Manit Singh Chawla is a talented young. He excelled in studies and was active in various other activities.
Towards the end of 2016, the 22-year-old engineering student received a gold medal from no less than the Thai King himself in recognition of his excellent performance at the university. It capped a challenging, but joyful, journey for this young lad.
Hailing from Khon Kaen, situated on the north east of Thailand and about 500km from Bangkok, he has always been the lone Sikh at school or the university. Bangkok has the largest concentration of Sikh population.
“There are not that many Sikhs in my province,” he tells Asia Samachar in a telephone conversation. Khon Kaen is one of the four major Thai cities known as the “big four of Isan”.
High schooled at the Holy Redeemer North Eastern School between 2009 and 2013, he then gained entry into School of Engineering at University of the Thai Chamber of Commerce (UTCC) to study Bachelor’s Degree of Logistics Engineering.
Why logistics engineering?
“I knew nothing about logistics. I actually wanted to be a doctor,” said Manit, whose dad is a real estate agent. “My brother Sunny Chawla encouraged me to take it up. He said Thailand is in the centre of Asean. So, I took the exam and found logistics engineering to be interesting.
“I then understood that logistics plays an important role in Thailand. Also, there were not many graduates in this area, but the demand was increasing by the year.”
As with everything else, Manit poured his heart and soul into the new found interest. He topped the class in logistic engineering. On most occasions, he emerged as the top scorer for most papers.
This led him to the audience of the Thai King. He was one of the 30 top engineering students from various Thai universities. In 2016, he received the Royal Gold Medal for outstanding education performance in Engineering field form His Majesty King Maha Vajiralonglorn Bodindradebayavarangkun.
It was certainly a proud moment for his parent, Prathip Chawla (also known as Hardeep Singh Chawla) and Mohanjeet Kaur Chawla, as well as his brothers Sunny and Varun Chawla.
But the journey had its challenges. For a start, he was the lone Sikh in the university. But this not deter him. In fact, he actually took it upon himself to educate his fellow students on who is a Sikh, and what is Sikhism. His fellow students knew something about Islam, but had never heard of Sikhism. They had many questions: Do you have a temple? Do you have a Guru?
“At first, they thought I was a Muslim. I told them I eat pork. I then explained to them about my hair and the beard. I’m proud that they now know who is a Sikh.
“In the first year itself, I was elected as president of the UTCC engineering committee. I used to wear patka (a small turban, usually tied under the actual turban). When I became the president, I tied a turban and wore an engineering coat. I felt our Guru Ji, I felt unique. I was the sole Sikh in the university and I was bestowed leadership. I was proud,” he said.
On Sikhi and himself, he said: “I used to trim my beard. When I studied Banda Singh Bahadur, and saw the movie of Chaar Sahibzaade (the children of Guru Gobind Singh), I felt a sense of pride and I decided not to trim my beard. That inspired me to maintain my hair.”
Manit had also not joined any of the Sikh camps regularly organised in Bangkok. When asked if he would be keen to attend, he said: “I don’t know much about the Sikh community in Thailand. I heard about the camps about two years ago. I may attend it.”
[ASIA SAMACHAR is an online newspaper for Sikhs in Southeast Asia and surrounding countries. We have a Facebook page, do give it a LIKE. Follow us on Twitter. Visit our website: www.asiasamachar.com]
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