Saturday, 26 July 2014



Alhamdulillah, we are almost there! After almost a month of fasting we bid farewell to this blessed month with this festival of family, food, and lots of fun.
Muslims across the globe will wait eagerly tomorrow night to spot the crescent. Then some moon-fighting will follow with people eventually celebrating it together anyway. Kids will run around excited about the celebrations, some will burst crackers and dream about the Eidi (Gift money) they will get after the eid prayers. The ladies in the house will get their hands henna-ed, everyone has that one cousin who makes your hand look pretty for once. The cousins congregate in the hall, the mothers busy in preparations for the feast the next day. Snacks for breakfast and delicious biriyani for lunch. Some of the more daring cousins attempt to sneak into the kitchen and smuggle a few snacks out for the rest of us, but most of the times their efforts get foiled. The dads and uncles begin their calls to relatives abroad 'Did you spot the moon in Saudi/Dubai/ America?".

The ironing board witnesses its busiest day yet as one after the other the members of the household iron their Eid clothes (some grudgingly).
And then, eventually, the parents shush their children and order us to sleep. "We will wake you up at 5 tomorrow. No excuses. Now lights off!".
We don't actually sleep...

The next morning, as promised, we are woken up at 5. Some members (*cough* Shereef *cough*), pretend to wake up and then go sleep in another room. Till my dad storms in and literally peels him away from the bed. The girls wash off their henna and the little ones run around the house showing off the orange-red patterns to their parents.
The house slowly fills with the aroma of the frying Samosas, unnakayas and pazham poris (Plantain fries). Mothers of toddlers run behind them with the clothes in one hand and shoes in the other.There are long queues outside the bathrooms for the early morning shower,which some take as a sign to sleep 5 minutes more (*cough* Shereef *cough*).

My grandmother gets ready and calls me to ask if I need some talcum powder to put on my face (I am dark, so talcum powder will apparently make me fair-or 'full of colour'). She then calls all the grand kids to hand out the eidi. At this point none of us are really excited about grandma's eidi, because it's a whole process! First she has to bring all of us in, then the eldest grandchild (me) will be beckoned to bring out her bag, then unzip it and remove a handbag, within which is a purse, within which is an envelope. There are about thousand rupees in there, as she slowly but surely counts it a few times. From that she pulls out 250 Rupees which is to be shared by her 10 grand kids. Yes, my grandma hasn't realized that the value has changed, significantly, over the last few decades. (Once she gave my brother and me 100 bucks to share among ourselves, and she asked me to keep the extra rupee because I am the oldest and her favourite).

The logistics of the trip to the Eidgaah are decided. As we try different permutations and combinations of getting 20+ people into three cars. There is a final check to see if the kids are in (and whether they are actually our kid) and off we go to the Mosque/ Prayer ground. My favourite eid gah was 2 years ago, when we prayed at the beach. Something very special as we heard the Qur'an being recited along with calming sounds of the waves lapping the shore.

The Eid prayers done, we all head back (again after a headcount to ensure no cousin is left behind) to lunch spread awaiting us.
Since my mom is from one end of Kerala, and my dad from the other end and we are settled somewhere in the middle- our Eid spread is a mix of two different culinary styles. There is, of course, biriyani , chicken fry, Kozhi Kaddumbu. Sometimes we have a 'Sadhya', which is traditionally a vegetarian meal on a plantain leaf. But we make some adjustments and add some chicken and fish in there. How else will it work?
The meal is finished off with 'Paayasam', which is a creamy milk dessert. Some cousins throw a fit about biting into a raisin..again. Everyone retreats to the living room with cups of 'Sulaimani' (lemon tea), cousins on the carpet and soon grandpa dozes off. Eventually the rest of us follow suite and the house settles into this peaceful post-celebration buzz.
The sultry Kerala afternoon hangs heavy on us, and eventually it will rain.

