Bow Barracks

It is sometimes incredible to reflect on how friendships develop. Charles was an ex Calcutta man who after many adventures and vicissitudes ended up in Pokhara and was working as a travel agent. I was there at the same time ( 2003) working for the Manipal College of Medical Sciences. I met him in the famous Pokhara Lakeside one day when I was shopping around for somebody to take us to the Bardia National Park. It had been almost out of bounds for a long time because of the Maoist rebellion but recently there had been a cease fire which made it possible to visit it now that the guns were silent. Anyway he organized a marvelous trip for a group of us faculty members and students who had a really wonderful time, rafting down the river while watching birds and gharials, not to mention a Gangetic dolphin.
However more of that story another time. As it happens,soon after this, Charles was brought to our hospital as a critically ill patient and he unfortunately passed away of a massive heart attack. His sister, Lorna who lived in Canada, found my email address from someone and wrote to me asking for details about his illness. I corresponded with her and soon we became what in another age would be called pen friends. Since then we have been friends writing to each other often and we share with each other the our thoughts on our life and times.
She writes marvelously well and often gives very vivid descriptions of her life in Toronto. I enjoy her letters ( sorry , emails)very much and have been asking her to write about her life in Calcutta of the sixties which was when Calcutta was still a cosmopolitan city and the Anglo Indians had not yet en masse migrated to Canada or Australia. I had written to her telling her about the Anjan Dutta movie Bow Barracks Forever which had created a controversy ,if you remember, about the portrayal of Anglo Indians. She wrote back to me telling me her reminiscences of the Bow Barracks which I feel needs to be published. It is a slice of Calcutta that has gone and will never return. If I knew Anjan Dutta I would send it to him as well!
Anyway here goes. This is Lorna describing the Bow Barracks of her youth in Calcutta.


"Thanks for letting me know about the movie on Bow
Barracks Forever. I have not heard of it here but my
brother Bonnie may know about it. I do know and
remember where Bow Barracks is, it was on the way to
Calcutta's China Town. I didn't know that the
Americans used it during the war. I only remember
people saying that the Barracks belonged to Port
Commissioners and when I was growing up and was a
teenager, I learned from other adults that it had a
somewhat seedy reputation. The class of people who
lived there were financially doing well as they held
nice jobs. The residents, now looking back, seemed to
be either half Chinese or Philipinos married to the
locals or other nationalities. These people called
themselves Anglo Indians but amongst the Anglo Indians
they were given a nickname "mama ka poochos" because
they would not speak either English nor stick to Hindi
at home, and they dressed in a variety of styles, one
could not figure out who they wanted to be. There is
a standing joke which may have a basis in truth, that
when there was a Dance held, the girls were always
chaperoned by their mothers and when a young man
wanted to dance with their daughter, the story goes
that the young man asked the girl "may I have the
pleasure" meaning to dance with her, the girl replied
'pleasure, pleasure mut bolo - mama ko poocho' .
Hence, the name mama ka poocho!! I know you will get
a laugh out of this.

Please don't think I am being vicious or prejudiced but
the residents who lived in the Bow Barracks area were
noted for being very aggressive and had gang fights
with other areas. This I know because as a child I
witnessed a family coming for one hell of a fight with
other members of their own family who happened to be
living on Temple Street, opposite our mansion. The
men would carry knuckle dusters and the women would
"moon" each other i.e. lifting their skirts and
showing their bottoms - the ultimate insult! That is
a movie in itself, ha! ha!"

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