Eat More Palak (Eid Mubarak)

I have been celebrating Eid for as long as I can remember celebrating Diwali. Every year, on the morning of Eid, I would jump out of bed to wear the shining salwar outfit that my mum had laid out for me. I would sit patiently while she carefully put sparkly butterfly shaped clips in my hair, and then I would grab the box of sweets and make a dash for the door.

First stop, me and my brother would go to Nasim aunty’s house and ring her bell. We would exclaim “eat more palak!” when the door was answered. For quite some time I thought that when everyone was wishing each other “Eid Mubarak”, sounded like they were actually saying “Eat more palak”, and my brother had let me embarrass myself with that for many years while he giggled away.

Next stop, Neeta aunty’s house. By the time we got there to wish her, she had already prepared my favorite biryani and we could smell the fresh waft as we approached her floor travelling up in the elevator. That was enough to get us past our fear of her cat.

To celebrate the Hari Raya holiday in primary school, we would have little workstations with some of the Malay teachers showing us how to make ketupat palm leaf pouches. I loved the colors and it was so exciting to me to bring them home for my mother to proudly hang up outside the house.

These were my simple Eid and Hari Raya traditions that I have followed throughout my childhood. Once I went to California for college, the semester timing always worked out well for me that I would be home for the summer just in time to celebrate with my GuruJi and go to Jawed Uncle’s house for our Eid feast.

This year in May, when there were restrictions on meeting neighbors and relatives for Hari Raya because of COVID-19, I found that something felt very amiss. It was only over the last five years maybe that I really understood what different religions were, how they were celebrated, and what traditions were observed. So, what difference did it make to me, a Hindu Indian-Singaporean, that Eid wasn’t being celebrated in full form this year?

Over the past couple of years, I had been studying South Asian politics, and specifically socio-religious hostilities. I had realized that a lot of my other Hindu-Indian friends did not have Eid as such a big part of their lives as I did. I realized that even to my relatives in India, it wasn’t as big of a deal, despite the national holiday.

Last year I was in India for Eid. Specifically, in Amritsar at the Attari-Wagah India-Pakistan border. That was such an exciting moment for me to be amongst all the hype of the border ceremony and to observe so much patriotism. That was just one week after the revocation of Article 370 in the disputed territory of Kashmir.

I didn’t see any exchange of sweets at the border as per usual customs. Pakistan was celebrating Eid at home with their families and had a comparatively very empty side of citizens to watch the ceremony. I heard shouts from the packed India side commenting on how the “other” side was weak due to less people. I heard boos against each other, and I heard slurs about disputed territory. I saw angry competition rather than neighborly friendship.

Last year on Eid, I felt that my excitement of being so close to the border that my T-Mobile International plan gave me a “Welcome to Pakistan” text, was out of place.

Perhaps growing up outside of India, I don’t fully understand all of this. But it has been something that has bothered me a lot over the past couple of years and something that I feel really strongly about because I wish more of the people that I knew were raised with the same emphasis that my mum raised me with – of loving our neighbors in Singapore and celebrating their festivals with them, and of loving our nation’s neighbors in the South Asian diaspora world.

What I can say though, is that religion or nations aside, a lot of the time we are told at a young age who our enemies are by those higher up, or even by our relatives, without even knowing who those people are. We then grow up to group and divide people by religion, nationality, race, caste, disability or wealth. Meanwhile, those who ride on the power of a fractured society get to paint images in our minds that those who are different from us are difficult to live with peacefully.

We can blame events from almost a century ago, we can ignore these issues completely, and we can pass bitter thoughts onto the next generation. But in that, we choose to put control in the hands of those who thrive off of the marginalization of others. Or, we can choose to make active efforts in unlearning and relearning how our differences should initiate appreciation rather than discrimination.

This year on Eid, me having to tone down celebrations to a socially-distance sweets delivery with a mask on instead of my butterfly clips might not be important. But my heart goes out to those in Kashmir who are separated from loved ones, those who suffered in the Delhi riots, and those who want to celebrate with their loved ones in the “other” group but are expected not to.

