When I reread it recently, those parts finally made sense.
The 80s I remember from the movies and TV dramas is filled with young people from the kampung trying to make it in the big city. Kuala Lumpur, in particular. Mat Som is no different. He left his idyllic kampung in Perak for shot at becoming a reporter at a big name newspaper company.
There comes a stage in life when a man must make something out of himself. Basically, to stop leeching off the parents and to stand on one's own feet. And be a good Muslim, of course. Mat Som finds that stage to be his present. And so do I.
Often times "making it" means "get ready for a rough start." Without a permanent job, Mat Som makes his way by sending in pieces and waiting for the cheque to clear at the end of month. If that doesn't happen soon enough then it's a trip to the pawnshop. Out of kindness, his childhood friend So'ud's lets him crash at his rented setinggan house. In short, nothing to write home about.
Until home writes to him.
Like thunder on a clear afternoon, his father tells him to consider marrying Wan Faridah, the daughter of his close friend. They grew up together but Mat Som's memories of her isn't exactly fond. Meanwhile, his attention seems to be diverted towards Yam, a girl in his neighbourhood, for reasons he himself couldn't quite fathom. He keeps running into Yam but his conversations with her remains one sided and in his head only.
Mat Som was adapted into a movie by Hatta Azad Khan, with Imuda as the lead and Tiara Jacquelina, in probably her first major role, as Yam. I can't think of anyone else who could do justice to the character other than Imuda, although I did picture Mat Som more as a short dude and reasonably well-dressed as depicted in drawing by Lat. Imuda is not just an actor; he's done plays, drew cartoons for Gila-Gila and Dewan Pelajar, and is also a painter.
Mat Som is more than a comic; it's a testament of Lat's love for the arts. If you know your sasterawan and seniman, you'll be thrilled to see people such as Pyan Habib, Usman Awang (Tongkat Warrant), T Alias Taib and Ramli Sarip making their camoes appearances, either drawn or mentioned or both. There's even a funny scene between Mat Som and Lat's former boss, legendary editor and novelist A. Samad Ismail, which tempted me to conclude that Mat Som is semi-autobiographical, a recollection of his earlier days as a reporter at the New Strait Times.
Mat Som shaped my thoughts about how life as an adult would look like and I believe am now a better adult because of it. It's a real shame that Mat Som is not widely known or not widely read as Kampung Boy. Another shame is the sloppy design work done on the English translation. I would love to see Lat and the publisher redesign the English version (the one with the blue background on the cover) and for Lat to draw more stuff like this.