Amber Mann/Punjabi Market Regeneration Collective

The history of the Punjabi market and the importance of South Asian stories being told by South Asians

By:
Roshni Rakshit (IG: @roshni_rakshit)

“A place full of spices, fit with fashion, cultural expression and social advocacy. Welcome to the Punjabi Market, present day Vancouver, British Columbia, located on the traditional lands and unceded territory of Coast Salish people, specifically the lands of the Musqueam Nation,” reads Gurp Sian as he guides you down the lanes of the historically and culturally rich Punjabi Market in Vancouver. 

Sian, the guide for the tour happens to be as close to his culture, and as versatile as the place his voice guides us to. In an interview with 5X Press, Sian talked to us about being the voice behind the tour, a studio analyst at Hockey Nights Punjabi and the importance of South Asian stories being told by South Asians.

The self-guided audio tour of the Punjabi Market was curated as a part of an initiative by the Indian Summer Festival (ISF), as a beautiful melting pot of the past and the present. 

“It's been a privilege working with both ISF and the Punjabi Market Regeneration Collective (PMRC) in preparing this self-guided walking tour and playing my part in it, which was writing based on the research that they had already done, and narrating the tour,” Sian said.

“The collaboration brought it all together, wherein one could imagine the various sights and sounds of the market. The audio production of the tour was done by Mr.Ruby Singh, and the credits for the sounds goes to him.”

The walking tour has been recorded in English to make it convenient and accessible for those who want to visit and learn about the market, with the names of the shops bearing their original Punjabi and Hindi pronunciations. 

“It's always good to learn about South Asian history, it's very eye-opening and definitely gives you more of a connection to the space and time that we are in and it gives you an opportunity to show respect to the previous generations by learning about that history,” Sian added.

“The history of Punjabi Market is very rich. You know, the first shop [called Shan Sarees] opened 51 years ago. Learning those bits of history while working on this project was such an added bonus.”

The iconic Punjabi Market neighbourhood in Vancouver is unique in how attached it is to its roots and the variety that it has to offer, and the deep history it holds for all of those that visit.

“I have such fond childhood memories of visiting the Punjabi Market with my family, for various reasons. And now working on this project was like life coming back full circle,” Sian added.

With South Asian stories being told in our voices and being narrated by us, we are now uncovering those hidden, omitted, ignored and important moments of South Asian history. 
“It's absolutely imperative and necessary for stories to be told from our perspectives, because these are our stories,” said Sian.

“They haven’t always been told but now that there are researchers out there who do a tremendous amount of work, researching and studying history of South Asians, across North America and the things they’ve managed to dig up, nobody had any clue about this history of South Asians.”

Gurp also happens to be the studio analyst at Hockey Night Punjabi, which calls NHL games in Punjabi. 

“It's been around for 15 years and we’ve been having a great run. The main thing with that show is that we are a hockey broadcast, but we are also here for the community,” said Sian.

“It's a Punjabi language show and we are one of the few shows that are able to bring generations together. So an 85-year-old grandparent can watch it with his 55-year-old son and his grandsons! It’s very professional, we have to know what we are talking about, but there’s also tremendous entertainment value.”

Culture can be transferred in various different ways, but protecting that culture and history and helping write it for future generations is a sacred task, particularly from the perspective of somebody who comes from the culture. It is with these individuals that one’s culture is not only safe, but also preserved. 

And Sian, Indian Summer Festival and the Punjabi Market Regeneration Collective happen to be some of those carrying out that sacred task of preservation. 

You can listen along to the walking tour here.

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Roshni is a self-proclaimed Comedy Queen who specializes in laughing at her own jokes. Her hobbies include making people smile, watching movies and analysing them, reading books, practicing yoga (occasionally), hogging on well-cooked biryani and scrolling through dog videos and memes on Instagram. Her love for writing stems from her love for art in general, which is fuelled by her background in theatre. Catch on her instagram at @roshni_rakshit daily, where she regularly shares her experience with movies and occasionally offends people with her political sense of humour.


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