Rows of kiosks selling hot steaming Chinese breakfast, well-decorated shops selling Chinese goods, ornate oriental entrances to eateries that serve authentic Chinese food and lounges atop houses where you can relax with your cup of cha
. And all this in the heart of Kolkata.
If things go according to plans, our very own Tiretta Bazar and Tangra will soon look start looking like the Singaporean Chinatown, which was painstakingly revived from the rubbles by that government and has since become a showpiece. This time around, the Singaporeans have come forward to help the state tourism department to revive one of the world's oldest Chinese settlements outside mainland China.
Tangra - Kolkata's Chinatown
A slice of China in Bengal
The project that has been named 'Cha', after the drink that's known by that name both in Bengali and Chinese, is a brainchild of Singaporean conglomerate Buzzmedia. It so happens that Buzzmedia has a large number of Kolkata-born Singaporeans on board, many of whom are of Chinese origin from Tangra. For them, it is time to pay back and there's a lot of all-round excitement.
The project will cost at least Rs 100 crore and funds will come largely from Kolkata-origin Chinese and Bengalis settled in Singapore. Some private builders in Kolkata are also keen on investing in the project.
Intach, an organisation working on heritage restoration, has been roped in for the project. It will be done in two phases. While Tiretta Bazar will be revived first as Old Chinatown, Tangra will be revived later as New Chinatown. Work will start with Toong-On Temple in Blackburn Lane that used to house the famous Nanking restaurant, both of which are lying in utter neglect. "The Pei May, the last surviving Chinese-language school in the city, has also shut its doors and its sprawling campus is lying unused. We will revive this also. There are six such temples, a cemetery and an opium lane that will be revived along the way in this project," said GM Kapur, state convener of Intach.
Tiretta Bazar - the morning breakfast hub
"Once the work for Old Chinatown is over, we will replicate the model in New Chinatown," said Rinkoo Bhowmick of Buzzmedia, who is coordinating the project. Her representative, Nandini Das Ghoshal, a management training expert in Singapore, is presently in town to help integrate the Chinese community with the project.The revival plan
An English daily had recently reported that preliminary talks have started between the state tourism department and Buzzmedia over the revival of Chinatown. The department had asked the latter to prepare a detailed project report, work for which is on at the moment. On Thursday, at least 25 members of the Chinese community spoke to Buzzmedia about their hope and anxiety. They spoke about their grievances on the lack of civic amenities in Tangra and how a revival has become imperative.
Chinese dragon dance
The Chinese settled in Kolkata about the same time that Job Charnock's ship anchored here. Chinese traveller Atchew and 110 of his countrymen set up a sugar plantation and mill in Achipur (now in South-24 Parganas district), the place that was named after him, in 1778. Periods of disorder in China – the First Opium War (1839-42) and the Chinese Revolution (1911) – saw waves of Chinese men and women coming to Kolkata. The community started tanneries in Tangra to give vent to their traditional craftsmanship 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 in 1939 and during World War II in general saw a break in the flow of Chinese population to Kolkata. 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.
Entrance to AchipurParting thought
The revival of Chinatown in Kolkata will be a big boost to tourism. Tourists can take a walk by these lanes and be awed by the numerous pagoda-like temples, take artistic snaps of the dangling paper lamps and take an almost-journey into the mystic land of China.