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McCLUSKIEGUNJ: IMAGINATIONS OF URBAN HISTORIES & COLLECTIVE HERITAGE

‘Conservation for whom’, a fundamental inquiry in the context of historic landscapes and their sustenance through generations, has often become the driving factor in creating the context for cultural identity. In the perspective of a people-centric approach, culture in its broadest sense assumes a decisive role in constructing a system of interventions where livelihoods and social and sustainable development become the product of the integration of histories, places, people, economies and traditions.

Thus, when peculiar cultures intertwine with time, vernacular archetypes, new lifestyles, ecology and everyday economics they essentially become worth preserving experiences. Caught in the nexus of global migration, depleting cultural landscapes, rejuvenated only by people in search to regenerate their ethnographic root, this Anglo-Indian Community left behind by the British Government to Independent India is struggling to conserve and survive in its gifted land of self-being named as McCluskiegunj in Jharkhand. 10,000 acres of natural and rural landscape is in desperate need of conservation. Strategies to create a sense of belonging with reinvented ways of economic generation including community based tourism can result in adaptive reuse of the built heritage, promoting social and ecological interfaces worth revisiting.

The quality of life lived by the Anglo - Indians is distinctly stark in comparison to the humble rural setting of the place. This lifestyle has become symbolic of the way they dress, speak, behave, eat, drink and entertain. Devoid this identity which is more livid in its active sense in stories and in passive sense in the empty structures, McCluskiegunj has no exclusive significance.

The place stands on the threshold of being erased not just in its physicality but also culturally as 8 families out of its original 300 families survive it. Never ever been documented for factual accuracy and rural landscapes, let’s document this lived cultural landscape to re-establish the broken linkages and to create a network to rebuild the identity of McCluskiegunj as an irreplaceable asset of collective memory. Not just for the sake of history, but rather capture its original glory of singing Christmas carols in flowing gowns and well fitted suits, sipping local fruit wines, enjoying orchard jams and tea in the wooden colonnade verandahs embedded deep within forest tribal lands with an intent of reviving this lost cultural landscape to a relevant contemporary context.

Symbolic of a syncretic culture, McCluskiegunj has the potential for a new lease of life which can be initiated by the young torch bearers, who are currently struggling to bring recognition and a sense of belonging to the dwindling community. Lack of technical benchmarks with very few examples of good conservation practice of revival of cultural lifestyles has led to an overall sense of abandonment of the historic environment.

This is an attempts to reflect on key barriers today in practice and implementation of participatory strategies for reviving the narratives that link these urban histories and make them relevant in the larger realm of conservation. How people experience, perceive and value these fragmented parts to retain and revive its collective meaning is an area that needs far more thought, inclusivity and engagement than that is currently even understood.