Thursday, December 19, 2013

Save The Heritage

KOLKATA , WEDNESDAY,  DECEMBER 18, 2013 ( page 2)

Heritage Buried Under Garbage

KMC Insensitivity Pushes Toong On Church To Ruin

Kolkata: Looking at the ramshackle building and the heaps of garbage lying around, you wouldn’t believe that this was the first Chinese restaurant, not just of Kolkata but the country. Or that it was once the haunt of the wellheeled and famous hub of a bustling community.
    The two-storey colonial style building that housed Nanking restaurant and Toong On church is crying out for attention. It is impossible these days to even
walk up to it without stepping on faeces and rotting filth. The overpowering stench in Blakburn Lane makes it impossible to imagine the violin notes that once wafted through it in the evening.
    Nanking — a favourite with stars like Raj Kapoor, Dilip Kumar and Sunil Dutt — shut down long ago. The building is now dwarfed by skyscrapers all around.
    The inevitable assault of modernity wasn’t as damaging as Kolkata Municipal Corporation’s insensitivity. The civic body built two huge garbage vats on either sides of the building — although the church exists — and allowed squatters to settle on the footpaths.
                                                                                  The littered stretch in front of Nanking
For years, an open garbage dump stood at the entrance to the lane. Instead of doing away with it, KMC built another one next to Toong On church. The trustees and the Kolkata Chinese community strongly objected to it. Banners strung up in the lane lament the desecration of the community’s heritage. But it failed to move KMC.
                                                              A Chinese resident makes a dragon model for Chinese New Year Celebrations
 Local councillor Rena Khatoon said: “We are trying to keep the place clean and will remove the vat if we find an appropriate place.” The vicinity of a place of worship is not “appropriate” either, says the Chinese community.
    A tiny shanty colony has come up behind a garbage pile. A public toilet hides the rubbish and their illegal existence from public view but can’t mask its unbearable stench.
    “We kept requesting the local councillor to keep the doorway of the church free from garbage. Some days the stench is so horrible that we cannot sit here for a minute,” says Li Han Kuang, secretary of Toong On church.
    Nanking restaurant, which was on the ground floor, closed down in the ’70s. But the Toong On church has been kept alive by the community that has dwindled to just 14.
    Their ancestors migrated from Toong On county in Canton province of China during the first world war and settled in Kolkata.
    “Our dwindling number has not robbed us of strength to fight to save our heritage. The 1912 building was almost put on sale at point of time. Au Yau Wah, grandson of Nanking restaurant founder Auyue Shoon tried to sell it but we moved court and saved it,” says Kuang, a retired sailor.
    The city civil court imposed Section 144 at 22 Blackburn Lane, ordering that Au be barred from leaving the country.
    Kuang said that the Auyue family was very powerful and the elders of the Chinese community allowed him to open the restaurant purely on trust in 1924. He spoke English and was a police officer. But after his death, his descendants failed in business, said Kuang. Au Yau Wah died from a massive heart attack and it was the end of the restaurant.
                                                                     Toong On church
The church now houses the warrior god Kwandee, holding a big knife. Kuang recalled seeing spears and scimitars hanging on the wall on the first floor and a Buddha bust on the ground floor. He alleges that Wah not only sold the property that belonged to the Toong On Church but also vandalized the temple with its intricately carved altar and antique furniture.
    “The furniture is a century old. The people who have taken over the church have removed everything,” said Kuang, adding that cubicles with shutters had been built, possibly in preparation for opening shops.
    Finally, the undying passion of Kuang and Wang Liant Sen for securing the safety led the then municipal commissioner Alapan Bandyopadhyay to include the building in the heritage list to save it from the demolition. That was only a temporary reprieve. Unless the authorities act fast, no one can save it from the vagaries of time

                                                  Krishnendu Bandyopadhyay  TNN

Wednesday, December 11, 2013

World Mind Games 2013


12-18 December, Beijing 
                                                             World Mind Games
                           SportAccord World Mind Games is a multi-sports event centered on the gymnasium of the mind, highlighting the great value of the mind sports.

On the program there are five minds sports : Bridge,  Chess,  Draughts,  Go,  XiangQi.

They are all about the power of the human brain, strategy, intelligence and the exercise of the mind.

In addition, a competitive attitude, quick reflexes, physical fitness, and discipline are needed to excel.

Mind Sports intervene in the fields of education and health with teaching programs in schools and, for adults and older players, enables them to retain their intellectual faculties while also providing an active social life through meeting and playing with others.

The event not only demonstrates the world a first-class performance of the mind sports competitions, but the cultural and social aspects are also showcased during the event.

The event includes a worldwide online tournament and a cultural and social programme.

