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Year of the Dragon


THe lions have landed in Kolkata with a bang.
Not real lions. These ones come in shocking pink and Mandarin orange, with fierce masks. They are the Lion Dancers ushering in the year of the Dragon in Kolkata.

This is Sandip Roy in Kolkata

The lion dancers wear white tshirts with Chinatown written climb on each others shoulders and try to grab at lettuce and red envelopes dangling from windows and balconies in Kolkata’s Chinatown, the only Chinatown left in India.
Eric, a 29 year old lean young man wearing shades is one of the dancers. As he stops for a quick smoke break he says he has been doing this for years.

ERIC1: We have been learning from our seniors since I was a kid.

And he looks forward to this annual ritual

ERIC2: Coming together and bringing everyone together.

But every year there’s less and less people to bring together says Janice Lee, the CEO of Pou Chong Kim Chinese Sauces and Food Products.

JL1: 3000 families. Used to 50-60000

The Chinese have been leaving steadily over the years settling in the USA, Canada, Australia and other places hoping for a better future there. After the Indo-CHinese war of 1962 when many local Chinese in India, were sent to internment camps, the exodus gathered steam. Monica Liu who owns several Chinese restaurants now remembers the internment camp well.

ML1: No fan nothing. Very very hot. So many people died of sunstroke. One of my very very close friends he was with me. He just died in front of me of susnstroke

CHinese new year brings some of the emigrants back pulled by nostalgia. They make siu mai and dim sums and meet friends and enjoy the lion dancing once again. The Lion Dancers start from the sprawling Pou chong store in the heart of Tiretta Bazar, Kolkata’s Chinatown says Lee.

JL2: Lion dance for ages. More than 100 years. They do door to door visit  all temple of chinatown tireeti bazar where out shop is located.

The dancers go down narrow streets, past yapping dogs, dodging motorbikes and rickshaws, past furniture stores and medicine shops, stopping at the homes and businesses of Chinese residents. Giggling kids follow them like Pied Piper. Someone carries a bag with a calendar for each family.

JL3:Name of the troupe is shining star because we feel this year is the year of the  golden dragon. Very auspicious

There’s still quite a bit of Chinatown left in these crowded streets. Like the Toong On church from 1924. The Sea Ip church which is over a century old. The restored Sei Sui restaurant, brick red with green windows used to once be boarding house for Chinese men who came to work in the colonial city.
On a Chinatown walk we are taken to some of those temples with intricately carved wooden figures. A reminder of the days when Chinese labourers came by sea.

SEA GOD:Queen of heaven god of sea. Chinese came by sea. Very scared. Would pray for safe journey

Old men sit around playing mah jong


Some read the Chinese newspaper

NEWSPAPER: Newspaper - overseas Chinese journal one, there were 2 now become 1.

Last year India’s only newspaper in Mandarin The Overseas Chinese Commerce of India or Seong Pow stopped publication.
Fewer and fewer young people who remain can read or write Mandarin. Even the lion dancers mostly talk to each other in Hindi
But while the Chinese population keeps dwindling, the appetite for Chinese food remains strong Foodies throng roadside breakfasts where vendors show up with pork buns and dim sum and won ton soups.
Janice Lee’s shop is stocked with frozen dumplings and soya sauce and black bean sauce. The business was set up by her grandfather. Pou Chong was the ship that brought her grandmother to Kolkata from a Hakka village in southern china to marry Lee Shih Chuan, a Kolkata born man of Chinese origin.
The shop’s most famous product is a tribute to that marriage of India and china. It’s bottles of green chili sauce made with local green chilies and indian spices like turmeric or haldi says Lee.

JL4:Its made with fresh chilis and very healthy. No artificial colourings. We use indian spices haldi.

And now Kolkata chili chicken, diced chicken with chopped chilies and soya sauce has spread all over Chinese restaurants in India and around the world.

JL5:From here it has spread all over the world from Toronto to UK to Dubai and Australia Taiwan. Chili chicken has become a trademark of Indian Chinese food from Calcutta

The Chinese community is dwindling in Kolkata but a taste of China still remains.
Happy Year of the Dragon

This is Sandip Roy in Kolkata for KALW