Saturday, March 19, 2011

Have A Say

The Times Of India , Kolkata
Saturday, 19 March, 2011 , page - 4
Times City , Dance Of Democracy

Empowered Chinatown to have a say in citizens’ mandate

And you thought this 100-year-old ghetto did not want to integrate, let alone press the V-button. The country’s only Chinatown, now better known as the Land of the Fat Mama, is increasingly being swept by a tsunami called ‘didi’.

Prodded by the Election Commission’s rigorous voter-list updates, more and more of the city’s Chinese residents are now empowered with photo ID cards, ready like never before.

“Even if we still prefer to remain cocooned, we are not indifferent to our citizenship rights,” say Monica Liu, owner of the Beijing chain of restaurants. A Kolkatan for the past 40 years, Liu keenly watches the ‘breaking’ news flash on the small screen in the run-up to Bengal’s historic elections, even as she swears of being ‘strictly apolitical’.

Dominique Lee, who runs a food-processing unit, was more forthright: “People are riding high on the ‘Mamata’ hurricane.”

Referring to the excitement, Clemen Tseng, a supplier at the other Chinatown,Territi Bazar,say,“People voted en block for the Trinamool in last year’s KMC elections. Here’s the conclusive round.”

Meanwhile, it’s difficult to discern what matters more — change or citizenship. The latter is a touchy subject for the ‘apolitical and apathetic’ 1,000-odd population in the melting ‘wok’. Chinatown, spread over KMC wards 58 and 66 (starting from Chingrighata in the north to E M Bypass in the south and Hatgachhia in the east to Christopher Road in the west), does not factor in the poll fray. But for those living here ‘each vote counts’.

“One vote translates to avowing an individual’s democratic rights,” say leather businessman Liang Chen, 68, who was recently included in the voters’ lists.

All those who have acquired the ‘hallowed’ status (Indian citizenship) sound as keen. “I got my Indian citizenship only in 1999. Some of my family members still don’t,” avers Paul Chung, 70, former president of the Indian Chinese Association for Culture, Welfare and Development.

His community’s pangs were captured in the chopsticks. One was reminded of The Legend of the Fat Mama, the popular Rafeeq Ellias film on the bittersweet story of the Kolkata Chinese community and its migration to Toronto and elsewhere in the aftermath of the 1962 Indo-China war. The Chinese have been barred from getting Indian passports ever since.

Isheng Chen, 56, a leather unit owner, possess Indian passport but has been left out of the voter lists. “The passport allows me to travel to Canada where my wife, Liong Chen, lives. But I need voter card,” he says. The political dadas who have been enthusiastically “booking” walls for graffiti did not heed Chen’s repeated requests.

Community leader trader Francis Chia, 60, sounds disillusioned: “We’ll vote, but it’s no use.”

The two-square-km walled township is overrun with filth. Drinking water is also missing in Tangra, frequented by Kolkatans for lip-smacking Chinese food. The stench from the open drains juxtapose the illuminated eateries. Most tanners have refused to shift to the Bantala leather complex despite the Supreme Court order.

The Trinamool is into a whispering campaign saying it would let the tanneries stay. But people like Nan Kui, a schoolteacher, are not buying the poll promise. “The government’s Chinatown beautification project is dormant. Building a Chinese tower isn’t exactly an emergency. We need basic amenities.”

Ajanta Chakraborty

Times Of India , Kolkata

1 comment:

Rasmi said...

Could you tell where I can buy a mahjong set in Calcutta?