The five international sports federations participating in SportAccord World Mind Games are:

World Bridge Federation (WBF)

World Chess Federation (FIDE)

World Draughts Federation (FMJD)

International Go Federation (IGF)

World XiangQi Federation (WXF)

Tuesday, December 10, 2013

Chinese Abacus

An  Intangible  Cultural  Heritage

The Zhusuan, otherwise known as the Chinese abacus was officially listed as an intangible cultural heritage at the 8th Annual UNESCO World Heritage Congress on December 4th, 2013 in Baku, Azerbaijan.

The abacus is an ancient calculating method with a history of over 2,500 years. It is regarded as the fifth invention in Chinese history and was listed as a national-level intangible cultural heritage in 2008.

The abacus’s popularity has been compromised over the course of time by the emergence of digital calculators; however, they are still in use in many of China’s rural marketplaces. Today, the abacus has a richer value as a cultural symbol rather than a practical calculating tool.

The UNESCO stated that intangible cultural heritage could bring a sense of identification to the people who own it and it is essential to maintaining cultural diversity and human creativity.

Since 2001, China has successfully applied for 37 items to be listed as World Intangible Cultural Heritages, including Kunqu opera, the shadow play and acupuncture.

China currently has 30 intangible cultural heritage items listed by UNESCO, the most among all countries throughout the world.

Facts about the abacus :

The Chinese abacus, also called suanpan, can be traced back to the Spring and Autumn Period (770-476BC).
It has two decks and more than seven rods. The upper deck, which is known as heaven, has two beads on each rod. These beads each have the value of five. There are five beads on the bottom deck, known as earth. Each of these has the value of one. The beads are moved up and down during calculation.

Intangible cultural heritage are the practices, representations, and expressions, as well as the knowledge and skills that communities, groups and, in some cases, individuals recognize as part of their cultural heritage. It is sometimes called living cultural heritage, and is manifested among other things in the following domains :

Oral traditions and expressions, including language as a vehicle of the intangible cultural heritage;

Performing arts;

Social practices, rituals, and festive events;

Knowledge and practices concerning nature and the universe;

Traditional craftsmanship.

The intangible cultural heritage is transmitted from generation to generation, and is constantly re-created by communities and groups, in response to their environment, their interaction with nature, and their historical conditions of existence.

It provides people with a sense of identity and continuity, and its safeguarding promotes, sustains, and develops cultural diversity and human creativity. 

Thursday, October 3, 2013

Calcutta , September 21, 2013 ( Metro,Page 24 )

The sound of Chinese Hok San drums and cymbals pierced the bustling lanes around Tireta Bazar on Friday morning as a dozen members of Calcutta's dwindling Chinese community waited with bouquets at the entrance of the Toong On Church.

At the stroke of 10, an SUV pulled up in front of the 90- year- old church on Blackburn Lane near Bowbazar and Lim Thuan Kuan, the high commissioner of Singapore, alighted from the car. The drumroll got louder, the lion dancers leapt in the air.

A two- hour excursion through Calcutta's Old Chinatown followed. Metro accompanied Lim through the bylanes of a once- glorious Chinese neighbourhood gasping for revival.


Toong On Church

 Built in 1924, it once housed Nanking. " Calcutta's first Chinese restaurant, it had hosted celebrities like Shammi Kapoor," said Dominic Lee, vice- president of the Indian Chinese Association. The restaurant wound up and morphed into Toong On Church last August after a decade- long litigation. A huge Buddha idol sits on the ground floor while the prayer room on the first floor is home to war god Guan Di and his two sworn brothers.

Lim and about 20 community members sat across an old dining table in front of the deity. Paul Chung, the 72- year- old president of the association, was brought up on a chair by two youngsters and placed next to the high commissioner.

" This is my first visit outside New Delhi and I am delighted to be here," Lim said.

" A sapling needs constant supervision and support till it grows into a tree," said Chung, metaphorically explaining the efforts to revive the neighbourhood.

Soon English was ditched.

Mandarin followed and so did siu mai, fish dim sums and several rounds of jasmine tea until Lim got up.


Sea Yip Church

 A minute's walk from Toong On is the 108- year- old church with god of compassion Quan Yin as its presiding deity. The wooden staircase leads to an altar carved out of wood. It was imported from China a century ago. Lim's gaze fell on a bamboo box containing fortune sticks. Shake the box till a numbered stick falls out. Depending on the number, a piece of paper is handed out with predictions about a person's future.

Lim gently declined to try his luck! " It is fascinating to see a vibrant Chinese community tucked within the heart of Calcutta," he said outside, breaking into a jog across Lu Shun Sarani to dodge a speeding bus.


Gee Hing Temple

 Popular for its mahjong sessions, the temple doubles as a community centre for the 2,000- odd members in central Calcutta. Mahjong is roughly the Chinese equivalent of the card game rummy.

" Ah mahjong!" Lim gushed. " We used to play it quite often in Singapore. It is very popular there," he said, running his fingers through a bowl of mahjong tiles on one of the four tables.

" Many elders spend hours at the temple playing mahjong," said Jospeph Percy Ling, who conducts tourist walks across Chinatown.