Selamat Hari Raya, Eid Mubarak, and eat more palak!

Training the Mind to Love The Mirror

As much as people tell you that looks don’t matter, the truth is that to a 20-year old girl, it does. And I needed to work with that fact.

For so long, I had lived under the notion that there was an inherent flaw in my appearance because of my hair loss. It seemed to be more of a widespread societal fact rather than an anomalous opinion.

However, in truth, people would obviously always comment nice things about my appearance to my face, and I realised that the bulk of the doubt was within myself. I realised that I didn’t care about seeking external approval about my appearance, I wanted it from within myself. I had read a lot about how people can train their brains in the same way that we train our muscles at the gym, so I figured I could apply that to loving myself as well.

I was never one to really dress up too much or spend much time thinking about my aesthetic either. I had always maintained a pretty simple style that reflected my thought process and personality, and that wasn’t something that I wanted to change.

Rather than going down the route of doing specific workouts for my body to look a certain way, or shopping at selected stores to accessorise myself in outfits that I thought would look more appealing, I really just wanted to love how I was at the time. Of course I would do workouts and shop with that mindset later on, but I figured that if I could train my mind to believe that I am beautiful enough as a raw and very vulnerable version of myself, I would be able to always see myself like that despite any external changes.

So, I started to compliment myself. At least two times a day. I forced myself to pick out things about my face that I liked, I complimented my own outfits that I put together, and I grew into loving my body. By pushing myself to do this daily, I discovered that I liked how easily I smiled in candid videos that my friends took of us, I felt more authentic in the way that my eyes were so revealing of my inner emotions, I started to recognize that I liked how soft my skin felt and how I was learning to feel comfortable in it, and I began to focus on how the delicacy of my hands and the strength of my legs felt and looked when I danced.

The truth is that, as much as you compliment that 20-year-old girl who is told that looks don’t matter, but is expected to fit into societal beauty standards, it is already ingrained in her mind to not internalise the compliment. We’re so deep-rooted in the idea that we need to put ourselves down with regards to our appearance, and instead of normalising self-appreciation, we have normalised “correcting” our own “flaws”. I definitely get weird looks or questions when I look in the mirror or at a photo of myself and my instant reaction is to compliment something that I see, because it is such an absurdly unorthodox concept. Some people call it being cocky or self-obsessed, but I prefer to call it confidence and self-love.

Despite the compliments that I gave myself and the photos that I started liking of myself, I knew that I felt extremely self-conscious about the bursts of cystic acne spots that I would sometimes get when I travelled, or the moon-face side effect that I hadn’t been able get rid of after my steroid medication, or the way that certain clothes didn’t end up looking like how I would ideally want them to when I wore them.

But in training my mind to think that I look attractive, I didn’t avoid any of these insecurities. I just learnt to put them in my back pocket when I walked out the door. I believed that it didn’t matter whether I had the most gorgeous hair in the world or none at all, and whether I looked “fit” enough or “radiant” enough, or “enough” at all. People would always find something to comment on to each other. My task instead was to make sure that I never became one of those people, and to ensure that I found myself feeling and looking cute on the way.

This is by no means a fool-proof ‘one solution fits all’ path to self-love, but I hope that it encourages some positive energy that you can hold onto when you next look in the mirror.

For someone who lost all her hair within a month and refused to meet people because she was so terrified, it takes a lot to gain back any level of confidence. But at some point, you realise that it isn’t going to come from anywhere else, and that after spending years pinning yourself down to your appearance, the only part that you will regret is that time that you lost chasing hair solutions rather than your dreams.

