CHINATOWN ACTION PLAN
Come, let’s revitalize Nanking!
Good afternoon to everyone! It’s a great honour and I am privileged to be given the opportunity to speak in front of such distinguished guests and an august gathering of international scholars and intellectuals.
Today, I am going to express some of the aspiration of the younger generation of our community in Old Chinatown and my personal opinion and observation of the experience I had in Tangra while interacting with some friends and relatives.
The Old Chinatown I am referring here is the one that is located around Nanking Restaurant in Tiretti Bazar area. In its heydays the old Chinatown border roughly extended from Damzen Lane in the north to Bow Street in the south. From Central Avenue in the east to Bentinck Street and Rabindra Sarani in the west. The Old Chinatown has been in existence for more than 150 years and has been quite cosmopolitan. The Gujaratis and Marwaris, Jews, Parsees, Anglo Indians, Muslims, Biharis and Bengalis have all been coexisting around old Chinatown and have built their place of worship and community centres. My father as well as some elderly Dusadhs told me that during the Kolkata riot of 1946 that occurred before India’s Partition, the Chinese community checked the violence and tried to maintain peace in Old Chinatown. The Muslims from Colootola Lane were not allowed to enter the area, thus protecting the Dusadhs and Mochis who were living in Chattaguli Lane.
Nanking Restaurant and the six Chinese temples were built around early 1900s. There was a thriving Indian Chinese community around Nanking Restaurant. The neighborhood around Nanking Restaurant was more or less the indisputable epicenter of social life in old Chinatown. In its heydays, old Chinatown had 6 goldsmith shops, three herbal medicine stores, 5 barber shops and a beauty parlour, tailors, laundries, provisions stores and a dozen of eatery joints and restaurants in dingy lanes. Chinese traders used to travel to and fro to China to bring in exotic Chinese goods that were not available in India. When the two roads namely Dr. Sun Yat Sen Street and Lu Hsun Sarani were built, Old Chinatown was practically destroyed. The Indian Chinese community was in a state of unbelievable shock and apprehension. Instead of taking advantage of the opportunities the newly built roads offered, there was despair and mass exodus. The gradual undesirable decline was inevitable and a matter of time only.
We need to start somewhere and make concerted efforts to protect our cherished legacy. We must vigorously revive both the Chinatowns and preserve its cultural heritage. For the past few months since the Chinese New Year, there has been a series of hectic brain storming meetings of the Chinese clubs in old Chinatown. Under the dynamic leadership and guidance of Mr. Paul Chung, the president of the Indian Chinese Association, we discussed ways and means to develop the old Chinatown area and help the community to grow and contribute more positively and overtly into the mainstream society.
The Nanking Restaurant issue has apparently spurred the community to work together. If some concrete and drastic action is not taken immediately, gradually we will lose all our treasured legacies.
Nanking must be restored to its former pristine glory but in a new avatar! What is Nanking without the beauty and charm of Chinatown! Nanking cannot exist in total isolation! To create more awareness of the presence of Chinese and Chinese culture in Old Chinatown, the following plans were formulated to make a modest but constructive beginning in view of achievable goal.
· To arrange guided tours of Old Chinatown
· To place a bust of Lu Hsun at Lu Hsun Sarani close to See Ip Church
· To place two road signs to mark the Morning Chinese Market and Dr. Sun Yat Sen Street
· To request the Corporation to name the area where the Morning Chinese Market and the Annual Lion Dance and Cultural Show is organized as Zhongshan Square or Dr. Sun Yat Sen Square
· To set up a Night Market with the permission of the City Fathers
· To construct two Chinatown Gates as a memorial and a tribute to the once thriving community
· To set up a museum at Tong On Church once the rightful ownership is won back.
· To set up rows of stalls outside Tong On Church after it has been restored.
A plan was proposed to offer guided tours of Old Chinatown. The help of a knowledgeable local guide will be time saving and indispensable for a time bound discerning tourist. It will be an enlightening experience for the keen tourist or a thirsty researcher to get first hand information and lay his knowledge hungry eyes on never before seen quaint artifacts and jealously guarded antiques. All these are hidden in the six Chinese temples, clubs and other places of interest, waiting forlornly to unravel its charming mysteries and secrets. With prior consent, a visit to an Indian Chinese home can be arranged complete with a simple or sumptuous Chinese dinner and a lively interaction with the family. Some of you might have already experienced how difficult it is to strike the initial rapport with a skeptic community imbued as well as battered with so many years of negative feelings. Here, I need to express my sincere gratitude and appreciation to all you good Samaritans of the Indian Chinese. Your commendable initiative and tireless efforts as well as behind the scene scholarly works has generated immense local and international interest, good will, sympathy and support for the community. The community in turn is slowly coming out of its shell and slumber. Thank you very much!
