The Many Rail Journeys Leading To Allahabad
India got its independence on the midnight of 15th August 1947, at the time we lived in Saharanpore. I was just six years old. The clashes between the Hindus and the Muslims had worsened due to the demand for the partition of India. People were daily killed due to the religion differences. Prices of food rocked sky high and many necessary items were not at all available at the markets, especially the kerosene oil, used for lighting the lanterns at night, there being no electricity available. We used candles for sometimes instead of lanterns but that too was getting scarce. The days and nights were filled with the terrible lament of people crying, screaming, or groaning in pain. The air was filled with the slogans of protester yelling, “Hindustan Hamara Hai, Hindustan Zindabad,” or “Hindustan Murdabad, Murdabad, Pakistan Zindabad, Zindabad,” or “Jan denge aur larke lenge, Pakistan Zindabad.”
All schools were closed indefinitely and most people stayed inside their homes. Although the Hindus and the Muslims were killing each other, they did not touch the Christians. Houses which had the Cross drawn on the door, or standing on the roof, were spared. Although Christians and Anglo-Indians we were safe, yet living in Saharanpore was becoming very difficult for everyone. Uncle Eddie frequently mentioned his intention of moving from Saharanpore. It wasn’t long before our things were packed into trunks ready to be loaded into two Tongas for what I considered an unknown destination.
I had spent a very idyllic childhood in that house in Saharanpore and it held very precious memories for me. A huge plot of land, maidan, sprawled in front of the house and ended at the railway lines on the other end. I enjoyed sitting daily on the front verandah and watching the trains go by including the slow-moving goods trains, very often carrying loads of sugarcane sticks. Little chowkra boys from the servant quarters nearby struggling into the goods trains to steal sugarcane sticks. They were quite often chased and beaten mercilessly.
I watched the billowing black smoke of the Punjab Mail amongst many others, speeding across with its engineers in their cab as swanky as Emperors and imagined the agitated crowds inside, the legless or faceless beggars, the families sitting hour after hour on their piles of string-tied baggage, the hawkers crying, the porters hurrying, the memsahibs clutching their skirts and parasols hastening through the mob toward the first-class carriages.
My little sister was born in Saharanpore and papa lived with us in the three bedrooms bungalow with a big backyard. I loved my father very much. He treated me a little princess whenever he was at home. He saw that everything was according to my taste. I treasured sitting on his lap every morning for breakfast while he fed me with pieces of buttered toast dipped in egg yolk. He played hide-and-seek and many other games with me. Most of all I enjoyed when he threw me up in the air and caught me just before I fell on the ground. Mum always stood beside and begged him to stop. She was scared that I would fracture my head. Papa and I always ignored her, continued playing and laughing while Mum looked concern. It was so much fun!
My father was very handsome, slim, of average height, white skinned with beautiful blue eyes, and thick black hair. I considered him a genius since he could speak Hindi like Mum and Aunt, as well as English like Uncle Eddie. He spoke to Mum in her Maithali language as well as in Bihari dialect. He was a linguist and knew many European languages. Like the British and the Europeans he preferred to speak to Mum in her language instead of teaching her English. He treated her like gold. She had to carry a parasol whenever she went out in the sun and insisted on a servant walking alongside.
My mother was a small petite lady with very light brown skin and thick long black hair which reached to her knees. She looked very delicate and perfect in her sarees. She was born in a very small village, Latonah, in Bihar. Her parents were very poor Catholic converts. They had no property of their own and worked as labourers on the fields of the other farmers. Mum was just nine years when the foreign nuns took her to the city of Bettiah for education and mission work. Mum was talented in art and craft work as well as had a beautiful voice. She used to sing solo in the church choir.
Papa published his own paper called, The Poor Man's Voice when we lived in Mirzapur before coming to Saharanpore. He had his office at Ramai Patti, and his paper was printed at the Biswin Sadi Printing Press, in Mirzapur. The purpose of the paper was to emphasis the grievances and the issues of the poor in their words during the British Raj for the readers to know. Dr. Rajendra Parasad, the man who later became the first President of India once wrote in one of his papers:-
“I hope the “POOR MAN’S VOICE” which you are bringing out
will serve to call attention of the public to the needs of
the poor. That itself will be a service but I am sure your
energies will not let you confine yourself to voicing the
needs of the poor but will perforce lead to the removal of
Rajendra Prasad, Sadakat Ashram, PATNA.
