Thanks to SOCH, South Asians in Toronto, are now talking about their mental health


First off, apologies to Toronto Desi Diaries readers, for my inconsistent posts lately.

I was juggling at least half-a-dozen projects and these blurred my priorities and tested my resilience. Suffice to say, I did not emerge from it all unscathed. I am emotionally exhausted.

Which brings me to the conversation I had with a remarkable woman a few months ago.

Photo of Jasmeet Chagger and Maneet Chahal, two Brampton nurses who co-founded SOCH, a mental health initiative for South Asians in Toronto.

Maneet Chahal, 28, (L) seen here with her best friend Jasmeet Chagger, 28. The two nurses co-founded SOCH (Supporting our Community’s Health), an initiative to educate South Asians in the GTA about the resources and mental health system. Photo courtesy SOCH.

Jasmeet Chagger, 28, is a nurse working with the Canadian Mental Health Association Peel Dufferin’s Assertive Community Treatment (ACT) team.

In 2015, Jasmeet and Maneet Chahal, 28, a nurse as well, started SOCH (Supporting our Community’s Health), an initiative to educate the South Asian community in the GTA about mental health.

Jasmeet and I talked about self-care, and how it was important for folks— caught in the frenzy of life—to take time to recharge, refuel and reset their emotional wellbeing.

“SOCH has a lot to do with our passion for mental health,” Jasmeet told Toronto Desi Diaries. “When Maneet and I work on SOCH stuff, it doesn’t feel like we are working. It’s something that we really want to do. What SOCH has taught us was; we preach self-care but we need to practice it ourselves. So, in a sense, it has been a learning curve for both of us…”

Let’s rewind this story and start from the beginning, shall we?

SOCH: Two nurses/BFFS wearing many hats

“Soch” in Hindi and Punjabi means, “thought.” An apt name for a mental health initiative that has strived to tirelessly untangle complex layers about mental wellbeing to the South Asians in Toronto by demystifying terms such as counselling, psychology, depression, physical health and its connection to mental health and more.

The two advocates—who live in Brampton—carve time from their hectic life to host workshops and events while managing full-time jobs and studying for their master’s degrees.

Maneet and Jasmeet, who are childhood BFFs, said SOCH was borne from the realization that even after being in the system for five, 10 or more years, many South Asians had no clue about the resources available to them or tools they needed to manage their symptoms. Worse still, there was no culturally relevant information available to family members, who helplessly watched their loved ones suffer.

“SOCH started because growing up both Maneet and I have seen mental health issues within our families and friends,” Jasmeet explained. “As teens and young adults, we struggled on how we could help people navigate the system. And when we became nurses, we thought about how we could help both individuals and families.”

“We wanted to use our knowledge to educate the community on the basics: what’s the difference between mental health and mental illness, how do you access the system? How can you get help? etc.”

The Brampton duo were the proud recipients of the Brampton Board of Trades’ 40 Under 40 for 2018 for their work.

Jasmeet Chagger and Maneet Chahal stand next to the signage.

In this photo, Maneet Chahal, 28, and Jasmeet Chagger, 28, (R) co-founders of SOCH celebrate Maneet getting a nursing research award for her thesis. SOCH (Supporting our Community’s Health)is an initiative that educates South Asians in the Greater Toronto Area about mental health through workshops and events. Photo courtesy SOCH.

So, what does SOCH do?

SOCH hosts monthly workshops in Punjabi at community centres and Gurudwaras (Sikh temples) in Brampton and surrounding areas.

When they first launched, they wanted the topics to resonate with the South Asians as well as the general population. With some help from LAB-B co-founder Harman Grewal, Maneet and Jasmeet found a physical address (LAB-B) from which they could host the information sessions.

The workshops are designed to be more facilitator- style than lectures.

In Feb. 2017, SOCH did its first South Asian-focused event and took the conversation into the Gurudwaras. Since then, the sessions are held in Punjabi/Hindi.

“Instead of presenting a deck, we try and get the audience engaged by asking questions, listening or having them discuss a topic or issue amongst themselves first and we fill in the gaps,” Maneet explained.

  • SOCH’s main mandate is to offer linguistically and culturally-appropriate information.
  • SOCH acts as a bridge or conduit connecting and educating individuals from the South Asian community to information and resources available in the community.
  • More importantly, SOCH has been instrumental in getting people (South Asians) to openly talk about mental health.

