Saturday, October 10, 2009

I once knew a Bobjeet

Waheguru Ji Ka Khalsa
Waheguru Ji Ki Fateh

I have been going to university for about four years now, and I have met so many different kinds of people. During a summer course, I came across a certain young gentleman... let's call him Bobjeet, who was from one of the smaller cities, either Dawson's Creek, William's Lake, I can't really remember. Now, 70% of communication is non-verbal communication, so when I say I know this person, I mean that I know this person's behaviour, attitude and opinions from observing him afar in class or walking in the hallways. You can learn a lot about a person from how they walk, sit idly or conduct themselves in public.

Bobjeet was keen on learning, he asked question after question to the professor, anticipating responses and purposing rebuttals. He was curious about every aspect of the study he was undertaking... or he used be. He wasn't amritdhari, but he was a "pure" Punjabi, and looking at how he conducted himself, he was a Sikh. I had one chance to talk to him during a break in the class, just common chit-chat on the the midterm that we just finished writing. Once he found out I spoke Punjabi he conducted the rest of the conversation quite fluently in it. Quite amazing since most people are embarrassed to even admit that they know Punjabi! Looking at his timid nature, you could tell that he was respectful and courteous. But, I said "timid" for a reason.... and not self-confident.

Now your thinking, wouldn't it be great if this young man became something great in his life. Bobjeet could help our Punjabi people gain access to basic services, such as health care, computer technology, bank services and more. He would be such a great asset to the community, with his genuine respect and courtesy. But, we will never know for sure.

Now before I go any further, let's explain my role in all of this. During the unfolding of the events you are about to hear, I luckily stumbled upon the role of silent observer... sort of like invisible entity that no one really cared to notice. I knew Bobjeet and his disposition and demeanor from my class. I also inadvertently knew his "new" friends from UNBC from a volunteer job that I undertook every week. You can probably guess the demeanor of his new friends. These people knew neither their culture or their language. Let loose in Prince George with more money than they need, this group of about three frequently got drunk and "partied" during the weekends, and aspired to be doctors during the weekdays. "Partied" is a mild term. What they did was get intoxicated to the point that they probably couldn't recognize their own sister if they saw her.

One evening, as we were volunteering together, the group was side-tracked as usual and started chatting. Again, people don't usually notice me when they start talking. As they were chatting away, instead of working, Bobjeet's name came up in the conversation. Here is a brief dialogue of what ensued.
" Bobjeet, yeah man, we definitely have to get him drunk"
"Man, Can you believe he has never had a drink before. What, is he a Mama's boy"
(Girl interjects) " C'mon, Bobjeet's nice, you better not convert him"
"Yeah, but he's not cool. No, we are definitely taking him to a pub tonight and getting him hammered".

Now I wasn't there for the actual incident, and during the entire time I never thought that Bobjeet would ever go through something as stupid as that. But like I said, I used the word "timid" instead of "self-confident'
A week passed in class, and I was busy with midterm and exams. The next time I noticed Bobjeet was outside of class, with a newly pierced ear and listening to loud rap music on his iphone. No more questions, no more Punjabi, no more curiosity to learn, no more intellectual behaviour. You may see him occasionally at UNBC hanging out with his girlfriend or smoking a cigarette. He's still here, his friends aren't. None of them got into medical school, thank god, and I suppose they moved back to their respective home towns.

I never knew that this could actually happen to people. I mean you see it in cheesy Punjabi movies and dramas, but now that I look back at the experience, I never really realized the seriousness. I wish I could have been more than I silent observer, but really how could I interfere in the life of a person that I didn't know. Of course, there is always the fear of being branded a whistleblower among peers.

Now you can imagine that everyone in a small town knows everyone, hence there is less chance of youth to get involved in drugs and alcohol, but also more chance that youth lack self-confidence when they move to bigger cities. No parent is going to tell themselves 'I am sending my child away to university so that they can get involved in gangs and drugs". Every parent is anxious when they send their child away for school, but Punjabi parents are more so. And they have a good reason. So many Indo-Canadian Sikh youth come to Prince George from smaller towns to study UNBC. So many anxious parents await in the small towns hoping that their kids are going to pass the tests and challenges of life brought in front of them by their peers.

I am astounded by the fact that Prince George doesn't have counseling and support services specifically designated toward Sikh youth. Really what is a gurudwara supposed to be for. It is supposed to be the centre where people come to find spiritual guidance and support. To date, no Prince George temple has provided formal counseling services to anyone, with full protection of a person's confidentiality. In the future, it would be nice to see community leaders that have been through the same ordeal to step in and provide comfort to parents by mentoring the youth. When youth come to UNBC from smaller communities the gurdwara should act kind of like a check-in, where Prince George community leaders and volunteers give an orientation to Prince George and the spiritual services provided to assist youth in their life and studies (programs which we need more of.. but that will be a different blog post). Out-of-townees get to know each other and Prince Georgians and kind of form a community. Throughout the year, volunteers check in with various students and provide guidance, mentoring and counselling services if needed. Most importantly if the counsellor can't help them, than they should contact the parents and relatives to step in and provide support.

Now, you may think, isn't this over the top. I mean aren't we controlling the lives of these young people. When I talk about guidance and counseling, I don't mean that preachers should follow the youth around and make sure that they don't cut their hair, or make sure that they do their 5 banis paath everyday; these choices are ultimately left to the youth to decide. What I mean is that relatable people, like university professors, fellow grad students, medical students, doctors should be there to help Sikh youth deal with the stresses and peer pressure encountered in university life, instead of turning to alcohol and drugs. Sikh Youth have different needs than the average university students, because they feel different societal pressures. Normal guidance counseling at universities aren't enough to address the specialized issues that Indo-Canadian youth are facing, and this drives youth into gangs, drugs and alcohol. No young person is going to look back in their life and say " I wish I would have done drugs in school, I missed out on so much." Similarly a person who did drugs, probably never imagined themselves in that position a few years ago.

Now the second problem that comes to mind is community gossip. You would think young people would be off limits, but know the "aunties" are as vicious to us as they are to anyone else, more-so behind your back. No wonder youth don't just come out and ask for help and admit that they have a problem. Deep down they don't want their parents or themselves to suffer public humiliation.

I can't imagine the looks of Bobjeet's parents when he stepped into their home again. I still can't believe the transformation to this day, sometimes I wonder if this alter ego thing really existed or if it was just my imagination.

Anyways, that is my story for today, and obviously the names were changed to protect the persons' identity. If anyone has any comments, please feel free to leave them at the bottom.


  1. bobjeet... lolz a lot

  2. I love this article.

  3. yes the pressure on sikhs these days to 'be cool' is immense these days. i myself just stick to people who are good friends in ALL my classes instead of trying to fit in. THe results are great - no silent contests, like, 'who's the most popular, u or me?' My friends like me the way i am, and same way vice versa.