Papa also did a lot of social work in the Ashrams with Mahatma Gandhi. He was well loved and respected by both the poor and the freedom fighters in Mirzapur, Unfortunately one fine day he decided to move to Saharanpore just before my little sister was born.
Since we started living in Saharanpore, papa took up a job which kept him out of the house most of the time. Mum said he was a geologist by profession and that he had to go to the different parts of India on official work. Uncle Eddie worked for him on contracts. His wife Aunt Natasha and their two daughters, both younger than me, lived in the house with us.
Papa loved birds and animals. He kept a variety of pigeons and hens in the backyard of our house. He built large cages for them and took great pleasure in looking after and training his pets. And now we were leaving everything behind and running away to an unknown place far up in the mountains where Uncle thought we would be safe! No one thought of my papa! I felt bewildered, helpless, angry, and scared. How would he find us? When was he going to return?
It was in late 1944, six months after my sister was born when my father left one day without Uncle Eddie. He told me that he would return soon and that I should take care of my mother and sister in his absence. He said that Uncle Eddie would look after us while he was away. My mother did not look happy that day, and I suddenly had a strong feeling that I had to stop him leaving us but I could not. From that unfortunate day, I waited for his return. And now we were leaving the house and Saharanpore! I tried to speak to my mother but she had no time to answer my questions. She simply picked me up and forced me into the Tonga bound for the station.
Saharanpore station was crowded with passengers. My mother dragged me along with one hand while she carried my baby sister of two and half years with the other. Four heavily laden coolies (porters) followed us hurriedly towards the train packed with people, and steam. There was such a commotion everywhere! Our luggage consisted of all our household belongings, from kitchen utensils to beddings and clothing and some small portable furniture as well. We were moving to a place called Kalimpong, closer to the Himalayas in the North of India. Uncle was definite that the hills were a safe place for us at the time. He was born and brought up in Kalimpong. Uncle was fair but not so much like my father. He had the features of the hilly tribe, flat face, big flat nose and slanting eyes. He had thick curly black hair.
Suddenly while we were struggling to get into the crowded train, Uncle’s friend, Mr. Thompson came running towards us. He was an Anglo Indian conductor guard. All the guards and the railway officials at the time were Anglo-Indians. Somehow they seemed to know each other, and were very supportive towards all Anglo-Indians and Europeans travelling or working in the railways. They all spoke in English to each other. More fair skinned men in black uniform of the railway guards dashed about the platform trying without success to create some sort of order.
With the help of Mr. Thompson, and other guards we were able to push ourselves through the train door. Even though our berths were reserved in the sleeping coach of the third compartment, we found it hard to get through as there seemed to be more people than seats. There were people everywhere: not only inside the coaches, but also on the roof , many hanging outside the doors and windows. They carried heavy bundles with all their belongings on their heads and back. Some even sat on our boxes as soon as the coolies placed them between the seats. It made Uncle Eddie very angry. He was about to punch one of them when Mr. Thompson stopped him saying, “It is no point speaking to them, Eddie. These wogs do not have commonsense, besides they are very confused at the moment. They do not know what to do and where to go. It serves them right; Blooming Indians wanted independence and freedom from the British. Now they have to pay the price for independence and kill each other! ”
Throughout the long journey I sat quiet, confused, and preoccupied while the Anglo-Indian guards frequently visited and checked on our safety. Most of them knew Uncle from Graham’s Homes. Others kept an eye on us because of Uncle were an Anglo-Indian. There was a great community spirit prevailing amongst the guards and the European and Anglo-Indian passengers.
The British Empire was founded upon the power of steam. Steamships brought the imperialists swiftly to Bombay or Calcutta; steam trains hastened the administrators and the armies to offices and cantonments from Quetta to Darjeeling. The Indian railways were in their heyday they were the biggest network on earth. They were an ever-visible token of British supremacy, and of the benefits the Empire brought to its subjects. They proclaimed not only the majesty of steam, but the presence of good government - even, in an allusive way, the benevolent omnipotence of the Crown far away.
