Saving the Past, Present, and Future of Punjab

Not too long ago the word Punjabi conjured images of a hardworking and determined person of integrity. These are the tenets upon which our generations past have built and solidified their futures. Somewhere along the lines, these characteristics were lost. Perhaps it was the result of the oblivious and all too forgiving nature of Indian parents towards their offspring. Or perhaps it was a more gradual subtle change in the psyche of Punjabi youth. The end result is that of a dying culture. A culture once so rich and proud – is now being likened to that of impoverished and drug stricken slums inhabiting an ethnic group in danger of extinction.

Regardless of the cause of this social epidemic, the solution is clear. We must unite together to save our youth. This may be easier said than done. However, the initial step to solving any social crisis is always to spread the word. Communicate, discuss, and deliberate what can be done to steer Punjabis around the world into the right direction. If those in our motherland have lost their way, what will become of those of us spread so wide and far from our roots?

We must return to the source, and bring back to life the religion and culture that brought us to the place we are at today. There are many people from Punjab who have reached admirable levels of success abroad. However, those youngsters pining at the dream of emigrating from India are killing any chance of a future they may have – in India or elsewhere.

They are doing so by turning to serious hard-core drugs such as heroin and other extremely harmful substances. Although there is a line between cultural norms and religious guidance we must keep in mind that this is not what is in our “dharm” (duty) and most definitely not what our Gurus envisioned for us as a people. The Sikh people are meant to be lifelong scholars on a quest for higher enlightenment while spreading goodwill along the way. Instead, we have somehow stooped so low as to become the ones we are meant to be providing aid to. What has become of our people? This is a serious issue that could have catastrophic effects if not attended to immediately. This is not just a social issue of India. It is an issue for humanity. It is the issue of every Indo-Canadian who cares about carrying their lineage forward. One should never expect to excel forward, if they forget to look back from where they have risen. We must aid those who have lost their way back to the true “Gursikhi” way. We must ensure the prevention of anymore individuals falling by the wayside.

Only a few short years ago Punjab was a prideful gem of India. Now – the downfall of not only the economy of this state but its social stature is shocking and undeniable. According to several Indian news outlets billions of dollars are involved in the drug trade annually – in this region alone. For nearly a decade, the frequency of drug use amongst Punjabi youth in India has increased dramatically. All the while the numbers of youth graduating from post-secondary institutions have been dwindling. A 2011 study conducted on drug use and alcoholism in Punjab revealed that 1.5 to 2 million of youth ages 15-25 are in the devastating cycle of drug abuse. These numbers are staggering and hard to conceptualize. However, we must not turn a blind eye to this. This issue has become so prevalent and threatening that several Western media outlets have reported on this growing battle. The Washington Post Newspaper wrote an article about premature death amongst Punjabi males leaving several hundred women widowed in certain villages. If Punjab’s current vulnerable state has caught global attention – it should also ignite our inner desire to do something about this as well.

The answer is clear – we must return to inhibiting the qualities that make us unique from any other cultural group. We must apply those characteristics from which we are historically differentiated to become something we can all be proud of once again. The manner in which this can be achieved is by promoting the importance of education. Naturally, if the youth are occupied in an educational system, to which they feel they belong on every level of their being – mind, body, and spirit, they will be salvaged. There will be no room in their hearts or desires for any mind altering substances. Their psyches will be fulfilled and equipped with knowledge to succeed in life.

There have been certain credible individuals taking initiative in India to aid in solving this problem. However, they cannot do so without our support. A particular example of a possible sanctuary for impressionable youth in which all they require can be provided is The Akal Academy of India. Their previous locations have had great successes in transforming lives. The new campus which is currently under construction will essentially be an academic community which would be the perfect vessel for keeping our youth off the streets and away from chasing dangerous highs. It is currently under construction in a Northern part of Punjab and being a part of the development of this post-secondary institute is one of the many things which need to be done as an antidote to this disease plaguing the villages of Punjab. Please promote awareness of this issue. Please save our roots and futures from destruction.

To read The Washington Post Newspaper article visit:

To learn more about drug use in Punjab visit:’s_Punjab_24092013171919.pdf

To learn more about Akal Academy visit:





The Surrey Bubble

When I was fourteen and my parents told me we were moving to Surrey I did not speak to them for weeks. The reason for this was because I had an extremely negative image of the city. In my teenage opinion, it was a place full of people who I considered completely beneath me. They were people who did not know how to speak English correctly, and even worse, individuals who had poor taste in music, clothes, and television shows. I believed that these people just did not understand the “Western way of life” which I was so accustomed to. I grew up as a small town girl always being the token East-Indian in a group of friends. Often times I even forgot that I wasn’t one of them. I had pretty much convinced myself I was actually meant to be born Caucasian. In my eyes, to be anything else was inferior. My adolescent mind believed being Caucasian was the default setting of being human. I did not want to be a deviation. I did not want to be different. Whether this was a result of watching my parents be victims of blatant racism, or growing up with subtle stereotypes and prejudices surrounding me, I am not sure. However, what I am sure of is that none of that mattered anymore once I actually moved here.