 “There’s a negative connotation with mental health,” Maneet explained. “Through SOCH we are trying to promote that everyone has a mental health and you can take steps to take care of your mental health and by practicing self-care, people can prevent themselves from reaching the rock-bottom.”

Some takeaways

Maneet and Jasmeet shared a few insights they had learned as mental health advocates.

“Change takes time and it’s not going to happen overnight,” Jasmeet said. “We noticed, the community does want to talk about mental health. For example, we did a One Brave Night initiative where we partnered with the Sikh Heritage Museum. We had over 100 South Asians. People were telling their stories, crying and supporting each other. The key thing to remember is people do want to talk about mental health, they just need a platform.”

One Brave Night, an initiative by the Centre for Addiction and Mental Health (CAMH) happens during April. Participants stay up all night to experience what someone with mental health challenges is going through.



Oct. ’15 brings Krishna, the musical, garba, garba and more garbaa


Malayali film actress Shobana is bringing a visual treat Krishna, a musical to Oakville, Sunday, Oct. 4. Check out other desi events happening in the GTA, October 2015.

filmi21Thursday, Oct. 1

Event: Filmi Toronto
Details: FILMI is an annual Toronto film festival that showcases the best in South Asian cinema from Canada and the rest of the world. This year, the festival will celebrate its 16th anniversary with a full schedule of screenings and industry workshops from Oct. 1 – 4.
Contact: For listings, schedule and more, contact here.

Garba-dance3Saturday, Oct. 3
Event: Dandiya Raas Garba
Details: Sur Prem Entertainers are bringing a dandiya event to Brampton Soccer Centre, 1495 Sandalwood Pkwy. E. at 7:30 p.m.
Contact: For tickets contact here.

Event: Hindustani Classical MusicKomkali
Details: Raag-Mala Music Society of Toronto and the Centre for South Asian Civilizations UTM are hosting Bhuvanesh Komkali at 7 p.m. Saturday, Oct. 3 at the MiST Theatre, U of T Mississauga Campus, 3359 Mississauga Road, Mississauga.
Bhuvanesh a Hindustani classical singer from the Gwalior gharana is the grandson of legendary gayak Kumar Gandharva. He will be accompanied by Sanjay Deshpande (tabla) and Vyasmurti Katti (harmonium). Tickets cost $30/person.
Contact: Here
sargamEvent: Concert
Details: Sadhana Sargam and Jubin Shah will perform at the Armenian Youth Centre, 50 Hallcrown Pl. in North York (Victoria Park and Sheppard) at 6:30 p.m. Event hosted by Toronto Indian Youth Cultural Association (TIYC) Canada.
Contact: 416-998-0582

Sunday, Oct. 4

Event: Shobana’s Krishna12049635_961990323857837_1338590592335995599_n
Details: Blue Sapphire Entertainment Inc. is bringing Krishna, a visual tapestry of dance/drama by Shobana, well-known Malayalam actor/dancer/choreographer. The show will take place at The Meeting House, 2700 Bristol House in Oakville at 6:30 p.m. The English version of Krishna was conceived and created by Shobana after years of rigorous research, and practice. The doe-eyed beauty plays Krishna and will be accompanied by a troupe of 16 artists including her daughter Narayani.
Contact: For tickets visit here of contact here.

Saturday, Oct. 10

Sukvinder_kanikaEvent:  Concert
Details: Sukvinder Singh and Kanika Kapoor, two Bollywood playback singers, whose pipes have been wowing filmgoers, will be performing a concert at the Sony Centre of performing arts, 1 Front St. E. at 6:30 p.m.
Contact: For tickets, visit here.

Sunday, Oct. 11

Event: Raas Garbadandiya sticks
Details: Power of Kirtan will be presenting an interactive Raas Garba with Premash Nandi and group at Harold M. Brathwaite Secondary School, 415 Great Lakes Dr. from 7 p.m. onwards. A free vegetarian meal will be served.
Contact: For tickets and information, visit here.

Saturday, Oct. 17

Event: GarbaDMG garba
Details: Dhamalmasti Group (DMG) is hosting a garba with Gitanajli Group at the Hershey Centre, 5600 Rose Cherry Place, Mississauga at 7 p.m.
Contact: Here.

Canada’s “Bajrangi Behen” brings her magical chants to Toronto

Canada's Bajrangi Behen Brenda McMorrow seen here with a ascetic on the banks of Ganges. Brenda is a mantra music artist whose music bridges the spiritualism of east with the west. Supplied photo.

