Malaysian News : General

Malaysian News : General

October 10 , 2002 12:30PM

Paul Whizzes To Cambridge

From Wan A Hulaimi

LONDON, Oct 10 (Bernama) -- Now that young Malaysian maths prodigy Paul Nicholas has reached the ivory tower of his dreams at Cambridge university, he is looking even further than the willowy banks of the famous river of his university town.

"I'd maybe like to go back to Malaysia to contribute to the country like my grandfather did in his day," he said.

Grandfather Bastinapillai Paul Nicholas arrived in Malaysia in 1892, started life as an accountant, then rose to the pinnacle of his career as the first non-European founder of a local bank.

The Bank of Malaya Ltd - better known by its sobriquet of Nicholas Bank - was a dream fulfilled for this Sri Lankan emigri who came with a burning desire to build and contribute to the country of his adoption.

Now grandson Paul, though a thoroughbred child of South London, also sees his fulfilment in the Malaysia that his father Anton left in 1973 for a course in banking and finance.

The wheel looks set to turn full circle for the Nicholases - grandfather Paul's journey from Sri Lanka to the then Malaya, father Anton's coming to London, and now Paul junior's aspiration to go back home.

Now still only 17, Paul is already on the road to a brilliant career. He is now a scholarship student at Christ's College, Cambridge, where he will be studying pure and applied mathematics.

In his A-Level exams Paul scored 5 As in Maths, Further Maths and Additional Further Maths, Physics and Chemistry, and another A for AS Level French.

Sitting in the settee of his family home Paul exudes politeness and the quiet confidence of someone who is totally on top of the situation. 

"For the A-Level I had to read up a lot, even about the history of mathematics for the Cambridge university interview," adds Paul.

As most top students in this country have shown again and again, brilliant results are a family effort. Saida and Anton Nicholas, as devout Christians, had been praying of course for their son's success, but Anton had also clocked much quality time to guide his son's course in education.

"My dad used to coach me in maths and English right from the start," says Paul, nodding at father Anton holding a photograph album and a clipping from the local paper.

In the cutting, young Paul is smiling down benignly at the camera over the headline, in bold sans serif type: "Paul's A-OK" in which he is also described as "a super talented Peckham teenager".

In 2001 Paul entered the United Kingdom Senior Mathematical Challenge, a jumping hoop for the country's top student mathematical performers where aspirants are tested for mathematical reasoning, precision of thought and fluency in basic mathematical techniques to solve non-standard problems.

He won the Gold Certificate for the top six per cent of the candidates.

The year before that he walked away with a Certificate of Distinction in a nationwide maths challenge thrown open to only 600 candidates, by invitation.

That was also the year when he capped his successes with GCSE results that twinkled ever so brightly in his academic firmament. He came home to his home tutor-father with 10 A stars, and one A in Greek in his tally of records. The stars - the highest grade in the GCSE exams - were for Mathematics, Biology, Chemistry, Physics, Spanish, Latin, French, History, English, English Literature and Greek.

So he has a flair for languages and a penchant for mathematics, but how does his mind work? Does he, in his brain, work up things in measurements, and calculate the speed of things just as writers construct interminable sentences in that space between the ears? "I'd sometimes calculate speed in my head, I do look at things mathematically. Take a theorem; I'd often go behind it to see how it works," he explains.

With mother Saida, an Asian of East African origin, and father Anton from the distinguished Nicholas family of Klang, Paul feels a strong affinity with his father's side of the divide, and it is possible he will eventually return to Malaysia to continue where grandfather Paul had left off, to serve the country and to raise an awareness of mathematics, a subject that to him is both challenging and stimulating.

"I still regard myself as part Malaysian. When I go back to Malaysia I quite enjoy it, the people are so friendly," says Paul.


        Please do return to

Do visit the Daily Readings Section at

These pages are updated regularly.