Although they were built and run by different private companies, they were a declaration of unity. They were the greatest private employers in India. They employed men and women of all castes, with a large proportion of Eurasians. They had their own hospitals and educational institutes, and they built whole workshop towns for the maintenance of track and equipment, with boarding schools for apprentices and company housing for all. The most famous of them, the East Indian Railway's Jamalpur, that had its own uniformed militia, brass band, swimming pools, tennis courts and Masonic Lodge, and its main highway was majestically called Steam Road.
To 19th century Indians they were a marvel, and they were invariably included in the list of "Blessings of the British Raj" upon which Indian schoolchildren were examined. They bound the country together as never before, and made many of its people realize for the first time the immensity of their inheritance. They distributed food in time of famine, provided help during catastrophes. They opened up trade, they gave employment to entire families—a job on the railways was generally thought to be second only in status to a job in government. Rich and poor appreciated the trains. The Maharaja of Gwalior not only built a mausoleum in his palace garden for a favorite locomotive, but had a toy train trundling around his dinner table conveying brandy and cigars.
As for the British themselves, they viewed the railway network as Romans might. They had brought this colossus into being, and the tracks, the stations, the tunnels and bridges and workshops were exhibitions of their own merit. Railway managers were men of stature, living in palatial company houses. Drivers of expresses and stationmasters of terminals were proud Britons every one.
Most railway jobs were given to Anglo-Indians during the British Raj. Since the Anglo-Indians spoke English, and had Christian upbringing, the British found it easy to communicate and interact with them. They preferred the Anglo-Indian to the Indians and had great trust and faith in them. The Anglo-Indians themselves were very loyal to the British because of being part British or European; they considered themselves more British than Indian due to their western upbringing, and religious belief. They did not belong to any caste and such were outsiders to the Hindus.
The Anglo-Indians who could prove their British ancestry had already left or were at the verge of immigrating to England and Australia after independence. British Government made special provisions for their immigration overseas before they left India. The few who were brought up as orphans, or could not prove their European background being products of unmarried Indian mothers, or who preferred to stay back, lived as a separate Anglo-Indian minority community. As far as possible they married within their community and remained isolated from the Hindus and the Muslims. They maintained their British and European style of Christian culture and lifestyle.
We changed trains a couple of times before we reached our destination, Kalimpong. It was a long tiresome journey of two three days in the steam train chugging along with soot and fuel sparks. The passenger crowd became less as we proceeded towards the mountainous region.
One crisp cold morning I woke up at the Darjeeling station, the great favorite of the British, in the great Himalayan ranges of north India. We had changed into a smaller train that traveled fast on winding tracks. The air was fresh and the toy train we had boarded puffed along a two foot gauge track. It passed through dense jungle with solid walls of vegetation hem in the track as the train began its climb to its destination by a system of special loops and 'Z' crossings or switch backs. Soon the landscape changed to tea plantation clinging to the steep mountains and forming narrow terraces looking like giant steps. From here, the train passes through thick and magnificent foliage of Sal, Toon, Teak and other numerous trees. The dense green was dotted with the purple of bougainvillea, the scarlet of the poinsettia and the exotic mauve of the orchid. In the distance stood the stately trees, rocks, boulders and lovely waterfalls while further away meandering rivers looked like flowing silk ribbons in the extensive plains. Looking like a caterpillar, the train continued winding along the twisted paths crawling alongside, and almost hugging the side of the hill. Mount Everest and Kanchenjunga with all the other peaks, the land of perpetual snows, bursts before our eyes. It was breathtaking and spectacular. I noticed that the women wore their saris in a different style from mum and aunt. They also spoke a different language, which had a nice lilt. Mum said it was ‘Nepali’. Unfortunately while everyone enjoyed the train ride and the scenery I sat irritable and disgruntle. My thoughts were with my father and Saharanpore.
