| A picture of the European Club (on the left) before it was demolished and after (picture on the right by Ujjwal Boral)
Kalchini (Alipurduar) Sept. 29: It was robbery on a massive scale.
Only this time, it was an entire building, including the bricks, that disappeared.
The European Club had all the modern amenities, enough to draw tourists from across the country and abroad, before it was torn apart and robbed within 11 days.
Part of the Kalchini tea estate, 34 km from here, the European Club (named so because it was frequented by Europeans) had badminton and tennis courts, billiard and table tennis boards, furniture of highly valuable timber and a wonderful bar. But the building was stripped off all these ' brick by brick ' by a mob that had stormed the club on the morning of September 16.
While the subdivisional officer of Alipurduar, Saumitra Mohan, pleaded ignorance, Saroj Chakraborty, the in-charge of the club, said he was too scared to speak out.
'On September 16, I came to know that a large crowd had gathered in front of the club house. Soon they started tearing the building apart. I did not venture out or protest as I was too scared. I informed the higher authorities ' the secretary of the club and the Dooars Branch of the Indian Tea Association. The secretary had informed the Kalchini police,' said Chakraborty.
According to Mohan, he was aware that tourism minister Dinesh Dakua had decided to promote the club as part of tea tourism.
'But there was no development in this connection. I am completely unaware of the fact that the club has been torn down, but I will definitely inquire into it,' said Mohan.
Pradeep Sarkar, the officer-in-charge of Kalchini police station, said there had been no formal complaints. 'No action can be taken in that case. Another problem is that the demolition was done on a mass scale in which a large number of people were involved. Initiating action against a crowd is not an easy job, particularly when the workers are in crisis,' said Sarkar. Police suspect that workers and residents of the estate had carried out the demolition drive.
Sirajul Ansari, who lives in the Majid labour line of the garden and works as a mason, alleged that the workers had taken all the valuables of the club. 'I have taken only the bricks,' he added. He, of course, denied that he was a worker at the garden.
The Kalchini tea estate has been running under peculiar circumstances. Manufacturing operations have been stopped long ago with only the plucking going on. For the last one month, the workers have not been getting their rations and the electricity supply has been cut off.
'I have not been getting any salary for the past six months. When I heard about the tea tourism initiative, I thought all would be well once again, but the demolition shattered my dreams,' said Chakraborty.
Recounting the days five to six years ago, club babu (that is what Chakraborty is called) said managers of other tea estates used to frequent the club building usually on August 14 and December 31. In the 1960s, the polo grounds adjoining the club were a favourite with the planters.
The club was set up in 1918 by 13 tea gardens of the Dooars. Subscriptions from these estates were used for staff salary and maintenance of the club. H.E.B. Eraker, superintendent manager of the Buxa Dooars Tea Company Ltd, Lt Colonel R.S. Moss, and C.M. Slaughter, the manager of Dima Tea Estate were instrumental in establishing the club.
Sunil Mukherjee, an octogenarian who was once a staff of the Kalchini estate, said in 1936, on the day of the coronation of King George VI, a spectacular fireworks dsiplay had been arranged at the club.
Old timers like Mukherjee also talk about the time in 1962 when Jagodwipendra Narayan Bukbahadur of the Cooch Behar royal family had come to the club to play polo.
'All this is not only history now, but have become ruins as well,' said Mukherjee.