The Hardest Breakup: An Ode to the Class of 2020

As international students, we flew across the world as naïve 18-year-olds with the end goal of flinging our caps up into the sky, popping that bottle of champagne, and seeing the proud look in our parents’ eyes. As the global pandemic unfolded, we saw the signs leading up to our commencement ceremonies and final semesters being cancelled. But right until the moment last week where we had the official emails from our chancellors in our inboxes declaring the breakup, we refused to believe this could happen and we clung onto those little glimmers of hope. Our four year relationship had ended without even having a chance to say a proper goodbye.


The worst breakups are those that are not mutual. They’re the ones that hit you unexpectedly. You sense some uneasiness and detachment from the other side in the weeks or months leading up to it, but you trust that the strong basis of your long-term relationship will shine through. Or rather, you choose to ignore the signs in hope that they’ll go away if you don’t acknowledge them.

The worst breakups are those that happen when you are busy planning your future together. You picture the smiles in your eyes, the warm feelings in your hearts, and even the exact outfits and photos. But suddenly that is all chucked away. And even after all of that, you remain hopeful for a reconciliation. But as time passes, you know that it’s not coming back.

Seniors, this is what we have been feeling. 


When you commit to a relationship, you see a future and you see an end goal. For many people, that goal is often marriage.

I see a parallel connection with graduation.

There are apparently seven stages of every breakup: shock, denial, negotiation, isolation, anger, acceptance, and hope. At this point, most of us are probably in the first five stages.

For many international seniors, we were rushed back home overseas without a chance to say goodbye to our friends, professors or college towns, and moreover, not knowing when and if travel, visa and employment restrictions will change so that we can in fact return.


Sunena _ Jeet (20 of 118)


Here are a few of my thoughts and wishes for international seniors to help us console our broken hearts.

In 2016, we had our high school graduations, our graduation trips, and our final summers. Come August, we were all scattered across the globe. Much of our first semester was spent on excited video calls with each other, comparing notes on roommates, campus spirit, culture shock, and occasionally we would remember that classes were a part of this whole college thing as well.

Over the four years, our calls and reunions in our hometowns became less frequent. At some points we even grew distant as we navigated our changing lives, developed our distinct personalities, and worked on building our individual support systems within our college environments. We were essentially all successfully building our homes away from home.

And yet when we did have those few days of overlapped vacation during summer or winter break, we would go to the same bars, restaurants, and parks that we used to during high school, and we embraced those parts of ourselves that only come alive with our high school friends. It’s those goofy parts of ourselves that we vow to never let each other forget. All those embarrassing things that we did and said as teenagers. We made a point to never stop roasting each other for all those little things. And amidst those nostalgic roasts, we give each other the highlight reels of our college lives. Over time we managed to master the art of living in the moment rather than panicking about having such few days together.

In recent weeks, we have all been checking in on each other a little extra. We have been hurriedly comparing notes on panicked parents, city lockdowns and employment fears. Should we fly back home, or should we stay in our college towns? What about our F-1 visas and OPT status? Has anyone else been kicked off of campus, or has had commencement cancelled or postponed?


Sunena _ Jeet (30 of 118)


We managed to maintain our high school friendships without any doubts, despite not always knowing when we will see each other next and having to incorporate our growing and changing personalities. We became the champions of long-distance relationships.

That is exactly what I believe we will be able to do during this time. In these same ways, we will keep in touch with our college friends and know that seeing them is a matter of “when” rather than “if”. We are so used to moving between countries every few months and still being able to maintain being rocks of support during difficult times for our friends and family overseas.

As third culture kids, we almost have a sense of responsibility and immense privilege that we can really use for positive social impact during this time. So many of us have lived in several different cities through our schooling years and have the capacity to engage with those different communities and help spread best practices that we’ve seen some of our cities observe effectively versus those cities that haven’t been able to. We can use everything we have learnt about living abroad and away from loved ones during tumultuous times to take care of those around us.

We graduated together once in 2016 and I like to find peace and positivity in the thought that the universe didn’t think that was enough. It conspired to bring us all back to our hometowns to somehow put together little celebrations to graduate together one more time.

