A dream called McCluskieganj

A pale shadow of what it was less than a century ago, McCluskieganj in Jharkhand is a painful blend of ruined bungalows and broken hearts, write SANDY N VIJAY

heritage A bungalow; the railway station; a building in McCluskieganj. PHOTOS BY AUTHORS

They sold the house and went away to Dehradun, some 14 years ago,” says Kallu Ansari, as we stand in front of a colonial bungalow which must have been more than a 100 years old and had apparently seen better days. “The previous owners were Anglo-Indians, and the present owner has not come here after buying it,” continues Kallu Ansari, keen to volunteer information. This is the narrative that one comes across everywhere in the small town known as McCluskieganj. The town is located in the midst of hills and surrounded by forest land and is about 65 kilometres from Ranchi, the capital of Jharkhand.

A chance conversation at the Jharkhand Travel Mart in Ranchi in which the name McCluskieganj popped up ignited a spark of curiosity. This spark saw us clinging on to our seats as we drove the 65 kilometres in search of what we realised was a dream, a dream called McCluskieganj.

A building in McCluskieganj.
A building in McCluskieganj.

The makings of a dream

It was a tumultuous period in the history of India. Epoch-making events were being shaped across the country, the sparks of Indian resistance had snowballed into a blazing inferno and the British were on the verge of leaving India. The 200-year British rule would leave a huge legacy when they left India. One of this would be the Anglo-Indian community. This community was caught in the vortex of history as the British readied to leave India. They were torn between cultures. Though the community did identify with the British DNA, its roots were entrenched in India. It was in these poignant circumstances that a man called Earnest Timothy McCluskie floated a dream. A homeland for the Anglo-Indians right in the heart of India which they could call their own. McCluskie leased some 10,000 acres of land in the interior region of the Chotanagpur plateau from the Raja of Ratu. He formed a cooperative called the Colonization Society of India and invited members from the Anglo-Indian community to buy plots of land in what he saw as an exclusive Anglo-Indian colony. McCluskie’s dream blossomed into reality as about 400 families settled into the freshly created settlement.

An old British bungalow.
An old British bungalow.

Utopian dream

The dream of McCluskie seemed to be working. The settlement he had envisioned came to be known as Little England. The beautiful land bedecked with gurgling waterfalls and shady groves echoed with the joyful cries of its inhabitants. Afternoon tea parties, dance and music, hunting expeditions, were the order of the day. As India marched towards its tryst with destiny, McCluskieganj lived out its own dream in a cocoon of insulation.

The measure of the success of McCluskieganj was a reference in the October 1940 issue of The Colonisation Observer, which said, “It is for this reason that we are now pushing out into every part of India to claim the ear and the attention of all our community for we see in McCluskiegunge the beginnings of what the Moslems call Pakistan but what we call Anglo-India. A place in India where we can foregather and mix freely.”

McCluskieganj Railway Station.
McCluskieganj Railway Station.

Dreams to dust

Of the 400-odd families, a handful still stay in McCluskieganj, old colonial-style bungalows have bitten the dust or are in ruins. A few have survived the passage of time and history valiantly, but only a miniscule of them. The train still thunders into the McCluskieganj Railway Station, but the magic of yore is missing.

We had travelled to McCluskieganj with visions of a picturesque town, a place reminiscent of England where the lives of a thriving community blossomed. What we found were some surviving old bungalows and some people from the families of the original settlers. The people we met painted a poignant human story that underlined the ephemeral nature of human life, ambitions, and dreams.

Lone ranger

We rang the doorbell of a small outhouse beside a 100-year-old bungalow that lay vacant. The figure of a pale-looking old man appeared at the window. He looked at us warily. It was obvious he did not like the intrusion of his privacy. But probably loneliness and the urge to speak to someone got the better of the man. He spoke to us from within the darkened room of his house as we listened in rapt attention outside his window.

He was a retired sergeant in the Air Force. He was born in McCluskieganj and had lived there all his life with his parents and grandparents. His eyes light up when you ask him about life in McCluskieganj during its golden era. He recollects hunting tigers, and says that there were lots of game around. He is wistful as he shakes his head and says that it is all over now. He lives alone clinging to his memories. All his near and dear ones, including his wife and parents, are buried in the nearby cemetery and this is his reason for staying on in McCluskieganj.

“No photos please,” says the sergeant noticing our cameras. We walk away leaving him to his memories and solitude.

Kitty Texeira lives with her children in McCluskieganj.
Kitty Texeira lives with her children in McCluskieganj.

Embodiment of McCluskieganj

Barking dogs follow us as we take a narrow path far from the town of McCluskieganj. The sun is setting against the hills that are a backdrop to a modest house surrounded by trees. As we stand in front of the door, an old, fair lady dressed in a saree appears. She looks frail and battered but one can spot an air of Victorian haughtiness in her demeanour.

She is Kitty Texeira, known throughout the region as Kitty ma’am. She has been the subject of a book and has also done a bit role in a Hindi movie titled Death In The Gunj. Kitty Texeira, a woman born of Portuguese and Welsh descent, has lived all her life in McCluskieganj. She has seen a dream crumble in front of her eyes.

She has been doing odd jobs to make both ends meet. She has sold fruits near the railway station to support her family. Kitty Texeira in many ways embodies the zenith and nadir of the dream that was McCluskieganj. She is an epitome of resilience and defiance, which still shines through when she says, “I married a tribal and settled here.” It must indeed have been a scandalous event in those times of British propriety. She lives with her daughter and son in the village, plodding on the path of life, but the sparks still fly from her eyes.

The shadows have lengthened as we leave McCluskieganj. Dry leaves fall from the shedding trees in a shower on the graves in the old cemetery. The old denizens of McCluskieganj lie in eternal sleep, their dreams clutched to their graves.

A few others like the Sergeant and Kitty cling on to memories as they take life head on.

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