Some Eids back home, I would be annoyed at the noise in the house, but now I kind of crave it. Okay, I crave it a lot. The whole of it. The crying toddlers, the henna nights with my cousins, the eidi, the aroma of biriyani filling the air, the Eidi count and the fights afterwards. Mostly, family. This Eid I will be away from my huge, loud, messy family of oddballs, but will be with them in spirit. Alhamdulillah, I have family away from home to celebrate Eid here! Wishing everyone a blessed Eid!

Friday, 25 July 2014

The End of Ramadan...

Today is the last Friday of Ramadan. 27 days have flown by. I entered Ramadan with so much hope and many prayers, like everyone else, for new beginnings and happy endings. An intense desire to cleanse myself from within through this fasting and remembrance of God. And now we are here, as Ramadan slowly makes its way out, I desperately DESPERATELY want to hold on to it. The 3 am suhoors and late night iftaars. The Jum'ah prayers with multilingual sermons, the intimate encounters with the Qur'an, as I fall in love with again and again.

This Ramadan has been similar but also very different on many accounts. It's the first Ramadan I fasted alone. And I've realized that I'll do everything in my power NOT to have another Ramadan without company. I want to be able to share my Iftar, pray Taraweeh in Jam'ah and be woken up for groggy family suhoors. This Ramadan made me thankful for my umma and uppa - you guys are the reason I love this month so much. You made it special for us. And now, when I am not with you guys, I realize how much of the ease I felt in previous Ramadans was because of you. You never let us know hardship, and for that I am ever grateful. This is an intense gratitude that comes from my heart and makes me well up with tears every time. Thank you. Thank you. Thank you.

This Ramadan has not all been easy too. As much as it has been about new beginnings, it has also been about ends-bloody ends- for many. The end of innocence, the end of hopes and dreams and wishes. This month saw so much death and destruction. The blood of men, women, and children whose names were erased as they became numbers. It has been a painful month, for those living through the horrors of genocide, plane crashes, and every other incident that results from the slow death of humanity. It has also taken a toll on those watching it unfold from the comfort of their homes. As we see the numbers rising- 200-400-700- we begin to unravel. Undone.
This month I have mourned the deaths of hundreds of my brothers and sisters in humanity. I have felt helpless, angry, and frustrated at my inability to do anything.

But last night was different, today is different. I saw the beginning of something which will blossom into freedom. The culmination of all the stones thrown, the bones broken, the children dead, I see a people rising against oppression, and in my own way I rise with them. I felt peace last night, as I rested my forehead on the ground, thanking God and asking Him for help. It is He alone we turn to and it is He who gives respite. And then I stayed awake to greet the morning, a beautiful morning with a soft, glowing sun. And as I stood there, watching it gracefully make its way up, I felt it in my bones that there is something better in store for all this pain, these tears, this loss. 'Verily after hardship comes ease'.

A while ago, I stood near my window and watched it rain. As a gentle wind caressed my face, and my outstretched hands felt the first drops of rain, I felt hopeful. I closed my eyes and I was at home with family, I was in Malaysia with friends, I was in Palestine with the little kids. Wherever we are, rain doesn't discriminate.
It's with sadness that I bid farewell to this blessed month, but my heart is also content. For Ramadan may be ending, but it is not The End. Not yet.

Friday, 18 July 2014

The Same...

You said these domes invade your skies,
And my clothes offend your freedom
Which you so cherished.
You claim
My smile doesn't reach your eyes
Nor my hand out there
Waiting for you 
To shake
And let peace prevail
When I tell you, 

My scarf, these domes, our extended hand
Don't mean any harm
And I'm in no need of saving because
No freedom was infringed when I chose modesty
No oppression encountered till I was asked to shed
What I protect.
I will shed, though.
I will shed inhibition, fear and uncertainties; and
I will reveal.
I will reveal, when we bring down the fence,
You and me,
We are just the same.

Monday, 14 July 2014

My Beloved...