I hated the bus ride up the narrow and winding mountain; Soon we reached Kalimpong with an altitude of 1250 meters. Uncle Eddie had arranged an accommodation through his friend, Mr Messy. They had both grown up in Dr. Graham’s Home in Kalimpong, where the neglected, orphaned, and abandoned Anglo-Indian children of the Tea Gardens of Darjeeling District were placed. Founded by Dr. John Anderson Graham in 1900 the extraordinary educational institution had its own farm, bakery, dairy, poultry, hospital, and clothing department. The Scottish Missionary sensed the calamity suffered by the early Anglo-Indian families when the father returned to Britain leaving native mother and child to survive in the society where sect and caste were impenetrable barriers. The Anglo-Indian was an “outsider” to the Indians. Rev Graham started the Home with one rented cottage and six children in the care of a house mother and a teacher. Uncle Eddie was one of those six children. A Nepali man, claiming to he their uncle, had brought him and his sister to the Home with a bag of money. He said that they were the children of a British and as such should stay at the ‘Home.’ He never ever returned to see them. His sister was placed in a convent school further away and he lost contact with her forever. He grew up as an orphan with perhaps a fictitious surname from the age of two and half, and could never trace his background.
The huge house we occupied was huge and had most superb garden around it. The doors and windows had tinted glasses. There were no electricity but the hall room had chandelier where candles were used.
Uncle Eddie was happy in Kalimpong. He had many Anglo-Indian friends. He was able to secure a job for himself with the recommendation of Mr Green in the Cane Sugar factory, Tamkhoi, some sixty miles away from Gorakhpore. The factory was still owned by a Britisher and only the Anglo-Indian and European families of the employees were provided with cottages. Uncle had the permission to keep his children but not his Indian wife dressed in a saree! His friend, Mr Green, also had a Nepali wife; she too was not allowed to stay with him. Their only daughter was studying in England.
On the 30th of January, 1948, a few months after we arrived in Kalimpong, Mahatma Gandhi was assassinated by a Hindu fanatic. The shops and businesses were closed for many days as a sign of respect, but fortunately there were no riots in Kalimpong as I believed happened in the plains.
We spent over two years in Kalimpong. On two separate occasions I was sent to the only exclusive and prestigious Loreto convent boarding on top of the hill in Seven Miles. The first time I fretted and cried till I was sick and had to be sent home within a fortnight. The second time, my mother left me there during the Easter holidays when every other boarders had gone home. Only two fourteen year old girls were there. Once again I fretted and cried, starved myself and then one fine morning when no one was around I ran out of the gates, down the many steps of the hill towards the highway, and across running as fast as my little legs of eight years old could take me, down the mountainous pathway from seven miles to nine miles where we were supposed to have lived. The foreign nuns would not have me back after that. I was overjoyed at my successful victory and freedom!
A week later I was back on the toy train of Darjeeling with Aunt and Uncle and their two daughters down to Bettiah, a small city in Bihar where Aunt’s parents lived. She was going to live with them while Uncle worked in Tamkohi. My mother and sister had already left for Muzaffarpore sometimes back. The train journey back to the plains was long like before, but this time I was in a good spirit - I was going to be reunited with my mother. India was an Independent Democratic Country by then and the British were no more the rulers. I could still see many Anglo-Indian guards and officials in the railways, although now a few young Indian guards were also amongst them dashing about the platforms at the stations. While the older Anglo-Indians guards were addressed as sahibs the few younger Indian railway guards and officials were addressed as Babus or Babujis by the locals. Most Anglo-Indians were fair complexioned, many had blond or brown hair, and some even had blue eyes. They took pride in speaking only English, and some words of Hindustani or Hindi, enough only to be understood by the Indian servants and shopkeepers. They, like the British, considered it below their dignity to speak Hindi fluently, taking pride, as they did, in their British blood. They always dressed in Western clothes. The sarees, salwar- kameez, for females and the kurta- pyjama or dhoti- kurta of the Indian males were considered as wog dress.
I was delighted to be reunited with my dear mother and sister at Muzaffarpore. Unfortunately Mum could not get the teacher’s job at the Catholic School. She was middle trained primary teacher. Therefore, she was adviced by the parish priest, Fr. O’Brien, an American Jesuit priest to take us to another boarding school. My mother looked devastated but had no choice. She was forced by circumstances to follow Fr Obrien’s advice. Once again, after a stay of about a month and half, we were back on the train.
