Crumbling colonial-era bungalows, clubs and a grand church form what was once billed as a ‘paradise’ by Kolkata-based realtor T E McCluskie when he leased some 10,000 acres of land from a local Raja in Chota Nagpur in the 1930s to form an Anglo-Indian settlement or ‘Mooluk’.
Barely 65 km from state capital Ranchi this once thriving abode of Anglo-Indians – McCluskieganj – used to boast of 400 families who had dreamt of a land of their own – ‘Mini England’, a ‘safe haven’ when India was nearing Independence, worried over their fate.
Lack of employment opportunities for the young, healthcare and educational facilities, has seen most migrating to countries like Britain, Australia and Canada besides different parts of the country.
A mere handful of the descendants of those who came to this ‘promised land’ as settlers remain.
Among relatively younger residents, 48-year-old Nelson Paul Gordon, nicknamed Bobby, runs a guest house and a boys hostel for a living.
”We left organising Christmas gatherings some 20 years back as very few of us are left…Those present have no time. Everyone is busy trying to make both ends meet…,” Bobby Gordon told PTI.
He pointed out that forest land, once one of the charms of the place is shrinking. “During our younger days we loved cycling on forest land. Now the government has made excellent roads but there are so many vehicles…so much noise…the charm is lost,” he said.
McCluskieganj was the brainchild of Ernest Timothy McCluskie, a rich property dealer based in Kolkata who after acquiring the 10,000 acres of land from the Maharaja of Ratu, launched the ‘Colonisation Society of India’ in 1933.
The place that attracted Anglo-Indians from across the country now gasps for existence with haphazard and unplanned growth.
The happening farming township which once boasted of a majestic church, clubs, bakeries and schools is now dying a slow death and remains a dream unfulfilled.
Kitty Teixeria, a 73-year old lady dubbed as ‘Kitty Memsahib’ by the locals has come to be the face of this hamlet, selling fruits from her farms to visitors.
Teixeira, of Portuguese and Welsh descent, lives with her large family of three daughters, a son-in-law, a son, five kids, prized goats, dogs, hens and cocks and speaks fluently in English, Hindi and tribal dialect.
”Janam, karam yehin pe to kahan jayenge (I was born here, this has been my place, where will I go now),” she said.
She recalled how when she was 17 her grandfather and father died, her mother had promised the family’s large property to any Anglo-Indian boy who would take care of Kitty. However, grooms were scarce as most young men were leaving the rural idyll in search of better life prospects and she ultimately married a tribal who used to ”waste her money” on drinks.
”I am not keeping well now …We don’t have money…My husband died in 2016 January,” she told PTI.
”I started selling fruits along with other tribal women. I would catch a train and reach Barkakata platform and sell fruits and return…Sometimes I used to go by evening and came back in the morning. I left in steam engine train and it wasn’t so bad but when the electric locomotive came, I stopped going and instead would go to colliery areas like Bachra, Khalari and Dakra.” Latter day settlers included Lt General Misbah Mayadas, who after retiring from the Indian Army came to McCluskieganj in 1988. The General fondly called the town a ‘Heaven on Earth’ and lived there for 22 years till 2010.
”My father had been all over the world… Despite that he would say McCluskieganj is like heaven on earth. The climate is wonderful, nature, soil, fruit… He was there from 1988 to 2010 for 22 years…. Ultimately in 2010 at the age of 80 he left McCluskieganj and went to Dehradun,” Colonel Dhyan Mayadas (Retd), son of Lt Gen Mayadas told PTI over phone.
He said: ”I always found him there full of life, full of energy, he was never in the house, always outside with dogs, other animals in the farm. There was a river Tapti Nadi, he used to go there in the summer with the dogs and swim in the river… We had a lot of good time there with all the people in McCluskieganj…. He was very attached to the place,” Dhyan Mayadas said.
Bobby Gordon’s grand-parents William and Nancy Gordon were one of the early settlers who came to McCluskieganj in 1946.
”Old world charm may have gone but this is our land and we have cherished memories here,” said Gordon. He rued ”unfortunately no one paid any attention to McCluskieganj.” Gordon said his father Noel was deeply attached to McCluskiegunj and would not leave the place for “anything”.
For many of the Anglo-Indian families here, the Don Bosco School, established in 1997 by Alfred Rosario, a fellow Anglo Indian from Patna, has become a source of income as students at this elite school often board with them. Their old-world cottages have been transformed into hostels for the boys who have to live in McCluckieganj while others run small guest houses where curious travellers lodge to wonder at the world which might have been if the Thorpes, Sheperds and Mendies who bought the dream, McCluskie sold, had stayed on to live it.
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