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.

Catch-22: Health vs. Education

Four years ago, I moved to California to pursue my higher education. My parents being expats in Singapore, I went through the international baccalaureate education system – a western-centric education. At the age of five, I recognized my identity as a third culture kid and I already knew that I would be going to either the U.S. or the U.K. for university.

Four years ago, Trump was elected as president, and I remember my roommate and I lightly joking about the potential of having to leave the country or be deported, knowing that it could very well be real, and hoping that it would remain an absurd joke. Four years later, I have graduated and just about managed to escape that nightmare.


A lot of international students go to university in the United States for a better life, to gain access to better educational resources, to essentially learn from the best institutions and be able to give back and support the development of their native countries.

Behind each of these international students, are families that have sacrificed their lives in the hopes of their child being able to gain the education needed to pursue a better life for themselves, for their future generations, and to make a difference in the world. I know that my parents have dedicated their lives to ensure that my brothers and I get the best of the best when it comes to education.

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?

To my Family and Friends of Indian Descent:

I see you speaking up to show solidarity with the black community, and I am proud of you. I see you passionately voicing issues that you feel strongly about, and I am happy that you are doing so. But why is it that it takes outrage in the United States for you to understand the need to address systematic oppression?

Have you asked yourself why this is the case?

The protests upon the death of George Floyd in the United States, and the anti-CAA protests that occurred in India through the winter share some dark parallels. Both revolved around the killing of minority groups, both suffered from police brutality, and both had state-ordered military deployment to put down protestors. Videos and images from India were also widely circulated but did not seem to spark the same level of pain.

Like racism in the United States, islamophobia, caste violence, and queer-phobia are prevalent in India as institutionalised flaws. Systematic oppression is deeply rooted in India’s colonial history and exists today in 2020 because of the enablement of its citizens.

When you repost valuable resources on your social media, participate in blackouts, and hashtag #BlackLivesMatter, your solidarity is greatly needed and appreciated. But where is this same level of activism when your voice, understanding, and awareness is required for your fellow Indian citizens with no voices? Why was it so convenient to overlook the Indian Parliament passing an act that banned millions of Muslims from their homes in India, the silencing of Kashmiri citizens, and the brutal killings of protesting students?

How did you manage to unintentionally play into this hypocrisy?

Urban India has an infatuation with Western life and pop culture. For our entire lives we have fed into the idea of assimilating as much as possible into a Western world, because that defines social success in comparison to our own poverty-stricken communities. Without even realising, we dismiss the mirroring events in India because it has been embedded that “these things happen in India”. With that thought process, we ourselves justify oppression by staying rooted in the colonial thought of South Asian communities being backwards communities.

How did you become an oppressor?

There is a simple answer. Being in a position where you have a personal inclination to comment on the Black Lives Matter movement because you have either attended university in the United States, you have friends in the United States, or your go-to news sources are full of the events in the United States, is a position of high privilege.

It means that you received higher education, have had access to an international community, and that the events of the Western world are the most relevant to your life.

It means that you are most likely not on the blood-stained end of the stick that beats minorities on the streets of India. It means that you are not threatened by islamophobia, queer-phobia and the caste system in India. It means that in most cases, neither are the people in your close circles.

As people of colour in the United States, we experience life as minorities and as outsiders. We then fail to remember these same experiences when we find ourselves high up on the social scale in our Indian communities. Speaking as a middle minority does not directly interfere with your own lived privilege. It is less threatening to stand in solidarity when you can be distanced from the role of perpetrating oppression.

It is easy for us to participate in being the oppressors, if not by directly perpetrating violence, then by standing by and watching it.

When I was deeply disturbed about the events of Kashmir last August, angry about the police brutality upon students protesting against CAA in December, and completely torn up about the religious riots on the streets of Delhi in February, I did not find very many South Asian peers to share my thoughts and concerns with. I noticed a deafening silence, an embarrassing sense of unawareness instead, and a lacking sense of urgency to understand the problem.

Today, being aware of, posting about, and speaking up about the #BlackLivesMatter movement makes you a part of a modern Western world. We need to make sure that we do not fall victim to double-standards, performative activism and the appropriation of cultural movements. Convenience cannot be a factor when choosing to stand against discrimination.

This is not written to make you feel guilty, but rather as a wake-up call to the western-centric world that we have been raised to prioritise. I have not written this to call you out, but rather from a place of love. I hope that you continue to stand in solidarity with the Black Lives Matter movement, and I request that you please share that same passion with addressing injustices at your own doorstep. If you don’t, nobody else will.

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.



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”