I have always known it as Deepavali where I came from. But I guess in some other parts of the world, here included, it is known as Diwali.
It was almost 10 am yesterday, on the morning of Diwali. I had taken the LRT from the Universiti Station to KLCC to meet Al, an old friend from back home for a day of eating and be merry. She was here for some family gatherings of her Perakian late dad. Anyway, she was a bit late and I was enjoying a mug of teh halia and Tony Parsons’ One for My Baby. Then somehow, it occurred to me that on this day where the Hindus celebrate their festival of light, I just had to call her.
I had known Auntie Meena for as long as I stayed in the house prior to this current one ( for about a year plus in that house ), and she was our Indian cleaning lady whom we would trust our lives with, let alone our house. She had the key to the house and she would come twice or sometimes three times a week and like an efficient little fairy, she would transform what would otherwise be a potential shipwreck into a spic and span abode to relax in. But of course, Aunty Meena‘s physical image is far from that of a little fairy. She is big sized with rough hands, something which would give away her hard life at first meeting.
She lived in Sentul, ( where most of the Indian community of KL can be found ) and would make her way to our place up the hill in Petaling Jaya via commuter/LRT/Rapid KL.. in that order. And then she would walk from the bus stop up the hill to the house, in the sweltering heat under her bright red umbrella. Rain or shine, she would be there twice or three times a week, for the RM 50 per day wage. The journey from her flat to our place could easily take 1.5 hours. But come what may, she would STILL be there. Her life is tough and she needed the dough.
Aunty Meena and I, through the days, became friends. I was doing some editing projects last year which means that as and when she came, I would be at the house with nose buried in my lap top. She would always call out cheerfully ‘ Alloooo saya sudah datang lah ! ‘ from the front door, and made her own way in as she had the house key. After small chats about the weather/price of food/the day’s headlines/some Indian artist gossips which I knew nuts about but she seemed to be abreast with, she would, as if on auto, begin on her cleaning spree–always beginning from the kitchen and ending with the garden.
She would always come with a cheerful face, although her life is not too cheerful. She was the sole breadwinner of her family of 3 kids, a diabetic mum and the then ill dad who passed away sometime last year. Add to that an abusive drunk husband. But she persevered all that and still go around cleaning houses cheerfully.
But she was not always too cheerful though. Sometimes I caught her crying at the backyard, sometimes she looked so dead tired, sometimes she had to take time out as she became breathless while mopping the floor as she has heart problem.. but she still came. Because cleaning our house and a couple other houses near there meant that her children can have another meal and can go to school the next day. But despite all that, she would always find an excuse to be cheerful. She would not be ok for a while, but after wiping off her last tear, she would be heard singing along to some Tamil music from the small transistor radio she never failed to bring each time she came.
Last year’s Diwali, myself and the husband surprised her by appearing at her doorstep. She was shocked but delighted beyond words. She told us that she cleaned so many houses for so many years, but we were the first ones to ever visit her on Diwali. She didn’t expect us to be there, she said.
‘ Why lah?? Tak boleh datang rumah Aunty ke?? ‘ I asked her in jest. Shyly.. she responded ‘ Eh mana boleh tak boleh datang? Ini kan Diwali.. saya banyak happy you orang datang tau.. Ya lah.. rumah saya banyak kecik.. kawasan flat jugak banyak kotor… rumah you orang yang saya kerja semua rumah besar-besar ada taman punya.. mana lah orang-orang macam you mau datang rumah kecik saya ini. Tapi you orang datang, saya banyaaak happy lah.. macam itu tuhan sudah bagi saya itu harta.’ I felt a stab in my heart when she said that to us. Both myself and the husband didn’t quite know how to react but quickly handed her the bag of goodies we brought for her. She made us sit in her very, very cramped living room, making a fuss over us and insisting we have her speacially made briyani/muruku and other Diwali goodies. We did and in the local lingo, the briyani was fuyoo, sedap giler! And we spent the rest of the Diwali last year chatting with her family and her aged mum, who called us ‘Meena punya boss‘, which we told her to stop as it was making us uncomfortable. We call her Aunty Meena and that made her our endearing Aunty.
Fast forward, present time. When I called her yesterday with ‘Aunyyyy Meena !!! Ini saya lahh.. Ingat lagi tak???’ Since we moved to the new location, we no longer engaged her services, too far.. she said. On the other side of the line, I could hear her screaming with joy and her fast and furious happy blabber in Tamil which I could not understand. After she composed herself, she imperatively demanded, ‘ Besok you orang datang rumah saya ok? Saya sudah pindah ke Jalan Ipoh. Mesti datang tau. You orang datang saya banyak happy !’
So tonight we would be making our way to her place for Diwali and no, not because her briyani and home made muruku is to die for, but because we miss her so and she was not only the cleaning lady that came to clean our mess twice a week.. BUT she is an aunty that showed us despite all the mess that happens in life to anyone of us, we can clean it up, wipe the last tear off and listen to Tamil beautiful music afterwards.
Happy Diwali Aunty Meena, we will see you later, insya Allah.