Starlight, Star Bright

My mother once took me to the window and pointed to the stars. She told me to find the brightest one. “That’s where Nana is. He is watching over all of us from up there” she said. And that answer was all that I needed to satisfy my curious little mind.


I have always had a special place in my heart for looking through old photos. I believe that looking at someone’s childhood photos and old family portraits can be so telling about the person that they are.

My mother had carefully preserved her black and white photos over the years by neatly sticking them into photo albums. There were endless memories of family getaways up to the mountains in Mussoorie, and summer beach trips in Visakhapatnam. These albums held the different characters that she had dressed up as for her school plays, her proud graduation photos, and endless collections of family photos.

These family photos always gripped my attention because they weren’t like anything that we see today. They were formal posed photos of the entire extended family, majestically sitting together in rows of western suits and traditional saris. I would love to point to different people in these photos and try to match them to the countless stories that my mother and grandmother had shared with me at bedtime.

I often pointed to my grandfather. He was always neatly dressed in a shirt and trousers, and more often than not he was also sporting large sunglasses and standing in beautiful parks. I never really got the chance to know him personally so I would often ask my mother about him. I wanted to know so much about him as the smiling, funny, food-loving, and energetic character that all my relatives would fondly remember him as. At that age I could not comprehend why I had no memories of meeting him in our annual trips to Delhi, yet somehow he was still in all of these photos.


I was extremely lucky to not really know anything about death during my childhood. Nobody particularly present in my life had left within the years that I could remember. So, I guess that’s why when I did experience the loss of loved ones in sudden and multiple instances in 2018, it made me feel confused, angry and lost. How was it possible that some of the people that I had grown up seeing every year in the exact same places would just not be there the next time I visited?

However, over time I found that they were all still very much there with me in my everyday life. My Umeed dance tour made me feel especially close to all of them. When things started feeling surreal with getting accepted into big festivals and prestigious venues, I felt like there had to be some kind of magic happening.

I felt like my great grandmother was there with me when I was nervous during my panel discussion in Chennai. But I was able to find peace in running my hands over her silk sari that I was wearing that day. I felt like my uncle was smiling down at me after every show in the little light that shone down onto the stage everytime I took my final pose. I felt like my grandfather was there congratulating me and encouraging me to go enjoy a big Mathur meal after every show when I would leave the auditorium and see his bright star in the sky.

I like to think that all of them were sitting amongst the stars and planning out my dreams and achievements with God. And holding onto that thought, especially through any difficult times has given me so much peace.

So, every night when I am walking home and I spot the first star twinkling in the sky, I say to myself: “Starlight, star bright, first star I see tonight. Wish I may, wish I might, have the wish I wish tonight.” And if they really are up there, then I tell them something special every time, and for a second I can let myself believe that the stars are the sparkle in their eyes when they smile down at us, and the open night sky is their arms hugging us a little closer.

It’s been two years since Sarvesh Mama became one of these stars. He was everyone’s biggest supporter and pushed everyone to pursue and achieve the craziest of dreams. Mama has his loved ones spread all around the globe, and we can all smile today while remembering him, knowing that he is watching over each one of us to make sure we are chasing those dreams, and cheering us all on with a shining smile.

I never grew up directly amongst my cousins, but everyday I am so grateful for the semester that I spent in London where I got to see his love and selflessness shine through my Aunt and cousin brothers. Despite his boundless successes, his pride was always in his family and today we can all take an extra moment to wave up at his star and assure him that his values of love and selflessness will infinitely sparkle through us.  



Heartless Dilli [Delhi Riots]

Today Delhi is on fire. And while the country’s capital burns, so does a big part of my innocent childhood.

Delhi to me was the slightly misty mornings where I would go out to the balcony to hang my towel and spot a peacock sneakily dancing around our garden.

Delhi to me was dodging around the countless fallen jamuns to make sure they didn’t stain my shoes.

