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School CP - July 2002

masthead The Star, Kuala Lumpur, 13 July 2002

Getting To Know ...

At the heart of a ruler


By Kee Hua Chee

File pictures courtesy of 'Ruler of Negeri Sembilan: A Biography'

On April 17, 1967, Tuanku Ja'afar Ibni Al-Marhum Tuanku Abdul Rahman was installed as the 10th Yang Di-Pertuan Besar of Negeri Sembilan. On April 26, 1994 he became the 10th Yang Di-Pertuan Agong of Malaysia, completing the first cycle of the unique Malaysian monarchy as his father Tuanku Abdul Rahman Ibni Al-Marhum Tuanku Mohammad was the first King of Malaya from Aug 31, 1957 (Independence Day) to April 1, 1960. On July 19, he celebrates his 80th birthday, making him the nation's oldest ruler.

The official residence of Tuanku Ja'afar Al Haj Ibni Almarhum Tuanku Abdul Rahman is simply called Istana Negeri Sembilan. Located on Federal Hill, Kuala Lumpur, Istana Negeri Sembilan is surprisingly modest, hardly bigger than neighbouring bungalows. Indeed I was banging on the imposing gates of a palatial mansion only to be told by security guards my destination was further up a small lane. A seemingly abandoned bungalow right next door to Istana Negeri Sembilan seems strangely at odds with the royal neighbourhood.

The royal entourage waits downstairs as I am taken up into the living room where Tunku Naquiyuddin, the eldest son and heir apparent, formally introduces me to Tuanku Ja'afar, who is also referred to as Yam Tuan. Like me, Tunku Naquiyuddin calls his father "Tuanku" and takes leave soon after, leaving me the honour of enjoying two hours with the ruler of Negeri Sembilan. Smartly casual, Tuanku Ja'afar looks hale and hearty, enquiring about my Kelantanese background and noting my "Seri Kelantan" title. He solicitously bids me to drink tea and partake in specially made dodol slices which he avows are especially delicious. He beams when I put several into my bag.

Tuanku Ja'afar as King
Tuanku Ja'afar became King in 1994.

Like Prince Charles and Prince Edward (whom I interviewed some years back), Tuanku Ja'afar seems genuinely interested as I babble briefly about my humdrum life. Before long, we are walking down memory lane.

"I was born in the royal town of Klang as my father was then working in Selangor. July 19, 1922 seems so long ago! Life was so very different then!" remembers Tuanku Ja'afar. "When I was six years old, we moved back to Negeri Sembilan's royal town of Sri Menanti where I lived until 1933. I was 11 when I was sent to the Malay College Kuala Kangsar (MCKK). I was there for seven exciting and fun-filled years. I was 18 when I left MCKK for Raffles College in Singapore."

But not before becoming Head Boy of MCKK, achieving the highest and most prestigious rank any student could aspire to. "MCKK was a residential school and I only went home during the school holidays. I still remember my driver Anum who must be 100 years old by now! He used to pick me up at the Seremban railway station. But to go to the Kuala Kangsar railway station from MCKK, two or three of us used to squeeze into a hand-pulled becha (rickshaw). Anum worked for my grandfather and he is still living in Sri Menanti."

....... "I was very active in sports as games were my main interest. I was the school captain in cricket, hockey and also a chess champion which was a relief to my parents as they believed chess required brainpower.

"There was no rugby then. MCKK was a typical English-type boarding school with 140 pupils, though we referred to it as a 19th century pondok school. The teachers were mostly British. The headmaster was C. Bezell from Surrey, very strict . . . from the old school."

King with Nelson Mandela
During his reign many a celebrity came a-calling including former South African president, Nelson Mandela.

In those days, there was no such thing as preferential treatment. Tuanku Ja'afar was caned not once, but twice! He grins, "I was given six of the best by Mr Bezell! I didn't do my homework on two occasions and was careless over arithmetic. Getting caned was painful but no harm or lasting damage done! I visited Mr Bezell when he had retired in Cornwall after I became Yang Di-Pertuan Besar. I see no harm in students getting caned if they deserve it, though today corporal punishment is out of favour."


His compassion and reluctance to upset others showed early. As head boy, he would pass the buck to his Deputy Head Boy, Engku Mohsein, who was a martinet. "Oh, Engku Mohsein was known for being strict and going by the book. If someone needed to be admonished or caned, I would tell him so he would carry out the job. The boys used to hate him! Tan Sri Abu Zarim, the ex-general manager of Tenaga Nasional, was the sports prefect and we used to play together a lot. ...."


On behalf of all Malaysians, we wish Tuanku Ja'afar a glorious and happy 80th birthday!

1995-2002 Star Publications (Malaysia) Bhd (Co No 10894-D)

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