THERE I was, on the grand stage, face to face with this great man everyone loved, mentally giving my little head a pat.
I glanced a few metres away to my right to see the man I wanted so much to impress, giving his nod of approval.
The son of Tara Singh was being honoured by the Sultan of Kedah Sultan Abdul Halim Mu’adzam Shah himself.
My school, the famous Sekolah Rendah Iskandar, had made all the preparations to greet the Ruler and everyone had been briefed on the protocols involved.
The year was 1979 and the Sultan had obliged to grace my school’s year-end prize-giving ceremony, where those who scored 5As in their Standard Five exams were feted.
The exams, which were then known as Ujian Penilaian, not only “determined” your future, but more importantly for us Kedahans, it decided if you were worthy of a place at the prestigious Sultan Abdul Hamid College (SAHC).
“It’s 5As... or you can only dream of going to College (as SAHC was commonly known).”
These words had been drummed into me my entire primary school life.
However, I believe the family was more excited that the Sultan was there in person, more than me having aced the exams.
As I set to put my best foot forward in my euphoria, the protocols I was convinced were etched in my memory thanks to the endless rehearsals, chose to suddenly abandon me.
All I remembered was that I had to do something with my hands.
I didn’t know why the hall erupted into laughter, and my dad turning blue, as I clasped my hands to my chest and bobbled my head. The sense that I must have screwed up quickly crept in.
As I looked up to the King with my hands outstretched, I know that everything was going to be alright. My Tuanku’s eyes were sparkling with the kindest look and, at the same time, he wore the most sympathetic look on his face.
Immediately, I was awash with this nothing-else-mattered feeling, when he wished me a bright future ahead and tapped me on my head just to make sure I didn’t beat myself up too hard.
That was my first encounter with my Sultan, Sultan Abdul Halim Mu’adzam Shah.
Like most who who grew up in Alor Star, Tuanku Abdul Halim to us was an integral part of the people’s lives.
The celebrations that were held in conjunction with the Sultan’s birthday at the riverfront of Sungai Kedah, and cuts through the town centre, was an annual affair marked out on the calendar of most households.
Thousands would gather to take part and watch the parades but the highlight, without fail, would be the part when the Sultan, who never failed to join his people, mingle with his subjects.
This would not be the only occasion for the people of Kedah to get up close with their Sultan. Not many outside of Kedah knew that the grounds of Istana Anak Bukit, where he lived, used to be accessible to the people.
Those familiar with the palace grounds those days would remember fondly how they could walk in and out of the grounds with a little more than a salute and handshake.
Years on, I crossed paths with the Sultan again, thanks to the love we share for football and the fact that we were both ardent supporters of the “Sang Kenari” Hijau-Kuning football team.
I had assigned myself to cover the football league games at Stadium Darulaman and, like the Sultan, I was caught in the traffic snarl.
I decided to abandon my car and was hurrying my steps when I realised that on his foot was the Sultan himself, who was in the exact predicament as I was.
What ensued next was a one-kilometre, highly restrained march to the stadium that he had inadvertently led.
The thought of how much the people of Kedah loved their Sultan immediately struck me.
The same thought struck me again in 2011 when I read how 30,000 people had gathered by the roads leading to the Alor Setar airport to send off, as he assumed for the second time the throne of the Yang di-Pertuan Agong.
Kedahans, along with the rest of the country, mourn the loss of their beloved Sultan, a ruler with the commoner's heart.
Rest in peace, my beloved Sultan.
Sharanjit Singh, an ex-‘College’ boy, is a proud, true-blue Kedahan and NST news editor