Even at 2:00 am, traffic coming in and out of the Subang Jaya toll plaza is still heavy enough, I should think, to keep the concession-holders happy. The street lights of Kelana Jaya are still ablaze with their orangey yellow lights, which I trust, will deter the bad guys from breaking into my beat-up old Proton parked illegally five storeys below. The mosquitoes are still intent, it would seem, on driving me insane by continuing their incessant strafing runs at my ear. And a packet of Winstons still cost RM7.50 at the local 7-Eleven when I went out to get some earlier on. In other words, things are pretty much the same as they were yesterday.
Come 7:45 am, while I am still dead asleep, the traffic police will come around merrily to slap another parking ticket on my windshield. When I turn on the news, the presenters will be waxing lyrical about several new Government initiatives that will (arguably) improve the lot of the rakyat (why can’t we just use the word ‘people’ when we are writing in English?) Should I hook-up to the internet later on, I will trip all over myself on bloggers who will be screaming ‘Foul!’ at some Government cock-up or other. Teresa Kok, RPK and the journalist (forgot the name) will still be detained (fairly or otherwise) under the ISA. And, I suspect, a packet of Winstons will still cost RM7.50 at the local 7-Eleven. In other words, things will still be the same tomorrow as they are today.
Though, through my simplistic, unschooled and irreverently apolitical (apathetic?) eyes, nothing has changed (or will likely change), I cannot ignore the undercurrent of fear, uncertainty and despair sweeping the country: a murmur so deafening in its quietude that it rings loud and clear even in the very air that I breathe. But when I shake my head to clear the cobwebs, I find that the sun is still shining, the world hasn’t gotten any smaller and Winstons still cost RM7.50 at the local 7-Eleven.
What’s more, I don’t think my Chinese neighbour, Chee Kiong, is going to ambush me at the lift lobby of my apartment and gore me with his twin dragon hook-swords or bludgeon me to death with his three-sectional staff. I, on the other hand, most certainly am not secretly sharpening my ‘keris’ in anticipation of bathing it in Chinese blood. Heck! I don’t even own a ‘keris’. Further, I am not even alarmed that the PM (allegedly) seems to enjoy his frequent naps (this, after all may be a good thing) and that his deputy likes beautiful, exotic women (who doesn’t?). Similarly, I am not even fazed by the fact that Anwar Ibrahim, from a certain angle, bears a striking resemblance to caricatures of the Devil – if you erase the horns (from the caricature, not Anwar).
At times like these, I am reminded of the phenomenon of ‘latah’; an affliction that historically, is supposed to be exclusive to the Malays. Could it be possible that the undercurrent I spoke of earlier is nothing but a case of ‘mass-latah’? I cannot totally discount this possibility. If it is, it is pretty evident that it is manifesting itself equally in the powers-that-be as well as in a healthy cross-section of the community (non-Malays included).
The trick is, if you just let the ‘latah’ episode die down, and be careful not aggravate the afflicted even more, the excitement will usually fizzle out; and we will be able to carry on with our lives. But sometimes, perhaps out of a morbid affinity for the sensational, we just can’t help ourselves but to prod the afflicted even more, thereby inducing an even more intense ‘latah’ episode. Haven’t we all done this before?
But more importantly, are we still doing it now?
My question is: Can we all stop this ‘melatah’ nonsense, and at the same time, stop ourselves from inducing it in others – even if we perceive them to be our moral enemies? Things aren’t that bad – yet. Of course there is room for improvement; there always is. But how are we going to improve things if a vast majority of the people (I still refuse to use the word ‘rakyat’ when I am writing in English) and the Government, is either preoccupied in their own ‘latah’ episodes, or are trying their best to induce it upon each other from breakfast to glory?
In a moment (before Imsak, hopefully) I will be off to the local 7-Eleven to get my RM7.50 packet of Winstons. Along the way, I will keep reminding myself of Atticus Finch’s immortal words: It is not time to worry yet.
But if we stand together, rational and strong, we may never need to.