It was another long journey to Jhansi, the city of the brave Rajput queen, Laxmi Bai, who fought the British for the independence of her kingdom. I sat near the window in the third class compartment of the train, and watched the wide expanse of red earth go by. Had it been a different circumstance, I would’ve probably exclaimed with joy at seeing the peacocks and cattle whiz by, but I was feeling gloomy and sad. I was tired of moving to different places. There seemed to be no stable and permanent place to live. I wanted a home, like the one we had in Saharanpore. But in the present time everything was frightening and confusing. Anglo-Indian guards that were still at the platforms and in the train did not take much notice of us any more since Uncle Eddie was not there, and Mum was wearing her saree. Although both my sister and I looked part European with fair skin, we were clad in dirty frocks and had oily dark pigtails. Neither could we speak English. They treated us the same as they did the other Indian rustic passengers. I sat , with my head out of the window, humming sad Indian film songs, my face tear stained and blackened in parts by the stood from the steam engine.
St Philomena’s orphanage in Jhansi was exclusively for orphan Catholic girls. My sister and I were taken to a dormitory where the girls sleept on the floor. I was used to sleeping on a warm bed. The cold floor seemed unwelcoming; I didn’t want to sleep on it. A flood of emotion consumed me. What was going on? Mum was allowed to stay with the teachers for a week.
We two sisters were given blue cotton frocks to wear - supposedly our uniforms. None of the girls wore shoes, so ours were taken away. We were to walk barefoot on the hot and rugged ground of Jhansi. The temperature soared to an unbearable 52 degree Celsius as it was the month of June. To make it worse, the Church was six kilometers away; we had to walk barefoot to the Church every morning and afternoon, in the infernal heat. It was sheer torture. Mum had never allowed us to walk without shoes and socks before. To top it all, the food was terrible. The chappatis were made once a week and kept in a wooden box to last us for the whole week. Often there were streaks of slime on the chappatis; the rot would set in early with the blistering heat. Nevertheless, we had to eat what was given to us or go hungry. We were served the same thick stale bread for breakfast with a glass of watery tea. The tea was boiled in the same container as the spinach; it smelt of spinach! There was hardly any milk or sugar in it. The other girls found the dry chappattis hard to swallow; they had to soften each bite with a sip of dark tea. Meat was a luxury and was served only when there was a special occasion. It was made in watery gravy and was strictly rationed-just two pieces for each girl. We could not ask for more. Ironically, the foreign and Indian nuns remarked that we should be grateful for what we got. Our food was free and if it were not for their charity, we would have been living off garbage bins on the streets, or starved to death.
Mum came to see us before leaving.
“Maa, why can’t we stay with you like all the other children? Where is Papa? When is he coming back?” I asked between bitter tears.
“I have nowhere to take you both, nor any means to support you. The nuns will see to your education and well being. You will both be better off here than with me,” Mum replied.
“No! I will go with you wherever you go. I will run away from here if you leave me, or I will eat something and die.” I said sobbing hysterically. “Why don’t you write to Aunt Natasha and Uncle Eddie? They will help,” I said, putting my arms around her.
Mum began to cry also. I realized that she did not want to leave us and that she really loved us. Education or anything else did not bother me; all I wanted was to be with my mother. I could not understand why we had to be with other orphans; we were not orphans!
Ultimately my mother decided against leaving us there. “I was going to leave you two for better future, and then commit suicide. There is no future for us together, but since you insist we live together I shall try to do so.” And so, we boarded the train to Allahabad where Aunt and Uncle were supposed to have settled since Uncle Eddie founded difficult to adjust to the Indian Christian style of living in Bettiah. He had never had a family and therefore living in an Indian home consisting of parents with fourteen brothers and sisters and their families, was a bit intimidating for him. He preferred to take his family to Allahabad where his friend, a railway guard, Mr De’Cunah lived.
Mr. De’Cunah had no children. His wife and he had recently divorced. He was a lonely man and was happy to accommodate his friend’s family in his house. Aunt invited us to live with them when our mother wrote to her from Jhansi. She said that Allahabad being a big city, had better schools and facilities for the children. Unfortunately we did not know that they had not actually moved to Allahabad, but were on the virge of doing so.
