“For me Kaur means being a Sikh woman. It is my middle name and the middle name chosen for my two young girls. Its part of our names because it is part of our identity and our life. Because of it we are part of a bigger group — a culture, religion, world and connection to a geography. Kaur is always part of my name, sometimes as Kaur and sometimes with K and a period. I do this also because it sparks a lot of interesting conversations with people who are curious.
I am not overtly religious and neither is my family. Growing up, we had no extended family in Calgary until I was in my early twenties. We were a small nuclear family of four and my dad was a professional in the oil and gas industry, while my mom was a stay at home parent. I do remember that at 11 years old, my family took over the responsibility of the Gurdwara library. We recategorized the library, documented it and computerized it. Previous to us taking over this responsibility, no one was able to touch, read, or take anything home from the library. It changed and we wanted to give people learning opportunities.
We as a family also enrolled in Punjabi school, my parents before this, couldn’t read or write Punjabi. My mom was raised in Duncan and my dad lived in Delhi his whole life so he only knew how to read and write Hindi. It was fun to learn with them and be competitive because for the most part, as a child, you assume your parents know everything, so it was interesting learning with them.
I excelled in Punjabi, my brother was a Punjabi school drop out. I went so far as being a Punjabi school teacher to other kids because I felt was a great way to learn as well. In our daily lives, Sikhi was not so apparent, but it was there. We never did paat or kirtan daily, but we knew who we were and the teachings of Sikhism. For me, relating to the history was challenging. I didn’t find it relevant to where we lived and our experiences.
In 1994, my dad wrote and published a book on Sikh Canadians. He interviewed and wrote about people like Baltej Dhillon and Dave Sidoo. As a historian, he would travel and interview people and we went along with him, so we had this appreciation and connection to other Sikhs. I learned a lot through osmosis about our culture and traditions from these conversations and when the book was published it used in Grade 8 social studies classes. I think a lot of traditions, I have a great appreciation of because my parents explained why we did things and their purpose. My grandmother passed away last year and we are planning the eleven month service and I am now learning the importance of it.
With my daughters, I think I have some catch up to do. It takes effort and a long term dedication. We were adamant about giving them Sikh names with meanings so they would know there is thought and process behind who they are and how they identify. Growing up people tried to change my name to Mary and MJ but I didn’t allow it because identity is important and I felt it was important to remain Manjit because that is who I was and am.
As a woman, with many identities, including entrepreneur there are different descriptions of who I am and what I do every day, really its complicated. I know growing up, I didn’t see any women of colour on television or business. Even engineering school had only two other women of colour and their were our family friends.
Being an entrepreneur and on Dragon’s Den, I do make sure how I am represented is true to who I am as a person. My appearance and how I present myself should remain in my control. Even for example, my wardrobe on the Den. I was pressured to look a certain way being on primetime television. I was determined for my outfits to be a bit more modest with hemlines and be comfortable, dresses that I would normally wear. My values should never change. I think that is part of the responsibility of being in the public, especially being a young, woman of colour. I learned to develop a thick skin, I have strong opinions, and have learned how to communicate them.
Even with my profession, co-owning an alcoholic beverage company is something nontraditional, especially for a woman. I think my husband and my in-laws probably received a lot of flack from extended family for my line of work. Especially since my career at times takes me away from other aspects of my life. Such as, I don’t cook, I travel a lot, and I can’t always make every family function, every time. I think though, I remain who I am and communicate what that is, plus I speak up and ask for help when I need it. I think it takes a village to raise a family and own a successful business."