When E.T.McKluskie the commissioner of the Indian Railways discovered the area now known as Mckluskiegunj during the time they were laying the tracks in the area, it was probably a haven of sorts. Situated deep in the jungle, cut off from civilization, serene, quiet with weather that was arguably very English it soon prompted a lot of english settlers to shift there.
McKluskiegunj transformed overnight. English bungalows sprawled over the densly forested countryside, mud roads were laid, a club house was established and buggys became the mode of transport.
It must’ve been tough living an English life in India, but sure seems they did a good job of it. McKluskiegunj had a bakery, a club and two churches that are still open and running. The one thing that was never mentioned or pointed out was a dairy. Tiwary’s simple explanation was – “Woh dood jyada nahi peete the.” which I found hard to believe.
Soon after the British left ,the place was taken over by a strong Bengali population. They bought over some of the English bungalows but didn’t really change them too much. As the naxal threat grew stronger, slowly they filtered out of town making way for ex-army personnel to come along and pitch camp. Some army personnel survive till date. Lt. General Misbah Mayadas, who retired during the time of the Bofors scam – also the author of a book Inside Bofors – still lives in his bungalow on his own. We see him drive past us while we’re on our way to the train station.
I tell Tiwaryji that wherever I’ve read of Mckluskiegunj ,there has been mention of a lady named Kitty.
“Oho! Kitty madam. Woh toh Mckluskiegunj ki hero hain!”
Our companions in the car wonder why.
Kitty madam comes from a strict, purely Anglo-Indian background. Having inherited the property owned by her ancestors, she still lives at in her ancestral bungalow alone. Her source of income. selling vegetables at the railway station. It makes for an interesting story for journalists, and story writers Tiwaryji points out.
“Woh khaini banate banate jabardast english jhadti hai na, toh in sab press walon ko bahut pasand hai.”
Thinking of the sight I laugh my head off. Khaini is chewing tobacco, popular in these parts.
Densely surrounded by forests Mckluskiegunj is now a dying heritage. A highly sensitive Naxal zone, it has lost almost all its old residents, and the tourists are few and far between. Everyone who’s been hearing of my planned visit warned me about the dangers. Advice was aplenty. Go in the morning and return by evening. Make sure you return by daylight. If you need a second visit go the next day. Dont use the same car when you go a second time. The reasons McKluskiegunj was chosen by its English creators is now exactly the reason its avoided by everyone today.
All the old bungalows have been converted to hostels, to support the Bishop Cotton School and two other girl schools in the town. It seems to be the only thing that keeps their economy afloat. Infact there is an abundance of hostels across town and the competition doesnt seem to affect the trade. Adverts are placed next to each other, all offering pretty much the same facilites at the same prices. A town once the pride of English settlers, and their marvellous bungalows is now filled with hostel facilities for a few local schools. The names true to form are resplendent of the town’s former glory and present heritage.