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Their passage to India

Four foreigners, who stayed back after Independence, recall why they didn't return to the land of their forefathers.

india Updated: Aug 15, 2012 01:31 IST
Hindustan Times

Four foreigners, who stayed back after Independence, recall why they didn't return to the land of their forefathers.

'India has grown, but poor still poor'
Ruskin Bond
Author, Mussoorie

One expects change over time. Sometimes it's for the better, sometimes not," says Ruskin Bond. He isn't being reproachful; just nostalgic about a way of life that has passed into the pages of history.

"The India of 1947 was optimistic and looking forward to development. People were considerably poor but were hoping for something good. Today, India has achieved many of those aspirations and the middle class has benefited a lot. But the poor still remain where they were in 1947."

He seems to be a "little disturbed" at the way his beloved Dehradun has grown haphazardly over the decades, but he is "philosophical" about it.

"The Dehra of 1947 was very different from the Dehradun of today - much smaller, much greener, considerably less crowded, sleepier, too, but tolerant of human foibles," he recalls, adding: "It was a place of bicycles and pony-drawn tongas - only a few cars, no three wheelers. And you could walk almost anywhere, at any time of the year, night or day.

"No longer do I feel like singing in the rain as I walk down Dehradun's Rajpur Road. I'd be in danger of being knocked down by a speeding vehicle if I try out my old song and dance routine," he adds.

- Neha Pant and Anupam Trivedi

'We need to appreciate history'
Rev Ian Weatherall
Vice-chair, St Stephen's College

In the summer of '45, a young captain in the British army visited a community of novitiates of the Delhi Brotherhood Society while passing through Delhi. Before Delhi, he had been training men on jungle warfare in the British-Indian north-east in preparation for the war with the Japanese. Six years later, he was back for good in India after finishing a university course in the divinities and being ordained as a priest in England.

If it is difficult to keep track of Reverend Weatherall's postings in pre and post-Independent India, say it to the 90-year-old - now ailing in a Delhi hospital - at your own peril. Nothing irks him more than "non-appreciation of history". It is, however, remarkable how much he does remember of those days - and he pitches them right. No fluff, no injecting himself in the centre of the action. As the in-charge of the Kashmere Gate Church for 19 years, he had met Indian leaders like Jawaharlal Nehru and his ministers as one among many at several social or public gatherings.

The size of the clergy was affected, says Weatherall, by the government's "enforcing restrictions on people coming from overseas in '67. The laity was unaffected." Indeed, the Christian population in post-independent India has remained steady, if not static, at a little over 2% of the population.

Living in India and his work in Delhi's slums have made the Reverend aware of the scale of work that still needs to be done for India's overall overhaul. Not surprisingly, his references are mostly to the past. Nehru and the IAS, "legacies of former days" get top marks. Of India's recent challenges, especially the one posed by left-wing extremism, he says they are a result of "some people feeling a sort of injustice sometimes in a district matter, a tribal matter, and people in authority failing to solve problems".

NK Mukerji, India's last ICS officer; a Dr Khan who made two kinds of cheese; the Punjab matriculation examination in '51-52 when people "were determined to pass one way or other" are other strong memories of an India, this Britisher has watched evolve for more than 60 years.

- Paramita Ghosh

'I came because of my husband, now this is home'
Georgette Annoussamy
French national, Puducherry

Justice David Annoussamy, 85, chose to stay in India rather than take up French citizenship when France transferred its former colony, Pondicherry, to India in November 1954. When asked why, he says simply: "There was no compelling reason for me to leave."

But while being a judge at the Madras High Court is one thing, being a judge's French wife is quite another. "After the initial six-month depression when he became a judge, I decided to stay back," says Georgette Annoussamy, 79. "What helped me adapt were classes at the Theosophical Society. It introduced me to Indian philosophy and helped me integrate into India."

Still, things could get amusingly awkward. "I was a foreign woman and the men didn't know how to react," she says. "At receptions, for instance, men and women sat separately. Women had fruit juice, men had whisky. They brought me whisky but I don't drink whisky - hate it!"

Today, when you walk into their traditionally Indian home, you catch flavours of both nations. "There are no cultural issues here," says Georgette about Pondicherry, which finally merged with India on August 8, 1962. "I came because of him (her husband) but now I feel Pondy is my town."

While their two children are French and retain the right to become Indian citizens, Georgette has often wondered if she should change hers. "But I am so much French in my being, so I've decided to stay French. But I love Pondicherry so I live in India."

- Gautam Chikermane

'Eat Portuguese, speak it too, but we love it here'
Eleneo Colaco
Relative of Portuguese official

GOA was liberated by India in 1961 after 450 years of Portuguese rule. Unlike the British, who were clearly the masters of India, to Goans, the Portuguese, were "family as well", says Eleneo Colaco, 67, whose father was related to Adel Colaco, the Portuguese official who signed the document of surrender of Portugal to India. The transition for most upper-crust Goans wth Portuguese origins, he says was "challenging," but he stayed back without regrets. "At home we speak Portuguese, our food is Portuguese, but my son is not looking towards Portugal, we are happy here." In other words - when it rains in Lisbon, Portugal's Goan cousins no longer catch a cold.

Retired businessman Rene Mendes, 66, a year old in 1947, was a teenager at the time of Goa's joining the union. The move, meant students having to cut their teeth in Hindi as Portuguese stopped being taught in schools. Many like Mendes's father who used to import typewriters, perfumes and tobacco from Europe, found the going difficult. "Nehru had promised us that our businesses in Goa wouldn't be affected. Those who didn't rely on the government crossed over to Maharashtra and got trading agencies….we didn't." Since the fifties, the process of affiliation to India has grown better, "with industry, development".

Historian Percival Noronha, 89, was 24 years old in 1947. "At the time of the so called Liberation in 61, the general opinion was Portuguese possessions would soon be absorbed in India," he said. But the hope for a special status was belied.

- Paramita Ghosh

First Published: Aug 14, 2012 23:54 IST