Being Indo-Canadian and moving to Surrey is like being welcomed back into a society to which you never knew you belonged to in the first place. Very quickly, I learned that at school there was a “brown hallway” and a “white hallway.” Being accustomed to socializing with Caucasian females my entire life, I initially attempted to join their social circle, only to be guided down to the direction of where I was actually “meant to be.” Fast-forward a couple years and when I look back with 20/20 hindsight I realize that although there was indeed social segregation occurring between the two ethnicities – I pretty much forgot about it and took it to be the norm after a few short months. I soon learned that it actually felt pretty fantastic to no longer feel self-conscious about my “weird smelling” Indian food when friends came over. Or speaking Punjabi with my grandparents in front of them either. Everybody else was just like me, I was no longer pretending to be just like everybody else. It was amazing. All was well until I realized that a part of the younger generation of East-Indian culture there was also this strange phenomenon of rebellion. The majority of my peers skipped school, smoked marijuana, drank alcohol, and engaged in many promiscuous behaviours which probably need not be mentioned. So, being the diligent follower I was – I engaged in several of these activities as well without a second thought.

Now, this is when the “Surrey bubble” begins to form. You act in ways which in any other region of Canada would be considered extremely socially unacceptable. However, because everyone around you is the exact same way – it really does not matter. You are constantly exposed to a certain mentality of no requirement to excel, never being reprimanded for wrong-doings, and receiving everything on a “silver platter.” What I wish to do is pop this Surrey bubble. I urge parents to question why they are handing their seventeen year olds the keys to a brand new vehicle at no effort of their own. One must question why are their offspring not being taught the value of hard work and perseverance?

I do find it pertinent to state that it is understandable why our parents fell into this style of parenting without realizing the catastrophic dangers of it. They come from a generation of not only working to provide, but working to survive. All they wanted for their children was a better life than they had growing up. They came to Canada with the hopes and dreams of starting a new future, many with a completely blank slate. By being so afraid of having too little, they end up giving too much. This trend actually ends up socially handicapping their children rather raising them higher.

It is undeniable that there are many problems with adolescents and young adults in any region in the world. What makes the youth of Surrey differ from the rest of them, is that in this city there seems to be a misconception that problematic behaviours are the norm. This “Surrey bubble” can only be burst when one is exposed to different types of cultures and societies. We must make them aware that there is a whole world out there that is not covered with a puff of marijuana smoke. We must stress the dangers of behaviours like beginning to drink at a young age and taking recreational drugs. Being a part of this way of life may become a cycle which could ultimately end with amounting to be an individual who has a whole lot of nothing to offer society. It is our responsibility (the select few of us who broke away from this crippling psyche) to educate our youth that there are even places in the world where it is the norm to refrain from drinking or taking drugs all together. Eventually, this could spark a trend of it being socially acceptable to be someone who abstains from using any type of mind altering drug at all for his or her entire life.

It seems the youth of today all have something to prove.  Perhaps it is that they too fit in with the “ghetto” life. They wish to outshine one another with their trials and tribulations even though the majority of them are living in half a million dollar houses. One can blame social media, rap music, or glorification of this way of life through many other outlets – however we must realize that we too were at one point in this haze. We must utilize whatever critical thinking skills brought us out of it, and save the youth of Surrey. There is no ghetto here – only a youth that needs to be pulled away from the appeal of living without aspiration.

An Open Letter: For Those Concerned About Foreign Workers in Canada

A few weeks back we shared our story about the role foreign workers play in our company – and thanks to social media it exploded. A great deal of people responded with common themes in their reactions. Some offered thoughtful suggestions, while others spewed out “knee-jerk” responses which tend to be commonly triggered by anything having to do with the word ‘foreign.’ This letter addresses both those who are capable of unbiased critical thought and those who simply absorb information and only swim through life with the mainstream.

