However, these cultural exchanges remained limited to artistic and literary circles.
In the 1950s, Chinese characters, although villains, frequented stories in Hindi cinema. In the movie Howrah Bridge (1958), the hit thriller starring Madhubala and Ashok Kumar, Madan Puri played a villain named John Chuang. This was followed by Haqeeqat (1964), India’s first definitive war film, a direct response to the Sino-Indian War of 1962.
Since then, the relationship with China has remained complicated, with both countries blowing hot and cold even as trade boomed with India importing more and more from China than it exported to the country. Another turning point was the Galwan skirmish and Chinese incursions into eastern Ladakh. But China has never quite left us.
In the popular imagination, there were Chinese shoemakers, beauticians, dentists and Chinese restaurants. Chinese cobblers made the finest men’s shoes, ever-smiling Chinese dentists with gold tooth caps were ubiquitous, and Chinese restaurants, with beautiful Chinese lanterns hanging from their entrances, served heavenly noodles, their painted ceramic tableware to the dragon much admired by customers. just like the sauceboats with white vinegar and motionless green peppers as if it were a small pond of blooming water lilies.
As a student in the early 1980s, I remember shopping at the Hogg Market in Kolkata, where the shop of China’s oldest condiment producer Pou Chong was located. The next memory is of buying pure leather men’s loafers for my grandfather in the designated Chinese shoe store on Bentick Street. A feeling of happiness enveloped when entering the beautifully decorated shop. Chinese calligraphy shone on the glass display case in which the shoes were neatly displayed.
Such a shopping spree would invariably be followed by a sumptuous late lunch at Eau Chew, which is still thriving and is run by the Huang family (now 4th generation). Of all the dishes ordered, a mandatory fish in black bean sauce was a constant and a signature dish for many.
At home, my mother insisted on using the services of the only Chinese dry cleaner in our area. I was often given the responsibility of dropping off her favorite Kashmiri shawls for a dry wash. I remember being impressed by the lady who ran the shop on her own. One day I was running late and she was closing her laundry called Nan Ping, I watched her close the store for the day and then speed past on a moped, a sight I still remember and made me endless delight.