When Ainul Azam mooted this project in 2013, he suggested “I Wuz ‘Ere” as a working title for the book. I am quite sure now his choice of words was deliberate because even then, everyone in the pro-tem committee accepted the proposal without debate. As the book materialised, the concept and content of the book naturally evolved around this ubiquitous graffiti scribbling. Now the official title of our publication, we cannot imagine any other title fit for the task.
Ainul’s interpretation of what I Wuz ‘Ere means is found in the prologue. To me, it’s representative of growing up in the 80s. This was a period when there was no digital forum or social media for teens to declare their existence and express their angst. The toilet walls were just as interesting to read as Facebook timelines. [Insert nickname] wuz ‘ere appeared to be the most popular slogan.
As I recall, there are at least 2 references to toilet graffiti in the book. In Lamjah Juka’s article, he still ponders the significance of a piece of graffiti which says, “Mum, why are you always against dad?” (which I suspect must be have been authored by a Set S student). Don, on the other hand lists down the graffiti signatures (Fu Sheng, Lan Mokhtar and Jai Toert) found everywhere in school, further immortalising the personalities long after the cleaners have wiped their sobriquets off the walls. I was pleasantly surprised recently to find out that this Fu Sheng fellow is somebody known to me and am on friendly terms with. His mark (made with soot stain) was starkly visible on the Blue House balcony for the first 6 months of 1982 although he left the previous year.
On a related note, it is opportune to explain how the I Wuz ‘Ere graphic adorned the book cover. As the publication date grew near, the editors organised an I Wuz ‘Ere graffiti writing competition where the entrants drew their version of the graffiti (digitally or on hard paper) and sent it to us. The best design was to have the honour of being featured as part of the book cover.
Our Art Director, Zahir selected Jie’s design. The rest of the designs which didn’t make the book cover were still featured in other parts of the book. Jie explained that this graffiti design was the exact same one he used in school. He couldn’t remember all the places which had the honour of being tagged by him but he could distinctly recall that the ceiling fan in the White House common room was decorated with his mark. That’s unfair advantage if you ask me because Jie had more than 30 years’ head start to perfect his design.
Ainul Azam in the prologue jokingly said that as a copyright and trade mark practitioner, he would love to file a claim over the words I Wuz ‘Ere. He recently told me he did. So if anybody is thinking of naming their batch memoir I Wuz ‘Ere Too or such like, you have been given notice.