McCluskieganj - The Story of an Anglo-Indian Paradise That Once Was

McCluskieganj in Jharkhand
McCluskieganj in Jharkhand(L-Millennium Post ; R- Steemit)

Originally founded by the Colonisation Society of India in 1933 as a homeland or “Mooluk” for Anglo-Indians, McCluskieganj is a small, sleepy town tucked away in the interiors of Jharkhand, located some 65 kms from Ranchi. Once considered to be the Utopia of the Anglo-Indian population as it housed about 400 Anglo-Indian families, this lost dream is now survived by its old bungalows, legends and tales of the yesteryears and a handful of residents.

Named after its founder-dreamer, McCluskieganj was the brainchild of Ernest Timothy McCluskie(1872-1935), a Calcutta-based real estate and insurance agent.

McCluskieganj in Jharkhand
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Prior to the construction of the Suez Canal in 1869, only a few British women joined their husbands in living in the Indian colony or chose to marry men in the Civil services or the army. Regardless, it has been found in numerous archives that British men were establishing relations with local women, sometimes marrying them and sometimes not. Their offsprings, people with mixed-race parentage came to form the Anglo-Indian community, who, more British in looks and tongue, yet not ‘British’ enough when the Brits went on to establish their separate ‘White’ colonies, started getting reduced to a secluded minority, marrying mostly within the community.

Come the late-1940s as the British started leaving India for good, many families within the community started migrating either to the UK or to other Commonwealth nations. However, not all of them wanted to leave even as they wanted to stay aloof from both the native Indian communities and the White rulers.

Having represented the Anglo-Indian community in the Bengal Legislative Council, in 1933, McCluskie founded the Colonisation Society of India—a joint-stock company that would offer a plot of land to every Anglo-Indian shareholder, McCluskie bought 10,000 acres of land from the Raja of Ratu in 1933 to establish what was also popularly known as ‘Little England’.

The Maharaja of Ratu gave the land on the precondition that the tribal population of the nine villages would not be evicted by the new settlers.

And then, they arrived!

McCluskieganj in Jharkhand
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It has been noted that McCluskieganj had attracted 250 Anglo-Indian families by 1939. They brought with them their fireplaces, sloping rooves and beautiful gardens with little flowers, bakeries, churches, an abattoir, a post-office, pianos, whiskey, and wine and soon began the ballroom dancing, the hunting, and the frolicking.

A resident, Kitty Texeira, in an interview with Deep Blue Ink remembers, “There were no schools in McCluskieganj but I remember wearing my Sunday best going to the church and winning Rs 18 in a three-legged potato race and a tin of pickles in a lucky dip.” … “Oh! I also won Rs 6 at a fancy dress competition where I dressed up as a paan-bidiwallah.”

The Potter Bungalow now occupied by the Paswan family who were long-serving attendants of the Anglo-Indian family who lived there.
The Potter Bungalow now occupied by the Paswan family who were long-serving attendants of the Anglo-Indian family who lived there.Live Mint

The Anglo-Indian community did not like the idea of their community mixing with the locals. Without a local means of economic survival, the dream started collapsing as the reality began to strike. The younger generation started moving to bigger cities seeking better opportunities. With McCluskie long gone, the Colonisation Society collapsed completely in the 1950s. By the 1970s, only about 30 families remained in the Gunj, signalling the end that was perhaps destined since its very inception. The bungalows were mostly either leased out or given away to loyal servants. Recently, the remaining families reported becoming soft targets to splinter Naxal groups.

A temple and a mosque in the same campus in McCluskieganj
A temple and a mosque in the same campus in McCluskieganjSteemit

Today, McCluskieganj is one of the only places in India where one can find a mosque, a temple, and a gurudwara stand side-by-side. This place, also the site of Konkona Sen Sharma’s A Death in the Gunj (2016), was the inspiration for the novel Maikluskiganj by journalist-writer Vikas Kumar Jha, which was translated into English by Mahasweta Ghosh in 2005. A place deeply entrenched in history, this little town has been reduced to a lost chest tucked away in a small pocket of Indian memory closely guarding history, jubilation, grief, syncretism, and stories of loss within itself.

The Jharkhand government has recently built a highway leading from Ranchi to McCluskieganj. Our hopes of finding paradise might not be dead after all.

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