The Pocket Communities – The Anglo Indians of Madras

The Press Trust of India, on the occasion of Madras day this August, screened a documentary on the life of one of the few remaining liberal and progressive communities in India – the Anglo Indians.

‘Madras has been a cradle of the Anglo – Indian civilization. We must not wait for a reason to represent our communities in the city.’, says director Richard Connor at the Press Institute of India.

The documentary titled Anglo Indians of Madras – case study Pallavaram seeks to explore glimpses of Pallavaram (Part of Chennai) or the ‘veteran lines’, home to many Anglos in Chennai.

It is directed by two men, Harry Maclure and Richard Connor, driven by the need to share the collective experience of the Anglo-Indian communities- their food, culture and spaces of abode.

Buildings with colonial hangovers with huge tracts of land devoted to hockey before them, tea gardens and estates, bungalows where ‘socials’ were held and other aesthetic spaces reminiscent of an old-world charm introduce the documentary.

It goes on to trace contributions of Anglo- Indian women to Indian society- When Indian men needed nursing after fighting wars in the colonial era, the Anglo-Indian women nursed them. This act could not be performed by Hindu women who were bound by rigid caste structures at the time.

Historically, the community has contributed to the creation of a distinctive ethos in India with their music, film and culture in post-independent India.

Andrea Jeremiah, Nicole D’Costa, Genevieve and Samantha Akkineni are some of the few Anglo-Indian actors who have contributed in distinct ways to Indian Cinema.

Budding talent in the music and hospitality industry also comes from the Anglo- Indian community in modern India.

“Though we are a microscopic minority, we are among those communities who have earned goodwill in the mosaic of India. We do not want to be alienated. We do have a distinct culture and heritage but we are Indian.”, says Harry Maclure.

The signs of slowing for this progressive and liberal community in India, however, linger. Like most, the Anglos of Chennai are moving overseas in search of greener pastures. Schools in Chennai meant for Anglo Indian populations witness dwindling numbers.

The documentary ends on a grim note –houses in the veteran lines abandoned by people who have moved overseas or other parts of the city and the huge stretches of hockey fields that have reduced to water puddles.

At a time when the minority question is posed in India almost every day, it is not surprising to know that the Anglo- Indian community feels threatened.

Their assimilation with the country’s majority population affects their lineage and unique heritage. Hence, directors like Harry and Richard feel the need to continuously document the lives of these pocketed communities for generations to come.

Though people like Richard and Harry recognize the constitutional guarantees assured to their minority population in the nation, they feel like the political nomination leads to their representative acting as ‘dummies’. More could have been done to promote their culture and heritage by preserving the places of their abode. But for now, they seek to preserve the best of what exists…

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