China Towns

Vidura Jang Bahadur 2

As part of his decade-long project titled Home, Vidura Jang Bahadur documents Chinese life in India

Tiretta Bazaar, kolkata, 2011: Each time I visit Kolkata, I make it a point to grab a bite at Tiretta Bazaar—a bustling breakfast hub on weekends and a favourite haunt with late night revellers, call centre employees and foodies. Hawkers sell fish ball soup, noodles, dumplings and steamed bread. The Chinese come out in large numbers to buy essentials and socialise with each other.

Tiretta Bazaar, kolkata, 2011:
Each time I visit Kolkata, I make it a point to grab a bite at Tiretta Bazaar—a bustling breakfast hub on weekends and a favourite haunt with late night revellers, call centre employees and foodies. Hawkers sell fish ball soup, noodles, dumplings and steamed bread. The Chinese come out in large numbers to buy essentials and socialise with each other.

The Chinese community in India is over 200 years old. Merchants and skilled labour were among the first to arrive. Their plan was to make money in India and go back home. It was only after the Communist takeover at the end of the Second World War that the Chinese began settling in India for good.

Things began to change for the community after the border conflict in 1962. Several Chinese in the North East, suspected of links with the communists in China, were arrested and jailed in Deoli, Rajasthan. It was a tough time for them. Fear and insecurity seem to have been driven into the psyche of the generation that underwent the 1962 experience.

In the years that followed, signs of “Chineseness” were buried for fear of being targeted. Several migrated to Canada, the United States, Taiwan and Europe. In 1998, 36 years after the war, the Indian government granted naturalised citizenship to all ethnic Chinese in India.

It was, ironically, in China that I first learnt of the Chinese community in India. I was at a friend’s house in Qingdao for dinner when I met a young girl from Kolkata.

Months later, I remember sitting quietly by the window at Starbucks in Beijing’s international airport waiting to board my flight to Delhi after three years in China. I had to come home as I had run out of savings and there was not much I could do in China besides teaching English.

After I returned to India in 2005, I longed to speak Chinese and eat home-cooked Chinese food. I would often make it a point to talk to Chinese tourists and businessmen, or walk into restaurants and shoe shops run by local Chinese Indians.

What began as an attempt to interact with the Chinese because of a shared association—even though many have never even visited China—has evolved over the past seven years as a way to explore India through the lives of the Chinese families here.

My conversations with the Chinese are a retelling of modern Indian history through the eyes of a small community that is an intrinsic part of the fabric of Indian society. It is through the stories of their struggle, perseverance, loss, journeys and love that I hope to give you an insight into India today.

Edwin Liao, Kolkata: It was in 2003 that I first visited Kolkata for the Chinese New Year. And what a spectacle it was! Several Chinese who’ve migrated to Canada and other parts of the globe return for New Year celebrations. It was far more exciting than anything I witnessed in China.

Edwin Liao, Kolkata:
It was in 2003 that I first visited Kolkata for the Chinese New Year. And what a spectacle it was! Several Chinese who’ve migrated to Canada and other parts of the globe return for New Year celebrations. It was far more exciting than anything I witnessed in China.

William and Brigette's wedding, Shimla, 2010: William, an advertising and wedding photographer, is one of many in his generation and community who have opted to follow their own passions over working in the family business

William and Brigette’s wedding, Shimla, 2010:
William, an advertising and wedding photographer, is one of many in his generation and community who have opted to follow their own passions over working in the family business

Eric Liu and family, Jamshedpur, 2011:  Eric’s father Liu Yong Ven (seated far left, in the background) is a dentist. Shaida Chini—as he is popularly known in Jamshedpur’s literary circles—released a collection of poetry called Lakeeron Ki Sada in 2009. Chinese dentists are found across India. Most can trace their history back to Hubei in modern China.

