Lato-lato not new, neither are calls to ban them

We played this thing called lato-lato back in the mid-70s.

Only, it wasn’t known as lato-lato back then. We called it bolas – because of its resemblance to the three-balled, South American hunting tool. And bola, because of the two clackety balls – bola, in Bahasa Melayu.

Our bolas had two balls suspended on strings of equal lengths, and a disc at the other end to serve as a holder. You just swung the balls so that they banged into each other with a loud clack, aiming for the balls to slam into each other at their tether’s end – at the six and twelve o’clock positions – if you are doing it vertically.

A bragging right of mastery is to have the balls hit each other and clack as fast as possible. The other bragging right is to be able to clack the balls at any position, above the head, and even between the legs. But to miss it in trying the latter, you will receive a painful reminder of your own foolishness, should one of the balls, or both, slap your wrists – or the other.

Yes, it is a foolish plaything – much like the fidget spinners – when you really had nothing on your hands. Only the foolhardy of children, usually boys, would have a go at the bolas – or lato-lato, as you now call them.

Back then, adults never paid much attention to the clacking of the balls, although some did enjoy a ‘second childhood’ doing this silly stuff. Some parents may whip out a cane if their children played so much that they forgot about homework. But we never banned it – nor did anyone call for one, as far as I can remember.

In fact, the calls for bans on almost anything came much later in the 70s or early 80s, when self-appointed guardians of public safety and morality started clamouring for relevance.

It started with breakdancing, if I am not wrong. The dance that took the world by storm arrived on our shores, thanks to the television.

Teenage kids and younger adults began to take to the sidewalks to do the flare, shoulder swipes, and freeze. And that caused concern among some parents who began writing Letters to Editors. Calls for a ban on breakdancing came fast and furious. But it didn’t happen.

Except for the schools, breakdancing was never banned.

After school hours, or when teachers were not looking, groups of students would challenge each other to see who could writhe better like a beached whale, or spin on their backs the fastest on the cement floor. I don’t recall any mishaps that caused further public outcry against breakdancing – it just died on its own when ‘ET’ the movie came, I think.

And who could forget ‘ET’ and the infamous BMX bike craze that came fast on its heels? Young adults could be seen doing wheelies, jumps, and other stunts on their BMX bicycles, besides racing at abandoned tin mines, because falls were less serious on the sand.

Again, in hot pursuit were the usual suspects, writing Letters to Editors, calling for a ban. That didn’t work too, because the children eventually outgrew their bicycles and went on to do other stuff.

The only “successful” ban that arose from public outcry back in the 70s and 80s was that involving firecrackers. For a long time, I remember, no one dared to sell firecrackers openly at roadside stalls. Only sparklers and roman candles. No air-bombs that turned neighbourhoods into a scene from ‘Combat’.

Patrolling police constables on foot and bicycles made sure festive traders toed the line – they had to have a licence to sell, and no banned items. Even those who dared to light short pieces of firecrackers obtained from underground sources would quickly clean up the evidence of red before sunrise, lest they attracted the attention of lawmen.

So, lato-lato is not new, neither are the calls for its ban. Of course, people who have the testicular gumption to play with the balls deserve to have a bloody nose if they do not think with what they have between their ears.

I think what we need is some common sense. Maybe we should ban stupidity.

This is the personal opinion of the writer and does not necessarily represent the views of Twentytwo13.