A plan is afoot to install the bust of Lu Hsun near Sea Ip Church. The proposal has been submitted to Mr. Alapan Bandyopadhyay, the High Commissioner of the Kolkata Municipal Corporation and is under consideration. The Indian business community in Shaoxing city, the birthplace of Lu Hsun has agreed to donate a bronze bust of Lu Hsun. There is a proposal to make Kolkata and Shaoxing sister cities. There is great scope to develop cultural and economic ties between the two cities.
The design for the road sign to mark the Morning Chinese Market and Dr. Sun Yat Sen Street has already been made. We need to get the sanction to install the signpost and choose an appropriate date for its installation.
The proposal to name the nameless road connecting Dr. Sun Yat Sen St and Lu Hsun Sarani as ZHONGSHAN SQUARE was submitted to the Chief Executive Engineer of Borough V. On this road the daily morning Chinese market as well as the Annual Lion Dance and Cultural Show is held. Three buildings, Poddar Court, C.I.T. Building and a residential building, flank the unnamed road. The Corporation mistakenly thinks the proposal is to rename Tiretti Bazar, which has an Italian history, linked to it.
The plan to set up a Night Market has drawn a very keen interest among the community. A lot of people who cannot make it to the early morning market for a feast of authentic homemade dimsums will get an opportunity to satisfy his voracious appetite in the evening. It will be a paradise for Chinese food lovers and gourmets alike.
A Chinatown without a Chinatown Gate is like Agra without the Taj Mahal! A landmark feature of almost all Chinatowns all over the world, we can construct a Chinatown Gate to convey the unique characteristics of the Indian Chinese community. It would be a nice idea to include an element of Indian design to blend with the architecture of the Chinese province the community originated from.
The community has decided to set up a museum of Indian Chinese once the rightful ownership of Nanking is restored to Tong On Church. It would be really wonderful even just to browse through its rare or common collections. Be it some nostalgic photographs of a simple wedding or a strange and unusual Chinese ritual of the bygone era. A museum at Nanking would be an ideal place for information as well as preservation of Indian Chinese cultural heritage.
Presently the road outside Nanking is jam-packed with goods vehicles. It would be a dream comes true, if rows of stalls with typical Chinese designs can be set up on this stretch, once the museum is activated. The two Chinatown Gates can be built on either sides to add to its overall beauty and attraction.
The rejuvenated Chinatown will rise again like the proverbial phoenix! But the newborn baby needs to be nurtured till it can stand on its own feet!
It would be very helpful if the government can give generous grants and subsidies as well as incentives that are being given to eligible tourism and new industrial units. Tax holidays would be a great boon and would be like ambrosia for the resurrected Chinatown. It can then afford to offer its unique dainties and exquisite novelties at reasonable prices, which is so typical of a Chinatown!
Funds for all these development work could either be sponsored by big business or corporate houses or loaned by the banks. There could be joint ventures too.
Regarding Tangra, Mrs. Monica Liu would be able to give a clearer picture. I found to my chagrin, some individuals of our community, very insecure and in despair, especially those who were living under Thika Tenancy. Now that the wet tanning business is banned in Tangra, they are afraid one day they will be chased away from their homes too, because they do not have legal titles to their properties. Their future seems very hopeless and bleak. This is one of the main reason, some of them do not dare to think of another new venture as they feel their efforts will end up in vain. They do not know how to go about to obtain the required documents to legalize their holdings.
As there is no proper public drains in some parts, there are problems of flooding and disputes. About two months ago, I came across an incident in which a person was illegally filling the main public drain affecting more than 30 families including myself. I felt helpless as the rest of the affected people were scared to take any action.
I personally feel, it would be a great help to the community if a guideline can be put together with the help of the concerned department, giving details of the procedure to legalize the bonafide tenants. This can be printed and distributed to the affected people.
Once this stressful and despairing problem of land and drain is solved. The concerned person will feel secured and free to think of future plans and development.
Ah! Tangra Chinatown can then be developed on a grander scale! Why not two revitalized Chinatowns in Kolkata when Toronto can afford six! I could already imagine the influx of both tourists and investors as well as the return of Indian Chinese from abroad.