“When the evening is spread out against the sky
Like a patient etherized upon a table…”
Every time, I walk beneath the canopy of trees along the forests of McCluskieganj, the words of Eliot echo in my mind. The clear skyline above and the lush green environment of this quaint town has attracted me since childhood. Strangely I fell in love with McCluskieganj before I even visited it. Now it has become a dreamland for me.
It was the engrossing words, Ektu Ushnotar Jonnyo, by renowned Bengali writer Budhadeb Guha which transported my mind to this town of Anglo-Indian habitat during my school days. Nearly four hundred families spread across bungalows, McCluskieganj always spoke to me in myriad ways. The abode of Sal trees, the beauty, the calm and the warmth of the people here drew me closer as I grew up reading more and more about its history.
My fascination with the town sparked when I was in my late teen years, in the early 1970s. Moreover, being born and brought up in the undivided state of Bihar-Jharkhand, I was lucky enough to always remain so close to the state. This allowed me to visit McCluskieganj whenever I wanted.
My education and work as a medical expert also got me closer to the place. When I was a student studying medicine in the Garhwa district, about 100 km away from McCluskieganj, my visits to the town became more frequent around the 80s. I knew that I want to make this my second home and would eventually fulfil my wish to settle here with my family one day.
Over the years, I have made numerous friends here and started staying over at their place, bonding well with the community. I remember we would often spend our entire day at the forest bungalow, about four to five kilometres away from the main town, at the heart of the forest. At that time, Amit Ghosh stayed there. I would often visit there and also spend many of my weekends with Deepak Rana, Rodrick, and Gordon, all of who were very close to me back then.
Further, in a group of two to three, we would often go trekking around the town to the Degadegi river on weekends.
Although, it feels that the town has somewhat still retained its beauty since its inception back in the 1930s. Over time, many dreams have been scattered with people, my friends, migrating away. Ernest Timothy McCluskie, the Anglo-Indian businessman from Kolkata was the chief architect of the place. He was the dream merchant for the place who recognised the aspirations of several Anglo-Indians then. In those days, people thronged the hilly town for the peace and calmness it had to offer. With high-ranking officials, writers and family with royal lineage coming here, McCluskieganj had an ‘illuminating’ charm.
But now they are scattered all over the world. In my assumption, the numbers have reduced to hardly 10 to 15 families living here. With new settlements pouring in, mostly from Ranchi and nearby towns. A large number of the current population comprise retired CCL (Central Coalfields Limited) who have bought plots and bungalows there to stay. So, there has been a visible change in the demography, people and culture in McCluskieganj.
One major reason for the migration of Anglo-Indians from there was the lack of a quality education earlier. Younger people believed that they were depriving themselves of accessible education. Further, in between, there was an increase in the number of extremist activities that resulted in the decline of tourism. Again, I believe the reason was the absence of education. However, in changing times, education has also evolved, with a few reputed schools being set up and run by the Anglo-Indians. Many teachers are also from the community and hosts of hostel facilities have also opened up.
In terms of development, I feel that people here more or less have good access to health. With the government’s various schemes including the Tuberculosis Elimination Programme, among others, and two Public Health Centres, people have found access to health facilities. Additionally, whenever I have found the opportunity, I have provided people with free health campaigns.
Although I am a practising surgeon at Ranchi, I visit McCluskieganj every weekend to have my share of relaxation, despite an extremely busy schedule. Thanks to the beauty of the place that has attracted me beyond what words can describe.
(As told to Shreya Basak)