In the prime of summer, with the hot steam creating unbearable humidity, our train tore into the huge platform of Allahabad junction. The station was much bigger than any I had seen before, except that of Calcutta. I assumed that the Allahabad station was bigger because I did not get off at the Calcutta station on our way to and from Kalimpong. The combined hustle, bustle of the crowd of people coming from various parts of India, since Allahabad is an important railway junction and is connected to major cities like Delhi, Calcutta (Howrah), Mumbai and Madras, and the whistle and hissing of the trains, was daunting. We clung on to our dear mother’s hands while the coolies helped carry our two trunks of clothes, utensils, and bedding. We two looked like ragged dolls with disheveled hair and dirty faces. We did not have enough of food or drink for sometime and looked confused, uncertain of what to expect next.
Mum hired a Tonga outside the station, and we reached Mr. De' Cunha’s residence. We were in for a rude shock- Mr. De' Cunha had no idea about us; obviously, Aunt Natasha hadn’t told him our plans. He informed Mum that Uncle Eddie and Aunt Natasha had not arrived from Bettiah, and that we should come back only when they got in. Mum pleaded with him to let us stay, but he was resolute.
“I cannot allow a strange Indian woman with two white children stay in my house. I live alone here; I don’t want any gossip and scandal to start brewing. Besides, I am a railway guard and have to be on duty tonight. I can’t leave my house to strangers. What if you steal my things and disappear,” he said, as he shut the door on our face. He was a dark, thin looking man of small stature of about fifty years of age. He had small mustaches that reminded me of Hitler.
Devastated and distraught Mum directed the driver of the Tonga towards St Joseph’s Cathedral. It was middle of June, and the summer was fierce and unrelenting. The temperature had soared to 50 degrees Celsius; the bitumen on the road had started to melt. But we had no option but to venture out in the maddening heat. We had to find ourselves a shelter, a task that seemed doubly daunting, since we were in an unknown city. There was hardly anyone on the streets; a few stray dogs braved the heat to scavenge for food. Most people preferred to be indoors during the summer days but those who had to run errands often covered their heads, lest they succumb to heat stroke. People often collapsed in such heat, some were known to go insane. I sat close to my mother feeling culpable for putting mum in this situation.
Mum pleaded with the Parish Priest for shelter and support till Aunt and Uncle came, but he only handed her ten rupees and told us to fend for ourselves, we were strangers to him as well! Next mum went across to the gate of St Mary’s Convent School next door pleading for us to be kept as boarders in the school. The corpulent German nun principal looked at us in sheer antipathy and said that the school was for the students who could converse in English, and not for beggars, and that we should try elsewhere. She ordered the chowkidar to close the gate immediately after us. Fortunately, a lady, Mrs Dawson came to our help. She took us to her house close to the Allahabad University and gave us a square meal for the day. That evening we left for Chunar where Fr Evans, an Anglo-Indian parish priest mum knew came to our assistance. Once again he first tried to send us into an orphanage, this time in Jeolikote, but again I was successful in making my mother take us back. Fr Evans then very grudgingly offered mum a teaching job for the term in his mission Hindi school. Father Evans had huge cloth fans, punkha, hanging from the roof every where; servants pulled them with ropes to create breeze in the hot summer months. Everyone slept outside during the nights in summer.
Chunar a major Railway Junction station of the district once had a big population of the Anglo-Indians and the descendants of the British living in India. Famous for cement and quarries from where ancient monuments were made during the time of great Emperor Ashoka, Chunar has always been of importance. Besides having a religious significance for the Hindus and Muslims, Chunar has a great history for the Europeans and the Anglo Indians during the British Raj. In 1764 an unsuccessful attack was made on the famous fort of Chunar by the British troops under Major Munro. In 1772 AD the fort was captured by the East India Company who established in it a depot of Artillery and ammunition. Warren Hastings retired for safety in Chunar for a long period of time. In 1791 Chunar fort was the headquarters of the invalid battion of the European and the Indian troops serving in India. All officers and men who were unfit for field service, were sent to Chunar for light duty. From 1815 onwards the fort was used as a place of confinement for state prisoners. During the freedom struggle of 1857-58, it was garrisoned by the artillery and infantry compay of the European invalid Battalion and all the district officers and European residents. It was garrisoned until the year 1890. The fort was later used as the convalescent jail. I enjoyed walking through the graveyard besides the Catholic Church and trying to read some of the British Officers names.
