The Indian People of Camaraderie

BY ZOHRA FATIMA

Afternoon slumbers were often lulled by a euphonious voice next door, “one-two cha cha cha, let’s do that again….” It was the sound of dancing coming from next door. The Anglo-Indian mother and daughter duo ran a dance school named ‘Connie and Danny’ from home. She taught to waltz, Jive, Ballroom dancing, and salsa to her eager students. After the class ended, a voice roared “Maxwell! this boy!” She exclaimed while a dog whined in the background. “Where must he be?!” The boy, her son, was probably frolicking his time, playing cricket on the street with my older brother after school. Maxwell’s dog was a penchant time pass for us kids. We annoyed her till we were tickled pink, and never received a scowl or a frown from its owners for teasing their dog. They were charming and friendly neighbours. During an occasional long chat with the aunties, we would come to know that they were selling the house, and would soon be moving to Australia.  The news made us a bit dull. On Christmas Day, we received a tray full of homemade goodies. This is a snapshot of an Anglo-Indian home in the late 90s.

After the British left India, the Anglo- Indian community struggled to find its roots. The community in Bangalore was made of large numbers who had found a home in places around the cantonment area, like Frazer Town, Richmond Town, Austin Town, Whitefield, Lingarajpuram, and in the neighbouring KGF in the early 1800s. They were officially recognized by the British Empire in the census of 1911. They held strong onto their British identity. Survival of the community was becoming arduous; they weren’t welcomed with open arms by the Indians post-independence. Their mixed ancestry left them disconcerted. Thus, began their diaspora. Most of them chose to leave the country to greener pastures like New Zealand, Australia, America, or back to their fatherland. You wouldn’t be surprised if you heard of an Anglo family selling their bungalow to a certain friend or neighbour for a friendly price just so they could leave feeling their home was in good hands. Their friendships ran deep. In this day and age, such people would be termed as sentimental fools. Despite it all, those who have crossed shores say they remain Indian at heart, though their rich past has faded into oblivion.

The Anglo-Indian cuisine was a medley of British and Indian Foods. Their breakfasts were mainly bread & butter, porridges, and omelette. Lunch may include Indian dishes like curries, rice, and non-vegetarian dishes, and dinners were English like stews, meatball curry, and mashed potatoes. The older generation hung on their favourites like Country Captain Chicken and Railway Mutton Curry. Other snack items feature Rose cookies, Kulkuls, curry puffs, bread puddings, and the oh-so-savoury cutlets!

Anglos were stereotyped as the merrymakers, the people who only ate, sang, and danced. This rapturous culture lent its liveliness to Bangalore, which had earned the sobriquet, sleepy town back in the days. They hosted resplendent Christmas and new year parties. They entertained themselves thoroughly while entertaining others. These were the people who frequented discotheques, Cabaret dances, and clubs of erstwhile cosmopolitan Bangalore.

The perception of Anglos being ‘no work and all play’ was perhaps flawed. The community has to its credit some high achievers like Rogers Binny, the first Anglo-Indian to play cricket for India. He was an all-rounder, an excellent batsman, a fantastic bowler, and a good fielder. His son, Stuart Binny followed in his footsteps and went on to play for the Indian team. The community was known to have produced talented hockey players in the early 90s and set foundations for India’s National game. During the golden age of Indian hockey between 1928 and 1956 when India showed itself on the Olympic field, a large number of players on the field were these industrious Anglos. Hockey stalwarts like Carlyle Tapsell, Broome Penniger, Richard Dickie Carr, Leslie Hammond, the Goodsir-Cullen brothers, and Joe Galibardy. After making India proud, these sportsmen also played for the host countries they migrated into. They also excelled as teachers, hoteliers, and in the Railways due to their exceptionally good social skills, hospitable nature, and command over the English language. Many of them served in the armed forces of New India. The later generation has voraciously pursued academics and found themselves in a few top positions in companies and civil services.

An elderly woman, named Peter Dias, held a monopoly over crafting perfect convent school uniforms in Richmond Town. She operated from her garage in her house on Hayes Road. Her old grey Fiat had to be dislodged onto the pavement to accommodate shiny black sewing machines. She scurried in and out of her house, donned in a sleeveless midi dress with an inch tape around her neck, hustling between chores and chatting away while taking measurements with damp hands. Her glasses perched on her nose slipped a bit as she bent down to measure the length, she looked up with a smile, and said “skirts should be perfectly 1 inch above the knee to look smart’’, Don’t worry I’ll keep some extra cloth in the hem in case she outgrows them too soon.” She had a flair for remembering students by name even after eons and took great pride in it. Her children had moved abroad and she was content with being a seamstress back home.

Fighting to be recognized as a minority community, the Anglo- Indians have had to face disparage by the Indian government. The 2011 census counted the number of Anglo- Indians living in India at 296, a number which has rendered a huge blow to the community. The union government decided against the constitutional provision of seats in the Lok Sabha after the first right was secured by Frank Anthony in the 1950s.

On Jan 26th, 2020 their reservations have come to an unfortunate end, the reason given that the community is doing better now. Some of them have chosen to merge themselves into the mainstream by marrying into other Indian communities, but marriages within the community are highly encouraged. It’s been 6 long decades since the exodus of the community began, Anglo- Indians are now comfortable in their host countries proud of their achievements. It’s the gift the community possesses, of survival, working hard, and coping with new circumstances which will let them prosper and continue to grow in the years to come.

Zohra Fathima is a teetotaller, a photography aficionado and a nature lover. Right now she’s very busy living her life through the eyes of her feisty 2-year-old. She’s also a baker at heart and a writer by accident.

Image by : Karan Kapoor/ Courtesy Tasveer