The anglo-Indians, children of mixed marriage, were
called, the wheels, the cranks, the levers of the Empire building
machinery. In the modernization of India they were the pioneers. The
Anglo-Indians have a tradition of being punctilious in work,
meticulous in appearance and gregarious and lively in food habits,
speech and customs.
Anglo-Indians children of
mixed marriages, loved and cherished, reared to speak the languages
of the ruler and the ruled, their linguistic proficiency and swarthy
complexions were utilized to advantage in war and peace, in trade and
acquisition in the early days of the East India Company.
Their religion, dress,
customs and eventually manners and mores identified them with the
British. In turn they were accepted them with the British. In turn
they were accepted and rejected according to the political whims of
the Directors in London.
There was no escape from
Mendels Law. The fair sibling climbed high on the ladder while
his black brother had to remain on the periphery of the enchanted
The Anglo-Indian is an
original Calcutta. He is as old as the city itself. Job Charnock, the
founder of Calcutta, was the father of three daughters by his Indian
The early settlers left
their womenfolk at home and so in the 17th and early 18th
centuries, it was not uncommon for the Englishman to marry an Indian
wife and adopt Indian ways. His children inherited his fortune and
were sent home for education.
The name Anglo-Indian was
coin to describe an India-returned Englishman. It was not until the
early 20th century that the word came to denote the mixed
or Eurasian population in India.
At its peak, the
community in Calcutta is said to have numbered 50,000far outnumbering
the English population in the settlement. In the 18th
century, Britain was at war on many fronts in Europe and in the New
World. Englands country born children threw in their lot with
their fatherland against warring Nawabs and Rajahs. They were an
indispensable part of the British army.
After the mulatto
uprising in San Domingo in Haiti, country born children were barred
from retuning to England for education and a few years later a ban
was imposed on their appointments in civil, military and marine
services. Indian society did not accept the phirangi, and so
anglo-Indian history is fraught with many vicissitudes. Wealthy
Eurasian indigo planters, zamindars and merchants bequeathed large
endowments for the education of the weaker sections. In the crash of
1833 and again during the slump a century later, many lost their
fortunes and their jobs. It is to the communitys credit that
they realized the needs of the time and set up educational
institutions to equip their children for other jobs.
In Calcutta, among
prepared boys for jobs as uncovenanted hands in upper subordinate
positions. With their political strength growing in Bengal the
British saw the need to use the Eurasian as a go-between.
The opening of the Suez
Canal brought the Fishing Fleets to India and mixed marriages were
now frowned upon. Their usefulness over and the Empire establish the
British pushed those very same country born who had defended the
Union jack during the 1857 mutiny with untold valour, into privileged
posts with no future. And so the Eurasian abandoned enterprise in
favour of secure government service and this was a contributory cause
of his economic decline.
The Anglo-Indian officer
in the Railways-India, Custom, Police or Port Commissioners has a
tradition of being punctilious in work and meticulous in appearance.
In the modernization of India, the Anglo-Indian faced the perils of
pioneering. He surveyed the unknown terrain, treacherous hills,
malarious marshes and dangerously infested jungles. He supervised the
laying of railway tracks, of planting telegraph poles, of building
housing colonies in way out areas. Rightly have Anglo-Indians been
called the wheels the cranks, the levers of Empire building
Generations of discipline
born in the schoolroom and the sports field, bred an esprit de corps
in the Anglo-Indian. Many a steam locomotive was manned by a father
and son team. They took pride in the tip top condition of the engine
and its split-second punctuality, so much so that one could set ones
watch by the Indian Railways.
The Customs Officer with
his colleague in the Port Commissioners worked hard and played
hard. Leslie Claudius and Pat Jansen were Olympic hockey players and
retained the gold for India in the 1948 Games.
When Claudius walked into
the smoking-room of the Bengal Club in 1990, heads turned in admiring
recognition. An all-round sportsman, Claudius remembers fondly how he
learnt to play football in his own backyard with the chokra boys.
Quite by chance and at the instance of another hockey giant, Dickie
Carr he became an Olympic hockey player. He is wistful about the
changes in the sports world he knew so well. Nobody cares now he
says, thinking of the spontaneous warmth of the pat on the back by a
spectator for a game well played.
The pride of the Calcutta
Police was its Anglo-Indian Sergeant contingent. These tall hefty
lads were prominent on any parade or display astride their red Harley
Davidson motorcycles. The story goes that the legendary Ronnie Moore
ate his breakfast standing, off the mantelshelf in the Lal Bazaar
mess so as not to crush his white satin jean uniform! Many a
policeman has dined out on the Sergeant Evans story. The greenhorn
sergeant on duty found a car wrongly parked on the main street
outside the famous firpos restaurant and tea-room. Not
satisfied with booking the offending chauffeur, he summoned the
owner. Fairweather said the gentleman, I dont care if you are
Fair weather of foul weather reprimanded Evans. My orders stand. The
next morning Mr.Fairweather, Commissioner of Police, congratulated
and commended Sergeant Evans.
qualifications required for the reserved posts were low, as a result
of which few Anglo-Indians aspired to higher studies. Their ambition
was stifled, though there have been and still are a few members of
the community who rose to the rank of Deputy Commissioner of Police,
Member Railway Board and Post Master General. Some have been
successful in the legal and medical professions.
