A Bit of Gleeful Lat in the Heart of Kuala Lumpur

Jeff Yong writes again…..

As someone who had grown up with Lat’s cartoons, I was pleasantly surprised recently to learn that 22 of his lovable cartoon characters had been reproduced into “sculptures” or figurines for display in the heart of Kuala Lumpur.

Call me Johnny-Come-Lately, I had somewhat missed the announcement on the placement of the figurines in 2016 along three roads – Jalan Melaka, Jalan Gereja and Jalan Raja Chulan – known collectively as Kuala Lumpur Heritage Trail 2. It was a project between Kuala Lumpur City Hall and famed cartoonist Dato Mohd Nor Khalid or better known as Lat.   

I had gone to the heart of the city for some official business and was stumped by the lovely sight of some Lat figurines at Jalan Melaka, once a busy taxi-stand in the 1960s and 1970s, which is a stone’s throw from the Masjid Jamek LRT station.

Lat, who had expressed his gratitude to the authorities for recognising his artwork, said Kuala Lumpur was where he started out his career in 1970 initially as a reporter and it was also the same city in which he eventually became famous as a cartoonist.

Besides the cute figurines at Jalan Melaka, what’s also interesting there is a giant sepak takraw ball in front of Bank Muamalat, which used to be the majestic headquarters of the then Bank Bumiputra with its attractive rust-coloured marble steps and slabs.

I was also relieved by the presence of beautiful trees not usually seen elsewhere in KL that provide much-needed shade along the busy pedestrian walkways and streets amidst the concrete jungle. It’s said these trees actually gave the state of Melaka its name!

Legend has that the founder of Melaka, a once Hindu prince known as Parameswara before he became Sultan Iskandar Shah, had come from Singapore and decided to name the place Melaka when he saw an interesting sight: a mouse deer had kicked one of his dogs when he was resting under a Melaka tree. He decided to name his sultanate Melaka!

Known by its scientific name of phyllanthus emblica, the Melaka tree is also recognised as Indian gooseberry or amla. It’s said that the gooseberry when dried and turned into powdered form is well-regarded by some communities for its medicinal properties. Some claim it’s effective for treating hair loss. Its properties are found in Ayurvedic and traditional treatments in India, and some say its usefulness is also being tested for treating diabetes and cancer.  Tannin from the tree is also used for dyeing, treating leather and also as an ingredient during the process of making blades from Damascus steel.