Voi Yune Club

 A giant portrait of Sun Yatsen, the founding father of the Republic of China, greeted Lim at this temple club. That's not a photograph but a painting, he was told. Lim, mouth open in awe, took a closer look.

The club has a small temple in an adjacent room. Small but 106 years old! Lim lit incense sticks amid beats of the drum and chimes of the cymbals.


Nam Soon Temple

 If other temples have clubs and community halls, this one of 1820 vintage houses a secondary school and a small museum.

A winding lane lined with meat shops and shanties leads to a courtyard in front of the temple devoted to the god of commerce.

A room abutting the temple is the museum, where jade vases brush shoulders with swords and ornate divans of opium traders. A cupboard holds an old abacus. " My father would use this a lot," Lim said. " Does it have an Indian equivalent?" Out in the courtyard, a group of students chorused in Mandarin: " Yi er san si wu liu qi ba jiu shi ." Lim bowed and the customary " xie xie " ( thank you) rang out. " I enjoyed exploring the rich Chinese history and heritage," he told Metro . Well, yi er san… means " one two three four five six seven eight nine ten".

Monday, July 1, 2013

Still waiting ...

In India, ethnic Chinese still waiting for apology

Thousands were rounded up as suspected spies and sent to an internment camp after India lost a 1962 border war with China. India never filed any charges.

Chinese Premier Li Keqiang with Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh in New Delhi in May (Saurabh Das, Associated Press / May 20, 2013)

 By Mark Magnier

June 28, 2013, 1:01 a.m.

KOLKATA, India — India-born Monica Liu was 9 in 1962 when her family was loaded into box cars for an eight-day rail trip to an internment camp in the western Indian desert.

The Lius were among about 3,000 people of Chinese descent, most of them Indian citizens, rounded up without trial as suspected spies or sympathizers and placed in Rajasthan state's Deoli camp after India's one-month border war with China. Her family remained in detention until 1967.

Over the decades, the Chinese-Indian community has paid a high price for India's humiliating defeat and the subsequent distrust between the two Asian giants. In May, recently named Chinese Premier Li Keqiang visited India in a bid to improve relations. But few expect close ties anytime soon, in light of a disputed 2,100-mile border and India's hosting of the Dalai Lama, Tibet's exiled spiritual leader.

Long consumed by fear, anger and denial, many former detainees have only recently begun speaking out, urging New Delhi to admit mistakes, as Washington finally did in 1988 for the detention of Japanese Americans during World War II.

"I've felt that the Indian government should apologize openly," said Harry Shaw, secretary of a Toronto-based association of former Deoli internees. "Unfortunately the whole thing's been swept under the rug."

Liu, the eldest of five siblings from the northeastern Indian city of Shillong, recalls the shock of arriving at the sparse 40-foot barracks surrounded by barbed wire.

The heat was oppressive and beds were often bug-infested, she said. There were no schools and only rudimentary medical care in the camp, built in 1852 by the British. Boredom was endemic and internees were treated as if they were criminals.

"Escape was impossible," Shaw said. "Rajasthan is desert and, being Chinese-looking, you'd be immediately spotted. It's not like we fit in."

Those who accepted deportation — India's preferred solution — were released first, with hundreds immigrating to China in 1963. Those who refused, including families fearful of the Chinese Communist Party, Tibetans and many who'd never been to China, languished for years.

Not everyone hated the experience.

"I didn't know where I was and worried about my mother," said Berkeley-based Yin Marsh, author of "Doing Time with Nehru," a book about her Deoli experience. "But my younger siblings, who were 4 and 8, they thought it was summer holiday — great, they could explore free, no one told them to go to school."

Most of those released in waves from 1963 to 1967 found their possessions had been either seized as "enemy property," looted or stolen by neighbors. Many saw their citizenship stripped, barring them from owning property, and were forcibly resettled. Travel restrictions lasted until 1996.

Liu and her family returned to Shillong nearly penniless. They were taken in by other Chinese Indians released earlier and survived by making dumplings at night, selling them on the street and eating potatoes, the cheapest food available.

"To this day, I can't eat potatoes," said Liu, who owns four successful restaurants in Kolkata, formerly Calcutta. "I don't even want to smell them."

Despite the often draconian measures, the Indian government never filed a case or found any apparent evidence of espionage by the Chinese Indians. "I don't think there were any spies, just citizens living their lives," Marsh said.

Those who lived near the Chinese border were sent to the camp, but thousands farther afield faced assaults, discrimination and prison sentences amid official anti-Chinese rhetoric and Bollywood depictions of Chinese as villains and prostitutes. Feeling like outcasts, their job options limited, many fled to the United States, Canada or Hong Kong.

Although Chinese have visited India since at least the 4th century, few moved there before the late 1700s, when they were encouraged by British rulers hoping to jump-start the economy. Further waves followed such events as the 1840 Opium War and the 1949 communist takeover.

