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Kolkata’s Chinatown hopes to ring in change

The customs associated with the Chinese New Year like painting the windows of the house red and distributing red envelopes are linked to ushering in good fortune and prosperity and chasing away bad luck. And as Kolkata’s Chinatown gets ready to welcome the Year of the Rat, its denizens are hoping that it will chase away all the dark shadows of the past and open up a new future.

Even though it has been two centuries since governor general Warren Hastings permitted Tong Atchew and his band of 1,000 Chinese to settle near Kolkata, the community remains confined to ghettoes in Teritti Bazar in central Kolkata and Tangra in the eastern fringes. But the walls of the ghetto which cocooned them from the city have failed to hold the younger generation inside. A court verdict which led to the closure of tanneries — once the economic lifeblood of the area — triggered migration in hordes to Canada, Hong Long, US and Taiwan. Only 4,500-odd people were left behind. Tangra’s Pei May Chinese School that bustled with over 1,000 students till the mid-1990s, suddenly had less than 70 on its rolls.

Membership base of South Tangra Chinese Youth Club has plummeted so much that the club is finding it difficult to organise the Chinese New Year’s parade and dragon dance.

“It is either pull down the wall to survive or stay cocooned and perish,” said Chen Khoi Kui of South Tangra Chinese Youth Club. A positive step was taken a couple of years ago when the Indian Chinese Association for Culture, Welfare & Development unveiled two road signs at Chine-para doorstep to officially welcome the rest of the city to Tangra.

“Everyone visits Tangra to enjoy Chinese cuisine. But we, as a community, have never tried to make Tangra a recognisable destination. The signposts aimed to usher in a mindset change,” said association president Paul Chung.

Owner of Beijing restaurant Monica Liu believes it is time to get rid of the squalor at Tangra and build a Chinatown like the one at New York. “A vibrant Chinatown will assure the youth that there’s a future here,” she said.

Till that dream turns into reality, many are seizing other opportunities. Some have joined call centres while many others have become teachers. “When the rest of the world is seeking opportunities in India, it’s foolish to remain ensconced in a ghetto,” Jet Airways station manager Paul Woo felt.

Source: Times of India