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Arpan Debnath
2021-12-22 13:34:00



Christmas, in what was once the second city of British Empire, is undoubtedly celebrated with gusto. It is not only our good old Park Street, New Market and part of old 'Sahibpara' which puts on the special lights but malls and other shops try to cash in the spirit of Yule Tide. And hence Santa greets you at every door, 'Jingle Bells' ring in every shop and retail chain you visit and Christmas decorations are stocked in every outlet. Notwithstanding caste, creed and religion, Christmas is probably only next to Durga Puja in terms of popularity  in the city, believing firmly in the spirit of giving and sharing. 

However, leaving aside the gross commercialisation, the true spirit of Yule Tide is still being preserved by the Anglo-Indian community, though it is a fast vanishing one, with the young ones preferring to migrate to Australia and other Commonwealth countries. At Christmas, though the younger generation prefer to return to their roost and celebrate Christmas with friends and kin. 

A healthy population of Anglo-Indian is noticeable in Ripon Street, Royd Street, Dharamtolla, Behala and the narrow lanes of Free School Street. But speaking of Anglo-Indian and Christmas specially, one place in particular deserves special mention- the Bow Barracks. One may say Santa truly stops here, at Kolkata; and when he does, he visits Bow Barracks.

Christmas at Bow Barracks is a special affair. Anglo- Indian settled far and wide come back to dance, sing and party on the narrow streets that anchor Bow Barracks, a century old neighbourhood of Anglo-Indians behind the Bow Bazaar police station in central Kolkata.

For them, festivities begin long before December. The celebrations starts about 60 days before December 25th and continues for at least 12 days after Christmas. 

They blend customs with enthusiasm with which generations of Anglo-Indian families once stirred fruits, nuts, candied peels, flour, brandy and even coins into the delectable gooey mix that go into Christmas cakes and puddings. By early November, the entire stretch is rich with the aroma of baking, wafting like the warm promise of things to come. Bottling up red grapes during the summer in order to make the best homemade wine is still a secret well kept by them. 

A candid chat with Jeffrey, an Anglo Indian resident of Bow Barrack revealed the real ethos of the jovial community. “Christmas is not just about the celebrations and lights, it's about Lord Jesus and we try to pledge our gratitude to the almighty for the life we live”, Jeffrey said. 

The close knit community does evoke a sense of togetherness and cohesiveness of a real 'Para' which is fast vanishing from the heart of the city. It's a sight to cherish when at evenings the whole neighbourhood throng the narrow alley and by lanes of Bow Barracks, meeting and greeting everyone with hearty smiles. Walking down the lane one comes across a big black notice board which has the itinerary of Christmas festivities that take place at Bow Barracks. In a cordial atmosphere, the whole community is invited for singing at fetes and other activities including foot-tapping music and dance. It seems, somehow the small community is managing to keep the culture alive which is truly Kolkata while the new age city dwellers are taking refuge in the commercial comfort of hotels, shopping malls and multiplexes. 

Another destination that sees an increased footfall of Anglo-Indians during Christmas and New Year is the good old New Market. Though the Chienese made lights, synthetic Christmas trees and decorations have robbed much sheen off New Market, there is still place for nostalgia and the best bargains. During Christmas season, New Market paints all things bright and beautiful with gusto. Be it for the Christmas trees, its trimming and decoration, the rich plum cake from Nahoums or buying the countless gifts there is no other destination that can equal the charm of old Hogg market. Rush from morning till afternoon to Hogg market- selecting, bargaining and buying the best things be it meat or ingredients for starters or desserts, have also been a tradition of the Anglo-Indians, Christians and even for the non-Christians who are happy to be part of the spirit of giving and sharing.

Midnight mass to usher in Christmas is always the highlight of the Christmas festivities. It's only after returning from mass one can have a slice of the traditional ham displayed on silver chargers. Christmas lunch is always a family affair. Anglo-Indian staple, kofta curry and yellow rice is a integral part at this meal. One can't deny the sheer gastronomic delight called pork vendaloo- an Anglo-Indian speciality. Cakes and puddings are also part of the special dinner of Badadin. Then there is the Christmas dance, often but not always with contributory food and a bowl of punch. For Anglo-Indians, dance and get-togethers are a social necessity with a sweet chance for the youth to meet their mates.

But as we look forward, we are left to ponder what the future holds for the city with the dwindling number of Anglo-Indians, mostly old and frail. The economically able ones have shifted to the shores of United Kingdom, United States, or Australia to stay in vicinity of relatives living abroad. One can only hope Kolkata would continue to enjoy that warmth in the hearts of the younger generation and they would continue their annual homecoming. Our hopes are raised when we see a fair number congregate for the get together. This is truly the gift we do ask from Santa Claus for years to come.


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