At its peak, India's population of ethnic Chinese numbered in the tens of thousands. Today, Kolkata's once-vibrant ethnic Chinese community has declined to about 4,500, with an additional 1,500 sprinkled across India, according to Paul Chung, president of the Kolkata-based Indian Chinese Assn. The total swells to 1.5 million if Tibetans are included.

During decades of discrimination, Chinese temples and other landmarks in Kolkata's two Chinatowns fell into disrepair as residents avoided spotlighting their heritage. In recent years, however, a more economically confident India and growing trade links with China, mostly in Beijing's favor, have bolstered community confidence.

A nascent organization is fighting to regain control of Kolkata's Toong On temple, built in 1924, after an ownership dispute led to its sale to Indian investors. And Kolkata is talking about revitalizing Chinatown to boost tourism.

But distrust persists, community leaders say. Many Chinese Indians remain wary of any official contact, with some panning the revitalization plan as an ethnic "amusement park."

"They've suffered so much, they can't believe anything good comes from the government," Chung said.

Chung believes that the Indian government should make amends, "not for the money, but to make us feel that we belong here."

Others, however, see little chance of an apology with the community's limited political clout and some feeling that for India, such a move would be tantamount to giving in to Beijing and could set a precedent.

"There are lots of wronged groups in India waiting for an apology," said S.N.M. Abdi, deputy editor of Outlook magazine, who is writing a book on the community. "It would be a very long list."

Tanvi Sharma in The Times' New Delhi bureau contributed to this report.

Copyright © 2013, Los Angeles Times

Sunday, June 2, 2013

Little China at Jorasanko

Calcutta , Sunday June 02, 2013 , page 24 

Xu Beihong studio recreated at Jorasanko as part of the Tagore and China gallery

Little China in Tagore home

In the run-up to Chinese Premier Li Keqiang’s visit to India, a permanent exhibition opened at Tagore House in Jorasanko on Tagore and China. Housed in eight rooms in Ram Bhavan, on the first floor, the exhibition centres primarily around Rabindranath Tagore’s first visit to China in 1924.
One of the eye-catching exhibits is the wooden Waterwitch. Built to order from Dwarkanath Tagore’s Carr Tagore Company in Kidderpore in 1831, the 363-tonne clipper, used by the East India Company for carrying opium grown in India to China, sailed from Canton to Calcutta in 1838 in a record 25 days.
Rabindranath’s grandfather let out his ships to the Company for opium trade, which he later became directly involved in. In 1861, a 20-year-old Rabindranath himself would denounce opium trade in an essay, calling it a business to kill the Chinese. 

“Dwarkanath’s ties with China were business-related. Tagore fraternised with the people,” pointed out poet Sankha Ghosh, who was present at the inauguration of the gallery funded by a grant from the Chinese government. He praised Rabindra Bharati Museum curator Indrani Ghosh for the research and tasteful display of information.
When Tagore was invited to China, collections of his poetry had already been translated to Chinese. As Rabindra Bharati University vice-chancellor Sabyasachi Basu Ray Chaudhury mentioned in his address, people knew him as the author of Gitabitan and Stray Birds. Covers of other works in translation like The Cycle of Spring, dated 1921, are on display in one of the rooms alongside a Tagore special issue of the Chinese magazine, Novel Monthly, that commemorated his visit.
Another reason endeared Tagore to the Chinese. He was critical of Japan’s invasion of China in 1938, as revealed in his letters to poet Yone Noguchi, a fact remembered with gratitude by Chinese consul-general Zhang Li Zhong.
Tagore’s visit occasioned a flow of students, delegates and scholars to Santiniketan. We get to know that he named a tea circle on his return after his interpreter in China, the poet Xu Zhimo. A room has been set up as the studio of the artist Xu Beihong, who visited Santiniketan. The room also contains an original letter by the artist (signed as Xu Peon) to Abanindranath Tagore, which his grandson, the Chinese scholar Amitendranath, has gifted to the gallery along with some other articles.
The exhibition was inaugurated by education minister Bratya Basu. Liu Yuening, a professor of the Central Conservatory of Music, played a Rabindrasangeet on yang qin, a Chinese dulcimer, at the opening.

Vat  a  bother

Toong On church at 22 Blackburn Lane, built in 1924 in what was the Chinatown of old Calcutta, once housed Nanking Restaurant. It was the best place for Chinese grub, long, long before chowmein in its various mind-boggling avatars became the favourite snack of all Indians. The restaurant was run by the Au family and the property belonged to the trust that was in charge of this place of worship.
The vat in front of Toong On church in Blackburn Lane

