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A chhota England in Jharkhand
Located about 60 km from Ranchi, McCluskieganj, the last bastion of the Anglo-Indian community in India, was once home to 350 families. Today, there are just 24 left - a proud community fallen on bad times. Except for a painted sign welcoming visitors at a roundabout on the highway, there is nothing to suggest that one has entered an old Anglo-Indian settlement till old churches and quaint rundown Victorian bungalows with sienna tiles standing in the midst of acres of land swing into view. The scorching April sun beats down on the broken lanes lined with curry, sal and mango trees. There are also dozens of signboards announcing guesthouses and hostel accommodation for boys and girls.
"This is the house actress Aparna Sen bought from an Anglo-Indian who left for Australia in search of greener pastures, " says a local, pointing to a bungalow sitting pretty in the midst of five acres of land with more than half a kilometre of driveway. The bungalow was recently sold to a Jharkhand-based politician. Down yet another kuccha road is another bungalow called 'Manjulika' owned by famous Bengali writer Buddhadeb Guha. "Manjulika is the name of his mother, " says the caretaker of the bungalow, adding that the writer wrote many of his novels here.
So far, so good. But where are the Anglo-Indians ?
Further up the road, one enters yet another bungalow. Here, septuagenarian Noel Gordon sits on a chair dressed in a T-shirt and cream-coloured pyjamas. His face lights up on seeing a visitor. Gordon came to McCluskieganj way back in the 1950s as a child and treasures his memories of the place. "We used to have Durga Puja balls when the entire Anglo-Indian community here and friends from Calcutta got together, " he reminisces. He also recalls the grand Christmas and New Year parties. "We used to make a lot of noise during the parties and often get scolded by neighbours and elders. But with only a handful of families left, it's no fun any more, though we still party occasionally. "
McCluskieganj was founded by a property dealer from Kolkata, Ernest Timothy McCluskie, who bought 10, 000 acres of land from the Maharaja of Ratu on permanent lease and formed the Colonisation Society of India in 1933 for setting up an Anglo-Indian settlement. In the following years, many Anglo-Indians flocked to McCluskieganj, seeing it as a permanent base for the community. Independence spelt bad news for the town's inhabitants - especially the young - who felt vulnerable and lost in the absence of jobs and livelihood opportunities. Many of them left for 'Bada England' (Britain) or Australia where they flourished. But didn't they ever look back or return to claim their property? "No one returned to stay. The new generation only came to claim property of which they had only heard, " says Gordon, adding that a majority have not shown interest in returning. "Most of them have left their property to caretakers while some properties have been encroached on, " says Christie Mathews, a teacher at the local Don Bosco School.
Most of the Anglo-Indians who chose to stay back in McCluskieganj are now either teachers in the government and private schools in the area or own hostels for students who come here from neighbouring states. Some own guest houses for visitors. A few Anglo-Indians in McCluskieganj have ended up in tragic circumstances. David Roderiges Cameroon, who came here in 1955 and stayed back to look after his stud farm and guesthouse after his sons left for Dubai and Australia, finally landed up in an old age home in Kolkata. Another well-known name here is Catherine Teixeira or Kitty Memsa'ab, 50, who came here as a child and now sells fruit grown in her kitchen garden at the McCluskieganj railway station.
The government has done precious little to develop the place as a tourist attraction. Although a Tourist Information Centre is being built on 10 acres of land, much remains to be done in terms of infrastructure. There are no hotels, the guesthouses are actually old Anglo-Indian homes that have been converted, and their numbers are not adequate to cater to all the tourists. "Tourists from Kolkata and other places do come here during the season which begins in October, but between eight and 20 vehicles ferrying tourists have to ply in and out of McCluskieganj everyday because of a lack of good hotels, " says Gopi, a local. There is also the constant fear of Maoists though they have not forayed here as yet. "After sunset, this becomes a ghost town with nobody daring to venture out, " says Christie. Some years ago, a gang of criminals entered a guesthouse where a Bengali film crew was staying and looted their cash.
"We are living a nightmare in a place that was once our dream. Now we can only hope to die peacefully here, " says Gordon. Everybody around mutters Amen.
THE HYBRID CLAN
Marriages and liaisons between Europeans and Indians in the days of the Raj led to the creation of what was called the Anglo-Indian community. This community grew and flourished for over two hundred years, but was reduced by more than half its number at the time of Independence, when many families emigrated to the UK, Australia and Canada. The Constitution defines an Anglo-Indian as an Indian citizen whose paternal line can be traced to Europe.
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