Lat Nostalgia

Our collection of Lat comic books!
I’ve heard so much about the three park attractions in the Puteri Harbour Family Theme Park in Nusajaya that when I received the assignment to go there, I jumped at the opportunity.  I’m proud that Sanrio Hello Kitty Town and the Little Big Club are popular with families but I’m particularly thrilled that Lat’s Place, a unique themed restaurant and a first of its kind, has opened in Johor Baru.  That’s because I’m a fan of Lat and his colourful characters ever since I started reading his cartoons in the New Straits Times back in the 1970s.

Unlike other young newspaper readers, I did not go straight to the comic pages whenever I open the newspapers.  Yes, I’m familiar with the antics of Nancy, Dagwood and Blondie and Charlie Brown and friends in Peanuts but they did not possess a magnetic attraction for me.  When Lat cartoons started appearing weekly in the New Straits Times, I used to zero in on it probably because even at that time, I could relate to the nostalgia and humour that Lat captured so vividly in his crazy illustrations.


In our family, it was often a race to be the first to read the Lat cartoon and tell the others about it.  In those days it was common to keep newspapers clips and when my dad started us on collecting the Lat cartoons, it was like a regular ritual to cut out the cartoon strip and paste it in a large F4 size hardcover book.  Sometimes when I turned to the page in the newspapers for Lat’s cartoon, I was greeted by a gaping hole because someone had already cut it out!

Needless to say, dad and my brother are also fans of Lat and we used to enjoy discussing the colourful characters and laugh about them.  One of my brother’s favourite characters is Ricky, a Chinese boy on a wheelchair that Lat encountered when he was admitted to hospital.  Ricky is the classic annoying pest who’s just too friendly and inflicting himself on other patients, asking them to play cards or games, while all the patients wanted to do was to rest.  This is just one example of how perceptive Lat is in his observations because there are such people in any hospital.


Lat cartoons were also a source of cross-cultural education for me because I learnt a great deal about different people, particularly the Malay, Indian and Punjabi cultures.  Another unforgettable character is Surinder, a Punjabi girl who was being trained in the kitchen so that she would be a good traditional wife.  I can still recall how it tickled my brother and I to see Lat’s illustration of the hapless Surinder with an unsuccessful solid disc of chapatti that was balanced like a plate on her upward pointed finger!

Some of Lat’s cartoons reflect an obvious influence of P. Ramlee movies as can be seen from his dramatic ‘60s-themed story of a wayward husband, trying to get the first wife’s permission to marry a second wife.  The distraught and overweight first wife took a girlfriend’s advice to go for a total makeover and emerged with a Saloma-esque figure.  When the husband had plucked up his courage to demand for her permission, he was so taken aback by her voluptuous figure that he shelved the idea and stayed with her instead!

A picture truly tells a thousand words and Lat effectively used his drawings to tell his stories and add his brand of humour even to historical events.  His cartoons are often presented in a single frame while his standard cartoon strip format has a series of small frames with the punch-line delivered in the final frame.  And with the perfect blend and accuracy in his words and illustrations, it takes only a few tongue-in-cheek, well-chosen words inside a tiny dialogue bubble, to crack me up!


Take for instance the history of the Larut Wars in the 1800s where the Ghee Hin and Hai San clans had bloody clashes and nobody seemed to be able to bring the war to an end.  In his comic strip, Lat drew dramatic scenes of Chinese kung fu fighters in various fierce pugilistic stances with some lying on the ground to depict fallen fighters.  In the background, a group of Malays representing Ngah Ibrahim and his men looked on helplessly and the subtle words in a small dialogue bubble read, “Jangan gadoh la tokey!” 


One of my personal favourites must be the Police story about Inspector Muniandy and the melodramatic tale of his reunion with long-lost twin brother, Ravi – the villain.  The storyline is clearly predictable but in the first of the series of comic strips, just as Inspector Muniandy was about to leave for the crime scene, he makes another phone call.  Lat’s illustration of the crisp uniform against his skinny legs – they wore shorts then – on his classic MGR/Sivaji Ganesan look-alike hero, gave the impression that it was serious business but in the little dialogue bubble, Inspector Muniandy said, “Hello, cancel the tosey.”

My interesting dining experience at Lat’s Place evoked nostalgic thoughts of Lat and I was determined to dig out our Lat comic books and re-read them.  I was pleasantly surprised to discover a stack of Lat cartoon books in our cupboard and when I met Ricky and other familiar friends again, I had an attack of irrepressible giggles. 

As I wiped away tears of laughter, I marveled at the wit of Dato’ Mohd Nor Khalid or Dato’ Lat – the Kampung Boy - and his ability to laugh at himself and our Malaysian ways.  His unique brand of humour is a common thread that binds us together and it’s an eye-opener for us to look for ways to unite ourselves with humour and humility.

A version of this article was published in The New Straits Times, Johor Streets on 2 April 2013

1 comment:

  1. Anonymous5/26/2013

    An ex colleague of mine lived on the same street as Lat!
    Not surprisingly he too was a Lat fan
    especially as he could recognize some faces featured in Lat's cartoons.... they were their neighbors, the uncles and aunties on the same street!

    ReplyDelete