Darwin’s Tejinder Pal Singh, known for his Sikh Family Food Van project, has also been helping the city’s Muslims break their fast during the Islamic month of Ramadan.
Known for his Langar sewa (free food service in Sikhism) for the homeless of Northern Territory’s capital, Mr Singh has been serving Iftar (meal to break the Islamic fast at dusk) since the last 10 years on a Jummah, i.e., Friday.
With 400 food packets, the Sikh Family Food Van served their first Iftarof this Ramadan on last Friday, May 1 at Darwin Mosque at Wanguri.
Usually, this group serves hot food manually served to people in their plates. But this year, it was a “drive-through, takeaway” Iftar for Mr Singh.
Due to coronavirus restrictions, Iftar and Jummah have been drastically scaled-down in mosques across Australia.
“I was doubtful about being able to serve Iftar this year. Darwin Mosque’s president, also a Punjabi who I call ‘Bhaji’ (older brother in Punjabi), rang me to ask if I would be interested in a drive-through Iftar this year. I readily accepted the offer,” says Mr Singh, referring to Mohammad Waqas, the mosque’s Pakistani-origin president.
“We go to Darwin Mosque on a Jummah because this day of the week is very significant for Muslims. Before I came to Australia, I had been serving Iftarin India too for a decade,” says Mr Singh.
Assisted by volunteers and his family, comprising his wife Gurpreet Kaur and son Navdeep Singh, he sticks to his own Sikh tenets of serving vegetarian food while catering to Muslims.
“Interaction is the best way to remove misconceptions about each other. There are misconceptions that Muslims don’t want to eat food cooked by non-Muslims. If we give respect to others, we only get it in return, that’s been my experience,” adds Mr Singh.
“It’s our Punjabi language that connects Bhaji and me,” he says with a sense of belonging in his voice.
Inspired by Mr Singh, a Hindu family from Darwin and a group of new migrants including international students, have also offered to serve Iftar on the next two Fridays.
“Tejinder Pal Singh is ‘Bhaji’ for me. Although our Punjabi language connects us, our community has been appreciating his gesture for a decade now, much before I became the mosque’s president this year,” says Mr Waqas, who hails from Islamabad, Pakistan’s capital city.
“Bhaji is from another religion but together we send a message of multiculturalism in Australia. We welcome the offer made by the Hindu family and the other group of students to serve us Iftar,” adds Mr Waqas.
He says that “everyone loves Bhaji’s food and it is famous”.
“When our community learns that he’s serving Iftar, even those who normally don’t come to the mosque for Iftar, turn up,” says Mr Waqas, adding how much people relished the popular Punjabi meal of kadhi-chawal (a yoghurt-chickpea flour curry served with rice) and naan on May 1.
Has the love-hate relationship between India and Pakistan ever cast its shadow upon this message of multiculturalism in Darwin?
“We are in Australia, outside our home countries. We live harmoniously here, we are connected by language and culture. Indo-Pakistan relations are better left to politicians,” Mr Waqas says.