Leave it to a Punjabi to liken a hockey puck to his mother’s aloo tikki.
The New York Times offers a fabulous read this weekend about a trio of Sikh men in Calgary who are broadcasting National Hockey League games—in Punjabi, the language of a region straddling India and Pakistan. It’s all a part of a concerted effort to diversify the audiences of the largely white sport.
While ice hockey and India might seem a most incongruous pair, field hockey actually has quite a following—and Punjabis are among its best players and ardent fans. The majority of India’s Olympic medals are in field hockey; the men’s team won six consecutive gold medals between 1928 and 1956. One of Bollywood’s biggest blockbusters is a movie not about cricket but a women’s field hockey team, Chak De! India. And India’s hub of sporting-goods manufacturing is a city in Punjab state, Jalandhar. (Here’s another memorable story about Punjabis and hockey from there: workers roll condoms over the heads of field hockey sticks to keep the glued parts in place while they dry.) (Update: India even has a national ice hockey team.)
In this context, the Canadian-Punjabi-Sikhs’ gravitation to ice hockey makes a little more sense—with a typical dose of the immigrants’ desire to fit in. Explaining his childhood love of hockey, turbaned announcer Harnarayan Singh, now 28, says: “I wore hockey shirts because then I didn’t have to answer, ‘What is that thing on your head?’”
The distinct Punjabi-isms as the soundtrack of NHL matches are most endearing: The Times notes that a phrase like “Chak de phatte goooaaalll Joffrey Lupul! Torrronto Maple Putayyy!” becomes ‘picking up the wood,’ a traditional Punjabi battle cry akin to bringing the house down.”
Watch these videos and listen to these songs, though, and it’s unclear if it’s the players or the Punjabis truly bringing the house down.
Edited excerpts: A Washington player hits a bullet from the left towards the Toronto goal and miraculously, the puck is blocked by the new Toronto goalie. A GREAT SAVE! Toronto’s William collects the puck and skates toward the blue line and passes it to a player on right side. This player feeds the puck to Lee Stepniak on the left of the Washington goal post. Lee Stepniak shows some deft stick work and hits a wrist shot in to the Washington goal net. Goal! Toronto! (Thanks to my father-in-law, Satish Mukul, for translation.)
Note that some words, like “goal” and “stick-handling,” are not translated into Punjabi.
Here, you can see the commentators have developed quite the following across communities; in Canada, the Punjabi population is estimated at 1.1 million, most of whom are Sikhs. Also notable: Singh’s accent sounds way more Canadian than South Asian. And don’t miss the twangy background music that seems better suited to a Chinese food buffet.
Punjabis’ love affair with ice hockey might also have something to do with the lone South Asian player in the league, Manny Malhotra. He plays for the Vancouver Canucks. As the team made it to the Stanley Cup finals in 2011, they inspired a number of bhangra remixes, upbeat songs and dances of the Punjab region blended with more western sounds. In an email to Quartz, producer Nick Chowlia provides a translation of the above song. Here’s a taste:
The Canucks have removed the grievances their fans had,
They’ve created an aura of éclat,
They’ve attacked the (opposition) net,
Have dislodged the net with their forceful play,
And taught them a lesson
The boys come charging like a bullet,
Are broad chested
They’ve got the hockey sticks in their hands,
They are fearless,
And go after the opposition like a thunderous storm.
The Canucks have removed the grievances…
There is a Punjabi lad,
A handsome guy
Named Manny Malhotra
Charges at the goal, Roars like a lion
And is very impressive
People come and celebrate
on the intersection of Scott Rd. & 72
They beat the dhol [Punjabi Drum]
and even folks from Abbotsford come
and do bhangra [Punjabi celebration dance] as well…
People go and pray at the Gurdwara [Sikh place of worship]
They ask the Almighty to help the Canucks with a win
and bless them with the Stanley Cup.
More from Quartz