Canada’s Bajrangi Behen Brenda McMorrow seen here with a ascetic on the banks of Ganges. Brenda is a mantra music artist whose music bridges the spiritualism of east with the west. Supplied photo.

Years ago, I stumbled upon the haunting sounds of Gregorian Chants and felt a wave of tranquility wash over me, but I did not however set off in the pursuit of mastering the complex Latin verses. Once the moment passed, the memory too fled.

So, when I heard about how Brenda McMorrow began to pursue mantra music after listening to some shlokas few years ago, I simply had to know the why? When? What-on-the-earth for?

Who knew I would have the pleasure of unveiling the identity of Canada’s bona fide Bajrangi Behen.

Good news: you can catch Brenda at a kirtan concert happening in our wonderful city. British Columbia native Brenda McMorrow is the real deal. She can, not only recite the Hanuman Chalisa and other Vedic chants, but can speak about their meaning and relevance.

(For those unfamiliar with Bollywood: In the Hindi blockbuster Bajrangi Bhaijaan, the main character played by Salman Khan is shown as an endearing and ardent devotee of Hanuman aka Bajrangbali).

Brenda’s rendition of the mantra music is upbeat and infused with western influences. But that’s not all. When Brenda is paying homage to the verses, her face radiates with inner peace. Little wonder then that, this Canuck describes herself as a “true bhakt walking along the devotional path of yoga”.

Canadian artist Brenda McMorrow performs at kirtan concerts across the world. Supplied photo

Canadian artist Brenda McMorrow performs at kirtan concerts across the world. Supplied photo

You are probably wondering what would compel a white woman to dedicate herself into learning a dead language (Sanskrit) and gain mastery over it so much so she’s guided through some force of nature to compose, sing, cut records and host Kirtans around the world?

Before her serendipitous introduction to the shlokas, Brenda was rock/folk/bluegrass artist. Then, in 2004, she heard some Sanskrit chants during a yoga workshop. She had no clue what they were, but they stirred something in her.

“The first time I heard mantra chanting, I knew at every level, that that was what I

was meant to do,” she says.

Three years ago, she recorded her version of the Hanuman Chalisa and has since performed it in cities across Europe, Asia, North and South America. In fact, Brenda has recorded two versions of the Chalisa: the windblown and heart version.

Last year, Brenda travelled to Varanasi and was invited to sing the Chalisa on the banks of the Ganges at Tulsi Ghat before the evening’s aarti and later at the Sankat Mochan temple.

“Little did we know that this would be the most enthusiastically participated in rendition of the Windblown Hanuman Chalisa, ever,” she writes about that experience. “Perhaps it had something to do with the fact that we were playing right below Tulsi Das’ residence (the writer of the Hanuman Chalisa).”

On Friday, Sept. 25 Brenda will hosting a kirtan concert at the St. George’s Anglican Church at 410 College St. (one block east of Bathurst) at 8 p.m. Tickets cost S25/person and $35/person (premium).

Also, Brenda’s new album My Heart Bows Down to You, by White Swan Records will be released Sept. 18.

Tickets to the concert can be bought online and via Pay Pal or through

Desis play Holi in unholy weather

The KC Group Canada celebrated the festival of colours Holi in sub-zero temperature. Photo by Radhika Panjwani

The KC Group Canada celebrated the festival of colours Holi in sub-zero temperature.

For years now, the KC Group Canada has refused to let the Canadian winter/spring come in the way of its Holi celebrations.

Holi is a festival of colours celebrated in most parts of India at the start of spring. The colour-run  can be compared to the La Tomatina festival of Spain, except in this case, tomatoes are not harmed in the revelry. In fact, there are no fruit or vegetables involved.

For Holi, masses of people take to the streets armed with water guns and coloured powder called ‘Gulal’ which they toss at one another. In the larger scheme of things, Holi gives everyone—adults and children—a chance to bring out their inner child.

In India, the festival is played outdoors, but here in Canada, the KC Group celebrated Holi indoors inside the National Banquet Hall in Mississauga.

Also, the play of Holi was restricted to a small area on the hardwood dance floor. It sure got cramped in the space as people jostled around. One can only imagine the horror on the faces of the cleaning crew should they discover the stubborn colour stuck to the carpet, furniture and upholstery. Nevertheless, despite the obvious limitations, some 300 people let their hair down and partied as if there was no tomorrow.

The KC Group Canada has been celebrating Holi and Diwali in Canada despite the fact that the realities of weather here along with combination of city bylaws dilute the fun a bit. Also, in Canada, organizers sanitize the tradition by making it all above board.

