Sunday, June 21, 2009

People: Sarikei St Anthony's K.A. Titus. Part II

I'm sure all ex-Anthonians from the 1960s-1980s and the Sarikei denizens are wondering how Mr K.A. Titus and family are doing. I requested my classmate, Shirley Titus, to facilitate an email interview with her father. How did I find Shirley? Mr. Ignatius' daughter found my blog and from there I found my classmates Shirley Titus and Ivan Ignatius.

Mr. K.A. Titus taught at St. Anthony's School from 1962-1984. He was the principal from 1972 to mid 1981. And now, ladies and gentleman, the interview...

Sarikei St Anthony's School Staff 1962
Click to enlarge. Click back arrow to come back.

Was it a difficult decision to leave India to come to Sarikei in 1962? How was the journey?

Even while I was a student the prospect of going abroad had always thrilled me because, in those days, not many got the opportunity to do so and the few, who people thought lucky to get the chance, were looked upon with admiration and respect !! Hence, when I got the offer of a teaching post in St. Anthony's, I was very happy. But then, when I told my parish priest of my intention to come to Sarawak, he cautioned me that Sarawak was a "land of head-hunters" !! This piece of information prompted some of my relatives and friends to discourage me ! But I had already made up my mind, head hunters or not !!. So the decision to come to Sarikei wasn’t too difficult.

Now, about the journey. The route of my flight was Cochin/Madras/Singapore/Kuching/Sibu and I was with my wife and my two kids, Augustine (4yrs.) and Pearly (1 and half years . Shirley was't born yet; she was born in Sarikei). It was our first experience of flying ! Strapped to our seats with belts, we sat tense and excited and looked out of the window.The aircraft slowly taxied to one end of the runway. Suddenly with the engines roaring, it gathered speed and smoothly left the ground and up we went !! The airport building soon turned into a speck… That was it !! We were flying !!!

Sarikei St Anthony's School Staff 1965
Click to enlarge. Click back arrow to come back.

The first three legs of the journey were smooth, but, when we reached Kuching, it was raining cats and dogs! The flight from Kuching to Sibu, though short, in a twin-engine Dakota, was a frightening experience ! The weather being rough, the flight was very bumpy and it was with sighs of relief that we landed in Sibu !! Weren't we glad that we were, at last, on solid ground !!!

At Sibu, we were received by Mr. Jacob Sebastian, a former classmate of mine, who was a member of the staff of St. Anthony's. ( His wife, Jane Wong, is the sister of Mr. Wong, the dentist, who was staying opposite the Sarikei police station.) The journey from Sibu to Sarikei by a boat that chugged along the mangrove-fringed Rejang River, was an ordeal ! It took a looooong five and a half hours !! At Sarikei we were received by Fr. Rottinghuis. He took us to a house he had arranged for us. It was a house on stilts, on swampy ground !! It was the first time that we were seeing such a house.. Well, this was our journey from Cochin to Sarikei.

Sarikei St Anthony's School Staff, 1971
Click to enlarge. Click back arrow to come back.
Back: L1 Mr Celestine, L2 Mr Ignatius, L3 Mr. Lim Nai Lang, L4 Mr. Joseph Chieng, L5 The late Mr. Abdullah, L6 George, L7 Mr. Amar Mathen, L8 Mr Lopez

Front: L1 Ms. Catherine Ngu, L2 Mrs Ignatius, L3 Mrs Chung, L4 Ms. Wong, L5 Mr Titus, L6 Fr Rottinghuis, L7 Mr. Wong Kwong Soon, L8 Ms. Annette Yip, L7 Mrs. Lee (Teo Mei Mei), L10 The late Mrs. Wong

Source: Ease Chen

Was Sarikei a difficult place to settle into with new cultures, languages, food, etc.? How did you know where to buy spices for your daily fix of Indian food?

Although language posed a bit of a problem, adjusting to life in Sarikei was not so much of a problem as we had expected because we found the people there a very friendly lot - they were pleasant and understanding and always ready to help. More over, there were already a few Indian families settled in Sarikei and their presence and help made us feel quite at home in no time!! As for the spices for our daily cooking: Our Indian friends told us of its avaibility there in a shop run by one Encik Ibrahim, an Indian Muslim settled down there.

