Punjabis abroad: ‘Desi’ signs, decor and food at the once all-Brit pubs
Six artists change the face of the pubs with first-ever Punjabi signs in the Midlands in a project of the UK Arts Council in its Creative Black Country campaign; a book called ‘Desi Pubs’ is also in the offing.
The tradition of pubs in the UK is said to be as old as the pussy cat going all the way to London to see the Queen, but with Punjabis buying closed-down pubs and turning them into successful business ventures the desi-way — a change has resulted. Now, the largest concentration of Punjabi-owned pubs is in the industrial Black Country area between Birmingham and Wolverhampton, which has as many as 50 Desi Pubs.
The ‘Birmingham Mail’ reported, “Asian landlords have been salvaging the struggling pub trade in the area for decades by reinventing failed pubs for new multicultural communities and as a result redefining British pub culture.”
The success of these ventures drew the attention of the Creative Black Country (CBC), the UK Arts Council’s three-year campaign to encourage art in the region. This led to the ‘Desi-Pubs Project’ in which six local artists of British and Indian origin were involved in reinventing the decor through signs, stain-glass windows and photographs.
Pub signs in Punjabi
For the first time in the UK, signs have been created in Punjabi. Interestingly, this has included renaming the clubs. So, ‘The Red Lion’ is ‘Laal Sher’, ‘The Sportsman’ is ‘Khiladi’ ‘Red Cow’ which has a scarlet cow model dotting the exterior is now called ‘Gaan Vaala Pub’.
The website ‘blackcountrypub.com states, “Thanks to the CBC and the New Art Exchange artists Hardeep Pandhal (illustration) and Andrew Gundon (sign maker) we also have a world’s first here in the Black Country. Yes, the world’s first Punjabi pub signs are now hanging at seven of our Desi pubs. Incredible!”
The images of the signs are credited to Dee Patel.
The creative director of the CBC, who was in the city recently on another project involving reimagining the Punjabi woman, Parminder Kaur, says, “The book, Desi Pubs, is likely to come out soon. The artists worked for over a year with the landlords in creating signs, stained-glass and photographs. The ‘Desi Pubs’ are incredible because 50 years ago, there were reports of racial discrimination with the immigrant workers being refused entry to these pubs.” She adds that the response included critique that it was very male.
Perhaps it was so because of its nature, but the book highlights the involvement of the wives of the owners too. The project has received attention from the British media including ‘The Economist’, the BBC and a prestigious pub-specific magazine ‘Inapub’.
These pubs offer the spicy Indian curry and Tikkas along with other signature dishes like Dal Makhni and Matar-Paneer, and sometimes a bit of desi music and bhangra. Many have banquet halls attached. So, when in the UK, a Desi Pub crawl may make the Punjabis feel very much at home.