Ragging at its most harmless is embarrassing and silly, but at its worst, it attempts to prevent individual students from independent thinking, attempts, in fact, to eradicate freewill.  

Debalina Haldar, author

July 2, 1975 was a historic date for myself and two other Sarawakians.

Zulwali Kifli Merawi, Babu Swen and I — all federal scholarship holders — touched down at the old Penang Airport and headed to Universiti Sains Malaysia (USM).

Zulwali (now Dr Zulwali, PhD) and I were to enter USM as Humanities First Year undergraduates whereas Babu (now a retired school principal) was a Pre-Science student. We were the sixth batch since USM’s inception in 1969. My matric number was 2833.

Official orientation hadn’t started but Alex Fernandez and gang were already busy ‘ragging’ (a term for abusive orientation) some of us freshies, but spared the elderly looking Zulwali.

Orientation was interesting. There were some common trends for the episodes.

Girls from Terengganu and Kelantan seemed to be spared as their male counterparts could be aggressive — I was lucky in my senior years that a female member of a wealthy Kelantan family who had graduated and was driving an Alfa Romeo took a liking and ‘squatted’ at our Pantai Jerjak rented home for a month, to the chagrin of my roommate Mulok who had to sleep at a sofa downstairs throughout the entire ‘squatting’ period.

Another trend was where Indian seniors would rule supreme. During our orientation/ragging days, one Lawrence was ‘The Colonel’ while Alex was his ‘Lieutenant’. 

They discovered very early in the orientation that I could sing. That saved me from getting embarrassed in doing lots of ‘stupid’ acts, usually ‘required’ of freshies.

Even during a community project in Sungai Nibong, I was spared the hard work but was given a hailer to sing throughout the entire project.

Alex shouted once at me when I paused to breathe. We became friends towards the end of the two-week orientation. Perhaps, that earned me first runner-up spot for ‘Most Sporting Freshie’ award (I still keep the small trophy after 45 years) during the closing night but not before I performed on stage, with a band of freshies, an Elvis song titled Just Call Me Lonesome.

When we were Second Year undergraduates, my close friend Krishnamurthy (now retired college principal and karate grandmaster) named himself ‘General’ whereas he named me ‘Colonel’ for the orientation/ragging period. 

Our choices were mostly girls — many of them gorgeous — except for those from the eastern shores, Indians (not many), one Singh, Sabahans and Sarawakians.

Many Sarawakians were people that I knew, including three cousins, namely Jonathan Bedindang Ensu (now a practising lawyer), Mulok Saban (who was Sarawak Printing director) and August Buma (now Datuk, retired Sarawak Labour director). 

We certainly created ‘terror’ among the freshies with our shoulder-length hair, especially six-foot two ‘General Krishna’ with his thick beard and tiger’s eyes, sometimes wearing smelly attires too. Nevertheless, many city girls were not impressed or intimidated.

One particular Penang girl caught my attention with her well-painted beautiful face. I found out just in minutes that she was a younger sister of C C Ooi, my Education classmate. She had to tell me her identity urgently as she was scared that I would inflict further ‘insults or abuse’ though I had no such intention.

We became friends — in fact, we became a pair soon after orientation period. However, Krishna’s hooks all failed to catch any bite.

The sole Singh won the ‘Most Sporting Freshie’ award for tolerating all the ‘silly acts’ required of him.

Krishna usually got him to pay for a 60-kupang (20 sen for rice, 10 sen for vegetable and 30 sen for fish or meat) meal at Fu Manchu canteen. In those days, a 60-sen meal in campus was considered decent whereas one ringgit meal was ‘lavish’. 

When entering our Third Year, we mellowed and let the Second Year students take the lead. So, freshies like Idris Jala (now Datuk Seri), Jeniri Amir and Aldram (later Mohd Adaham) were considered as lucky guys. They all became my good friends.

Furthermore, varsity management made sure ragging was a punishable offence. 

Our group only took care of the Sarawak-Sabah group’s welfare. Varsity freshies nowadays are lucky with the absence of ‘generals’ and ‘colonels’ during orientation.

The views expressed here are those of the columnist and do not necessarily represent the views of New Sarawak Tribune.