Then sometime in the past, the restaurant closed and the place fell into disrepute. There was an effort a few years ago to hand over the building — illegally, no doubt — to a promoter but the small Chinese community in Calcutta — there are about 1,500 of them in the central areas of this city, 1,500 in Tangra, and about 1,000 in the rest of the country — resisted, and the church reopened last year.
Most of the wonderful antique furniture is gone and so is the old signboard of the restaurant, but on the first floor, the wooden images of the wargod, Guan Di, and his two sworn brothers, and an intricately carved wooden altar remain. A devotee donated a large Buddha statue and it was installed on the ground floor. Prayers are held here daily.
The lane leading to the church was always dirty as several families of pavement dwellers occupied the space, and even worse, at the head of the entrance to the lane on Lu Shun Sarani (formerly New CIT Road), was a sprawling garbage dump. Most of the refuse was strewn all over the place than inside it.
The church is a Grade-I heritage building, according to the Calcutta Municipal Corporation (CMC), like Victoria Memorial Hall, and no construction can come up close to it. But in spite of local resistance, the CMC seems to be bent on shifting the garbage dump from Lu Shun Sarani to the narrow confines of Blackburn Lane, close to the church.
This new vat at the other entrance of the lane is far too small for the tonnes of refuse that are thrown on the main road. But protests notwithstanding, the vat came up about a year ago, and on April 22, the CMC sent a bulldozer to start using the smaller vat.
Local people were up in arms against this and the police had to intervene to maintain peace. Not just Toong On church, even Masjid Khairul Baqa in the same neighbourhood is against it. Now the small Chinese community has moved court and Section 144 CrPc has been imposed around this unique place of worship. The Chinese have petitioned the West Bengal Minority Commission as well.
This at a time when the local Chinese community is trying to revive the old Chinatown in central Calcutta, and is collaborating with Intach and an organisation in Singapore to build a museum showcasing Chinese culture in India inside the church, and turn Blackburn Lane into a pedestrian plaza where Chinese delicacies will be available. 

Monday, May 27, 2013

China Rising

A four-part series that gives a rare insight into the country on the move, with history in tow

After centuries of western dominance, the world’s centre of economic and political weight is shifting eastward.
In just 30 years, China has risen from long-standing poverty to being the second largest economy in the world – faster than any other country in history.

Friday, May 24, 2013

Kolkata’s Chinese Breakfast

May 2013  issue

 Tiretti Bazaar is one of the few remaining places to sample authentic Chinese snacks like steamed pork buns, dim sum, and light, subtly sweet, sesame sprinkled deep-fried batter balls. {Photo by Arundhati Ray}

Kolkata offers several interesting ways to start the day, but few as fascinating and delicious as breakfast at the Chinese market in the heart of the commercial district. For decades, this was where Kolkata’s large Chinese community lived and worked. Even though, from the 1960s, the old quarters were gradually razed to make way for office blocks and broader roads, for a few hours at dawn, the site reclaims its old identity as a traditional open-air market along the broad Sun Yat Sen Street.

On mats, rickety tables, and upturned packing cases, vendors sell a dizzying variety of homemade products: soy and chilli sauces, tofu and pickles, roast pork and Chinese sausages, glass noodles and prawn wafers. Pots, steamers, and woks, perched on sidewalk stoves, produce soup, dim sum, stuffed buns, hot patties, as well as pakoras and aloo-puri. Many of the vendors and shoppers are Chinese or of Chinese descent.

Sunday is the busiest day at the market as there’s no hurry to finish before a river of traffic brings office-goers to the commercial district. At 6.30 one weekend morning, we hurry to join the queue for a special dish that gets sold out within 30 minutes of being put on sale: red roast pork. Two young men are swiftly slicing pork backs, weighing the pieces, wrapping them in newspaper and handing over the parcels to customers. The meat is still warm, fragrant with star anise and coated in the mysterious spice mix that gives it its delicious flavour and characteristic ruddy appearance. We eat some right away, the juices dripping from our fingers, because the only way to savour the superb crackling is to have it fresh from the oven.

An old Chinese lady has been setting out her wares on the neighbouring table: ivory bricks of firm tofu and magnolia-white mikao pao. With a silken texture akin to blancmange, these rice buns are rather flavourless. But when warmed and eaten with the little packets of sweet-garlic-soy sauce that accompany them, they morph into delicious snacks. Another table is laden with pink-edged prawn wafers, soy and chilli sauces, mysterious bottles of pickled mustard greens, fried momos and oily, but tasty arbi (colocasia) fritters. Subtly sweet, richly fat, air-cured Chinese sausages, a much-awaited winter treat, lie in tangled red and white heaps, trailing their signature scarlet twine for good fortune.

At the far end is the main attraction of the Chinese breakfast: soup with pork and fish balls. Three women manage the huge simmering pot of broth on a sidewalk stove, ladling out the soup into plastic bowls and dropping in pork and fish balls before handing the bowls over to us. We have our soup standing round a table set with little dishes of chilli sauce and spoons. We are joined soon by a Sikh family, a young Bengali couple visiting from Bengaluru, and a group of Anglo-Indians on vacation from Australia.  

A vendor advertises his wares in English for the increasing number of non-Chinese visitors. Some years ago, such signs were rare. {Photo by Arundhati Ray}

The light, flavoursome broth warms us against the chill of the morning, and the steamed fish balls have a satisfying rubbery bite which contrasts nicely with the more meaty pork ones. Two bowls of soup later we move on, but not before we’ve bought some of the fish and pork balls to store in the freezer for soups.