Many individuals expressed concern about foreigners replacing Canadians in the workforce. More specifically, people told us to simply hire locally accredited chefs in support of those who graduate from Canadian culinary schools. However, the only problem with this suggestion is that there is no Canadian training program which teaches the skills necessary to make high quality authentic Indian sweets and snacks. We are very much aware that this is a extremely simplistic solution for our conundrum. This is the exact reason that my sister in law thought it would be beneficial to enrol in a year long program at The Art Institute of Vancouver specializing in Bakery and Pastry Arts (the closest thing we could find to East Indian sweet making). It was upon graduating from this program that she quickly learned just how vastly different the procedures of cooking East Indian sweets are from Western or European confections and pastries. This is a family owned and operated business. Each of us contribute to handling everything from the kitchen work, customer service, to office work. If we could internally fulfill this position, wouldn’t that be our most optimal solution? Additionally, it takes years to reach the skill level of our sweet makers. As with any culturally related food which has gained popularity in the Western world – authenticity equals superiority. Is the thought of a cook straight from Italy preparing your pasta not more enticing than a “rookie” straight out of culinary school? There is a reason we are number one amongst hundreds of competitors. We offer a specialty item which can only be prepared by someone who is a true historical artisan. We are currently at the most vulnerable and vital time in the growth of our organization. This is our time to either flourish or falter in the international market – we can only accomplish this with the men who are the secret to our success. 

Next, I would like to explain a few key factors to those who made the suggestion that there are plenty of Indo-Canadians here who should be able to become sweet makers. There are indeed one million Indo-Canadians in Canada. This does sound like a rather large number until it is compared to the population of India – which is that of one BILLION people. Furthermore, the diaspora of Indo-Canadians is not a balanced representation of the population of India. India is an extremely diverse country with several different regions. Each region encompasses not only it’s own occupational sector but also many other differentiating factors such as; different languages and dialects, social status, cultural norms, religious beliefs, etc. The majority of people who immigrate to Canada from India are from areas in which they (or their ancestors) were either farmers, business owners, or industrial workers – NOT sweet makers. The reason for this being is the areas of India in which sweet makers reside are typically quite impoverished societies. Therefore, there are not a whole lot of people immigrating to Canada from there. Another crucial factor to consider is that in thirteen years of business we have not encountered a single individual who has approached us with the aspiration of becoming a master sweet maker, Indo-Canadian or not. We cannot create a training program without any potential trainees. 

To those saying this is a “back door” for permanently immigrating to Canada. Believe it or not, not everyone who comes to Canada actually desires to settle here permanently. Our sweet makers come here to provide a better future for their families back home. They apply their naturally gifted skill set to break out of the boundaries of their financial situations. Also, I find it pertinent to clarify that just because we are a ethnic minority, this does not mean that we must be looking for a way to bend immigration laws. We are a very “by the book” organization and do not encourage or condone any unlawful acts – immigration related or otherwise. In fact, this presumption is just flat out insulting. 

To the select few telling my family and I to go back to our country where we will surely find a vast abundance of sweet makers. I would like to say this IS my country. Although there are one million Indo-Canadians here, many of us are not foreigners. Surprisingly enough, we too are born and raised here – yet we still must be referred to as Indo-Canadians and not just as Canadians. I do not appreciate those who respond to this issue with such an air of superiority. Whether we became Canadian through birth or naturalization, we are all Canadians. We belong here just as much as anyone else does. Furthermore, even in India, these master pastry chefs are found few and far between and it is a very difficult and lengthy process to locate one who would be the perfect fit for our organization. If people can avidly tune in to television programs which revolve around becoming the “best chef” of a particular region then surely they can also understand the complexities involved in becoming a master of ones trade in this field as well.

Last but not least: To everyone who shared our story and took part in a national conversation about it. You all helped transform this from a one sided attempt to pit foreigners against Canadians into a critically thought out discussion. You helped reveal the fact that this issue is much more layered than it initially appeared. It is more than the consequences of companies abusing a system and effecting Canadian employment rates. Your huge response helped reveal the existence of many stereotypes and prejudices regarding not only foreigners but ethnic minorities as a whole. These underlying beliefs typically tend to be more subtle. They are usually only brought to the surface when emotionally charged issues (such as this one) are brought to the public’s attention. What I desire to be the “take home message” from this letter is my plea for people to always examine both sides of the coin. I urge you all to question each and every tidbit of knowledge or information you encounter – this letter included. 

Our Sweet Success Story in the Huffington Post BC

Our Sweet Success Story in the Huffington Post BC

Here’s a blog I wrote for Huffington Post BC outlining how my father in law’s company utilized the foreign worker program to rise to the top of the East Indian sweet industry. There was only so much I could write in the article so I will be writing a open letter as an addendum to address some of the commonly outlined concerns which were fired at me through various outlets in reaction to our conundrum. Although it exploded in social media and lead to many more public relation opportunities for our company, it received a whole lot of backlash as well. Friends, strangers, and family members all had an opinion. Interested to know, what’s yours?