Monday, March 13, 2017

McCluskiegunj: Promised land, Imagined Community and the Unknown

With a sleepy mid day Sun, accompanying hungry stomach and an already awestruck but irritated driver we reached the place. McCluskieganj invited us with no excitement at all. The google map ends at a small station with low heighted platform. The typical arched station entry point painted black on yellow depicting the name "McCluskie-Gunj." The low heightened platforms indicating a place of not much importance for the railways as well. McCluskie's Gunj - the nostalgia in creative imagination unfolds and we followed the trail. Gunj - typically means a small town, larger than a village, usually a hub of activities - more often than not small business and redistribution center. The McCluskie-Gunj is not what the name suggests, its a place to make you imagine things which is not there, but one can always trace the trail.

Just like any other

There is a demand of an imagined history but the natural beauty of the place would engulf you as soon as you decide to reach the place. Yes the journey is no less exciting than the destination itself. The approaching road comes through undulations, green foliage and brown stems of growing Sal, Mahua, Kendu trees. Several red patches of palash flower depicting spring has a wild call. The love for wild is definitely going to enhance a hundred times as one reaches Jagriti Vihara - a school inside an undisturbed natural surrounding. The guest houses, dinning places, nursery would invite your soul to stay a while. While you walk through the fallen leaves, listen to the sound of unknown birds, you also feel the engagement of the local people, outsiders and forest in a complementary way. The Sun was up, asking to take refuge under a shed, but the call of birds kept us roaming around. We could look at fan tails and brahmani mayna as two unusual birds among others, however, Jagriti Vihara too seems to be deteriorating and there is of course a rise of the Don Bosco campus. The junior section runs on an now abandoned bungalow.

Typical Approaching road

Fan Tail - captured inside Jagriti Vihara

The call of the history started climbing up our feet, demanding amorous attention as we walked through the broken pavements towards the car which would take us to the St. John's Church. The Church declares "To the Glory of the God - Feast of the nativity of St. John."

A small script on the wall of the church

St John's Church

Yes, indeed the nativity of St. John and the gift of a space to worship, soul search for a small town of people who could imagine the place as their own! A quick look at the history would reveal an imagined space designed by McCluskie - in todays world he could be seen as one of the promoters with a creative imagination (of course a rare find!). The following advertisements supplemented by the fact that during 1930 about four hundred Anglo-Indians found McCluskiegunj as their promised land - a space of their own invites imagination of the time, space and narratives.

Advertisement published in news paper, taken from

The Home calling effect of the advertisement take from

We did not try to find out the Anglo-Indians, and kept our ethnographic selves satisfied with the fact that none of the families live here anymore. A few handful families which chose to stay, had to leave because of Maoist activities which allegedly targeted outsiders - and they were outsiders in every sense. We never wanted to meet them as whatever they wanted to say is available online and we could imagine how difficult it is to be treated like a living Museum object. Instead, we mounted on imagination, yes, Archaeological imagination (Long live Binford). 

The entire space of McCluskiegunj is a space that took up the question of identity seriously. You can easily think of the issue if you start imagining of a secluded space filled with people with similar origins - having parents one from the West and one from the East. The Britishers would never think of you as their own, and you will always be seen as an outsider by the native Indians. Hence, at McCluskiegunj, the marginals could find 'their kind', share 'their stories' and 'their space' in some tiny little township surrounded by mountains and forest - a space which does not have much to offer if you intend to earn resources and become rich. We could perhaps never be sure whether McCluskie thought of an isolated cityscape which would provide a refuge to souls which are already torn apart by the Britishers and "pure" westerners in their refusal, and "skeptic" gaze of Indians who fought against the British. Even in later period the fight continued among themselves based of caste, religion, region and what not! One can think of Anglo Indians as aliens under constant surveillance.

The whole narrative of McCluskiegunj as a space to contend, fight and accept one's identity becomes crystallized as we encounter the space where a Temple, Mosque and Gurudwara stands together. A space for Church is also marked by the conspicuous presence of a wooden cross. The Gurudwara is significantly smaller than the Temple and Mosque which are of equal height and almost same architecture. Gurudwara is significantly small and the Church does not exist - except for a demarcation and the wooden cross. 

The four faiths together, but only two is conspicuous

Temple and Mosque, from the Northern side, photo by Anwita
The Cross and demarcated area for Church
Does the difference in size narrate something which could ultimately depict a clearer picture of the promised land and great departure? We could think of restless souls in an imagined place seeing others making their way out. Would you chose otherwise if you are still marginal and allegedly threatened by the rebels, perhaps disturbed with the internal pressures as well. The fact that most of the Bungalows are taken over by their caretakers or are exchanged in pittance - indicates a complex and untold story to be tormented by multiple narratives aided with imaginations.  

What called off the day before the dusk was Mr. Jadav's regular act. Being in-charge of the temple he was present and offered a Muslim gentleman with incense sticks as he forgot to bring one. Both of them exchanged smiles, and we were watching the gesture and the story. 

Perhaps McCluskiegunj gives the words like 'imagined', 'lived', 'nostalgia', 'identity' its social significance. Perhaps there will always be trails as "A great civilisation is not conquered from within until it has destroyed itself from within" - Will Durant.

A few more shots:

Oriental Magpie Robin (Doel in Bengali)
Brahmani Mayna over Palash tree

Brahmani Mayna over Palash tree

Palash against the sky

All souls could rest beside a river - Dugadugi 

Important links:


  1. O wow... what a find.

  2. This is simply awesome. You help us imagine beautifully. Keep it up Kaleido!

  3. This write up invites me to go there right now