On India's side

Last Updated 29 August 2015, 18:30 IST
The BBC had a jaundiced view. Some years ago, when their advance team came to interview us for their series The Lost Days of the Raj, they said they planned to film us in the dusty ballroom of a forsaken Raj-era hotel. Their intention was clear. We said, “You deliberately distorted the image of Anglo-Indians in your documentary shot in Bengaluru and Goa. This one is about your lost days, not ours.”

The Brits are a very pragmatic people. They agreed, and the interview was set in our cottage in the Himalayas. This was certainly not the background of a sad, fading, “lost people”!

We can’t blame them for their skewed attitude. The Anglo-Indians they came across in Britain, in our first wave of émigrés, were rudderless. They had, mistakenly, felt alienated from their homeland and had expected to be received with open arms by the Brits. They were disappointed. So, instead of blaming themselves for their shattered dreams, they had deluded themselves into believing, like many 21st century Sydney NRIs, that they had fled because they were ashamed of being born in India!

So much for many of the estimated 1,75,000 Anglo-Indians who had left India. Therapeutically, their sudden exodus had cauterised our community. The reputed 1,25,000 who had chosen to stay, evoking the tough-minded pioneering spirit of their European ancestors, decided to carve out a proud new life for themselves in this independent land.

The first thing they did was to shun the traditional jobs in the Railways, Posts & Telegraphs, Police and Customs. For great numbers of Anglo-Indians the lure of getting a reserved job straight out of high school, or even earlier, had been irresistible. When the reservations were removed at Independence, however, they were shocked to find themselves underqualified in the job market. That was a major reason for the first large-scale migration of Anglo-Indians.

Those of us who had decided that our homeland was best, took stock of the situation. The Constitution had given us more guarantees than any other similar community had been given anywhere else. Neither the Burghers of Sri Lanka nor the Eurasians of Singapore, certainly not the Cape Coloureds of South Africa had the implicit right to teach in their own language, English, as Article 30(1) has given us. English is also the Associate Official Language, the language of the Supreme Court, and the lingua franca of world commerce, science and diplomacy.

Educators of repute
Moreover, our mores became the norm for the aspirational generations of all other communities. Wisely, our community took to education where these qualities were in great demand. The Gardeners, Hiltons, Manns and Saupins own much-sought-after schools. Dedicated teacher-administrators like John Mason and the late T A Philips set new benchmarks in Indian education. These and may other revered Anglo-Indian educationalists have equipped generations of young Indians with the mental and social skills to take their place with confidence in an increasingly internationalised India.

The Defence Services lost their charm for Anglo-Indians in spite of our small community producing role models like the greatly loved Admiral Ronnie Pereira, Chief of the Naval Staff, and Air Marshal Dennis La Fontaine, as well as many officers of flag rank.

Today, the newly burgeoning corporate world and the communications, hospitality and aviation industries offer better and more flexible opportunities than the Armed Forces. In the recent list of Gentleman Cadets graduating from the Indian Military Academy we could not find a single Anglo-Indian name.

This matter of a name, especially a surname, is very important. Article 366 (2) of the Constitution, which is the only one defining any Indian community, ensured that our cognomens are assuredly pan-Indian, non-regional and European & Judeo-Christian. This should keep the ghar wapsi gang at bay!

As for the specious argument that all this makes us alien, it is no more valid than saying that Sindhis are foreigners because Sindh is now in Pakistan or that Parsis, who have a strong connection with ancient Iran or Fars, are sympathisers of the IS!

In fact, we believe that the term Anglo- Indian was derived from the term Anglo-American. The Merriam-Webster’s Dictionary defines an Anglo-American as “A North-American whose native language is English and especially whose culture or ethnic background is of European origin.” The distinguishing and  important word is European, as distinct from British. One of our mothers was a Pereira whose family had lived in Cannanore for many generations and was descended from Portuguese traders. At least six European East India Companies established their colonies in our land and their Indian descendants are Anglo-Indians.

The emergence of nationally recognised Anglo-Indian writers, like Padma Awardees Ruskin Bond and Irwin Allan Sealy, is another post-diaspora stabilising factor. Modern communities need their own literature in which to root their cultural identity.

The emergence of Chennai-based Harry MacLure, the prime mover behind the publishing house Anglo-Ink focusing on books by Anglo-Indians or about Anglo- Indians, is significant. Anglo Ink was born out of Harry’s magazine, Anglos in the Wind, particularly popular with the diaspora. Harry is also an impresario who organises Anglo-Indian music festivals and is now producing movies based on Anglo-Indian themes.

These movies are expected to be a refreshing change from the genre typified by Bhowani Junction: even though the stunning Ava Gardner did capture the warm exotic beauty of a typical, multi-genetic Anglo-Indian girl.

And now we have our first political family: the O’Briens of Kolkata. The articulate Derek is the first Anglo-Indian to be elected to our Parliament. His fluency in both an Official and a National Language is typical of the independent Anglo-Indian as distinct from the reservation-dependent one. That would be a great theme for a Harry MacLure movie. He might even sell it to the BBC!
(Published 29 August 2015, 15:49 IST)

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