inkling of how bad I was at this all-important subject in which I had to earn a credit if I wanted a Grade 1 SPM certificate.
In my SPM trials, Mr Rangga gave me one mark less than I needed to pass my BM karangan (essay) paper. This meant I failed BM in my trials, so even though I scored the second highest aggregate mark of the whole form (taking into account all subjects) I still failed the entire exam!
Mr Rangga’s perennial complaint about my BM sentence structure was it seemed evident to him — but never to me — that I was thinking in English and translating directly into Malay, which resulted in stilted, badly structured BM sentences.
Thank God I only failed my trials. A few months later when I scored a C3 for BM in the real exam, the only person more surprised and happier than I was Mr Rangga.
In contrast to how abysmal a student I was, my friend Poh Kee Cheng, one year older than me, was a dream student who pleased Mr Rangga enormously. In later years, Kee Cheng — who earned an A1 and then an A for BM in his SPM and STPM, respectively — took the name Steven. In the early 1990s, Steven Poh and I carved out niches for ourselves in Malaysian journalism while writing in English for Malaysian Business magazine.
We intermittently stayed in touch with Mr Rangga as the years piled on. Both Steven and I started separate businesses. Then, in 2002, when Steven’s company published one of my books, Liberty! From Debt-Slave To Money Master, for which Steven wrote a compelling foreword, we jointly dedicated our book: “To MP Rangganathan, a dedicated teacher of the highest calibre.”
After retiring, Mr Rangga was kept busy by clamouring tuition students desperate to learn from the Master. This was a good thing because it permitted him to continue doing what he was undoubtedly placed on this Earth to do: teach the Malay language with the skill of a maestro and the passion of an aficionado.
The rising cost of living we all have to contend with, even if we aren’t government pensioners, means that if we’re able to extend our working years way past official retirement, then our golden years can take on a brighter sheen. Mr Rangga was able to do just that up to his late seventies.
A SHINING EXAMPLE
Given his mastery of Malay, many people did not expect Mr Rangga to be equally facile in English. I’ll provide you with the opportunity to decide for yourself. Before that, though, I want you to think back upon the many teachers you’ve had. I’m sure one or two stand out in your mind’s eye for the ways they inspired, guided, maybe even goaded, you to higher heights.
If so, reach out to them while you still can. Trust me, you will enrich their lives in ways mere money never can.
After Steven and I drove down to Melaka, almost 16 years ago, to give Mr Rangga our jointly autographed copy of the book we had dedicated to him, he penned a message on March 23, 2002 in a card he posted to me. Here’s an excerpt:
“My Dear Rajen,
“We all have a realm, a private paradise, in our mind, where dwell deathless memories of persons who brought some divine light to our life’s experience. Let me confess that you’re one of those rare breed of students who immortalise the paradise of a teacher’s life like mine. Your kind and generous gesture to introduce “LIBERTY” co-authored by you and Steven Poh to me for my blessings has moved me so greatly that I shall accept it as a symbol of your devotion to an old teacher and friend.”
You know, if our lives are to have any chance of burning bright throughout all our years, then as we strive to earn a great living, we should also align our skills and passions in a way that permits us to craft a great life.
Mr. Rangga succeeded in doing all that. Should we be so fortunate as to follow suit, we will eventually rise to the highest, best station God intended for us. To help us, Steven and I have our own shining standout example.
© 2018 Rajen Devadason
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