Moneet’s plea of Will You Marrow Me? nets her a match

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Moneet Mann, 24, started an awareness campaign Will You Marrow Me? after her cancer diagnosis last year. On Saturday, May, 24 Moneet and officials from the Canadian Blood Services' OneMatch Stem Cell and Marrow Network are hosting a swabbing clinic at the Hershey Centre in Mississauga from 1-6 p.m. Supplied photo

Moneet Mann, 24, started an awareness campaign Will You Marrow Me? after her cancer diagnosis last year. On Saturday, May, 24 Moneet and officials from the Canadian Blood Services’ OneMatch Stem Cell and Marrow Network are hosting a swabbing clinic at the Hershey Centre in Mississauga from 1-6 p.m.
Supplied photo

It was serendipity that led me to meet Moneet Mann, 24, and chronicle her journey.
The tiny stubs of hair on Moneet’s scalp when I met her reminded me of resilient crocuses that push through the earth at the end of winter and are considered harbingers of spring.
So, it came, as no surprise the steely determination in Moneet’s sparkling eyes as she talked about the cancer in her body would find a way to slay the dragon that had somehow intruded on her life and dreams.
Last Thanksgiving, after being handed a cancer diagnosis, a stunned and shocked Moneet underwent treatment at the Princess Margaret Hospital (PMH) in Toronto for acute myeloid leukemia, but doctors told her she would need a bone marrow transplant. Unlike blood donors, typically, bone marrow matches, are only found within the same ancestry.
Here’s the thing: even though there are currently some 22 million donors registered worldwide, South Asians make up for a small percentage. Take a good look at the depressing statistics: East Indians constitute a little over 3 per cent of registered donors and are at the bottom alongside blacks (1 per cent), aboriginals (1 per cent) and Hispanics (0.2 per cent).See chart here
So when faced against these odds, Moneet knew she had to take charge. Between cancer treatments and praying for a divine intervention, Moneet kept busy with her awareness campaign Will You Marrow me?
(The catchy title was the brainchild of Moneet’s cousin who one day called her excitedly and said he had the perfect name for her initiative. The rest, as they say, is history)
So far, Will You Marrow Me? has been educating desis on the importance of registering as marrow and stem cells donors. To that end, family and friends have collaborated with local temples and gurudwaras in the GTA to host swabbing clinics there so that the dismal number of donors on the Canadian Blood Services’ OneMatch Stem Cell and Marrow Network can see a surge in numbers.
Most people, if asked will tell you with absolute clarity, the precise moment their life changed. Moneet incidentally has two. The first? When she was told she had cancer and the other one happened recently.
Moneet recently learned a bone marrow match had been found. This is akin to winning a windfall because less than 25 per cent of patients who need stem cell transplants find a match in their family, most have to depend on an unrelated donor. Here’s how Moneet describes the ‘moment.’
“When I recently met the doctor, he began by saying, ‘one week ago we found…’ my heart dropped,” Moneet recalled. “I was so afraid he was going to say they found leukemia cells. Thank god, that was not the case and so he (doctor) continued, ‘we found your match.’ I was so ecstatic; I jumped off the hospital bed. The dark cloud had been lifted.”
As I write this, I can only imagine the potency of hope that resides in the Mann household now.
Their hard work with Will You Marrow Me? has garnered results. In December, the number of South Asians on the registry was 3.1 per cent, in March it has edged to 3.6 per cent.
“I am not saying it is because of Will You Marrow Me? but I am proud of my community members for taking a stand and registering,” Moneet said. “We need to build a pool of South Asian donors so that patients like myself have better chances of finding their donor.”
The Facebook page of Will You Marrow Me? currently has some 5,390 likes and thousands of shares.
“The fact that thousands of people were listening to my story and wanted to help, gave me the strength I needed to carry on,” Moneet told Toronto Desi Diaries. “I will continue to help others especially those in need of a stem cell and marrow transplant because I know how devastating the news of cancer can be and how difficult it actually is to find a match from within your own ethnicity/heritage.”
When Moneet was told she had leukemia last October, she was in the final year of a BA/B.Ed program at Lakehead University. Just a few days earlier, she and few of her friends, had taken part in the Dirty Girls Mud Run in Thunder Bay, Ont. in support of the Canadian Cancer Society. Little did she know, in a strange quirk of fate, she was in fact inadvertently supporting, not just the hundreds of others stricken by cancer, but herself.