Lids removed from towering, multi-tiered steamers release fragrant steam into the air and reveal neat dim sum made with prawn, pork, fish, and chicken, and large rounds of steamed bread stuffed with pork and chicken. We snack on the excellent dumplings and pack the saucer-sized soft buns for home. A baksawallah or patty man, is selling his wares from the ancient tin trunk traditionally used to hawk around those flaky pastry envelopes stuffed with curried vegetables or chicken. Other Anglo-Indian treats beckon: a tray of crumb-fried egg chops and golden pantharas—deep-fried, meat-filled pancakes.

Enterprising vendors are constantly tinkering with traditional products to adapt to changing tastes. On this visit, we discover chicken rolls—crepes stuffed with spring onion and chicken mince and rolled into long cigar shapes. Right next to the sealed packets of Chinese prawn wafers are freshly made “prawn papars”, flat puris studded with shrimp. But not all the experiments are successful. When we unwrap our packets of sticky rice, we are disappointed to find what once was a moist melange of glutinous rice and succulent pieces of pork scented with star anise and soy has been Indianised with a bland lentil paste, barely any meat, and no Chinese character to it.

By now, the place is bursting with people. An old Chinese gentleman is distributing invitations to a family wedding, calling out to potential guests as he spots them. Chinese New Year is around the corner and several people crowd around a poster announcing the programme of celebrations. Two youth study a sign advertising Mandarin lessons. As we sip cups of tea from the chaiwalla, we are greeted by Chef Jacky, who runs an eatery in our neighbourhood and, like many other Chinese restaurant owners, is stocking up on supplies. A burly young man of Chinese origin speaks with us in fluent Bengali to explain he’s now relocated to Beijing and introduces us to his beautiful wife who speaks only Mandarin. “This place is great to meet everyone at one go when we come to Cal,” he says.

Our last stops are the fish seller for large whiskered catfish and the vegetable man for fat stalks of celery. Then, resisting the temptation of hot onion pakoras, we head home laden with food and reassured that this living tribute to Kolkata’s cosmopolitan identity still remains resoundingly robust.

                                                                                                                                 Arundhati Ray

( NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC TRAVELLER INDIA is the Indian edition of National Geographic Traveler (U.S.), the travel magazine of the National Geographic Society. The original was started in 1985 and currently has a readership of 7.6 million worldwide.

National Geographic Traveller India's main aim is to inspire travel. It is an inclusive magazine that focuses on 'real travel for real people' through experiential and immersive storytelling. It's about family travel, unique experiences, as well as new ways of covering older destinations and sharing eco-tourism insights.

Traveller's tag line is 'nobody knows this world better,' and accordingly, all stories attempt to capture a place's essence in a way that inspires readers to follow in the writer's footsteps, and equips them to do so with useful destination information.

National Geographic Traveller India eschews fashion and fluff in favour of fantastic photography, insightful articles and reader-friendly service.

Above all, the magazine tries to cover India more interestingly, while making all this information accessible so that it can enable readers to travel and to go to newer destinations. )

India's only 'Chinatown' in Kolkata

Wednesday, May 15, 2013

The Gallery

Kolkata ,Wednesday , 15 May 2013
Times City , page 2

Tagore gallery to beef up Sino-Indian ties

Kolkata: The culture ministry of China is helping Rabindra Bharati University to set up a gallery on “Rabindranath and China.” On the eve of the visit of Chinese prime minister LiKeqiang’s visitto Delhi, the gallery would help deepening Sino-Indian friendship, consul general of China in Kolkata Zhang Lizhnog said on Tuesday.

    The Chinese government would donate RMB800,000 to establish a theme gallery at Tagore House on the Jorasanko campus of Rabindra Bharati University. It will highlighte Rabindranath’s “contribution and historical position” in cultural exchanges between India andChina.The gallery,tobelaunchedon Wednesday, would have eight rooms, seven on different themes — India and China in ancient days, China: Dwarakanath and Debendranath, China study, China: In Rabindranath’s writings and works, Xu Beihong’s studio, Tagore’s visit to China in 1924 and Tagore studies in China.

    Exhibits in the gallery would be provided jointly by the Chinese and Indian sides,Zhang said.The ShanghaiArchive Bureau would offer 23 panels to reflect Tagore’s visit to China in 1924. Beijing university professor Wei Liming has helped select 500 books in Chinese, both translations of Tagore works and research paperson Tagore, 300of them has already arrived in the city. The gallery would be a permanent exhibition.

    Tagore’s works had an extensive influence in China, people of China treated him as a literary giant, Zhang said. “We are friendly neighbours, having time-honoured exchanges in culture and literature. Minor irritants like the recent border dispute in Ladakh should not overshadow the mutual respect for each other. A peaceful resolution of the disputehasbeen in theoverallinterestof the two countries,” he said.

