Let’s strive to
be Lat’s Malaysia again
Taken from The Star - Letters to the Editor
REMEMBER Datuk Lat’s comical and hilarious depiction of Malaysian life? When was the last time you laughed at the multi-racial characters that he portrayed?
The Chinese schoolteacher with butterfly-rimmed glasses, Punjabi security guard, the oversized Malay housewife and her puny husband, the Indian shopkeeper, the mamak roti canai seller?
The assorted characters from the bus driver to the Prime Minister? Was it quite some time ago that you were amused because the characters resembled many people around you?
If you are scratching your head trying to recall the last occasion you laughed, let me tell you why. Something has gone wrong with our psyche, the Malaysian psyche. We seem to have lost the ability to laugh at ourselves. We seem to have become highly-strung, sensitive, paranoid even.
And all this seems to coincide with the heightened racial tensions that we are apparently going through. I don’t know about you but for me if it is true that we are getting polarised, I will feel ashamed, utterly ashamed.
I will feel guilty too because we are being irresponsible to the future generations. Do you think they will thank us for bequeathing upon them a legacy of disunity and polarisation? Of a country unified in name only? Of a society that operates on differences, not similarities?
It is a big shame, really, for not too long ago, we were like Lat’s Malaysia.
I know my childhood schooldays were such. Those days of playful abandon and childhood innocence with my best friends, Siva and Swee Cheong. Of blissful times roaming the rubber estates in my hometown of Teluk Intan.
The days of great discovery in school under strict but wonderful teachers who, incidentally for me, were mostly non-Malays.
The portly headmaster, Mr Hari Singh, was feared but knew how to make us laugh with funny remarks during his address at the weekly assembly. He was ably assisted by Mrs Maniam who, despite her matronly disposition, just needed to stare at us when we were mischievous.
My class teachers, Ms Santhaletchumi, Mrs Ng, Mr Pua and Mr Yu were utterly dedicated and professional. To be sure, they were strict disciplinarians and some of their methods of punishment may be called torture by today’s teaching standards. But they were effective educationists to whom I shall forever owe a debt of gratitude.
The point is that never once did I feel discriminated against by any of them. On the contrary, I know they sacrificed time and money to see me and the other students succeed. Mr Yu, for example, used to buy nasi lemak and tea for the top student in the monthly Maths test.
Naturally, yours truly won the coveted prize many times, the additional honour being to enjoy the treat in the privacy of the sports storeroom.
Why reward a student with nasi lemak and tea in the storeroom, you may ask? Mr Yu, you see, was also our hockey master. Did you think he was buying nasi lemak and tea because he actually thought I might be the next Einstein? I also had to polish the hockey sticks and hockey balls!
Granted, childhood nostalgia may have put a gloss on the realities of Malaysian life back then. I am not saying the country was perfect socio-economically or otherwise. Of course, there were imbalances and inequalities which could cause social and political tensions and therefore had to be addressed.
But the multi-racial orientation of Malaysian life was very pronounced in all spheres, which made for a more colourful, interesting and vibrant nation. Not to mention a stronger nation, harnessing the full potential, talents and calibre of all its citizenry.
Undeniably, much has changed since our founding fathers left us this cultural melting pot of a country called Malaysia.
Question is, in our hearts and minds, are we as a people celebrating our diversity like we used to? Do we see multi-racial pop groups, sports teams, school administrators, government officials and security forces like we used to?
Oh, how I wish Malaysian life was colourful and interesting again. Easygoing, laidback, unassuming, charming, original again. Inclusive and inspiring again. I say let’s be Lat’s Malaysia again.
DATUK ZULKIFLI ALWI,