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What would D’Cruz say?

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Caroleena Sue D’Cruz wonders what her late father would have thought about today’s events.

My father, MN D’Cruz (or Acha to all of us and many others) came to this country just five years before independence.

He left behind his dad, mum, younger brother and sister and came to join his elder brother. Times were tough in India and each had to make their own way – for themselves and for the family back home.

It was a difficult move – on a ship via Ceylon with no phones to stay in touch. Telegrams for emergencies, and the old blue airmail envelopes for everything else. By the time you heard news from home, it was four to six weeks old.

Times were tough, but he loved Malaysia. He loved the diversity, the opportunities, but most of all he loved the people.

He embraced his role as a teacher wholeheartedly and served first in Kuala Lumpur before moving to what was then the wild and wonderful East Coast.

He was so happy to serve this country alongside so many other immigrants who had arrived to build this nation – together.

As a bachelor and teacher in Kuantan, he threw himself wholeheartedly into the Pahang community – teaching history at St Thomas School in the mornings and coaching his boys in all sorts of sports in the afternoons.

The boys were his life. He didn’t see them by the colour of their skin or the money in their pockets.

What he saw was the intelligence that needed a gentle nudge for them to try even harder.

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He saw the slow learner who needed some extra help.

He saw the skinny, uncoordinated guy at the back of the team itching to play on the field.

He saw the hungry kid who needed 20 sen in his pocket to buy something to eat in the canteen – probably his first meal of the day.

And he taught them.

He told them stories about Parameswara that had them laughing.

He captured their imagination with works of literature.

He cheered them on as they debated in competitions, sang in school choirs, raced across fields in athletic meets and played football in the pouring rain.

Most of all, he taught them the importance of doing the right thing. And living up to the St Thomas School motto “studium meum veritas” (strive for truth).

As a headmaster, he was an inspiring leader who demanded the best from his teachers and students. A meticulous administrator, he ran a tight ship, his management of school accounts especially stringent.

And when they didn’t have enough from the government, he worked himself to the ground fundraising the old-fashioned way – walkathons, car washes, job weeks, Dutch auctions, funfairs. You name it, he worked it.

MN D’Cruz at a walkathon with the people of Kuantan to raise funds for the St Thomas School building

He would accept contributions from the community openly, gratefully, but never with back-door dealings to provide that contract or support this shady cause or a seat on the school board. He was straight as an arrow.

Today, there are halls and science labs and classrooms still standing to show for it – learning spaces that many in this country and around the world have benefited from.

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The late Sultan of Pahang (the present Agong’s father) (left) with MN D’Çruz during the opening of a new school hall and science labs at St Thomas School

As an active member of the teachers’ union, he travelled around the country, meticulously taking notes about the problems teachers were facing. Then, pounding the corridors of the Education Department, he would look for solutions.

MN D’Çruz (third from right) at an annual meeting of the Pahang branch of National Union of Teachers

He served everyone – his students, their parents, his teachers, their families, the community, the church, the country.

He carried his blue identity card proudly. He may have been born in Kerala, but his home and heart were in Malaysia. He loved that there was room under the Malaysian sun for everyone.

As the years rolled on, he saw racism, greed and corruption replace the professional, ethical governance of the past – and grew concerned.

But he never wavered in his faith in this country. His beacon was his faith and his mantra “justice for the common man”.

I wonder what he would say about the decision made on behalf of the people today.

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