Delhi to me was giggling while my mother and uncle tease each other about how many ladoos they have eaten, while my nani and her siblings race to complete the daily crossword.

Delhi to me was the fleeting exciting moment of crossing Rajpath Road and being right in the middle of Rashtrapati Bhavan and India Gate. Delhi to me was the mother-daughter trips to Nathus for chaat and then to Humayun’s tomb for sightseeing. Delhi to me was picking out books at the Faqir-Chand bookstore in Khan Market and being in awe of the vibrant colors and intricate designs on sale at Lajpat Nagar.

Delhi to me was falling in love with Urdu through the names of my ancestors, it was the  poetry that I could see in the Mughal architecture surrounding our neighborhood, and it was hearing bhajans and Qawwalis in the same household and gushing over how pure the tabla sounded, rather than questioning the religious contexts.

Delhi to me was going to Jama Masjid just 15 minutes away from our home, to take in the breathtaking beauty amidst the bustling crowds, to eat at Karim’s, and because it was a crucial part of India’s culture. It was knowing that the Masjid (mosque) was just as important a part of our lives as the Hanuman Mandir (Hindu temple) was.

Today, those same simple joys are on fire. To see that other Indians, view this same Muslim community area in Northeast Delhi as a symbol of war and violence, is heartbreaking to say the least.



Religion to me is the celebration of good over evil. Religion to me is the morals by which I join my hands in front of and touch the feet of my Gurus and elders. Religion to me is the mythological stories that I was able to learn and depict through dancing. Religion to me is inclusive, it is community, and it is love and hope.

But somewhere along the line, my religion got mixed with politics. Somewhere along the line they changed it to “us vs. them”. Somewhere along the line they changed it to ruling over what you could and could not eat or where you could and could not go. Somewhere along the line they shifted the focus from holding small candles, to holding arms and starting large fires.


Tomorrow when I visit home, the pollution and poor weather will win over the magical feeling of all my simple joys that would previously counter them.

Tomorrow when I drive through the streets of Delhi, my mind will question each person and wonder whether they too are one of the people that mix politics with religion.

Tomorrow when I pray at the temple, I will ask God why there is pain at His doorstop and why his love has been skewed and his community has been fragmented.


Today Delhi is on fire. And while the country’s capital burns, so does a big part of my innocent childhood.


I write this because my heart hurts thinking about my family’s hometown, perhaps most of all because sitting in Berkeley, I feel angry yet helpless. I noticed that despite two days of brutal violence, my two favorite news sources, The New York Times and The Economist, have not covered the events that are happening on the streets of Delhi. I realize that tomorrow when I wake up and go to class, the high majority of my classmates will have no idea about this, despite the fact that India’s Prime Minister is rolling out a red carpet for the President of the United States to strike deals between nations and ignore the threatened relationships between neighbors.

I hope that reading about my simply joys being taken away encourages you to think about the homes and lives being taken away in this inhuman situation, that it helps you to empathize, and that it makes you angry enough that you choose to stand up during conversations in your family and community that allude to a non-secular India.



It Takes Two to Tango

Wake me up when October ends

October hit and suddenly, my mind decided that it would be cool to turn into Facebook’s memories feature. Each day I would think, “this is roughly the day two years ago that I looked into the mirror with shock, refusing to believe what I saw”. “This is the day two years ago that I felt anger that this really was happening to me for the third time.” “This was around the time two years ago that I felt pain in my heart because I realized that I had been betrayed by my body once again.” And so on.

Then it went into waking up to mornings of picturing the very trauma that I lost myself to two years ago. I already lived through it once, so surely, I didn’t deserve to experience it another time?!

BUT this isn’t a sad story or a pity party. Over the past two years I had grown to trust my circumstances and that had brought with it a comforting sense of peace that let me take everything in my stride.


