Pranks, here, there and everywhere

I hope life isn’t a big joke, because I don’t get it.

– Jack Handey, American humourist

Beware the day of pranks — a reminder of the soothsayer’s warning to Julius Caesar to beware the Ides of March in 44 BC, but I’m not giving warning about a blade coming your way. 

Whatever shenanigans are played on you today, they are meant as jokes aimed to “fool” you so that you are very much part of the day of mischief, known worldwide as April Fool’s Day.

While being part of the teaching fraternity between 1979 and 1997, I saw some interesting as well as very practical jokes played among friends and colleagues. To some extent, the schools were involved, including items that extended our human sufferance to the limit.

Due to teacher trainees being mature adults and example-setters to be, there was no such incident done to really embarrass or ridicule others — even in jest — during my time at Rejang Teachers College, Bintangor between 1979 and 1983.

However, between 1984 and 1997, there were pranks by school students on April 1 each year that achieved their aims, namely to add hilarity to the day and to some extent ridicule the institution and its established rules and norms.

Most of the times, we would see chairs and tables taking their temporary ‘hoisting’ on flag poles. One would also see flower pots removed from their usual locations. From Kanowit to Saratok and then from Serian to Bau where I served as school head during those years, these were common scenes on April Fool’s Day. No offence was taken. We just let it go and laughed about it.

However, the Julau case in 1989 stood out from the rest. The same things happened but in a worse degree when flower pots were put as obstacles on the road from the school entrance to the staffroom and admin office that also housed the principal enclave. 

To add salt to injury, it was done three days later — on April 4 instead of April 1. A rural school, perhaps Julau kids then were ill-informed about the correct date for such tomfooleries.  

Such naught would have been ignored if done on April 1 but besides being done on an ordinary day, the act caused damage to two teachers’ cars.

My senior assistant (student affairs) did an effective probe and got the main culprit, a Form 4 boy, to give him the names of the others involved.

I acted fast by calling an assembly. After a fiery short address, I called all the five boys — all Form 4 — to the front and gave them a public canning but letting them choose which rattan each preferred to be used. All chose the small one which would inflict greater pain; but my canning act was just symbolic and not aimed to hurt them. 

Out of the five, four passed their SPM with good results and attended Form Six at SMK Meradong. When I met two of them in Sarikei, they greeted me and shook my hands to thank me, telling me their punishment helped to make them better students.

All did well in their STPM exam but we lost contact thereafter.

In 1984 in Kanowit, one case stood out from the rest. One naughty but somehow irresponsible then head of the District Information Department used the letterhead of his office — dated April 1 and received on the same day — to inform St Francis Xavier Primary School at the edge of Kanowit town that Puan Sri Laila Taib, wife of then Chief Minister Pehin Sri Abdul Taib Mahmud, would visit the school in mid-April that year.

The school management certainly panicked due to the short notice and the visit’s magnitude.  Led by the headmaster, three of them came to see the DO on the next day to ascertain the authenticity of the matter. Then DO Empeni Lang (now deceased) had to refer to the Resident’s Office in Sibu to be told there was no such visit. He called the culprit and reprimanded him. I was told this on the next day by Empeni when we had coffee in a Kanowit cafe — then I was attached to SMK Sedaya across river.

There are certainly other pranks everywhere today. I am expecting some myself but perhaps avoid replying, thereby lessening the intensity of laughter to the banks by telecommunication companies.