They gave the new Capital an English touch
Anglo-Indians make up an essential part of the Raj’s story. Delhi, too, has its share of Anglo-Indians. However, before the city became the Imperial capital, the community’s population in the city was not much and was restricted to areas around Kashmere Gate and Mori Gate.
The railway colony near Kodia Pull was home to a large number of Anglo-Indians. That soon changed.By the mid-20s, Anglo-Indians began pouring into the city from all around. While many had government postings, others came looking for better job opportunities in the new Capital. By the 1940s, the city’s Anglo-Indian population had swelled to around 30,000—a huge number at that time. Among them were two of the tallest leaders of the community—Henry Gidney and Frank Anthony.
Most of the new Anglo-Indians who came to the new Delhi began living at Chelmsford Road, Atul Grove Road, Janpath Lane, Connaught place and Connaught Lane. Janpath Lane was known for the guest houses that were run by two Anglo-Indian women. These guest houses catered to young Anglo-Indians trying to find their feet in New Delhi. By the late ’60s and ’70s, Karol Bagh and Patel Nagar also had a significant Anglo-Indian population.
Traditionally, most Anglo-Indians worked in the Railways, Post and Telegraph and the Customs departments across the country. But in New Delhi, the community was also at the heart of the new Capital’s western culture scene: most pianists and crooners at the city’s clubs, restaurants and hotels were Anglo-Indians. With their impeccable English and refined social skills, they soon cornered the city’s hospitality industry. And they were also good at sports and earned name and fame in them.
The city’s work culture also got a whole new ethos thanks to the Anglo-Indians. In fact, Anglo-Indian women were the first ones to go out and work in the city—mostly as secretaries, teachers, nurses, stenographers and telephone operators both in the government and corporate sectors. “Since Anglo-Indians had mixed parentage they had inherited the best from both the Anglo and the Indian traits. Anglo-Indian girls were beautiful and had brains and values. The community has always encouraged its women to work,” says RV smith, an Anglo-Indian and a classic chronicler of Delhi.
Professor Sydney Rebeiro, ex-dean, culture, Delhi University and an Anglo-Indian whose family came to Delhi in 1909, says the reason why Anglo-Indian women were preferred as secretaries was their excellent English and communication skills. “Besides, they were loyal to their bosses,” adds Rebeiro, whose mother, Mary Isaacs Rebeiro, headed the all-male Mori Gate Post office in the 1940s and was Independent India’s first woman post-mistress.
In fact, it was mostly Anglo-Indian women who took up the jobs of airhostesses at a time when being an air-hostess was seen as being nothing more than a ‘glorified ayah’.
The city’s Anglo-Indians took pride in their dual identity and heritage. “Anglo-Indians were excellent neighbors and merged into the city’s environment very well socio-culturally,” says Rebeiro. “The essence of Anglo-Indian culture was marked by excellent social conduct, refined social skills and a very unique sense of music and club life,” he says.
The Gidney Club in K-block of Connaught Circus was like ‘home’ to the city’s Anglo-Indians. The Gidney Club was the place where the community met and celebrated various occasions such as Christmas and New Year, birthdays, marriage anniversaries, etc. On weekends, many Anglo-Indians traveled to nearby railway towns such Tundla and Rewari, which used to see many rip-roaring weekend parties inside the railway colonies dominated by Anglo-Indians.
Post-Independence, things changed dramatically for the community.
Most Anglo-Indians began worrying about their future. With the British departure imminent, they began wondering, “Do we belong here. Where is our home?”
Fearing that they would have no future in the country after the British departed, many decided to go to their imagined homes—first to the United Kingdom and then to Australia, Canada, the US and the Middle-East.
“They were worried that there could be a backlash against them as most of them were British loyalists. The community was quite traumatized in the ’50s and ’60s as it was the only section of society that faced de-reservation in jobs,” says Keith Flory, a former member of the governing body of The All-India Anglo-Indian Association.
According Richard Barraud, vice president , The All- India Anglo Indian Association (Delhi Branch), there are about 2,000 Anglo-Indians in Delhi and NCR. Ask him if Delhi’s Anglo-Indians are in any way different from those in other cities in the country, he says, “They are more aware and more cosmopolitan. The All-India-Anglo Association has 60 branches across the country, but the Delhi branch is quite unique in that it is the only branch which has a club of its own--Gidney Club--for Anglo Indians,” he says.
Today, there’s a quite reinvention happening among the Anglo-Indians. They are giving up their long-perceived image as being relics of the Raj. Some have even taken on names such as ‘Rahul Anderson’ with a view to assert their Indian identity. “For our father’s and grandfather’s generation, England was home, but not for our young generation. People’s perception towards us, too, has changed; earlier being an Anglo-Indian meant you were un-Indian,” says Barraud.
Chennai-based Harry MacLure--who publishes Anglos In The Wind, an international community magazine for Anglo-Indians—says today there are about 3 lakh Anglo Indians abroad and 1.2 lakh in India. “The new generation of Anglo Indians has not just completely integrated themselves, they have no desire to migrate. For them, home and future is in India,” he says.