My beloved,
To call you that, is an injustice in itself, for loving you is not an active choice where you are the passive recipient. Darling, my love is imperfect but in all its forms, it belongs to you.
I was whole and then you came along. I knew I loved you even before you were born. With the first cry I became yours. Loving you was then a compulsion- a biological impulse-where each atom in my being was attuned to you and every movement of yours. You said ‘mama’ and my heart soared, You fell and I cried, Your tiny fingers wrapped around my index finger to walk and I found direction. Each action of yours found its outcome in me.
In knowing you,I discovered the depths of love itself. Love then became a selfish act, for in loving you I found myself.
My beloved, You came from me, and as you left, you took a part of me. In losing you, I am undone.
The bullet went through your body and tore my soul. It’s as though my heart has stopped beating and what remains instead is perpetual pain. A heavy pain now resides inside and refuses to cease. Pain that cuts even when I breathe. Each day I drown deeper in waves of sorrow that crushes my bones and constrict my lungs. So tight I cannot breathe. So tight not even your name escapes my lips.
I sought you in my dreams, but even sleep refuses respite. In waking moments, I count the seconds down and cling to what remains of your scent. Darling, the day the echoes of your laughter fade away, I too will come your way.
Image courtesy: PressTv

Monday, 7 July 2014

Ramadan and Family

There's chaos at home with mum dashing back and forth between the kitchen and the dining room, making sure the plates are set, the lemon juice is chilled enough, the dates are ready and the guests are alive. Meanwhile, my brothers and I strain our ears to hear the Maghrib adhan.
The whole family- with the grandparents, uncles, aunts and cousins- is seated around the table, hands hovering around their choice of snack/drink to open their fast with. My grandfather is concentrating on his watch and at 6.27 pm lets us know it's time. Dig in.
It's a sultry Malaysian evening. The chatter in the Masjid slowly dies down as we hear the Imam clear his throat. Then as the melodious call to prayer reverberates, we take a sip of the sweet rose syrup drink and bite into delicious 'curry puffs'.
It's 9.23 pm on a cool summer night in London. I am in my small student room, keeping an eye on my mobile screen as I make a few du'as. 9.24: a date and a sip of water. Iftar by myself.

I am a social person (on good days) and love surrounding myself with people. However, I have grown to love moments of solitude too. I enjoy spending time alone just getting to know myself (sounds so narcissistic). I have travelled alone and loved it. Explored a new city by myself and loved that too. So I wasn't too fazed by the prospect of fasting in Ramadan by myself. My dad had mentioned once how he found fasting alone quite dull, but I never gave it much thought.
This is the first time I've had to go about Ramadan without a fellow- faster (?) and I must say it's not as easy as I thought it would. Of course, the fasting bit is not the problem as everyone has to do it on their own. What got to me was not being able to sit with someone and share my suhoor/ iftar.

This Ramadan I realize the value of family and community. Spirituality in Ramadan is not just a matter of working on your relationship with God, but also about strengthening your bond with the people around you. I hadn't realized what a difference it makes to have one more person with you to share a simple meal at an odd hour. Or how much I regret not going to all the Taraweeh prayers (night prayers) at the mosque. I miss the quick iftar, Maghrib, light dinner and the walk to the masjid. I miss meeting and greeting people there, then standing as a congregation and praying. I miss being surrounded by the warmth of my family at the end of the day.

So when I got a chance to spend two days with my cousin, Salma, after a week of fasting alone, I was reminded once again of the unacknowledged role of our family in our mental well-being. We need them. I need my parents and my (pesky) brothers. Though I don't make it clear always and don't say it often enough, my family makes life more meaningful for me. And not just family, friends too! If it weren't for my room mate Chalani and my wonderful friends back in Malaysia, I am sure I would have gone insane at some point. I think it's the same for most of us- family and friends who are family are the reason we are who we are. They are the reason we are able to get through Monday morning blues and stay alive for yet another weekend. Thank God for them!

Today's Reflection: Ramadan makes me grateful for the people in my life- for a loving family and good friends. You guys are an assortment of oddballs (just like me!), but what would life be without you?