Since it all began at a fundraiser, this August, Moneet's friends will be taking part in the Dirty Girls Mud Run in support of Moneet. Photo courtesy Facebook

Since it all began at a fundraiser, this August, Moneet’s friends will be taking part in the Dirty Girls Mud Run in support of Moneet.
Photo courtesy Facebook

On Saturday, May 24, Moneet will be at the Carassauga Festival at Hershey Centre (community rinks # 3) at 5500 Rose Cherry Place in Mississauga from 1-6 p.m. for a swab clinic.
Please drop by because cancer strikes without a warning and in a blink of an eye, the life you take for granted, can change—irreversibly.
For more information, visit here

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Toronto’s nightingale Jonita Gandhi wows the Bollywood off its socks

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Toronto crooner Jonita Gandhi reads out the contents of a journal she had started when she was seven. Jonita has sung half-a-dozen tracks for Bollywood films, including the title song of Chennai Express, which she sung along with S.P. Balasubramanium, the South Indian icon. (supplied photo).

Toronto crooner Jonita Gandhi reads out the contents of a journal she had started when she was seven. Jonita has sung half-a-dozen tracks for Bollywood films, including the title song of Chennai Express, which she sung along with S.P. Balasubramanium, the South Indian icon. (supplied photo).

We all know, breaking into the ironclad bastion of Bollywood, as an artist requires part luck, plenty of perseverance and oodles of talent.

Toronto crooner Jonita Gandhi, 24, it seems has what it takes. Little wonder then that her name appears as a playback singer in half-a-dozen Bollywood songs already.

On a recent spring-like day, I sat with Jonita and chatted with her on her musical odyssey, the glamour of Bollywood (hardly, it’s all work), homesickness (it’s real) and the life of a rising playback singer (apparently, it’s a waiting game).

Not many people are privy to the fact that way back when she was 7; Jonita had scrawled her dreams and flung it into the universe via her diary. This journal— which would go missing only to be found again every couple of years—had sporadic entries.

So, few weeks ago, when the Toronto native came home from Mumbai, her parents suggested she take an inventory of her room and toss out the stuff she no longer needed. The spring-cleaning unearthed the cherished journal.

“I want to be a singer,” the affirmative words, it appears, were written when Jonita was seven. Dozens of pages later as the childish penmanship became more assured, as did her single-mindedness.

“I am 16 and still not famous,” she rued during her teens. “When will I be famous?”

She and I chuckled over the desperation of those heart-felt pleas.

As Jonita connected with her younger self, I couldn’t help marvel at how her dreams had indeed translated. Not too many can revisit their childhood musings and realize—gleefully—that they are indeed living it.

So far, the Western University alumni, has proved her mettle with hits such as the title song of the blockbuster hit Chennai Express, Kahaan hoon main (Highway), Implosive Silence (Highway), Eai Ki Prem (Bangali Babu English Mem), Aabhi Jaa and others.

As a singer, Jonita’s versatility can be credited to her training in western classical singing and other musical influences she imbibed growing up in Canada.

Her talent was nurtured and encouraged at home because Jonita’s father, Deepak’s passion for music refused to be silenced as he pursued engineering in Russia and later during his struggles as a new immigrant in Canada. Also, Mandeep, her brother plays the dhol and mom Sneh is the glue that holds the family together.

“Once I graduated, I decided I would try singing full-time for a year and then see what happens,” Jonita told Toronto Desi Diaries. “My debut (in Bollywood) happened on the spot. I was visiting the studios of music director Vishal Shekhar who was at that time working on the title song of Chennai Express. Vishal Shekhar had heard my online work and knew what I sounded like. He took a chance and asked to me try a scratch.”

So, Jonita lent her voice to the song—which included the dulcet pipes of South Indian icon S.P. Balasubramanium. After her recording, she was told the final decision on whether the track would make it into the big screen rested with the film’s leading man Shah Rukh Khan, director Rohit Shetty and the producers. The song did make it and Jonita’s singing prowess found a springboard.

There’s this interesting story of how Jonita’s music struck the right chord with Bollywood legend Amitabh Bachchan.

Here’s how it all happened. Even before she set-off for Mumbai, Jonita had build an impressive online portfolio. Her collaboration with pianist Aakash Gandhi (no relative) and flutist Sahil Khan was groundbreaking. The talented trio basically stripped popular Hindi/Punjabi music of all its layers and created melodies that were uncluttered, organic and simplistic.

Couple of their YouTube videos went viral and one landed in the hands of the CEO of Balaji Films who tweeted the link with note on how impressed he was. Turns out, Amitabh Bachchan (who was following the CEO) heard, agreed and re-tweeted, “I completely agree.”

So, for a Toronto gal to get nods from not one, but two Bollywood heavyweights—Shah Rukh Khan and Amitabh Bachchan— means Jonita Gandhi is going to croon her way into the hearts of millions, soon.