Monseigneur Barber, a
true Calcutta Anglo-Indian, sits back in his chair with a cigar in
his room the Sacred Heart Church in Dharamsala-the gift of a
Portuguese lady, Dona Pascoag De Souza. He chuckles over the good old
days of his boyhood with characteristic sense of humours. His father
was Assistant Value in the quasi government Calcutta Improvement
Trust, frequently acting as Chief, but he knew that though he was
worth his salt, he would never get the job. The situation changed
radically after independence.
Monseigneur Barber tells
of the Indian Defense Force (IDF) of the First World War. Jocularly
nicknamed the I dont fight corps, the men were recruited
entirely from the Anglo-Indian community under the British officer.
He may have been only a lieutenant, but he thought he was a Major
General! The Monsignors Uncle Carmody who later rose high in
the railways with seven others ran the German railway in Africa. When
the boys returned home, they had to beg for jobs.
In search of nostalgia,
Father Horace Rosario S.J. proved a treasure trove of oral history
which he recounted at length in the parlour of St.Xaviers
College on Park Street. Living within themselves, the community
developed certain characteristics manifested in the Church, the club
and the Boarding School.
Sunday mornings, well
dressed families-the women until two decades ago sporting hats,
gloves and veils-make their way to their parish church on foot, in
rickshaws, in cars and taxis. The majority of Anglo-Inidans in
Calcutta today are Catholics.
After Mass, they visit
each others homes and stay on for a lunch of kofta curry and
A gregarious, fun-loving,
musical and convivial people, merriment with lots to eat and drink
are a part of the Anglo-Indian life-style. Baptism, first holy
communions with all due reverence are celebrated with one big bash at
the Grail and Rangers Club. This is the bond that holds the community
together, says Father Rosario.
The Railway Institute in
the mofussil and the clubs in the cities were an important aspect of
their culture. Unlike British clubs, these were never male preserves,
but very much a family haunt. The Calcutta Rangers Club founded in
1896, is one of the premier Anglo-Indian Clubs in the country. In
sports, the club has nurtured some of the finest hockey, football and
basketball teams. The major events in the Clubs social calendar
are Housie Nites, and the Balls-Easter, May Queen, Independence Eve
and New Years Eve. In the days gone by, reminisces one old
resident, live five piece bands would play for Rs.30/- a night. Young
and old jived, jitterbugged and rock and rolled with gay abandon. In
his time, Cedric Coutts sang Charmaine in his charming baritone.
Those were the days Scotch whisky was eight annas (50p) a peg.
Endless plates of potato chips and bottles of tomato sauce were on
the house. Apart from social activities, the Calcutta Rangers Sweep
donated large sums to local charities
Boarding schools were
another adjunct that catered to the itinerant Anglo-Indians who sent
their children to Darjeeling, Nanital, Hazaribagh and Asansol.
Organized games were compulsory. Children played all games and became
Boxing was a favourite
sport and many were the fans of Kid DSilva of Calcutta.
Because of the
transferable nature of his job, the Anglo-Indian did not think of
building his own home. On retirement, Calcutta was the home base for
many. They rented houses, flats or rooms in Dharamtalla, bow Bazaar,
Ripon Street, Royd Street and the small lanes off Free School Street,
once called Colinga which is still their stronghold. The building may
be shabby and decrepit, but the home is always neat. Windows are
curtained and sheets are aired regularly. Émigrés to
Australia have taken this habit with them. The vase of flowers on the
teapoy was always freshly filled and the mali (gardner) with
his basket of blooms was as regular as the rotiwala
(breadman). Plastic flowers are more practical today.
Warm and hospitable, the
Anglo-Indian housewife kept an open house. No guest could leave
without having had a boxwalls curry puff or a slice of cake.
Each family has its
favourite recipes for prawn curry, vindaloo, jhal frazie and the all
time favourite alu chop (potato rissole) to which the individual
bawarchi (chef) adds his particular flavour.
Chrismas is the greatest
day of the year. Preparations for Barrha Din start months ahead with
the bottling of kala jamun (Indian blackberry) wine in summer.
From October, the durzees (tailors) of Ripon Street and Madge
Lane, the latter named after a well known Anglo-Indian family who
owned the land on which stand the New Market and Globe Cinema, are
busy cutting and stitching the latest fashions from Vogue magazine.
