Friday, April 26, 2013

Hope Of A New Era

" The Chinese community of Kolkata

Cordially invite you and your representative of your organization,

to a gathering :

On 21st April 2013, at 10.30 a.m.

At Toong Oon Church,

22, Black Burn Lane ,Kolkata,India

The Honourable Prof. Maria Fernandes, Vice Chairperson,

Minority Commission, West Bengal, has consented to be the speaker."

As per the programme the meeting took place with representatives from the various Indian Chinese organizations.

Prof. Maria Fernades was welcomed by Mr. David Chen on behalf of the community; two lions welcomed her and offered her two bouquets of flowers and Mr. Thomas Chen sung  a Chinese song to welcome her.

She spoke about the scope of the Minority Commission and its various functions in particular for the Indian Chinese in India.

In the interaction followed, she cleared doubts and presumptions, which was very enlightening. She not only offered her service to our community and encouraged us to move forward with the assurance of the law of the land in our support in giving us assistance to help us in solving the problems that had afflicted us.

The audience were not only impressed by her sincerity and encouragement to move forward but also stimulated to serve the country as its citizen, and do our best as equal citizens.

Hope this will be the prelude of a new era for the Indian Chinese Community in Kolkata.

Chinatown Revival

 Kolkata’s Chinatown Set For Revival

KOLKATA, 23 APRIL 2013 : Discussions and debates in quaint Chinese tea houses over simmering cups of green tea in the snaking lanes of Kolkata's Chinatown may soon be a reality. A project aimed at preserving the heritage of the Indian Chinese community in the city and to create an eco-friendly and economically viable arts-heritage-food hub will provide a much-needed facelift to Chinatown.

Titled 'The Cha Project' or tea project, the venture will help preserve Old Chinatown (Tiretti Bazaar) and will focus on developing the New Chinatown (Tangra) that houses Kolkata's 4,000 strong Chinese community, the largest in the country.

"It will be an urban regeneration initiative as well as a tourism opportunity. It will not only attract tourists but people from the city itself. Basically, it will recreate the old Chinatown days," said Mr G M Kapur, state convenor of Indian National Trust for Art and Cultural Heritage (INTACH).

The Chinese have been coming to India from the time of scholars Fa Hien (4th century) and Huen Tsang (7th century) ~ some might even have settled in India, making it their home. But it was not until the 1700s that the Chinese began settling in discernible numbers. Written documents from 1778 mention the first Chinese settler in India ~ a man named Atchew.

Atchew set up a sugar mill in Achipur with 110 Chinese men. The British not only encouraged Atchew to settle in the suburbs of what was then Calcutta, but also gave him and his group all kinds of protection.

The first Chinese to start settling in the city were runaway sailors and the indentured servants mentioned in a letter from Atchew to Governor General Warren Hastings. The city, being a major port, played host to many Chinese sailors on their way to, or returning from, foreign lands.

They would stop in the city and wait for the ships to carry them to their destination. Journeys by sea were slow and the ships infrequent, so many months had to be spent ashore. While they waited for their ships, they looked for work in the city. Some of them might have eventually stopped their seafaring ways and settled in the city.

As part of the initiative by INTACH and the sate government, quaint traditional Chinese tea houses will be built across Chinatown to boost the culture of the community.

"There are plans of building tea houses which will serve as cultural centres," said Mr Paul Chung, president of the Indian Chinese Association.

Art and crafts trademarks of the Chinese like carpentry, leather tanneries, shoemaking, hairstyling and the like will be revitalised to provide business opportunities.

The most striking features of the proposal are heritage centres and a museum that will showcase the history of the Indian Chinese through series of architectural reconstructions, dioramas and layered photographic backdrops, all enhanced by audiovisuals using photographs from different periods.

"We do not have a place to display our history....our people are keen to have a museum in Old Chinatown," Mr Chung said.

Displays of personal everyday objects and old documents and records, contributed by members of the community, will serve as artefact in themselves.

The landmark Toong-on temple on Blackburn lane in old Chinatown, built in the 1920s, that had the very popular Nanking restaurant (shut down for more than a decade) as one of its tenants, might also be converted to a heritage centre.

"We are awaiting the go-ahead of the state government. The concept has been designed and proposal has been submitted," Mr Kapur said.

In 1910, the Chinese community was pushed to the fringes of the city, where they established leather gardens for the tanning industry. This place would later become known as Tangra, (also known as Dhapa or New Chinatown).

Periods of disorder in China ~ the First Opium War in 1840 and the revolution in 1911 ~ saw waves of Chinese migrating to India. By the 1930s, the number of women and children in the community increased considerably. Chinese men were now bringing their families with them.

There was also a burgeoning Indian tea industry that needed trained workers, which led to a further increase in Chinese immigrants. Soon the Chinese, though essentially an insular community, became part of the city's, and to a lesser extent Bombay's (now Mumbai), melting pot.

Hakka tanners and shoemakers, Hupeh dentists, Cantonese carpenters and restaurateurs, all left their lasting stamp on both cities.

In 1939 the Japanese air raids on the Calcutta docks caused considerable damage and loss of life. World War II in Asia saw an interruption in the flow of Chinese migrants to the city.