The KC Group Canada celebrated the festival of colours Holi at the National Banquet Hall in Mississauga.

The KC Group Canada celebrated the festival of colours Holi at the National Banquet Hall in Mississauga.

Let me explain, in India, one of the staples of Holi is a drink called Bhang. Now, Bhang is a drink made from the leaves and flowers of the cannabis plant. Using a mortar and pestle, people smash the leaves and flowers and grind it to a fine paste which they incorporate into a drink. It’s not uncommon—in India— to see men completely wasted on Holi and looking comical with multi-coloured hues of gulal stuck the faces, hair and clothes.

As a South Indian, I was always envious of the traditions practiced in the North. Seriously, how cool is that you can get drunk on Holi and gamble on Diwali?

Food and drink aside, Holi is about dancing. No one can sing a Holi song better than Indian’s evergreen superstar Amitabh Bachchan. His deep gravelly voice has some kind of power. When I heard his songs at the KC Group’s Holi bash, I was filled with sheer nostalgia of the past. Ah, those were the days.

Don’t dare him, he may take you up on it

Suresh Joachim, Canada's #1 record holder will be undertaking a World Peace Marathon in 2017. Illustration courtesy

Suresh Joachim, Canada’s #1 record holder will be undertaking a World Peace Marathon in 2017.
Illustration courtesy

As a rookie reporter, I groaned whenever I heard/read about Suresh Joachim (pronounced Joe-Kim) attempting a stunt for the Guinness World Records (GWR).

The unstoppable thrill-seeker successfully pulled off every imaginable dare. As a result, I ended up writing at least one story every other week on the Mississauga man. For a while, my colleagues joked I had made it as a beat reporter after being on the job for less than six months.

That was some years ago.

Now at 43, Joachim has shattered 68 world records in the last 15 years. Alas, he does not hold the world record for most records. That honour belongs to Queens, N.Y. native Ashrita Furman, 56.

Joachim, an accountant by profession, however remains unperturbed because as he points out, Furman has been at it for 40 years, whereas he himself has  only started.

So far, the Sri Lankan-Canadian, holds records for among other things: the most distance moon walked in 24 hours (49.252 km), ironing continuously (55 hours, five minutes), most time spent watching television (69 hours and 48 minutes), longest dance marathon, longest drumming marathon and his very first record —running 3,495 kms every hour for 42 days.

Some of his records are quirky, others require endurance and training, but in the end, he manages to accomplish both with characteristic modesty and same single-mindedness.

Suresh Joachim is Canada's #1 record holder. He has broken 68 world records.

Suresh Joachim is Canada’s #1 record holder. He has broken 68 world records.

“I have experienced a lot of pain in my life and that’s what drives me,” said Canada’s # 1 record holder. “I get the power and strength to do the things I do because of my faith in God. I feel this is my purpose and this is what I was born to do. I am only taking the steps he (God) wants me to take.”

Celestial intervention or not, there’s one record he vows he will never repeat again.

“I balanced on one foot 76 hours and 40 minutes,” he said. “It was very painful. If someone offered me $10 million to do it, I still won’t do it.”

Growing up in Jaffna, Sri Lanka, during a tumultuous time in the country’s history, the father of two, watched and experienced the ethnic strife between the Tamils and the Sinhalese communities escalate to the point when violence was part of people’s daily lives. Peace was something elusive and precious.

The staid bookkeeper said he decided to become a serial thrill-seeker on his 21st birthday after an uncle gifted him the shiny silver Guinness World Records book.  Joachim recalls experiencing a sense of awe when he cradled the mammoth book. Excited and wide-eyed, he devoured the contents greedily. It was as if the book was a gateway to a world of possibilities.  And thus began his sojourn.

Joachim plans to embark on his most ambitious project yet. Slated to begin on Christmas Day in Bethlehem in 2017, the World Peace Marathon will wrap-up in Toronto a year or two later. As part of the project, Joachim will carry the peace torch and run across 76 countries and 120 cities to raise $1 billion.  Along the way, he will also get some 500 million people to sign a petition for one day to be declared World Cease Fire Day, he says.

Like me, I bet you are wondering where does he find the money to do all this? The answer is simple. Joachim finances his all endeavours through sponsorships.

Which record did he have most fun? He says all were equally thrilling, but his record for the fastest feature-length film ever made (11 days, 23 hours and 45 minutes) remains close to his heart. The movie Sivappu Mazhai (Red Rain) was shot in India in 2009.