Eric Liu and family, Jamshedpur, 2011:
Eric’s father Liu Yong Ven (seated far left, in the background) is a dentist. Shaida Chini—as he is popularly known in Jamshedpur’s literary circles—released a collection of poetry called Lakeeron Ki Sada in 2009. Chinese dentists are found across India. Most can trace their history back to Hubei in modern China.

Mr Shen, Kalimpong, 2013: A large number of Chinese families settled in Kalimpong in the 1940s. This resulted in a Chinese school being set up here. Mr Shen’s father was the first principal of the school. Following in his father’s footsteps, he runs the Benjamin Garden School.

Mr Shen, Kalimpong, 2013:
A large number of Chinese families settled in Kalimpong in the 1940s. This resulted in a Chinese school being set up here. Mr Shen’s father was the first principal of the school. Following in his father’s footsteps, he runs the Benjamin Garden School.

Pei Moy School, Tangra, Kolkata, 1940: Once an important academic institution, Pei Moy closed its doors to students in 2001 after a dispute between different groups in the community

Pei Moy School, Tangra, Kolkata, 1940:
Once an important academic institution, Pei Moy closed its doors to students in 2001 after a dispute between different groups in the community

Bowbazar, Kolkata, 2011 Many Chinese, mainly the Cantonese, settled in Bowbazar in central Kolkata in the 18th and 19th centuries

Bowbazar, Kolkata, 2011
Many Chinese, mainly the Cantonese, settled in Bowbazar in central Kolkata in the 18th and 19th centuries

Kim Fa and Atsai in the market, Kalimpong, 2013: Kim Fa and his family have lived in Kalimpong all their lives. While Kim Fa is a government contractor, one of his brothers named King Kong—now living in Hong Kong—is still infamous in Kalimpong for being a local dada. Over plates of pav bhaji, Kim Fa told me about eloping with his Nepalese wife, their life in the hill station and their two children

Kim Fa and Atsai in the market, Kalimpong, 2013:
Kim Fa and his family have lived in Kalimpong all their lives. While Kim Fa is a government contractor, one of his brothers named King Kong—now living in Hong Kong—is still infamous in Kalimpong for being a local dada. Over plates of pav bhaji, Kim Fa told me about eloping with his Nepalese wife, their life in the hill station and their two children

Mithun Tham, Dehol, Assam, 2012 Assam was home to several Chinese families till war broke out in 1962. Brought in by the British in the 1830s to grow tea, many Chinese men married local women and stayed on. Makum, close to Tinsukia, was among the largest settlements with a Chinese club, school and restaurants. I met Mithun while he was skinning chicken to roast it Chinese-style for a housewarming dinner at his brother’s. Married to a Bengali, his brother held a traditional puja earlier in the day to mark the same occasion.

Mithun Tham, Dehol, Assam, 2012
Assam was home to several Chinese families till war broke out in 1962. Brought in by the British in the 1830s to grow tea, many Chinese men married local women and stayed on. Makum, close to Tinsukia, was among the largest settlements with a Chinese club, school and restaurants. I met Mithun while he was skinning chicken to roast it Chinese-style for a housewarming dinner at his brother’s. Married to a Bengali, his brother held a traditional puja earlier in the day to mark the same occasion.

Vidura Jang Bahadur was born in Zambia. A self-taught photographer, he initially worked in cinema and shifted to photography after moving to China in 2001. He is currently working on a project on the Chinese community in India.

2 Comments

  1. jenny June 2, 2015 at 4:00 pm - Reply

    Yay Vidur….! Thanks for the good work. Lovely shots.

  2. Abir December 6, 2017 at 9:24 pm - Reply

    Hii,
    I am a research scholar in the department of Sociology in South Asian University, New Delhi. I am currently writing a PhD based on the lives of the Indian -Chinese community. I just read through your post and admittedly i am impressed beyond words. I think we could help each other out immensely in our respective projects which may actually have a common aim of aiding the representation the unrepresented. Please do get in touch if you feel like it.
    Cheers,
    Abir

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