The light of Diwali

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.


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Pinang Di Belah Dua

Over the weekend we had to go to Penang or Pulau Pinang as mum’s cousin got married. Big, burly, noisy and finally married at 40 years old, Abg A‘s wedding was something I was asked to attend because mum couldn’t do it herself. She was still unable to walk, although discharged from the hospital ( by appeal ) last Friday.

( Arwah ) Tok was a staff of S/IA Penang branch back in the 1950s. According to mum, when she was in school, Tok was given a promotion offer which would require him to relocate from his Bayan Lepas home in Penang to either Shah Alam, or the country down south. Tok decided to move to the country down south and packed his whole family for this relocation. Mum went on to school there, where she met my bapak, whose father ( Arwah Yayi ) also relocated from Semarang, Central Java to seek greener pasture on the island down south. In other words, Penang lass met Java boy on a sunny island, married and what do they know, they raised a toilet seat philosopher who blogs on wordpress. 😛

Anyway, as I have written before, mum made the effort when I was young to take me to Penang as often as she could to ‘ kenai sedara’ she would say. I hated those trips honestly speaking. Long and boring train rides only to see relatives whose ( very thick ) dialect I could not understand and them talking too fast was an issue to me too. The vocabulary lasted as long as the visit. Tok Teh, Tok Su .. everything male or female was ‘tok‘. And depa and pi and mai and hang and ohhhh.. whatever they said were alien to me. I grew up in my paternal household so Javanese terms and sayings ruled the household and my tongue then. Loghat Uthara and relatives who don’t look like me ( they are mostly very fair and had almost slit eyes while I am sawo matang ) further made be feel out of place.

I have never quite acknowledged Penang to be my ‘kampung’. Neither have I acknowledged Java to be one, although factually speaking, I do have kampungs in both of these places. My ‘kampung’ as I know it, has always been Kaki Bukit/Jalan Eunos near the ‘tangki air’ and those were in the country down south.

Of late, since moving here, I found myself naturally gravitating towards Penang and actually do look forward to see my relatives there. As a kid, I never bothered. But now, I see them as a link to who my grandparents were before I was born, how they grew up and raised my mother and her siblings and also stories of them from the yesteryears. Not that my Penang dialect got any better, but they make efforts to speak standard BM and English whenever I am around now. Talking to them… it’s like my own discovery channel.

This year alone I had gone back ( notice I use the term ‘gone back’ and not just gone? ) to Penang 3 times. One for a conference at USM, where we made the effort to visit and also stayed with Tok Su, my late grandmother’s brother. The second one for the wedding of my 2nd cousin whom I didn’t even know exist till that day at the wedding… and the last one was last weekend.

Through the years, Penang has changed. Gone were the days when Komtar was the tallest building. Now skyscrappers rule the island, making it uncannily and eerily looking like the country down south where I hailed from. If the saying ‘Pinang Di Belah Dua‘ linguistically refers to a compatible couple, for me, of late- the term refers to the social dichotomy that is Penang now. One part of Penang is hell bent in urbanising, building as many high rise apartments and shopping malls as possible— while one part of it still in wanting to hold on to the old Penang charm that I used to see (but never appreciated) in my childhood.

With my newly discovered enthusiasm to reconnect with the Penang blood in me, I have since learnt to eat Nasi Kandaq ( only at LINE CLEAR ! ) peppered my lingo with their tongue twisters and have been making considerable efforts to keep in contact with family members there either via emails or sms. Small baby steps but that will do for now.

Next month, the husband will have a month long semester break.. Guess where I suggested to him for our vacation?

Penang mai laaahhh !

Something right and not so right…

Were you in for the money or nothing better to do or can’t think of anything else to do?

Years ago.. in fact almost a decade ago, when I decided to make teaching in govt schools as my profession, I was often asked those questions. Back then our island was in recession, teachers then and even more now, were and are paid well. Very well in fact where I came from. ( ok my fellow teachers back home in sunny island set in the sea down south from where I am now, if you hear how much Malaysian government schools teachers get paid, you will faint, or kiss the feet of your Education minister. Let’s just say they get paid like 1/5 of what we got or those of you still in the service are getting. So go sujud syukur for your big fat year end bonuses, connect plan, performance bonuses and all the carrots dangling in front of your faces just because you mould the future of our island nation. And yes, they do just as much admin work as you doif not more… consider the rural schools ).

