At 53, Manju is bright and energetic with a smile that fills her slim face. Sitting in her kitchen with a mug of spiced tea, she seems surprised by the Soul Model award. “I’m very ordinary,” she insists. “I’ve done no more than what many people do.”
Yet not many people would have the courage to change their lives quite so dramatically. At 21, freshly graduated from teacher’s college, Manju set out for a faraway country, leaving her family, her home and almost everything else she knew behind in India. A year earlier, she’d been introduced to a potential husband, an Indian man who’d come home for a visit after several years of working in Canada. “Our meeting was kind of arranged,” Manju says. As a mining engineer, Ramesh Mandal knew what lay ahead for a future wife: a drastically different life in small-town Quebec—about as far from India as anyone could imagine.
At that first meeting, Ramesh asked Manju 10 questions about how she thought she might cope with the changes. He was impressed with her honesty and willingness to try. Before long, Manju was married and on a plane to Canada.
To hear her describe it, starting this new life in Canada was neither daunting nor difficult. She sees no particular wonder in what she was able to do. “I don’t know,” she says with a shrug, “I just did it!” Yet everything about her new home was different: the food, the climate, the culture. Raised a Hindu, she was now living in Catholic Quebec. Fluent in Hindi, Punjabi and English, she found herself surrounded by people whose first language was French.
Like many who settle in Canada, Manju’s biggest challenge was to find a balance of old and new, to become a part of the Canadian culture while holding on to her roots. When the Mandals eventually moved to the larger community of Timmins, Ont., they met other young families who felt the same way.
Soon, Manju and Ramesh were teaching classes to help children of Indian descent discover their rich cultural heritage. Manju is passionate about bridging the gap between cultures–something she herself has done with ease. Today, she and Ramesh are active members of the India-Canada Association of Sudbury. Manju is especially pleased that many non-Indians have joined the group. “We all need to live in harmony with each other,” she says. “That’s just been my motto, I guess.”