in Camp: Drawing by Captain G.F. Anderson: National Army Museum
world of Anglo-India vanished on August 15th 1947, when a new nation
was born. As India threw off the shackles of three centuries of
colonial rule and its people strode proud and free into the future,
the British packed their bags, their polo sticks, their regimental
jackets, and their memories—and went home to "Blighty".
everyone, however, was glad to see them go. Among those left behind
were over 300,000 people of mixed European and Indian descent, who
traced their English, French, Dutch or Portuguese ancestry from
the paternal line going back to the 17th and 18th centuries. Of
all the European traders ( and colonists as time went on), the British
gained dominance in the guise of the East India Company. At that
time, few women were up to making the arduous sea voyage (and the
cultural transition) from the soft green countryside of England
to the searing plains of "Hindoostan". Consequently the
officers, ensigns and clerks of the Company were encouraged to marry
local Indian women and their children carried no stigma of mixed
blood in those far-off days.
however, with the construction of the Suez Canal in the 19th century,
the travel time between the two countries was greatly reduced and
women no longer hesitated to sally forth from England to join husbands
or seek marriage prospects among British army and the civil service
officers. They brought with them all the class snobbery and insularity
of the Victorian era, and offspring of mixed descent came to be
regarded with disdain.
Anglo-Indians, were more "Anglo" than "Indian".
Their mother-tongue was English, and so was their religious upbringing,
as were their customs and traditions. While most of them married
within their own Anglo-Indian circle, there were many who continued
to marry expatriate Englishmen. Very few, if any, married Indians.
The same rigid social barriers that the British erected between
themselves and the Anglo-Indians, also existed to isolate the Anglo-Indians
from the vast majority of Indians.
the British nor the Anglo-Indians made any attempt at appreciating
Indian music, art, dance, literature or drama. The "natives"
were seen as idol worshippers, and not particularly clean ones at
that, with their habits of blowing their noses, spitting and defecating
in public. Not to mention eating with their fingers while sitting
cross legged on the ground. The aloofness between themselves and
their Indian subjects were of little concern to the British, and
even less so now that they were going home. But the
Anglo-Indians, left in a twilight zone of uncertainty, felt a bitter
sense of betrayal and dismay at the fact that Britain made
no effort to offer her swarthier sons any hospitality in the land
where their forefathers had been born.
Anglo-Indians, apprehensive of changes that would surely come with
Indias independence, chose to leave India. The 1950s and 1960s
saw a steady stream of departures as about 150,000 Anglo-Indians,
seeking wider horizons and better job prospects, emigrated to Australia,
Britain, Canada, the U.S.A. and New Zealand, The exodus has continued
through the decades up to the present timealthough now, Anglo-Indians,
like their Indian contemporaries, leave India not for reasons of
uncertainty, but because the West offers a dazzling array of educational
and career opportunities.
has been said about the Anglo-Indians. Unfortunately a great deal
of itincluding novels like Bhowani Junction and movies such
as Cotton Maryhas focussed on stereotyped characters and situations
which either oversimplifies or exaggerates reality. Anglo Indian
men have been portrayed as feckless idlers; the women as promiscuous
the past few decades, however, doctoral studies in Australia, the
U.K., Canada and the U.S.A. have examined the Anglo-Indian Community
(the capital "C" is commonly used to denote Anglo-Indian
identity) under a more objective microscope. They point out that
the number of notable people within its ranks has been disproportionate
to the size of this small Community in the services (military and
airforce brass), the civil administration, the arena of arts and
entertainment and in the field of athletics. While Anglo-Indian
women once followed the traditional occupations of nursing, teaching
and secretarial work, they are now active in professional fields:
medicine, law, and accountancy. Some have found their niche in social
work, or pursue political careers in the State, or Central government
all that, Anglo-Indians were, and still are, a fun-loving lot. They
have always had the capacity to thoroughly enjoy themselves at a
dance, a sing-a-long session or a party. But the perception that
this applies only to Anglo-Indians is outdated. In todays
Mumbai, Kolkata and Delhi, Indian yuppies gyrate with vigorous abandon
on nightclub dance floors. The Anglo Indian women who were deemed
"fast" because their necklines were daringly décolleté,
who wore lipstick, smoked, drank and went out unchaperoned on dates,
now have their counterparts in all three cities - most of them sophisticated,
upper-crust Indian women.
Anglo-Indian identity is disappearing fast. Those who have found
new lives abroad have merged into the mainstream. Other than the
nostalgic reminiscences of an older generation (much of it irrelevant
to the busy day-to-day concerns of their children and grand-children)
their Indian past has all but faded into oblivion. In India, the
Community are indistinguishable from their Indian friends and neighbours.
The women wear saris or salwar kameez, the kids disco enthusiastically
to Hindi film hits and watch Bollywood movies. Although English
remains their first language, they speak the local vernacular with
ease and fluency.
am glad to have been part of a culture known for its good cheer,
its generous hospitality and its ideals of keen sportsmanship. And
I am grateful too, that I was born, grew up and lived in a country
like India with its enormous diversity of people, languages, religions
and traditions. Today, however, I am - by choice - a proud Canadian.
(Please note: This essay may not
be reproduced either in whole or in part without prior permission.
However, that's not hard to obtain- just e-mail me and I'll
be glad to oblige.)
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