During the services in the church I often noticed the English-speaking Anglo-Indians who wore good western clothes. Their seats were reserved in the front benches close to the altar. Their family names were written on brass plates and nailed to the pew. I often wished that we could dress like them and speak English. They were called the Sahibs and the Memsahibs and their children were called the missy babas. I wanted so much to be friends with them but I dared not; I did not think that they would like to befriend me either. They looked at us, my sister and me, pale faced, with oily hair tied in plaits as rustic, uneducated and ignorant kids with our mother in saree. new were below their standard of living.
One Sunday while I was at the graveyard, exploring, Father Evans spoke to me with compassion informing me that my dear papa was amongst those dead in the graveyard and that I should forget him and take Jesus Christ as my father. It hurt but became conscious of why we were so often placed in the orphanages.
Later that day I heard him tell my mother, “It’s best that you tell the children and everyone else that their father is dead and that you are a widow. Give them the surname of ‘Anthony’; they will pass off as Anglo-Indians. You should call yourself ‘Mrs. Anthony’. Your children don’t look Indian, the name ‘Anthony’ will help them pass off as Anglo-Indians.” It was strange! At the time I did not know who the Anglo-Indians were, I considered them, the white people in the church, sahibs and memsahibs like the other children, the chowkra and the chowkris of the church compound did. These were the children of the servants attending on Father Evans, and the nuns in the nearby convent.
Father Evans knew Miss Abraham, the matron of Kamala Nehru hospital in Allahabad. He managed to get my mother admission into the hospital for midwife nursing training. She had to stay at the hospital hostel in adherence to the rules, so my sister and I went to live with Aunt and her daughters at Mr De’Cunha’s place. They had reached Allahabad when we arrived from Chunar. Aunt was happy to keep us as boarders. This time Mr. De’Cunah had no objection. Finally we looked forward to a much valued and stable new beginnings in Allahabad, the place where we once felt stranded and walked homeless in the heat of the summer.
We called Mr De’Cunah, Uncle Dick in short. He had a small apartment. It was one of the four apartments in the double story- building. There were six such double-story buildings each consisting of four units or apartments on either side of the narrow street. The railway colony consisted of many such buildings, all painted in off white colour with narrow street in between. The apartment was very small and barely accommodated all of us. It consisted of two very large rooms, a small storeroom and a toilet. We used one room as the bedroom. Two large wooden double beds were put together in the centre of the room. There was a small storeroom on the right of the bedroom, and on the left was the toilet, with a metal bathtub under the tap to store water for bathing. On one side was the pedestal-type toilet. The water supply often did not reach the first floor because of low pressure; therefore, a number of metal buckets were kept filled with water. A woman sweeper swept and mopped the cemented floor of the whole house, the stairways and the toilet daily. She used phenyl as disinfectant and water to mop the place after sweeping with a broom. The pedestal-type toilet was cleaned every time someone used it. She lived with her family in one room at the servant quarter allocated to Uncle De'Cunah close bye, and every time the toilet was used we would yell out to her from the balcony to come and clean it. I don’t remember where she disposed off the soil from the toilet. The sweeper and her family did the cleaning in return for the free accommodation.
At one side of the room were two large wooden wardrobes and a dressing table. Aunt and Uncle Dick slept on either side of the bed. The two daughters of Aunt slept in the centre. Uncle Dick was mostly out on night duties as a guard and usually stayed away for two three days since he had to go a long distance on duty. He stayed at a guard’s rest room when he was out for long distances. Whenever Uncle Eddie came home on a holiday from the sugar factory; he slept next to Aunt on the side. He stayed at home for about six months at a stretch when the factory was closed for the season.
A single bed or khatiya was placed along the head of the double bed for my sister and me. Mum was never allowed to stay out for the night from her hostel while she was training. She came home to spend the day with us when she had an off day. . .