Sarikei Central Road view, 1965
Source: Ivan Ignatius

What was Sarikei like when you first arrived?

When we first arrived in 1962, there wasn't much in Sarikei to call it a town by normal standards! Other than the Repok Road, roads were few and hence cars too. There were hourly mini-bus services to just two places - Jakar and Binatang.! A few shop-houses, coffee-shops and restaurants and a couple of banks - the Chartered Bank and the Kwong Lee Bank - lined the far end of Repok Road, and the road parallel to the riverside where there were also the vegetable, fish and meat markets at one end [Bank Road] and the police station at the other [Wharf Road]. The only petrol bunk in the town was near the wharf. To the east of Repok Road were the Sarikei District Council office, District Office, Post office, the basketball stadium, Cathay Theatre and the football padang. Scattered around this area were a few govt. quarters and private houses, most of which were on stilts.

To the west of Repok Road was the Mosque, Abang Haji Matahir School and the Malay kampong .Towards the south, on the Repok road the only noticable buildings were the Methodist church, Public Works Department office, St. Anthony's school and church, the fathers' house and St. Anne's convent and St Clement's Kindergarten school. As you went further up south along the road, there were the Resident's quarters and a small hospital. Beyond it, further far up the road were the Colonial Timber Company (C.T.C.) and Hwa Chew High School. All these were within an area of, say, about one sq. kilometer. That was Sarikei !!

Sarikei St. Anthony's School Staff, 1981
Click to enlarge. Click back arrow to come back.

What was St. Anthony's like in the old days?

The picture on the page next to the front cover of the 9th issue of the "Anthonian" published in 1977 will give you an idea of how St. Anthony's was in the 1960s before its renovation and in the 70s after the renovation. Before the renovation the structure of the front buildings was completely wooden. They were thatched with belian strips. On the left of the middle building was the principal's office and the staff-room. In the attic of the middle building, there were a few boarders staying there.

To the right of this building was a 'tuck-shop'. Between these two was a big water-tank beside which the boarders took bath !! The food for the boarders was cooked and served in her house, by one Mrs. Wong, a widow with four or five children, the eldest of whom, Albert Wong, was one of the best players of the school basketball team. They were staying in a house that stood on stilts in the space where there is a basketball court now, between the two laboratory buildings. Other than Mr. Wong Kwong Soon, the Senior Assistant of the school, Mrs. & Mr. Hii Ing King ( both of them were working in the primary section which was at that time functioning along with
the secondary school in the same building), Mr. Yii Choo Tien, Mr. Teng Pang Yii, the other prominent members of the staff at that time included Mr. Chong Siew Fai, who later became the Chief Justice of Malaysia, and his brother Lawyer Chong Siew Chiang.

Sarikei St. Anthony's School, 1974
School Assembly at the main block facing Repok Road

What was Fr. Rottinghuis like? Was he as fearsome as some students described?

Well, everyone considered him a fierce taskmaster! But, let me tell you one thing. Very few people had the opportunity of knowing Fr. Rottinghuis as closely as Mr. Wong Kwong Soon and I. and I am sure Mr. Wong would surely agree with me when I say that, at heart Fr. Rottinghuis was lamb like !! True, he was a strict disciplinarian and the very sight of him evoked terror in the minds of the students! Though some people referred to him as "TheTiger of the Rejang" - and he loved to hear it !!- he was a very kind and generous person who led a very simple life. In those days he used to go around on a bicycle!! Very few people knew that he personally financed the education of many poor students in St. Anthony's itself and elsewhere - even abroad !!

What are the things you remember most about Sarikei ?

The annual celebration of Chinese New Year, Hari Raya, and Gawai Dayak and the house visits we used to make; the open house, we, the Indian teachers, used to hold during Christmas; the 'makans' at Ah Kow’s restaurant which in those days was known as "Adelphi Hotel"; the spirited basketball competitions between St.Anthony's and Hwa Chew High School; - these are just to name a few of my most memorable experiences in Sarikei.

Sarikei St. Anthony's School, 1974
Back row: L1 Augustine Titus, L5 Pearley Titus
Front row: L3 Ignatius, L4 KA Titus, L5 ? L6 Foong

What happened after you left St. Anthony's School in 1984?