Mission Impossible

I started this blog on December 1st, 2017 when I looked at myself in the mirror and decided that I was not happy with who I had become and never wanted to be in that position ever again. I was so privileged to grow up in an environment where my mother taught me to always leave the house feeling confident, and my father taught me that I had limitless potential. I had always loved myself, and I loved loving others. How did I get to a position where I hated me, my favorite person?!

I went on a rapid mission to transform myself into a Sunena that I couldn’t help but to fall in love with every morning. I visited over 30 cities, toured my production in 3 continents, and met countless new people that I consider to be angels in my life. I had effectively forced myself to turn the worst thing in my life into the best.

I felt a novel kind of strength. I was refreshed and felt that I had tackled my illness. I felt that that was the most valuable lesson I could possibly give myself, that if I could defeat an illness with so much strength, then I could look back and always think that I could do anything. Of course it is a lesson that I still hold close to my heart. However, there was an issue lying in the fact that I had attached my strength and energy to a specific circumstance.

The entirety of 2018 was magical in several ways. I had recreated what “Sunena” was and I was invincible in my mind. That is what I needed for that year, but I also needed to take out the time to properly process trauma. I had refused to look back, and so when the Facebook memories series in my mind started to send me notifications, I had a lot of cleaning up to do.


Too far forward?

Enter the concept: “toxic positivity”. Essentially, it is the concept that staying positive and exclusively positive is the way to live life. There is only a focus on positivity, and a rejection of any negative experiences or emotions.

This sounds perfect in theory but as the human mind functions, avoiding undesired emotions actually spirals into magnifying them. Denying negative emotions tells your mind that you don’t need to give them attention, and while you trap yourself in the cycle of side-lining these difficult emotions, they become bigger the longer they remain unprocessed. Ultimately, this approach is unsustainable because the human mind simply cannot program itself to exclusively and genuinely experience happiness.

On the flip side, accepting negative feelings and processing them in the moment supports your body and mind in decreasing their intensity. It’s the same theory as getting things off of your chest by sharing them with a loved one. There’s that saying that a problem shared is a problem halved. But in this case the difference is that your relationship of sharing is now between your body and mind.

I started to change my approach of categorizing emotions as either positive or negative. Beginning to think of emotions as guidance works much more productively and provides a solution to any inclination towards toxic positivity.

For example, if you’re sad about an issue in a relationship, it shows you that it is that much more meaningful to work through. If you’re anxious about a presentation, it tells you how much you care about the work you are doing and how it is perceived. Using emotions as guidance creates a healthier relationship within our own selves, but also with the people around us. By allowing ourselves to embrace all emotions, our mind can then clue us to seek comfort from others when we are sad or seek forgiveness when feeling guilt.

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Fall Fears

Now, on the last day of my last fall semester at Berkeley I can proudly say that I have conquered my fear of fall semesters! In my first year I struggled with navigating such a new setting. In my second year I felt like I had lost myself. In my third year, I went to the extreme of moving to London for a semester to avoid another Fall semester in Berkeley. In my final semester, I relived trauma, I struggled with explaining it to new friends, and I battled with new embellishments of my condition. But in my final semester I was honest through it all in reaching out to professors and friends, I worked hard to maintain a balance of academics, dance and health, and I let myself fall in love.

It took me two to tango. One year to set myself completely free and separate myself from negative experiences, and another to ground me back and help me achieve and address my appropriate balance.


A Balancing Act

It is challenging to juggle dance, academics and being 21 all at once. On top of that, now is about the time where I am meant to be formulating potential plans for my overly exciting and ambitious future. And I am pretty much known for being overly excited and ambitious about my future. So, what’s the problem? Continue reading “A Balancing Act”

Weaves of Love

She irons and lays them out the night before so that they can be aired. She delicately runs her fingers across the weaves to even out any creases. She carefully selects her jewellery and accessories and places them at the corner of the sari, from the intricately designed necklace right down to the bindi, bangles and purse that she would embellish her look with. She takes pride in simplicity yet uniqueness, always adding her own contrast to the traditional look.Continue reading “Weaves of Love”