The streets are decked up this Sunday night, psychedelic lights lining the archways erected down the streets of Little India in Singapore, the pavements overflowing with people who spill onto the roads for lack of space. Tourists from abroad watch bemused, curious and attracted by the bustle that refused to cease even at midnight. Juxtaposed against the cut-outs of lamps and Hindu symbols for Diwali are green banners that read ‘Selamat Hari Raya’ (Hari Raya is how Eid-ul-Fitr is referred to in Malay.)
Around midnight, a group of tired girls waits on the busy streets, trying to find a cab home. The seemingly ubiquitous yellow and blue cars almost disappear in the throngs; the ones that appear are already occupied or booked.
A cab finally draws up in front of us, and we immediately pile into it, immensely relieved. We’re pleasantly surprised to find a lady at the wheel- she wears a scarf and the radio plays Islamic music for the festival. She welcomes us with a warm smile and says, “You’re not Muslim, are you?” For a moment, it seems strange and an awkward silence reigns. We reply in the negative, and she promptly says she’ll change the radio station to something we’ll enjoy. We decline politely and tell her we don’t mind, but she switches to an English music channel.
She is one of the few female cab drivers we have encountered, and only too happy to ferry us girls home late at night, no judgemental questions asked. She asks us if we’re from India, and if we’re Hindu. She points to the coloured lights and wants to know about Diwali. She asks us about our jobs and is surprised we don’t have a holiday for the festivals, at which we try to explain the nuances of working in support. She converses pleasantly; there are a number of questions I want to ask as well, but I stop short, not knowing how they will be interpreted, and if they will take on unintentional religious overtones.
We’re almost at our destination; I ask her when Hari Raya is, and she says, “Tomorrow- actually, today”- because it is now past midnight. We wish her, and she is delighted. She wishes us for Diwali, drops us off and drives away. I tumble into bed, gratified by yet another warm encounter- beautiful people turn up out of the blue; for that matter, everyone is beautiful, if you get to notice it- some people let the beauty lie dormant in a prolonged fit of perversity, and you have to break the facade down to see what lies beneath.
If only love and happiness were always easy to spread.