Now where was I ? Ahh yes, education, educating and being an educator. Maybe my answer to those questions back then was yes, I was in for the money–economy was bad when I finished school, teaching in the government schools gave me the security I needed. And yes, I had nothing better to do and also can’t think of anything better to do, when all around me back then was rampant retrenchments throughout the island. And lastly, my father wanted me do it. There, as honest as I could get.

But when I look back, did have I any regrets being an educator? No. The money was good in hard times. When some of my peers had trouble getting jobs, I was enjoying bonuses and benefits. Ok fair enough, some peers in private sectors and in MNCs especially enjoy better packages, but in economic downfall, they couldn’t sleep thinking of their rice bowl breaking should retrenchment happens.

Along the way, teaching was not just a profession. It became a way of life for me, when I grew to love it. When I felt I look forward to see the children’s faces every day and do actually miss them during the school holidays. Of course there were hits and misses. There were painful heart wrenching moments too. But there were also moments of sheer exhilaration. One that gave me that sensation was looking at N.N came in the top PSLE student last year with a groundbreaking aggregate score of 294 out of 300, making history as the first student on the island to do so. And a Malay girl at it. I had taught her and was her form teacher for 3 years before she went on to do her GEP program.

In my recent trip back home, I was pleasantly surprised by a chanced meeting with someone I had wanted to see for quite a long time. I had written about him here. My Durian King, as I nicknamed him. When I wrote that entry, I never thought I would meet him again, or even if I do, I won’t be able to recognize him. And for that matter, I don’t eat durians. I have no business going to any durian kings around Geylang should I be back in my hometown.

I had barely reached the island less than an hour on the 2nd day of Raya. It was around 11.30 pm and we were quite famished. Bapak brought us to Simpang Bedok. I was still quite blur from the journey when I heard someone called out ‘ Eh teacher!!! It’s me lahh’

Then I saw the face. The body has changed definitely but the face is still there. A sturdy young man in his late teens now, the sight was a far cry from a scrawny, undernourished boy, whom at 12 and 13 years old was still struggling to read even 3 pages of the Peter and Jane reading series. He was dyslexic but coming from a poor background meant that there was no early intervention. His parents were working day and night to make ends meet.

Anyway, he looked gleeful to see me. He said ‘ I remember you lah teacher.. You teach me how to read long years ago last time’. Ok his English is still kaput, but he can string a sentence now. And what he said sent me to space and back without even going to Russia like the Angkasawan. Years later, I am remembered as a person who taught him how to read. That feeling was not only nice and warm and fuzzy, but out of this world.

So I asked him, are you a durian king now? He laughed, surprised to still see me remembering his noble ambition back then. ‘ No lah teacher.. now I work as waitress in a kopitiam. Good hor.. wait I one day want to open my own restaurant lah’. What about your durian king ambition, I asked. ‘ No need one lah teacher, I go learn how to cook nice nice hor, later I become famesss chef ! ‘ He knows the word ‘chef’ and I am impressed. ‘ Eh teacher, you live where now ah ? ‘ I told him I have lived in Malaysia since January last year. ‘ Ohhh the one which must take bridge that one ah? ‘ I think he means Penang. Many of the Chinese on my island actually came from Penang and he must have heard from them about the Penang bridge. No, I told him. You know where the twin towers? The two tall buildings? ‘ ‘Ahhh I know! I know.. they say that place call Kee Ehhl that one ah teacher? I know. Now hor, I working already. Wait I save to buy big bike I go Malaysia to see you can or not teacher???’ Sure you can dear, I told him. We exchanged numbers and it was time for me to join bapak and the husband at the table. Before I walked away, he called out to me again.. ‘ Eh teacher !!! Wait, wait.. why you so fat now hor ?

Decorum, was something that I forgot to teach him. But other than that, I knew I have at least done something right in my life.

