Sun, 22 Oct 2000

Happiness is merely a frame of mind: 'Mbah' Sariyo

By Simon Sudarman

YOGYAKARTA (JP): The age of 82 years is not too advanced an age to continue working. Three days a week, Mbah (Granpa) Sariyo drags his old feet from his house to where he works. His old age makes him unable to walk steadily. His shriveled and bent body sways as he walks, just like a tree in the wind. Once in a while he stops for a rest.

"I am really old now. I used to walk this road every day but not anymore," he said, regulating his heavy breathing through his shrunken mouth.

For 47 years, Mbah Sariyo has walked the four kilometers from his house to the Yogyakarta Palace, where he works as a high- ranking abdi dalem (court servant). Not even for an instant has he ever felt bored. Nowadays, few people have sympathy on him or offer him a ride when he sometimes sits down at the roadside feeling too tired to continue walking.

"Everybody is the same. People are only distinguished by their attitudes and actions," he said.

Mbah Sariyo lives with his wife, Juriah, 78, in his modest house in Sewon, Bantul, to the south of Yogyakarta.

He first served as a court servant in 1953, when he was assigned to replace broken roof tiles in the palace. He served in this position as a roofer for 10 years.

Then he was assigned to cleaning the palace yard, a position he has retained until today. Once he was offered the opportunity of serving as a palace soldier but he rejected the offer.

During his first decade of service, he was paid Rp 200 per month. In the second decade his salary increased to Rp 500 and then to Rp 800. Now, as a bekel sepuh (high-ranking abdi dalem) he earns Rp 7,600 per month.

"However, in reality I get more than that," he said, chuckling.

Mbah Sariyo has a number of side jobs. He cleans the yard of the Purawisata building for which he gets an additional monthly income of Rp 5,000. He also receives Rp 1,500 per month for watering plants.

"In short I have quite a few side jobs. So my official salary is much smaller that what I actually earn from my side jobs," he said, laughing proudly.

Mbah Sariyo, who only enjoyed elementary schooling, is now the only court servant left of his generation. His hearing and his memory are still good. Therefore, he is usually annoyed when some neighbors comment cynically on his job.

"Let me be. The most important thing is that I feel happy and enjoy working at the palace," he said.

Mbah Sariyo admitted that his salary of Rp 7,600 is barely enough to support his existence. His very modest house is proof in itself of this. The front part of the house, the sitting room, doubles as a place where members of the family can weave sugar cane leaves into roofing materials, or ngrapak in the local Javanese language. The table and chairs stand close by. Next to them is a pile of woven sugar cane leaves which are laid out on the ground for sale. It was his youngest brother, a construction worker, who cemented over part of the floor.

"My husband has never thought that far when it comes to repairing the house," his wife chimed in. Hearing this, Mbah Sariyo laughed heartily.

"Many people are in search of houses, money and other possessions because they are looking for happiness. Why should I need house repairs and possessions if I am happy enough without them? Happiness is merely a frame of mind. Happiness does not depend on possessions. It all depends on how we arrange our lives," he said.

Mbah Sariyo and his wife have several children and 12 grandchildren. His youngest son, still a bachelor, did not even complete his elementary schooling, while the other children have followed in their father's footsteps as court servant. When they are not on duty, they try to make money in whatever ways they can or by working as construction workers in town.

"When it is time for us to go to the palace, we leave our everyday jobs behind," he said, adding that he felt terribly proud to find that his children were now serving their apprenticeships as palace soldiers.


At their advanced aged, the couple have taken up ngrapak to earn extra income. Mbah Sariyo and his wife collect sugar cane leaves from a nearby sugar cane plantation. Mbah Sariyo himself makes the framework for a welid, a house partition made of woven sugar cane leaves. He does this job every day after coming home from the palace.

When harvest time arrives, however, the aged couple, whose rice field has been subdivided among their children, will stop their ngrapak work. The wife will then occupy herself with ngasak, or collecting the rice grains left after the rice has been harvested.

As for Mbah Sariyo, he takes over from his wife in doing the household chores: boiling water, cooking rice, sweeping the yard, washing the dishes and feeding the chickens. He then waits for his wife's return.

His simple pattern of living and his eschewal of material riches are in line with his philosophy of life. To him, it is more appropriate for a human being to lead a simple life. He believes that one can achieve happiness and peace through a simple life provided that he himself, his wife and their children remain aloof from quarrels and disputes. A person does not need to be rich; it is enough for him to be happy.

"I believe that our fortune has already been allotted. So, eat only as much as you need and do not dream of eating to excess. Take me, for example. As a royal servant, I only receive a small salary. But if you get your money from the palace, you will always be lucky. I myself do not know how all this has come about. What I do know is that there is always money when we need it. I believe that the money I get from the palace has some kind of magic power in it. I will be very, very sad if there is nothing left after all I have been through," he said firmly when concluding the interview which was conducted at his house.