My phone rings, with no name displaying I was sure that it was from a tele marketing firm, reluctantly I pick up the phone, after few seconds of initial silence I hear a voice, barely able to understand anything I ask the caller to please speak louder, after a brief pause I hear “Kya Aap Kaal Ayengay” will you come tomorrow? Still not being able to figure anything I ask for the name of the caller, I get the reply “VEN RU JIAN”, its then that I realise that she is the nun from Fo Kuang Shan Buddhist Centre Kolkata, this is the same Buddhist temple where I had been on 2nd of October this year along with Sumit Surai and Indrajit Das.
In her broken Hindi she somehow manages to inform that on 18th of October the Chinese community in Kolkata will celebrate Elder’s Day. This day is very significant for the Chinese people around the world and they celebrate this day by honouring the elders of the community, the Chinese community of Kolkata in particular selected those who are 75 years old and above. Not having much more details than this I inform few of my friends about this invitation. I get a confirmation from Prabir Bhattacharya and Debaraj thus was sure that at least I will have few known faces.
On the day of the event the first confirmation that I get was from Debraj, he sends me a confirmation that he has reached the Tangra crossing and within few minutes I get a call from Prabur Da that he is near Science City and will soon reach Tangra. I ask him to directly reach Pei May School, this is one of the last remaining Chinese school in Kolkata.
The event was scheduled to start at 10.00 AM and we all reach the venue at the right time, without wasting time we take out our camera and get ready for the action that may unfold before us. But there was a real big problem, everything happening around us were in Chinese, trying to figure out some point of contact I managed to find Ven Ru Jian at a distance.
It was simple, this day was a very important day for the Chinese people, on this day the Chinese community honour their elders. In China this day is also known as Double-Nine Festival, since this day is celebrated on the 9th day of the 9th Lunar Month. In English its knows as the Elders Day but the Chinese actually call it Chung-Yang Jie.
This tradition also is common in Japan, Hong Kong, Taiwan and Vietnam, the way people celebrate differs from place to place. According some traditions this occurrence of double nine is a very dangerous and people need to protect themselves which they do by drinking Chrysanthemum Wine after climbing a hill, some visit the ancestral grave and pay their respect etc. In Taiwan this day is known as Senior Citizens’ Day.
Coming back to the event here back in the city of Kolkata, all around I could see young people helping elders to the venue, this was really significant for me as it constantly reminded of my own grandfather and his birthday happened to be a day early that is 17th of October. Some were very frail unable to walk properly but were being helped by the younger generation to take their seat inside the venue.
This event was by Chinese Elders Day organized by Buddha Light International Association Kolkata, Indian Chinese Association for Culture, Welfare and Development & The Consulate General of the People’s Republic of China.
After a couple of minutes the guest of honour Mr Ma Zhanwu, Consul-General of Peoples Republic of China in Kolkata arrived. Greeted by the elders of the local Chinese community he is lead into the venue. In between he was very courteous enough to stop on our request for a photo. He was then welcomed to the venue by the loud clapping of the other guests.
All around round tables were laid with a glass, bottled cold drinks, chop stick and soup spoon; all of these were neatly laid out for the guests. Announcement were made to mark the start of the days proceeding, and there it was for the very first time I would witness Dragon Dance. I had only heard of it and this would have been the very first time that I would see this wonderful dance form in its full glory. With the movement carefully choreographed with the beats of the drum it was an experience of a life time. The choreography quite nicely included a sequence where the dragon picked up the basket of roses and handed it over to the guest of honour.
The master of the ceremony welcomed the guest of honour and then Mr Ma Zhanwu gave his greetings to the elders and to all the guests that were present. After this he went to each of the members who were 75 or above and handed them a gift which was a Bedsheet and also along with that he handed over a red envelope containing money which is a Chinese tradition. They were also handed gift bags by the volunteers present at the event.
I could see some young volunteers going around with trays which had small plastic cups containing some liquid. My initial though was that wine were being served to raise the toast but I was mistaken, it was Chinese Tea that was being served. This is something similar that I had tasted when I had visited the Buddhist Temple a couple of weeks back in Kolkata.
The guest of honour had other functions to attend so he had to leave but I was surprised to see that he had went to each person one by one and handed over the bedsheet and money envelope, I guess this was the best way to show respect to the elders of the community.
The master of ceremony raised a toast which was joined by all the guests and this was followed by another magic Dragon Dance performance. This was even bigger than the earlier as the number of dragons increased, all around I could see colourful dragons of different sizes.
It was not over, this was followed by a group dance performed by the ladies of the community. There was this little one that stood out in that crowd, her name is Debosmita Barui and as the name suggest she is not Chinese but can speak Chinese fluently. I know this as I had met her earlier in my visit to the temple.
Followed by few more routines of Dragon Dance it was now time for Hip Hop to join the celebration. A group of young non-Chinese participants performed beautiful choreography with intricate dance moves.
The celebration was coming to an end but not without some Bollywood numbers, surprisingly the young brigade performed a beautiful rendition of “Pehla Nasha” followed by the all the favourite “Chu Kar Meray Man Ko”. This did not end with the youths the seniors joined the act by singing “Pehla Pehla Pyar Hai” and of course obviously some traditional Chinese songs.
If we are in Chinatown can we leave without a martial art performance, this void was wonderfully filled up by the guest dance troop who performed various acts and mind-blowing steps.
Finally entertainment part was over and the master of ceremony announce the celebration by a symbolic cutting of a cake. Traditionally Chongyang Cake is eaten but for today a strawberry cream cake was selected. Being present at Chinatown of Kolkata how can we forget talking about food, this was followed by a sumptuous lunch, the menu had Soup, Noodle, Wanton etc.
Really tiered from the day’s event we bid goodbye to the host and as luck would have it we were invited in advance to the Dragon Boat Race, Chinese New Year etc. I was surprised that many young Chinese youths approached me when they came to know that I was blogger, it was nice to see that so many were interested in blogging.
I hope you have enjoyed reading about the Chinese Elder’s Day and will surely wait for other blogs from the Chinatown of Calcutta.
I would also like to thank Mr Robert Hsu – Secretary, Indian Chinese Association for Culture, Welfare and Development for helping me with additional points for this blog.