Grannys amra pickle and Auntys chutney are sunned.
Finally the baker arrives to take away the cake-mix rich with fruit
and spice to bake into a dozen or more portions for family and
mother sent him a dozen bottles of the Anglo-Indian special liquor
and Milk Punch at Chrismas every year until she died. It was not
unusual for a railway family to come to Calcutta for their Christmas
shopping on the sales of their years collection of newspapers.
They like so many others still make New Market their second home for
the pre-Christmas weeks, buying presents, window shopping and
munching on hot gram and Nizams kathi rolls which have followed the
Anglo-Indian to Australia. Rosycheeked children, home from their
boarding schools in the hills were happy sucking sticks of red and
white barley sugar. Parties at home inevitably ended with a sing-song
of old-time favourites round the piano-Roll Out the Barrel, When
Irish Eyes are Smiling sounding lustier as the evening wore on.
Like their food and some
of their ways, Anglo-Indian speech is a synthesis of English and
Hindustani. In an accent and lilt entirely his own the young
Anglo-Indian teases, Fatty Fatty Bomba Lati, ate up all the ghee
chapatty, Inty Minty Papa Tinty, Tan Toon, Tessa, count Anglo-Indian
children playing ring games. But the dialect as it may be called, was
caught by Bobby Kokka in a 1960s Air India advertisement. She was a
Dum dum blonde. To her Calcutta was Cal, Darjeeling was Darj and men
to her were something that only came at the end of her
sentences-until she went Idle wild.
And it was the
Anglo-Indian girl who first volunteered for the job of air hostess.
She led the way for the emancipated woman outside the home. In
Calcutta they were the first among women to take up careers. As
teachers they are the back-bone of the English medium schools in the
city. Many a Calcuttan fondly cherishes and owes a debt to this great
institution-from principal to Nursery Teacher. In nursing, it was the
Anglo-Indian woman who lighted the lamp. Some are remembered as
dedicated Matrons of public hospitals. In the world of entertainment,
the beautiful sloe-eyed girl, product of a happy mixture of East and
West, was top of the pops. Calcutta claims Merle Oberon as her own an
Marie Wilson visited her city last year with a jazz group from
Australia. The army of Patsys and Glorias kept the manually operated
telephone lines in Calcutta alive and alert. The smart, efficient
Anglo-Indian secretary was a most valuable asset in merchantile
offices. Many, like Betty Catchick, Anne Lumsden and Jenny Paes
carried this efficiency and dedication to work on to the playing
field. Anne Lumsden was the only woman to win the Arjuna Award for
her contribution o hockey. Jenny Paes, on the eve of her departure
for Wimbledon to watch her son Leander, recalls her eventful career
in basketball and her nine triumphant years as the ICI champion in
the Office League matches. Her eldest daughter Jackie sometimes
accompanied her and was the team mascot. Marie, her younger daughter
followed in her mothers footsteps and last year won the mot
valuable player award in the Inter-Club tournament. She has taken up
sports medicine like her father. Jenny Thompson nee Godfrey Writes
from England, I often think about the interclub and interoffice
matches played on the Chowringhee maidan. There was always such
enthusiasm and excitement not only amongst the players but with all
concerned, including the spectators. The experience and enjoyment I
attained from these past years will never be forgotten. In his Oxford
University Press office, the West Bengal MLA Neill OBrien
thinks back to 1967 on the Eddie Hyde Memorial Quiz, the first quiz
competition in Calcutta. From small beginnings in a Parish Hall,
quizzing has now become an All India pastime. The OBrien boys
are all three champion quizzers but father remains the Master Quizzer
and Quiz Master. Mother, Joyce OBrient at her desk at the All
India Anglo-Indian Association, is a hot-line to help for many an
With Indian independence
in 1947, the Anglo-Indian community felt insecure and there was a
mass exodus of those who wished to leave. Those who remained were
accepted as an Indian community. Not all agree that the job situation
has improved, but there are many more opportunities. The
Administrative and Defence Services hold Anglo-Indians in high
Those who left Calcutta
are fondly remembered, as is Johnny Mayer, the poor boy who half a
century ago learnt to play the violin at the Calcutta School of Music
from Philippe Sandre and played to dress-suited audiences at the
Calcutta symphony orchestra concerts in the New Empire Theatre. A
break at the Royal Academy of Music was the beginning of a very
successful musical career.
From England and America,
from Australia and Canada they come to visit the city of their birth.
The younger generation come in search of their roots. Letters remain
a link. Remembering happy times, Pat Beatty, Eva Deefholt and Patty
Lord, erstwhile basketball players now in Australia write, we still
value the many friends we made.
They have reconciled
themselves to the changed times. A live for the day philosophy is
evident in the octogenarian members of the community.