The first sounds you hear as you head towards Bentinck Street in Central Kolkata are those of measured thumping and co-ordinated beats of the drums. As the clamour reaches its crescendo, a giant lion mask made of paper mache, red and golden cloth springs to life and starts twisting and turning to the beats.
Welcome to India’s oldest China Town nestled in the chaotic central Kolkata which is decked up in red and golden to celebrate the Chinese New Year. Only, there are not enough members of the community left to conduct the lion dance for the 20 odd clubs that is an integral part of the New Year celebrations. Youths from other communities perform this ritual for several clubs.
“We thrived here,” said Jen Lee, 72, sitting in a tea shop near Kunga Hotel, close to Tiretti Market. “Our children played in these lanes and attended local schools. We had Chinese schools and our own newspapers. But now it’s mostly memories. In a few years we’ll all be gone or dead.”
But the dwindling number of the community did not hamper the spirit of the festivities on Saturday. The congested and dilapidated neighbourhood of Chatawala Gali, Lu Hsien Sarani and Tiretti Market where residences, small Chinese eateries and small manufacturing units hang cheek by jowl metamorphosised into an island of revelry. The entire neighbourhood is decorated in red and gold.
Members of the community dressed in their gladrags and festive fineries strutted to their local churches early in the morning. They light incense sticks and pray at temples to wish for an auspicious start to the New Year.
“The day starts with offering prayers after which friends and family visit each other. The lion dance where groups of youngsters visit households to offer their wishes and collect gits is the highlight of the day,” said Dominic Lee, a businessman and community veteran in Central Kolkata.
Other New Year’s traditions include the eating of dumplings and the lighting of fireworks on the eve of the New Year. “Lion dancing is our way of not only paying tribute to our ancient culture,” Tseng said. “It is also our chance to hold on to the past while living in the present. Since there are such few Chinese youths are left in the city, youngsters from other communities are keeping this tradition alive. This tradition will stay even if the city is left with no Chinese.”
Mohammed Imran, who was born and brought up in China Town learnt the lion dance from one of his Chinese frinds who has not migrated to Canada. “Uncles and aunties tell request me to perform the lion dance for their clubs because there are no Chinese youths in their clubs. They have all migrated,” said Imran.
Each Chinese New Year is characterised by one of 12 animals that appear in the Chinese zodiac. This is the year of the rooster and people born in the Year of the Monkey are believed to be hardworking, courageous, resourceful and talented.
Calcutta, which was home to 30,000 ethnic Chinese in 1962, has just about 3,000 today. Although Chinese food keeps soaring in popularity the affable Chinese dry-cleaners, the shoe-makers, the dentists and the tanners have all but gone.
Kolkata has the oldest China Towns in the country that exist in two clusters. The one in central Kolkata nestled between New CIT Road and BB Ganguly Street is the older of the two. The other one is in Tangra.
A revival plan that has hit a road block due to a dispute over a garbage dump on New CIT Road reflects that hardly anybody is bothered about restoring the dwindling Chinese population in Kolkata. This is the year of rooster which denotes courage, talent and hard work. In a few years to come, the slice of city will be no more.
Though the numbers of the community has been dwindling fast, Chinese New Year is an occasion when members of the community get together and greet each other.
Kung Hei Fat Choi (wishing you happiness and prosperity in the New Year)
source: http://www.timesofindia.indiatimes.com / The Times of India / News> City News> Kolkata News / by Zeeshan Javed / TNN / January 28th, 2017