________________________________________________________

Something is not so right. Last week we had our friends’ kids over at our place. They are from my hometown. 3 of them attend an international school here, loosely translated as ‘Sekolah Antarabangsa Taman ‘ or G/I/S. On the way back to sending them home, the eldest kid told me ‘ Auntyyyyyy … You know, Datuk H‘s children all go to our school ? ‘

Datuk H‘s children? Really? Wahhhh. I said. Not in an admiring way but that of wonder. If Datuk H is the Education Minister and his children go to international school instead of the sekolah kebangsaan here, does that mean that he is like a chef who does not dare to eat his own food after knowing what he puts inside the food in the cooking process? Or his own portfolio is beneath what his children deserve ? Or he knows there are flaws in the education system which he himself created and spared his children from it, but its ok for the common masses to be moulded by it?

Something’s not so right I feel…

Of being grateful

By the law of attraction as written in The Secret, the more grateful we are, the more we attract things that will make us even more grateful.

For the past two days I have been grateful beyond words that mum is responding to medication, and that her body is finally fighting whatever virus that attacked her system. This morning I got an sms that she has opted be discharged today and opted for home care.

I am grateful. Alhamdulillah. I am grateful.

My mind is a bit clear now. I can go to Penang this weekend for the wedding with a not so heavy heart. And yes, enjoy Nasi Kandar Line Clear and grab some pirated dvds along Batu Feringghi pasar malam. I will stick to Greys Anatomy and Gilmore Girls. I think that would already burn quite a hole in my pocket cause I want to buy all the series that I don’t have. I do need a break from worrying. Gilmore Girls witty banters would do.

Charcoal Chicken

On the first day of Raya, of all times, I did a booboo. My trusty ( now known as my late oven ) bubbled me, of all times on the first day of Raya, on the day my mother-in-law came to visit and on the day I didn’t have the mood nor time to cook much.

To put it simply, it was my carelessness, which I have been rightfully scolded and have felt remorseful for. I had put the chicken to be roasted in the oven, set a timer to it and then went out for the Solat Eidul Fitri at the nearby masjid. My timer had never failed me before. Never. UNTIL that morning. We came home from the solat eidul fitri to a kitchen smelling of something burning. I yelped. My chicken!!! And when we reached the kitchen, two things were burning. My chicken and my oven. Luckily not the house.

I was scolded good by the husband, nagged even.. before the mother-in-law arrived. She arrived a bit later and looked at disbelief at my oven and my chicken. Luckily, we had some rendang ( bought ) lemang ( bought) , cake lapis Sarawak ( ordered ), fruit cake ( ordered ), kuih raya ( ordered ) and satay goreng ( I made .. aha.. that can be my culinary evidence ). So that was our first day of raya. The husband, his mutter, myself… and my burnt chicken of course.

I guess meine schwiegermutti must be wondering what I have been feeding her son these years.

Nak try tak ?

Charcoal Chicken, anyone?

Blue Skies Ahead!

We are beginning to see light at the end of the tunnel.

She may be discharged this coming week.

I cannot even begin to describe the feelings of gratefulness.

Thank you for all the prayers.

A special thank you for all staff and students of I/ST/AC, especially Ust Uth/man El/Mu/ham/mad/y for leading the solat hajat session for mum after last Friday solat Jumaah. Her condition improved by leaps and bounds from Saturday evening onwards, much to the amazement of the doctors and us, especially. In times like these, my faith is definitely strengthened, alhamdulillah after seeing the results of the powers of the doa, by everyone who cares ( family members, friends and fellow bloggers that’s you ) and of course the alim/knowledgeable scholars of I/ST/AC who took time off last Friday to solat hajat for someone who is just a mother in law of one of your students. For that, I am eternally grateful. Masya Allah. The beauty of brotherhood of faith.

Jazakallah….

‘overwhelmedness’ if there is such a word

I call her twice or three times a day. And yet I still cannot shake off the utter guilt that haunts me to no ends. That I am here and not there. That I am not the one by the hospital bed daily but the others are. That I can do just that 2 or 3 times phone calls a day to her ward and nothing else. Nothing else… save maybe for prayers here and there.

Am I useless or what?

Damn it. Oh damn it.