Consul general of China in Kolkata Zhang Lizhnog at a press meet


Wednesday , May 15 , 2013
 metro , page 18

China Gallery at museum in Tagore Home

In 1924, Rabindranath Tagore spent 49 days in China, delivering addresses and forging associations. The visit, though occasioning protests from a section, built a bridge with Santiniketan and left Tagore’s imprint on the cultural mindscape of the land that lasts to this day. Now China’s gift to the city on the occasion of the bard’s 150th birth anniversary — a gallery on Tagore and China — is set to open at Jorasanko Thakurbari on Wednesday.

“This gallery is our tribute to Tagore, a friend of China,” says Zhang Lizhong, the Chinese consul-general in Calcutta. China has contributed about Rs 56 lakh for the gallery. “We also donated 500 books published in China comprising Tagore research and translations in Chinese.” Gifts have also been made of calligraphy tools, cutlery, lanterns and such representatives of Chinese culture.

Rabindranath Tagore

It all started with Lizhong’s predecessor Mao Siwei visiting Tagore House on the eve of the Chinese foreign minister’s visit in 2008. “He saw the Japan gallery and asked us why there couldn’t be a China gallery too. When we cited financial constraints he asked us to submit a proposal. That set the ball rolling,” recalls Indrani Ghosh, curator, Rabindra Bharati Museum.

Once the agreement was inked, the work was taken forward by officials of the Shanghai Archive Bureau, who came to Calcutta after hosting an exhibition in Delhi in 2011 on Tagore and China. “They sent 26 exhibits documenting every important event during Tagore’s stay,” says Zhong. These find pride of place in one of the eight rooms in Ram Bhavan, on the first floor of Tagore House. “There will be a touchscreen computer with information on Tagore’s visit, including transcripts of his speeches there,” Ghosh adds.

The scope of the gallery extends beyond Tagore, dating back to visits of Chinese pilgrims Fa Hien and Huen Tsang to ancient India.

The second room is dedicated to the Tagore family’s links with China. “Some of Dwarkanath’s ships were used by the East India Company for the infamous opium trade. Later, he himself engaged in it. But grandson Rabindranath was a bitter critic, calling it Chiney moroner byabsha in an article in the journal Bharati,” points out Ghosh. Debendranath, Tagore’s father, had visited Shanghai.

The other rooms are on China studies, China in Tagore’s writings, Tagore studies in China and Xu Beihong’s studio. The artist had visited Santiniketan and even held an exhibition in Calcutta. A copy of his portrait of Tagore will be on view. There will also be a library cum conference room.

“The opening of China Hall will send positive signals to the Indian people ahead of our Premier’s visit to India later this month,” the consul-general summed up.


Wednesday, May 8, 2013


Monday , May 06, 2013
Metro , page 20
Chinatown-Tiretta Bazar

The Chinese have been in my city since Job Charnock’s time but I would have remained oblivious of the community’s deep local roots had I not joined the group that set out to explore the old Chinatown and Tiretta Bazar on Sunday morning.

The community has even inspired the Bengali word for sugar — chini — because they had first produced it in the city. Dishing out such trivia and guiding us was Joseph Percy Ling, who chose the Chinese breakfast stalls as the first stop. Pity that nobody wanted to eat for fear of getting late!

A temple tour followed, starting with the Sea Ip Church, which houses the god of mercy and compassion. Those who wanted to know what the future held in store for them shook a bunch of wooden sticks until one fell off. Depending on the number on the stick, a piece of paper was handed out with predictions about the person’s future.

We proceeded to the Nam Soon temple, home to the “mad monk”, who earned the sobriquet because of his fondness for meat and wine. A room in the temple housed quite a collection of antique Chinese furniture.

Nanking Restaurant, which was apparently frequented by Shammi Kapoor, was the next attraction. On the floor above the closed restaurant, the Tong On Church was the highlight of the walk. Locals brought out dragon masks and treated us to dragon dance, which is usually performed during the Chinese New Year. Some of us even got a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity of trying our feet at dragon dance.

The final stop was Gee Hing Church, where community members were playing mahjong, which I felt was a complicated version of the popular card game, rummy. We also visited the place where the last rites of the Chinese are performed. Whether a body is cremated or buried depends on the person’s last wish.

Ritwik Sen

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

Wednesday, February 27, 2013

Spring Festival

Wednesday , Feb 27,  2013 , page 7

Chinese troupe for Visva stage

Santiniketan, Feb. 26: Visva-Bharati has invited a Chinese dance troupe to perform at the university on Thursday in what officials said was an attempt to make students aware of the neighbouring country’s culture.

The three-hour programme by Jilin Provincial Group, named “Happy Spring Festival 2013”, will be organised by the Chinese department and will include a spring festival and lantern dances to Chinese folk music. The consul-general of China in Calcutta, Zhang Li Zhong, will be the chief guest.

