It’s a hot Delhi afternoon and Philomena Berkeley, 79, listens to Song Sung Blue by Neil Diamond.
A picture of Queen Elizabeth II adorns a wall of the living room in her cottage. Her cottage is located inside a little-known place called Grant Govan Homes, a retirement home for Anglo-Indians, tucked away in the streets between Red Fort and Nigam Bodh Ghat. The Raj is still alive in this little Island of England in the city, which symbolises a vanishing culture and community in the city.
Grant Govan Homes, with eight red-painted cottages amid a canopy of assorted trees, are home to seven Anglo Indians: Philomena Berkeley, Kerry Ann Hatch, Hazel Cross, Valerie Beecham, Stanley Rodrigues, Pyyllis Anderson and Tony D’Silva. They live here and share stories of the past. While most of them are in their 70s and 80s, they still love to jive, foxtrot and waltz.
Berkeley gets nostalgic as she talks about the days of the Raj. The British, she believes, gave the country a great infrastructure and made the place more civilized, “While I am a pucca Indian at heart, I believe the British created great infrastructure in India. For me, Howrah bridge in Calcutta (no, she is not willing to call it Kolkata) is the Raj’s most enduring legacy,” she says. Kerry Ann Hatch, 66, is the youngest, bubbliest and the fairest of them all. Ask her about her Anglo-Indianness as defined by her white complexion and she says, “People usually mistake me for a foreigner. When I go shopping, people always jack up prices,” she says.
Hazel Cross, who came here 18 years ago with her husband, is the oldest resident here and has seen many people come and go. She’s seen the Grant Govan Homes change over the past 18 years. “Earlier, there was no TV, fridge or coolers in our cottages,” she says. Before coming to Grant Govan Homes with her husband, Hazel lived in Karol Bagh, amid a large Anglo-Indian community. “There are very few Anglo-Indians left in New Delhi. The community and its culture are almost gone,” she says wistfully. Her husband died nine years back at Grant Govan Homes.
Stanley Rodrigues is one of the two male residents of Grant Govan Homes. He retired from the Railways as a guard 10 years back. “I am like a rose between thorns,” he jokes about his life in the company of so many women.
Valerie Beecham, a resident, is also the homes’ incharge. She decides the menu, plans the daily trips and resolves disputes among the cohabitants. “There are occasional differences, but I manage to sort them out,” she says.
Grant Govan Homes were set up by a well-known British businessman from Delhi, RT Grant Govan in 1940. The Homes which have received support from British community are today largely funded and maintained by the security company, G4S as part of its corporate social responsibility. It organizes coffee mornings with British High Commission to raise funds for the Grant Govan Homes.