Ms Leela Unnithan at 82 in 2021.

By Dato Professor Emeritus Dr Hashim Yaacob

IN JANUARY 1960, at 10 years old, I arrived at the Sultan Yahya Petra Primary School in Kuala Krai, Kelantan to begin schooling in Special Malay 1 class. I remember very well the late Mr Adham Hamid and Mr Wyatt who were the class teacher and headmaster respectively. Coming from a Malay school into an English one was not easy for me. But the teachers of old time were experts in instilling into their pupils the will and interest to learn. So, we plugged on and met variable success in our later lives.

One of the teachers whom we will always remember is Ms Leela Unnithan who hailed from the Malayan Teachers Training College Kirkby in Liverpool, England. She spent three years of her life acquiring knowledge in education at the college from 1956 until 1958.

Ms Leela Unnithan posing before her sports car in front of the Teachers Quarters ( Kuala Krai, Kelantan, 1961)

Many students in Kuala Krai thought that she was the most beautiful and charming lady in town. She taught English, Art and Craft, and Physical Education in the primary school. Subsequently, as she moved on to the secondary school in 1962, we too followed suit. Here she again taught English, Art and Craft and History with distinction. We enjoyed attending her class, listening to and looking at her. We were teenagers growing up into adults then.

Suddenly in 1965, Ms Leela bade us goodbye to further her career at the Specialist Teachers Training Institute in Kuala Lumpur, at the end of which she was posted to Perak Girls High School Ipoh and subsequently to Sekolah Menengah Sultan Abdul Samad, Klang. She retired from school teaching in 1993. We lost track of her since then, only to meet again in 2013 at the meeting with a number of former students of the Sultan Yahya Petra School. I was 64 then, and have retired from the service of the University of Malaya.

The teaching staff of the Sultan Yahya Petra Primary School, Kuala Krai in 1960. Ms Leela Unnithan is seated at extreme left, and her sister, Ms Dolly Unnithan fourth from the left.
Ms Leela Unnithan presenting her book on her experiences in Kirkby and Kuala Krai to her ex-student, Dato Prof Emeritus Dr Hashim Yaacob (Kuala Lumpur, 2013).
Ms Leela Unnithan posing before her sports car in front of the Teachers Quarters ( Kuala Krai, Kelantan, 1961)
Ms Leela Unnithan with standard five students at the Sultan Yahya Petra in 1960.

Ms Leela painted and wrote poems in her leisure time. Her poems are reminiscent of the time when poetry occupied the central stage in Europe. It is a pleasure reading them, two of which are presented below:


Sometimes sad thoughts come to plaque me so,
Why do they creep stealthily into me?
My mind, my eyes, I close to let them go,
And let me sleep quietly and deeply.

I lie still, a silent prayer I say,
To take away the unwelcome thoughts,
So hard I try to keep them at bay,
Till sleep comes to release the knots.

Peacefully I drift into slumberland,
A prayer I whisper for an angel to come,
To watch over me, be near at hand,
To keep me safe and feel the calm.

By: Leela Unnithan



I walked around happily one sunny day,
Along the roads near where I stay,
So happy was I, I wanted to dance and skip,
I couldn’t of course, but my heart did.

A friend’s house I passed, she wasn’t in,
A good friend she is, we have a close link.
I crossed the road and walked to my right,
Blooming flowers I see, a beautiful sight.

Then I walked across a green green field,
Saw a friend, a lady of slim build,
She sees me and waves so joyfully,
The best garden she has in all its beauty.

Such a lovely walk had I that day.
As I slowly strolled along the way,
Peace of mind, my heart did fly,
Free as birds up above, so blessed was I.

By: Leela Unnithan


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