Ice hockey is known to be violent and fast, but trust a Punjabi to describe the puck – the sport’s equivalent of a ball – as a delicious ‘aloo tikki’. That, too, on Candian national TV!
“Chak de phatte goooaaalll Joffrey Lupul! Torrronto Maple Putayyy!” -- that's how Punjabi commentator Harnarayan Singh does play-by-play commentary on CBC’s ‘Hockey Night in Canada’ to win new ice hockey fans.
Dressed in a pinstriped suit with gold cuff links, a blue-and-white tie and a matching turban, Singh hosts this weekly TV show for Canadian Broadcasting Corporation (CBC) with fellow Punjabi analyst Bhola Chauhan, according to a New York Times report from Calgary, Alberta.
Singh, 28, has developed a signature style tailored for his audience, according to the NYT report: “A puck can be described as an ‘aloo tikki’, a potato pancake his mother makes especially well.” Son of Sikh immigrants from India, he has a degree in broadcasting. He began working in televised professional ice hockey as an intern for a sports channel at 19, and also worked as a radio news reporter.
The broadcast of the ice hockey night, as venerated an institution for Canadians as ‘Monday Night Football’ is for Americans or the Indian Premier League (IPL) of cricket is for Indians, is the only Canadian National Hockey League (NHL) game called in a language other than English or French.
CBC cites statistics that say Punjabi is the fourth most popular language in Canada. The show is on many satellite TV stations in Canada and also streams online.
Describing a game last month, NYT reporter David Sax recalls how “Singh called the end-to-end action in an animated stream of Punjabi, punctuated with English words like ‘linesman,’ ‘icing’ and ‘face-off’.” Chauhan, an Indian-born draftsman, writer and taxi driver wearing a cream-colored turban, read a fighting poem he had written based on a Punjabi style of verse.
The show dropped into Singh’s lap in 2009, when Joel Darling, the executive producer, asked him he would call a game in Punjabi. Darling told NYT that as a public broadcaster, CBC had a responsibility “to attract new Canadians and people who normally wouldn’t watch the sport of hockey”.
The initial experiment also included Mandarin Chinese, but Punjabi “just seemed to hit a groove,” Darling said. “The community really opened their arms to it quickly.” It helps that ice hockey’s field cousin played on grass and astro-turf is part of the Punjabi culture, with the Indian and Pakistani teams boasting of several stars from their respective Punjab provinces.