Overseas Chinese Commerce of India Newspaper

6 New Tangra Road

In a corner of Tangra is published the Overseas Chinese Commerce of India. A small Chinese newspaper for the dwindling community in Calcutta. Chief Feature Writer Archana Masih and Photographer Jewella C Miranda visited its office in Tangra recently.

K C Chen with abacus Kya hai?” The chink-eyed woman barked. With no prior appointment at the office of the Overseas Chinese Commerce of India newspaper, it would have been presumptuous to expect a warm welcome. “The editor doesn’t give appointments over the phone. You see he doesn’t know English or Hindi well,” M Yang, a prominent member of the Tangra Chinese community had informed us a day earlier.

Situated cheek to jaw with an open space used by local tanners for drying animal skin, the newspaper office bore an almost deserted, overtly casual look. The woman — one leg on the chair and the other stretched far under the table — had gone back to chatting in Mandarin with the vest-clad gentlemen across the table. “Go back. No editor now,” stressed the vest-clad-abacus-sporting accountant …”I not know English.”

He sat under rows of black and white pictures — all former presidents of the Chinese Tannery Owners Association — and it is from their premises that the newspaper has operated for years. The others in the huge office — two Chinese editorial staffers — are bent over stencils, meticulous penning news in Chinese calligraphy. “Go away,” one of them yells, obviously disgusted with prying visitors.

The office assistants take over. “They only know their Chini language. Hindi-English, they know only little little,” explains Usman and agrees to show the office after much coercion. Calcutta residents say the Tangra Chinese have become increasingly suspicious of outsiders. Especially journalists. “Recently a tannery owner was killed by gunmen in the area, since then many press people keep coming here which the residents don’t like at all,” Usman continues.

Masthead The rudimentary information parted by the office assistants reveal that the Overseas Chinese Commerce of India was one of two Chinese newspapers published from Calcutta. Started in March 1969, the four-paged newspaper carried news articles picked from the morning English papers. The articles are translated from English to Chinese by Chen Ling and are then copied by the two editorial staffers working inside.

“I come to office at eight, copy the news that is sent to us and leave at four when the paper goes for printing,” says C J Chen. After having spent 50 years in Tangra and most of his life as a caretaker in a local tannery, Chen has been working in the newspaper for ten years. The Rs 5,000 that he earns serves him in good purpose for his old age.

Priced at one rupee, the newspaper carries international, national and local news that is relevant to the Chinese community. It also serves as a newsletter containing community news like engagement, wedding and birth announcements. The newspaper is primarily sustained by the Chinese community for whom Tangra has remained a home for decades. Dotted with numerous Chinese restaurants and tanneries, it is the bigger businessmen and entrepreneurs that support the printing cost through advertisements.

“Five hundred copies are printed every day, 90 of which are sent to cities outside Calcutta,” says Sandeep Prashad, who is in charge of circulation. An employee for the past four years Prashad says the newspaper has a special edition on the occasion of the Chinese New Year. Most associated with the editorial content work from home. News items are picked from televison, radio or the morning papers and are sent to the office.

“We try our best to select news items that are both interesting and important,” says 23-year-old Chin Ling who has been working as a translator for the past two years. Ling studied English as her first language and Mandarin as the second at the neighbouring Grace Ling Lang School, and picked her present job after her predecessor at the newspaper immigrated to Canada. Educated up to Class XII, Ling who has lived in Tangra since her birth says she enjoys her work since it gives her the flexibility to work from home.

C J Chen at workYet she realises with time much has changed with Tangra’s Chinese. With problems arising in tanneries — the mainstay of their business — over the years many families have migrated to America and Canada. “Business is no longer very good, so many have moved out in search of better opportunities. Now there are not more than 200-300 families,” adds Ling.

Meanwhile, Ling and Prashad feel their small four-paged newspaper will survive the onslaught of time and a depleting Chinese population. “As long as they can, the hardcore admirers of this paper will help the newspaper survive,” says Ling. And as its old staff painstakingly write every letter in Chinese through most of the day, the daily newspaper hopes to carry on.

Source: Rediff 


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