My wife and I returned straight back home to Kerala and I got myself busy with getting a house of our own constructed. We moved into our new house in 1986. By then, my children, Augustine had finished his medicine, was married and was working in St.John’s Medical College., Pearley got married that year and moved to Dubai with her husband and Shirley was still in college in Bangalore.

In the meantime, an old friend of mine, a Jesuit Priest, one Fr. Francis, who was running a private college, knowing that I had returned from Sarikei for good, offered me a teaching post in his college. I accepted it and worked there in the English department as professor for eight years.Then, in 1996, he started another college where he appointed me as Principal, in which capacity I continued for another eight years.Then I became 75 and slowly began to feel that shouldering the burden of responsibilities of the administration of the college and the long hours of tiring work was too much of a strain. So I resigned my job in 2004.

Augustine Titus and family, Xmas 2008

In April 2005 I had to undergo a bypass operation. However, by the great grace of God I recovered soon and I am happy to say that I am still continuing to teach !! On the first of this month, I completed 55 years of teaching and I am grateful to God for this great blessing!! In the course of these years, since 1989 , I have been a member of the faculty of a semi-government institution known as 'Kerala Press Academy', where we are training post-graduate students for diploma courses in Journalism and Communication, and Public Relations and Advertisement. I am handling Communication English for these two batches of students. ( My work at the above mentioned colleges and the Academy were going on side by side! ) In addition, I am taking Spoken English classes - only an hour a week - for a batch of students in a seminary training novices for priesthood. Further more, I am giving free tuition classes for a group of 12 poor school and college going students who are weak in English. This takes only an hour a week.

Pearley Titus (now Pearley Johnson) and family, Xmas 2008

What is retirement life like back in India?

As I have been continuing to teach even after my "retirement" from St. Anthony's, I haven't so far been able to experience a completely retired life in the real sense of the word ! However since my classes at the Academy are only of two hours duration on alternate days every week, my life is very much more leisurely than before. I turned 80 this year ! My wife and I are very fond of gardening and we spend a lot of time in our garden. We also have three dogs who are like our children now !! I am also very involved in our parish activities and I also have a group of my old college friends that meet up regularly !

My son Augustine is settled in Bolton, Manchester . He is a kidney and transplant surgeon and his wife is a radiology consultant Specialist. They have one daughter who has finished her aeronautical engineering and will shortly start working. Pearley, my elder daughter has been in Dubai for the last 23 years. She is a teacher in an international school there and her husband works with Singapore Airlines. They have three children, the eldest of whom, a daughter, has just completed her MBA and the younger two, are doing their engineering. Shirley, our youngest daughter is currently in Visakhapatnam, Andhra Pradesh in India and her husband works with the Taj group of hotels. They have a son and daughter who are 13 and 11 respectively and in grade 8 and 6. They all visit us yearly and at family get togethers, we sit and reminisence about the good old times in Sarikei !!

Shirley Titus (now Shirley Rebello) and family, Xmas 2008

Do you still keep in touch with ex-students and teachers like Mr. Lopez and Mr. Celestine?

As for ex-students, "no", except , if and when I get any mail from a few once in a blue moon ! But with Mr. Lopez and Mr. Celestine, "yes". Mr. Lopez and family have settled down in Hubli, in Karnataka, about two days train journey from Cochin. But he comes to Cochin at least once a year and then we meet. However we regularly speak over the phone. Mr. Celestine was our next door neighbour until last year when he shifted to a new house his son Jason bought, about 5 kms. from here, but we meet quite often.

Any other stories to share about the good old times ?

Yes. There were a few incidents in the memories of which stand vivid in my mind. One of them is the three accidents that happened to my son Augustine, in the course of four months!! The first of these, a near fatal one, occurred right in front of the school where we were putting up an arch to take part in the arches' competition for schools in connection with Malaysian Independence Day celebration. It was Dr. Yap (may his soul rest in peace) who had just returned from Canada after his medical studies, who treated and saved him.

Sarikei St Anthony's school arch over Repok Road, Sep 1973

The second incident is the damage some vandals did to my brand new Volkswagon car. The whole body and all the glasses of were badly scratched and all the four tyres punctured !! Fortunately, as I had taken comprehensive insurance for the car I got it replaced by the company!

