When Lat drew his 1960s childhood house in his beloved graphic novel The Kampung Boy, little did readers imagine that they could one day visit it.
Not the actual house in Batu Gajah, Perak, of course – that’s long gone. But a reconstructed version located some 30 minutes from the village Lat grew up in is in the works and is tentatively scheduled to be opened to the public at the end of the year.
When it opens, Rumah Lat Dan Galeri, located on the outskirts of Ipoh, will offer a glimpse into the life of renowned Malaysian cartoonist Datuk Mohammad Nor Khalid, better known as Lat.
There will be furniture dating back to the pre-World War II era as well as various odds and ends, including pots, pans, vases and other household items from Lat’s childhood.
“They were collected from various family members and myself. I must say that these old furniture can really stand the test of time!
“As we grow older, there will come a day where we will not be able to care for them any longer, so I am very happy that they are being put to good use now, ” says Lat, 69.
He shares that the kampung house he grew up in was hardly extraordinary and was just a regular traditional house of those times.
Even today, some of these old houses can still be seen, especially in the smaller towns or villages.
“But they are on private property, so it is not like you can knock on the door and say you want to look at the house. We also don’t know how long they will be left standing.
“When Rumah Lat opens, it will give people an opportunity to take a closer look at the architecture. It is also a project close to my heart because when I am in Rumah Lat,
I feel like I am in my old house again.
“The one difference is that the walls are shining now because I want a visit to Rumah Lat to be a real treat for visitors, ” he added.
Rumah Lat Dan Galeri will offer visitors a look at Lat’s artistic journey as well.
The gallery in particular will feature a selection of his works dating back to 1964.
In so many ways, Lat is considered the first Malaysian cartoonist to transcend racial barriers in terms of how he vividly and humorously portrays the complex multi-cultural and societal realities that define modern-day Malaysia.
The Kampung Boy, which was published in 1979, remains the most descriptive and evocative depiction of a rural Malay childhood in any creative medium.
Through Lat’s drawings of his childhood memories, Malaysians and the rest of the world were transported to this wonderful village filled with colourful characters and scenes.
Lat recalls how he started drawing at a young age and stuck with it because he was encouraged by the people around him.
“If not for the encouragement from my family, friends and teachers, I don’t know where I would be today, ” he said.
Lat’s memories of his childhood house might be six decades old, but he remembers it as if it were yesterday.
He reminisces about his carefree childhood days, where he and his friends would play in the river and climb trees.
“You could always find us perched on somebody’s rambutan tree – or any fruit trees, really. My friends were my everything then; when I was told that I had to move, I remember feeling very sad that I had to leave them, ” he says.
Just like the house Lat grew up in and those carefree childhood days, the Malaysia of those days is now long gone.
In 1980, he published The Town Boy, which followed his student years in Ipoh staying in a school hostel.
This graphic novel is where Lat grew into his own as a true Malaysian artist, depicting his new multi-racial environment in Ipoh town, befriending Frankie, a Chinese boy, and hanging out with a group of school friends from various races.
The Town Boy offers readers the first truly Malaysian graphic novel about multi-racial teenage life, with humour and hijinks abound.
But Lat believes that there are some good things about ordinary Malaysians that never change.
“We hold our values close to our hearts, the same values that our parents or grandparents imparted to us.
“There will be a point in life where you might think it is kolot (conservative) or old-fashioned... and that you want to break away from tradition and do things your way.
“But in the end, you will realise that everyone carries this deep within themselves and it is up to you to decide what to do with it, ” he concludes.