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!

What is the difference between a woman and an elephant?

Gods, Goddesses, Kathak, and Humanity


There has been collective outrage amongst Indians upon the news of a pregnant elephant intentionally being fed a pineapple filled with firecrackers in rural Kerala. Naturally, I saw my social media flooded with calls for the nation to enforce more stringent animal protection laws. “Animals are just as valuable as humans”, I read multiple times over.


We later found out that the pregnant elephant was not intentionally fed the firecracker-filled pineapple. Farmers in the region commonly use such traps to keep wild boars away from their crops. The elephant had ventured away from her usual terrain and found herself victim to a cruel dead-end trap.


Similarly, at the other end of India, a pregnant woman, Safoora Zargar, had bravely ventured away from the usual path and has now found herself on the wrong end of law protection.




A lot of what I learned about the intricacies of Hinduism and womanhood came from my dance Kathak training. I was taught that the most beautiful women had the carefully measured and elegant gait of a majestic elephant, Ganesh Chal. I was shown that women were made up of fearless power and nurturing grace, Devi Stuti. And I was told that women and men were equal, Radha-Krishna Thumris.


One of the most well-known symbols of Hinduism is the elephant. “Oh yeah, you have the elephant-headed God right?” Yes, Lord Ganesha. The one that Hindus are taught to invoke at the beginning of every new path that we tread on, the remover of all obstacles, and the Lord of Good Fortune.


Alongside Ganesh, I grew up with stories about Hindu Goddesses. All powerful, fearless, and confrontational like the warrior Goddess, Durga (Devi). She rides a tiger or a lion, to symbolize her mastery over power, will, and determination. She is depicted with having between eight to eighteen arms, each holding a symbolic weapon so that she is ever ready to battle evil from any direction.


Due to their deep cultural and religious history, the protection rates of Indian elephants have been significantly higher than other Asian regional elephants. But somehow, despite being considered the embodiments of Devi, we can definitely say that Indian women are not delivered the same protection rates.


Safoora Zargar is an MPhil student at the Jamia Millia Islamia University in the nation’s capital, New Delhi. She was arrested on April 10th for allegedly organizing Anti-CAA protests and road blockades at the Jaffrabad Metro Station in February.


On April 13th she was charged for pre-planned conspiracy for the communal riots in Delhi.


On April 21, she was held to another charge under UAPA: Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act. This charge pertains to offences of unlawful activity, commission of a terrorist act, collecting funds for a terrorist act and conspiracy for committing a terrorist act.


To understand the severity of this charge, we can compare it to normal criminal law. Under normal criminal law, the accused can be detained under police custody for a maximum of 15 days but under UAPA, it’s 30 days. Under normal criminal law, the police have to formally charge the accused (file a charge sheet) within 90 days, but under UAPA it’s 180 days.


On the same night that we heard of the tragic incident of the pregnant elephant in Kerala, Safoora was denied bail for a third time, on the basis that it cannot be said that there is no prima facie case (evidence required for bail against UAPA) against the accused. The court’s claim is that Safoora made an inflammatory speech at the Chand Bagh protest in Delhi. Her lawyers provided evidence that Safoora was briefly at Chand Bagh prior to any violence taking place and was delivering a speech on that same day in Khureji, a different part of Delhi.


Since April 15th, Safoora has been held in the overcrowded Tihar Jail, South Asia’s largest prison complex. She is 5-months pregnant, is more vulnerable to COVID-19, and is suffering complications due to her Polycystic Ovary Syndrome (PCOS) diagnosis.


Safoora’s pregnancy has been used by some as a means to spark sympathy, and by others to dehumanize her by questioning her character and the legitimacy of her baby. Somewhere in between all of these external narratives, we seem to overlook the internal fearless Muslim woman activist that she is and the humanitarian cause that she ventured out to fight for.



It is not my place to assess the judiciary system, neither do I have the knowledge to. However, I can’t help myself asking what if her gender or religion were different? In times when there is a parallel narrative where the American judiciary and police systems are under scrutiny by its citizens via the Black Lives Matter movement, I find myself wondering: What is the difference between a woman and an elephant? And what answer to this question are we going to give Safoora’s baby?