Another nearly fatal accident happened to a girl student while some other students were practising discus-throw to take part in the inter-secondary school sports. The discus thrown by a student hit and cracked the skull of the girl, above the forehead . She was air-lifted to Sibu in a helicopter and saved!!

Mr. and Mrs. K.A. Titus, Xmas 2008

Other stories too come up in my mind, but let me cut short ! Of all the memories of the good old times, the very first one is of dear St. Anthony's itself, every inch of which I knew like the palm of my hand !!

The confidence I enjoyed of the management of the school, the warmth, affection, co-operation, understanding, good-will and respect of the staff and students and my superiors in the various departments, the priests of the parish, Mother Angela and Sr. Adriana and their community of nuns and last but not the least, the public of Sarikei – fond memories of all these often flood into my mind and transport me back to Sarikei !! How I wish I were able to re-live those good old days !!


Mr Titus can be contacted via email at

You can also leave comments here. He has been notified of this blog post.

Mrs Titus passed away on 23rd Aug 2012. May her soul rest in peace.

 The Titus family - c1965 in Sarikei and 2011.


Daniel Yiek said...

Now crank up your brain cells and identify the SAS staff in the photos.

1965 staff
Back: L1 Celestine, L2 Teng Pang Yii, L3 Yii Choo Tien, L4 KA Titus, L5 ?, L6 ?, L7?, L8 ?, L9 Jacob Sebastian, L10 ?, L11 Manuel Lopez?, L12 Hii Ing King, L13 ?

Front: L1 Yip Jan Swee, L2 ?, L3 ?, L4 Fr Ronttinghuis, L5 Fr Ahern?, L6 ?, L7 Mother Angela, L8 ?, L9?, L10 Patricia Harry, L11?

1971 staff
Back: L1 Celestine, L2 Ignatius, L3 ?, L4 ?, L5 ?, L6 ?, L7 ?, L8 Manuel Lopez

Front: L1 ?, L2 Mrs Ignatius, L3 Mrs Chung, L4 ?, L5 KA Titus, L6 Fr Ronttinghuis, L7 ?, L8 Yip Foong xxx, L9 Mrs Lee, L10 ?

Nelson said...

what a long interview. it's nice, with photos some more.

Kanga said...

1965 staff photo:
Back:L5-Mr Wong You Din?(taught advanced Chinese), L6-Mr Ken Lees (US PeaceCorp, played awesome basketball for SAS), L7-Mr Antony, L8-Mr Ling Nai Lang (Very good at basket ball, good to have him at SAS than at Hua Chiaw), L9 - Mr. Albert???, L10-Mr Wong Kwon Soon?
Front: L5 - Father Kalmichael?? (he sang gospel songs to us, we tried to teach him Beatles songs!!!)
Comments: I can still remember the first day Mr Titus showed up at school accompanied by Fr. Rottinghuis visiting all the classes. He was in a suit (I forgot what colour it was; dark green or ..??)
The wife of Mr Jacob; was her name Jane Yong??
Encik Ibrahim; was he at No.46 Repok Road? (my favourite candy shop)
Good old times. Thanks to Daniel for getting Mr. Titus to share sweet memories!

Daniel Yiek said...

For Encik Ibrahim, do you mean 36 Repok Rd (not 46) at the corner coffeshop (Ngee Hin) at the current traffic light. On the 1st floor was the maternity ward. At the back was a small spice shop with this old Indian man wearing a sarong and a white Haji cap. His son can speak Hokkien fluently.

Anonymous said...

1971 staff
Front row, L7 is Mr Wong Kwong Soon

stlau said...

Great to get such an extended update of our dear princial Titus. Best wishes to him always!

Andrew said...

I was under Mr. Titus in 1980 for short time before Mr. Gerald Lee took over. I think we were all scared of Mr. Ling the Asst Principal and it seems that he never smile all his life. Ya, when Mr. Titus mentioned of the volkswagon car, most people at that time would relate volkswagon with the few Indian expatriates teachers like Mr. Titus. Not many of those around a classic.

The Devil said...

1981 staffs pic... i can c my dad there, my mum there, aunty dora, aunty mrs chung, aunty felicia, some i remember the face but i fogot their name... only know them as "aunty" hehehehe

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