Amidst the festivities and chill in the air, I decided to visit a place that has been in my wish list for long, “Bow Barracks” or “Bohu Barracks”(Multiple Barricades) as it is called and known to us all. Having being raised and lived half of my life in a Christian state amidst choirs and carols, my love for Christmas dates back to my childhood when Christmas meant decorating the house with stars and a giant tree with Santa, Socks and goodies. I have always been fond of cakes and savories that my mother used to bake and still does especially for Christmas. But after relocating to Kolkata what I miss is this old world British charm in the hills with the smell of freshly brewed wine and cake and MLTR playing on the background. Life in a Metro is different and busy indeed but when I stepped into Bow Barracks, the nostalgia came vivid and the memories were relived.
Bow Barracks is a small locality in central Kolkata just behind the Bow bazar police station, off the Central Avenue. This narrow lane is bordered by six blocks of three-storied buildings, which look old but hardy. The appearance might be a little shabby at the first glance, but once you enter the by lanes of this heritage site, it leaves you mesmerized. Built as a garrison’s mess for the army during World War I, these apartments were handed to the Anglo Indians on rent. Today, 132 families live in the Barracks. Of them, 80 percent of the residents are Anglo Indians.
The first thing that I noticed when I entered Bow Barracks were the smiling faces of elderly people chatting merrily outside their houses and verandas with kids running around and playing. There was music in the air with smell of fresh home baked cakes beckoning me to join them in their celebrations. The red bricked walls might have faded colours but the faces residing behind them bore a warmth and contended look. Every house had beautifully decorated illuminations and bustling sounds coming from the busy kitchens with chit chats of plans for celebrating Christmas fest echoing. My interactions with a few old aunties sitting near a small prayer zone with stories of their life surrounding this little lane energized me after a dull day at work. Most of the younger lot have migrated outside India in search of newer venues of work but if given a choice, they still prefer coming home for Christmas at Bow Barracks.
Bow Barracks revolves around the lives of the small Anglo Indian community in the heart of busy Kolkata trying to retain hopes, dreams, aspirations and identity, as the world around them changes swiftly. It is a tale of existence and survival amidst complexities. Kolkata, the first British capital of India is a kaleidoscope of several cultures that have contributed to the city’s music, festivities and food habits and Bow Barracks has played an integral part to shape the city’s multi cultured habitat. As I take a stroll across the lanes of this small lit buildings, I could not refrain from being wooed by the charisma of this little world. With the Christmas fest starting from today, there will be a lot of cultural shows, food stalls and beautifully dressed people lined up for the crowd of Kolkattans from different communities to witness. The celebrations would continue till the new year, post which people will be back to their mundane schedules in busy corporate buildings, but nothing will change in Bow Barracks, the smell of cake, wine, sounds of laughter and music would still retain its existence, for us this is Bow Barracks but for them this is life, to live every moment to the fullest and finding happiness in small things.