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Vijaya Pushkarna
Vijaya Pushkarna

BOOK REVIEW

What does it mean to be Chinese in India?

chinatown-book-cover Book cover of Chinatown Days

There is a decided prism through which we look at people from the northeast. Are they Chinese? There is also feeling that we, as a nation, generally harbour towards them—it is based on everything we know about the rival super power in Asia, which also happens to be an enemy country by and large. Not all Hindi-Chini Bhai Bhai slogans for the past 40-50 years have managed to change that.

But there is another reality about the way we look at the Chinese. When we bump into some of them in north America, there is a shared warmth. After all, we are all Asians first. But, when we see them now, it is sometimes with envy as much as awe—they have succeeded the way we would have liked to, even if we cherish our freedom and democracy. There is a sense of pride when we learn that the Indian diaspora in the US has almost caught up with the Chinese in terms of clout that is born of wealth. So what if we don't have 'mini Indias” to match their “China Towns”?

But Rita Chowdhury, director of the National Book Trust and winner of the Sahitya Akademi Award, finds a new story of the Chinese in India. In her new book, Chinatown Days, she writes about the life of Pulok Barua and his wife Mei Lin, whose ancestor was Ho Han, a slave brought in by the British East India Company to work in the tea gardens of Assam and West Bengal. What the 1962 war between India and China did to them forms the story.

Indian-Chinese girls in schools, some 40 years back, would be too scared to own up to their origins, prefering to let others think they were from Bhutan. But Chinatown Days talks about a family in Canada that worships Ganesha as well as their Gods, speaks Assamese at home; while the daughter hates Indians, her mother does not want her to. This is Rita's story.

Racy, readable and full of little human actions, thoughts and feelings, the Chinese, explored from 360 degrees, make for a moving drama that could change our beliefs about a culture.

Book : Chinatown Days

Author: Rita Chowdhury

Publisher: Macmillan

Pages : 400

Price: Rs599

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The Week

Topics : #china

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