During the Calcutta riots of 1946, the Chinese played a conciliatory role, keeping violence under check in old Chinatown.

The Sino-Indian war in 1962 changed the equation forever. This period saw the Chinese diaspora being arrested, restrictions placed on free movement, the Indian citizenship of those who had acquired it being revoked and other clamps on civil liberties.

For the city's Chinese, life in every way ~ social, cultural, religious and most important, economic ~ was disrupted. There was even a stop to traditional ways of celebrating festivals ~ dragon and lion dances disappeared from the streets for many years ~ and marriages were low key.

Thursday, April 18, 2013

The buzz around ...

Thursday,18 Apr 2013
page 2 ( Times City ),Kolkata

The buzz around Chinatown is back

Singapore-Based Buzz Media Joins Hands With Intach To Prepare Blueprint For Chinatown Revival, Govt To Partner In Project

Kolkata: Almost around the same time that Job Charnock anchored here, another foreign settler also chose to settle along the Hooghly, a little to the south of the city, along with 110 of his countrymen. Atchew was a Chinese traveller and finally set up a sugar plantation and mill in Atchipur, South 24-Parganas with his people. That was in 1778 and written documents are available to show that this was the beginning of a train of Chinese settlers who chose Kolkata as their home. Periods of disorder in China — the Opium war (1840) and the Revolution (1911) saw waves of Chinese men and women coming to Kolkata. By 1930, the Tiretti Bazar area or what is today known as Old Chinatown, was bustling with people.
    Lack of space pushed some towards what then looked like the eastern fringes of the city and finally New Chinatown or Tangra developed into another exclusive Chinese settlement. By this time the community had started tanneries in Tangra to give vent to their traditional craftsmanship. A large number of Chinese labourers also migrated to the tea gardens to work as labourers since they had experience in the tea industry. Though essentially an insular community, the Chinese settlers in Kolkata mixed with the indigenous population and soon there was a demand for the Hakka tanners and shoemakers, Hupeh dentists and of course Cantonese carpenters and restaurateurs.
    The Japanese air raids of 1939 and World War II in general saw a break in the flow of Chinese population to Kolkata and Mumbai, their two favourite haunts. The Sino Indian War (1962) changed everything and suddenly the community lost several civil rights and Indian passports were also revoked in some cases. That was the time when a large number of Chinese settlers in the city migrated to Canada and Australia. The old houses, places of worship and business establishments of the Chinese near Tiretti Bazar dwindled. Tangra continued, but the buzz grew fainter. Finally, the decision of the state government to remove tanneries from Tangra to counter pollution drove the last nail in the coffin.
    Today, the pall of gloom and remoteness of India’s only Chinatown is palpable and it is time that the state government revived and restored it, says a document that has a detailed a revival plan for both old and new Chinatown. This document, prepared jointly by the Singapore-based Buzz Media and the Indian National Trust for Art and Cultural Heritage (Intach), was recently submitted to the state tourism department for a joint venture to restore and re-construct Chinatown and turn it into a tourist spot. Happily, the state government has agreed to partner in the project.
    A large number of erstwhile Chinese residents of Chinatown are now settled in Singapore and the project was conceived as part of a nostalgic tribute to their old home. Many such Chinese-origin Singaporeans have been involved in urban renewal missions in Singapore and have also helped build infrastructure like the Chengdu Park in China. Interestingly, Media Buzz is now headed by a Bengali from the city, Rinkoo Bhowmick, who is a heritage conservationist in Singapore. Funds are not a constraint
since many from Singapore have already pledged support if the project takes off.
    The document gives details like how the Toong-On Temple in Blackburn Lane in Old Chinatown, which used to house the famous Nanking Restaurant, is lying in a state of neglect and needs to be restored immediately. Again, the Pei May, the last surviving Chinese language school in the city, has also shut its doors and its sprawling campus lies in disuse. These two relics of a bustling yesteryear community can become the centres around which the revival can spin, the document says.
    “We want to involve the dwindling Chinese population in the revival project. The Indian Chinese Association, which is the only representative body, has shown a lot of interest already. Once the project starts a design to connect the whole of the selected area will be prepared and existing structures will be enmeshed in such a way that they look like part of a large Chinese scheme,” explained G M Kapur, state convener of Intach. The document says that a large number of traditional Chinese professions like handcrafted leather, dentistry, carpentry, dry cleaning, beauty care, hairstyling and of course, food, will form part of the design, so that people are naturally drawn to the project and funding for its upkeep becomes easier.
    Tourism secretary Vikram Sen agreed. “We are indeed happy at the interest that the Singapore-based urban renewal body has shown in Chinatown. We were planning to showcase Chinatown for a long time and here is an opportunity to do so jointly. We will soon ask them to prepare a detailed project report,” he said.

Among the images used in the revival project document is a picture of the Toong-On Temple (above left) on Blackburn Lane in Old Chinatown. The project proposes to turn the temple into a heritage centre. Titled ‘Project Cha’, which has tea as its theme, the plan is to dot Chinatown with traditional tea houses (above right) to foster cultural cooperation as envisaged by Rabindranath Tagore, states the document

TOI has consistently run campaigns highlighting the problems faced by Chinatown and given a blueprint for its revival

Jhimli Mukherjee Pandey  TNN