Why are Lat cartoons so popular?
I’ve put some thought into it, so listen up. They allow us to believe that our country is more than the sum of its parts, deserving to be seen through a mist of bittersweet nostalgia and hope, the way we think it ought to be viewed.
That was Lat’s special genius. His Malaysia had an innocent quality about it, a halcyon time when Mat, Ah Chong and Muthu were, indeed, besties; P Ramlee, cendol and Walls cones from the ice cream man’s motorcycle on a hot Sunday.
People like me, a child of the sixties, can easily relate to Lat because there really was an innocence about the time. I remember taking a bus from Rembau, really a village then, to Seremban in, I think, 1969, and there was a mother nursing her baby as if it was the most natural thing to do on a bus. No one gawked or seemed to think anything of it, so it probably was.
I wonder if Malaysian millennials can relate to Lat? I hope so but who knows? When you have parties like the Islamic Party which deems immorality as the morality of anyone having a better time, you tend to have your doubts.
Back then, there seemed to be none. My classmates used to come to my house on Deepavali when my mother would invariably cook mutton curry. No one – most were Malays – would even think of asking my mother if the meat was halal. It probably wasn’t but it would have been the height of rudeness to ask.
Not anymore. Now it’s considered positively de rigueur to ask upfront.
Certainly, we were far more innocent then. I remember holding hands with a male classmate every time we had to march back to our respective classrooms after Assembly. This went on even when we were in the Sixth Form but no one, least of all, my classmates, thought it was strange or bad form for men to behave thus.
Actually, one suspects that it would only have been derided in Western societies. Not so much in Asian ones, methinks.
But even in Western societies, a lot of things can assume darker and less innocent, connotations because of 21st Century mores amid a newly resurgent, and tiresome, political correctness.
It was the Beatles, for example, who kicked off a global hit in the 60s with these lines: “She was just seventeen/ You know what I mean.”
No, we don’t Sir Paul. What do you mean?
It might have been worse for Ringo Starr whose 70s song was also written by Sir Paul:
You come on like a dream/
Peaches and cream/ Lips like strawberry wine/
You’re sixteen/ You’re beautiful/
And you’re mine.
The song was titled You’re Sixteen and it went on to become a hit, even here in Malaysia. And no one thought it might excite your average pedophile anywhere.
I suppose the moral here is that things change and nothing’s ever written in stone. Take manners which you might think were written in stone.
We are repeatedly told you display good manners at the dining table by the noise you don’t make when eating soup.
But that would be rude in Japan, where it is both courteous and mannerly to show appreciation for the soup by slurping it.