“Was your father online?” I distinctly remember my wide-eyed response to a question posed by a well-intentioned ‘uncle’ a decade ago when I went to Madras. [if you’re an Anglo-Indian, every senior or friend of your parents were addressed as an uncle or an aunty], It took me a few moments to process the question; Mind boggled whether he was referring to my father’s (failed) attempts to send email on the home PC. Why was this uncle in another city curious to know that my father was online? And even if he did, why was it so important that he be cherished at the family meal? Seeing the puzzled look on my face, he saved me from blushing. “Was your father employed in the railways? Did he have a job ‘on line’? [Which he explained referred to the railway track] Was he an engine driver, a guard, a ticket collector…?”
My father was not ‘online’, but this interesting word to refer to a profession was a penny-drop moment for me. I undertook to recount all the words and expressions associated with my unique phraseology. Having spent most of my life in Bombay, interaction within the community was limited due to the number of people we had in the eastern suburbs. But every time we visited relatives in Madras (always Madras, never Chennai), the quiet seaside town of Tangassery in Kerala, Cal (not Kolkata) or Bangalore, these Anglo-Indianisms filled the air – whether it was tea be time for dinner [high tea was a ceremonial thing], a meal, at a party, or after Sunday prayer, when we met long-distance cousins and relatives. “My word, you’ve lost color,” referring to the banned color or “baby!” you have two left legs; You couldn’t even do the Hokey Pokey at Uncle Graham’s birthday party,” a snide comment on his lack of dancing skills. [a must]became part of the dictionary.
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All these nostalgia came flooding back as I listened to Barry O’Brien discuss his new book, The Anglo Indians: A Portrait of a Community, at an event organized by The All-India Anglo-Indian Association, Mumbai Branch. Parish Hall at Christ Church, Byculla. Dressed in their Sunday best, Bombayers were mostly in tatters; They hung on his every word as he took everyone on a joyous journey through an inspiring but often forgotten timeline. In this conversation with Dr Michelle Philip, HOD-English, Wilson College, O’Brien elaborates on a range of topics, from the fair skin fixation to the dilemma of allegiance in post-independence India, and socio-cultural concerns as His fellow community members migrated to England, Australia, Canada and New Zealand.
O’Brien, who heads the All-India Anglo-Indian Association, ticks all the right boxes with this eponymous title and goes on at length to explain the different ‘types’ of Anglo-Indians of Portuguese descent went. The rest, of Dutch, Danish, French and British origin. References from history indicate how the audience was attracting attention. However, academics were careful not to let the chat slip into academic discourse. An interesting segment was his explanation of how Anglo-Indians are really ‘Indians’; He incessantly peppered it with anecdotes, dipping into the accounts of his family and friends. To get the community talking about her mix of desi and western, she shared about her mother, Joyce, a girl from a railway colony, and an inveterate fan of Dev Anand, while her father, Neil, Clark Loved Gable’s movies. Both represented their version of being Anglo-Indian. “So who was the real Anglo-Indian? both! We did both Clark Gable and Dev Anand. When our families met, one side discussed Wordsworth, while the other hummed the latest Kishore Kumar film songs,” he elaborated, as I observed several inquisitors in the audience.
As the evening wore on, for me, as a fly on the wall, insider (an Anglo-Indian) and outsider (a member of the press), I felt as if I was sitting by the fire in the drawing room, listening to a Raha tha uncle reminisced about AI’s glorious legacy and contribution to India before and after independence, did not forget to draw on Anglo-Indianism, and discussed food, which has always been a favorite topic in our homes. education, the armed forces, hospitality and aviation, sports, especially hockey…. O’Brien rattled off giants and pioneers in these fields, much to the delight of crowds who had forgotten that It was time for dinner. Taking off his hat to the values of education, he reminded, “The Anglo-Indian schools did not brainwash you; It made you you. No wonder its alumni are today’s right-wing politicians, left-leaning activists and moderates in between.
By the end of the season, I’m pretty sure the audience got their fair share of history, fun, and laughs courtesy of a crash course from ‘Professor’ O’Brien. “India is a beautiful mosaic which includes every community including the Anglo-Indians. You cannot see us because we are scattered, but we form a shining part,” he signed off.
Mid-day Features Editor Fiona Fernandez loves the sights, sounds, smells and stones of the city… wherever the ink and inclination takes her. she tweets @bombayana
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