The programme will be held in Natyaghar, the varsity’s main auditorium.

Officials said Tagore set up the Chinese department in 1937 to promote the language and culture after his visit to the country in 1924. The poet requested Chinese scholar Tan Yunshan, who was touring India during the late 1930s, to be the founder-director of the department.

Today, Abhijit Banerjee, the head of the Chinese department, said: “This is the first time a cultural troupe from China will perform in Visva-Bharati. We want the students of Cheena Bhavana (the Chinese department) to make themselves familiar with the Chinese culture.”

The troupe is now organising shows in Delhi. After the programme at Visva-Bharati, the team will go to Rabindra Bharati University in Calcutta.

“The team is known internationally,” said Jayeeta Mazumdar, the general manager of Indo-China Promotion Council in Calcutta.

Asked how the programme will help students to become familiar with Chinese culture, Banerjee said: “Chinese culture is part of our course for undergraduates. The dance forms will depict the two most important festivals of China, the lantern festival and the spring festival. All our students will be present. Everybody in the varsity is invited.”

Cheena Bhavana has of late organised several programmes involving the two countries.


Sunday, February 10, 2013

Time For A Start

Sunday, Feb 10, 2013, page 2

The Best Chinatown In the World, right here in City of Joy


This column coincides with the start of the Chinese New Year. And what makes the occasion special for us in Kolkata is our unrivalled love for Chinese food. In fact, in the 30 or so countries across the world where I have tasted Chinese food, nowhere is the love for these delicacies as vibrant as in Kolkata. Yes there are some excellent Chinese restaurants spread across in North America, Europe and Australia, but our good old Tangra and the experiments with Chinese food at eateries like Mainland China and Chinoiserie surely take the cake.

 First things first- there’s nothing called Chinese cuisine as such. In China itself there are many different varieties of food ranging from the spicy Hunan and Sichuan to the more provincial varieties. What we understand as Chinese food in Kolkata is a more indigenized version of Hunan or Sichuan cuisine, which is a mesh of Chinese with spicy Indian to suit our taste buds. Melbourne, in fact, has gone a step further and set up a chain of Indian-Chinese restaurants across Lygon Street in the Central Business District of the city. In most of these restaurants you get what they call the “Indian Chilli Chicken”!

Among my favourite Chinese restaurants across the world, the four that rank the highest are Kai in Vienna, La Cite Du Dragon in Brussels, Shark Finn Inn in Melbourne and Min Yang at the Taj Landsend in Mumbai. Others that are also worth a mention are Xian in Summertown in Oxford, Sea Palace in Amsterdam, le Sichuan in Paris and also le Sichuan in Chicago. It is perhaps of interest to state here that Kai and Koi are common Chinese restaurant names in Austria, with Vienna alone having more than a dozen of these spread all over the city. My favourite is the one located just next to the Burgasse station on subway line 6, because the owner speaks and comprehends English perfectly. Of all these, Xian in Oxford has a good wine collection to go with the food.

As I mention my favourite Chinese restaurants across the world, it would be sacrilegious to not dwell on Tangra, which continues to be an alltime favourite and which played a part in nurturing my taste for Chinese food while growing up in Kolkata. Despite not having half the d├ęcor in comparison to other China towns of the world, Tangra has survived just because of the quality of food it continues to serve. In my 25 years of visiting Tangra the smell emanating from a combination of the city’s waste and burnt leather, a residue from the 350 or so tanneries that once had their base in Tangra, has remained the same. But the stench recedes as you get closer to the chain of restaurants with their bright red facades and unostentatious exteriors. Most restaurants have dangling red Chinese lanterns hanging from the entrance. Tangra also has its own Chinese newspaper and a Chinese Kali temple among other things making it unique.

 Two stand-out Tangra features that have stood the test of time are the portions served and the minimal time taken for service. Even the most elaborate order won’t take more than thirty minutes to serve and a ‘small’ soup is enough for two people. A plate of chowmein will easily feed two adult males and a full plate of chicken can serve a family of four. For providing a sumptuous meal at a very reasonable price, Tangra is still the preferred Chinese food destination for the middle class Kolkatan and visitors who wish to experience one of the true attractions of the city.

 And it is here that we can do a lot more. It doesn’t take much to promote Tangra as part of the city’s heritage, spruce it up with new gates and other Chinese decorations, do a Chinese food festival from time to time and put it into the tourist map of the city. If the 13th arrondissement in Paris (which houses the city’s main Chinatown) can attract the number of visitors it does, Tangra has the potential to attract double the number of people if not more. If the Dim Sum lunches in Melbourne’s Chinatown can find a mention in the tourist literature distributed at the Melbourne airport one wonders what stops us from not doing the same in the newly built Kolkata international terminal. Heritage walks in Tangra ending with a lunch at one of the restaurants will sure have many takers among tourists. To put it bluntly, we have the best Chinatown in the world but we refuse to promote it. Time perhaps for a start- better late than never.

                                                           Boria Majumdar