At the CWG, Punjabi influence on and off the field

There are more than 50 Punjabis at this CWG including coaching staff, support staff and athletes.

Written by Shivani Naik | Glasgow | Updated: August 1, 2014 12:33 pm

Punjabis have conquered the last bastion of Scotland, and it’s not Canadian Arjun Gill’s win over Indian Satyavrat in 97 kg wrestling on Wednesday, that we mean here.

Taking up the very Scottish Haggis – sheep heart, liver, lungs pudding – and mincing it with Punjabi spices, then coating it with home-made spiced gram flour, they have dunked it in olive oil to turn the Scottish delicacy into Haggis Pakora at Renfrewshire, close to Glasgow.

Now the Scots know a thing or two about deep-frying, since they began sizzling the Mars chocolate bars, so they don’t mind this little experiment. But Glasgow has ensured the Punjabis – they are dispersed as the largest minority across eight teams as varied as Malaysia, Canada, New Zealand, Australia and Mauritius apart from the three dozen Indians – can feel right at home.

There’s upto 50 Punjabis at this Commonwealth Games in various capacities of coaching and support staff as well as the athletes, 1/5th of them not from the Indian contingent.

A four-million pound Gurdwara is currently rising over the Southside skyline, with its predominance of curry takeaways, but the city’s Sikhs were in the forefront to take care of the Indian contingent.

While Punjabi Dhol synced up with bagpipes at a traditional welcome for the Indians, the Clyde Mascot got itself a Tartan turban after seven prominent Glaswegian Sikhs had carried the Queen’s baton.

At the Games village, Ravinder Kaur Nijjar, plays counsellor to Sikh athletes who seek a quiet room to pray or talk at the Faith Centre. It is recreated from the Glasgow University’s counselling room for Sikhs, where Nijjar is a professor.

Stuart McQuarrie who set up the centre which also includes Humanism and Paganism — “it’s a way of life for some, I don’t need to believe in it to respect them” — says it was the most natural allotment of a room to followers of the Sikh faith.

“To me it seemed a bit strange that there should only be a Hindhu, Muslim and Christian prayer-room for Indian contingent.

There’s a significant Sikh population across the Commonwealth, and we recreated the Sikh chaplain here,” he says, pointing to the room with the Guru Granth Sahib, the hand fan, and a table and harmonium for bhajans.

“Lots of people have visited us over the last few days, and when you enter the room you wouldn’t know you’re inside a massive tent. It’s like a regular sacred space in the middle of the Games village,” he says.

The Albert Drive has a prior Gurdwara for which the Punjabi community raised 2.5 million pound last year, and the Nijjars have led McQuarrie there a fair few times. “I love visiting it, and not just for the lovely langar,” he laughs.

“The community has some prominent businessmen and teachers in equal numbers,” he adds. This includes Gurcharan Singh Gill, the restaurant moghul who built businesses and sold them for great profits in Glasgow.

Not missing home 

As did small-time businessman Tarlochan Singh Deol who came from Bopa Rai Kalal in 1973, to marry his bride and built himself a career starting from a bus conductor to driver to a businessman.

He was at the boxing on Wednesday, his grandchildren creating one right din to cheer on Sarita Devi. “I came here as 23-year-old, from a Ludhiana village, the same as Bobby Deol,” he says, guessing a common vintage. “The kids loved his Soldier here,” he says, adding that he first heard the pipes with an army band back home, and has nicely settled into Glasgow, not missing home.

SECC where a bulk of sports happen has a common landmark for its vehicle drop-offs, Glasgow’s original Punjabi cuisine establishment CurryKaraoke Club and Glaswegian Ajit Singh, now into his 60s, is hoping he’ll emulate Fauja Singh in running marathons.

Yet, nothing prepares you for Kuldeep Singh, a rotund, happy Sikh kitted out in tweed kilt, presenting the medals at shooting. “We don’t hold on tight to our Indian past, but we like welcoming our own to Britain,” says the Londoner, who’s in Glasgow on holiday as a volunteer.

Across the board 

This Games can boast of Nauraj Singh Randhawa, a lanky 6’4” high jumper from Malaysia and Parminder Phangura a heavy weightlifter from Canada who wants to bring trainer Parnjit Gill into prominence by winning international medals.

Australia also had its first Indian-origin woman wrestler in Rupinder Kaur as did lifter Shalinee Valaydon debut for Mauritius. Hockey teams from Canada and New Zealand routinely sport turbaned stick-whizzes.

While the haggis pakora competes with a Perthshire goat Punjabi curry in one of Glasgow’s many curry houses, some of the vexing Yo Yo Honey Singh numbers haven’t quite reached here.

“We specialise in inoffensive pop,” says a small curry owner on West Princess street. The Indianisation though, will be complete, when Gasgow gets its Jain Haggis. That’ll be the day, as they say.

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