So you, reading this, yes YOU! I am thankful for having you in my life. And I am sure there are others who appreciate knowing you and love you for who you are, so stay that way! 

Tuesday, 1 July 2014

Just A Date?

I have been fasting the whole month of Ramadan since the age of 11 or 12. Before that, my Ramadan was mostly of half fasts-breaking my fast 5-6 hours before the adults. I remember one episode in particular where sunset was around 6 pm and I decided that fasting until 5 was the maximum I can do. So I broke my fast literally one hour before iftaar. Talk about patience.
Other fond memories include Iftaar parties with the extended family. The kids restless, exerting all their energies into praying the sun would just drop down from the sky, so they could polish off the yummy samosas beckoning them from the over laden table. Ramadan at Grandma's meant delicious Pathiri (rice flour bread) topped with coconut milk and her Spicy Chicken Curry
. When I look back now, Ramadan has always been of abundance. Alhamdulillah. Every Iftar we were fulfilled and maybe even overfilled (some to the extent that it was difficult for them to get up for prayers from where they were seated!).

In all these memories, however, my fondest memory of Ramadan is quite different. I was 17 years old, and awestruck. I was at the Masjidul Haram in Mecca in the last few days of Ramadan. Everything around me at that time inspired me. I was just blown away by the people- Oh God The People!- and their dedication. Malaysian women in their bright baju kurungs, Pakistani uncles in their kurtas and topis, Iranian ladies in their Chadors... Men and women of all shades and shapes and sizes worshiping alongside me, circumambulating around the Kaaba. All there for one reason alone- God. It was inspiring and humbling all at once

Pic courtesy Yahya Adel Ibrahim

The atmosphere in Ramadan is quite different in this area. Usually, we hear of 'Ramadan Road Rage' and 'Hangry Hisses' , but what I saw was a competition to do more and more good among the believers. We were staying in a hotel not far away from the Masjid, our walk was about 10-15 minutes, taking us past hawkers selling 'Islamic Goods' like prayer clothes, rugs, Qur'an copies etc, tiny juice shops, kebab shops with heavenly aromas wafting out, almost pulling us in by hand (or nose?). What we also saw was people on the street corners handing out free laban (yogurt drink), dates, and other Iftar snacks to all passersby. There were so many of them! Some of them came in cars filled with cartons of juice boxes, waiting to help out anyone in need.
However, the most humbling experience of all was another episode. We were seated on one of the plush rugs in the Masjid, having just finished some of the more strenuous activities of the 'Umra. Naturally, we were tired, thirsty and just waiting for the call of prayer to let us know its time to break the fast. So we're sitting there, just counting the seconds when an old lady next to me nudges me. I don't remember her name or her face, neither do I recall where she came from. What she did next blew me away. She had three dates and a glass of water with her to break her fast. Of this she gave one date to me and the other to the lady sitting on her other side. We didn't know each others' languages, she spoke in smiles. She didn't know me, and we will probably never meet her again, but that day she was so kind as to split what little she had with a complete stranger. Just because we shared belief in a God who asks us to be generous with each other.

More than 5 Ramadans have passed since then, but I still remember that lady. Not a face or a name. What comes to mind is the beauty of her soul. Today, the third day of Ramadan, has been a little difficult for me. By midday I was extremely tired and now I have a severely parched throat and a mild headache. And I haven't even stepped out of my room all day! So all I can think about today is that lady who probably herself was tired after a long day, and yet, was kind enough to think about the needs of the person next to her. And that humbles me.
Fasting is not for myself. This hunger is not for me. This parched throat doesn't say anything about me. This discomfort is a nudge to think beyond myself. A call to share, whatever I have- even if it is a couple of dates.

Today's reflection- Most of us live lives of abundance. Of plenitude in all aspects. However, how rich is our heart? What have we given in order to grow? And by given, I don't mean emptying out our spare change and walking away. I mean really giving, stepping over our needs and greed and looking out for the person who probably needs it more?
Isn't now the time? Aren't you the person?