The other large room was used as a dining-cum-drawing room. There were verandas on the front and at the back of the apartment; Uncle Dick had a stand for his hats in the front veranda. There was a door at the side of the verandah leading to the next door neighbour's flat. It was always locked. When Uncle De'Cunah was off duty he would sit at the small balcony in the front veranda drinking Indian Rum with ice. Uncle enjoyed drinking three or four glasses of Rum every evening before dinner. He would then have his dinner and go off to sleep. The apartment had electricity and every room had ceiling fans.
The kitchen was downstairs. Each apartment had their own kitchen and a pantry close bye built in a row of four for the building. The pantry was used as a servant quarter and the servant and his family lived in that one room. The servant received a small salary including the free accommodation as long as he worked for the sahib. Cheronji was the cook for Uncle Dick. He was dark and fat, big made man. He cooked four square meals every day, from breakfast to dinner on a high cemented fireplace. He used coal and wood to cook European and Anglo-Indian style of food. Anglo-Indian style of food was a mixture of Indian dishes and European, eg mild curry. In the morning he brought us bed tea and then breakfast consisting of toast, fried egg or omelette, porridge and tea, all on a tray covered with lacy cover. At twelve in the noon he brought up boiled rice with yellow dal (lentil soup) and mild curry. Dinner time we were served with soup, meat cutlets mashed potatoes and boiled vegetables and pudding. Uncle Dick gave him money each day to buy fresh groceries and meat. He never asked for an account. Cheronji used his own discretion in preparing different dishes daily.
At the time, in 1950's, whole-wheat grain, cheap rice, and some lentils were available only on ration cards, allocated on the basis of the nature of the family. The ration cards were issued at the local Government department. The rich preferred to buy better quality items at a high rate from the black market.
A lot of changes had taken place three years after the independence of India. Indians had also started working for the railways and the factories owned by the Government of India. Since the British had left India everything now belonged to the Indians. Many Anglo-Indians had also left India with the British to migrate to England and Australia. Few Anglo-Indians that were still working in the railways were also seriously contemplating on leaving as soon as they retired.
"There is nothing left for us in India. Who would want to work under the Indian Babu's or Indian Officers?" The Anglo-Indians would say. They were not happy with the change of Government and the independence of India. The British employed them in good position irrespective of their low level of Education. The ability to speak good English, having a European name, Christian religion and education upto class seven was sufficient to get them a good position in the railways, other companies owned by the British and in the British Government Departments.
The Anglo-Indians guards at the Railway colony lived according to the British tradition and a ‘western’ lifestyle. At Uncle Dick’s place we sat at the dining table, and ate with a knife and fork. We had to be on our best behaviour during the meals. Uncle Dick sat at the head of the table and Aunt sat on the other end. We said Grace before every meal. Every Sunday we four and Aunt and Uncle Dick walked about five kilometres to the church in the cantonment (army) area. We attended the church twice on the Sunday.
We wore our best frilly clothes with bows and delicate embroideries to Church. At the time the women and girls always wore beautiful scarfs or straw hats on their heads and beautiful dresses specifically tailored for them out of the English Fashion Book brought to them from England. Most ladies wore gloves and stockings. The dresses were well tailored by the Muslim tailors who preferred to tailor the dress sitting in the veranda of the house. They were paid according to the number of dresses sewed on the day. First it was the umbrella cut skirts, then the A-line, and later it became the tight skirts when Elvis Presley came out with the drain pipes and the bell bottoms. Women wore high heel shoes or the stilettos.
After the service, while Uncle and Aunt chatted with other families from the railway colony, we stood still and waited for them in silence. The servants and shopkeepers called us ‘Baby or Missy Sahib’ and they called Aunt ‘Memsahib’ and Uncle ‘Sahib’, the Anglo-Indian men were treated very much like the British officers by local Indian. I realised that living at Uncle Dick’s house, my sister and myself had taken up the identity and the life style of an Anglo-Indians like those at the church in Chunar. We started living as we did in Saharanpore, but this time I was not the centre of attention, Aunt Natasha’s daughters were.
Every year, a fortnight before the Christmas Uncle Dick would enrol us four girls for the Christmas tree at the Coral Club. The club was for the railway employees and their families only. Mum and Aunt gave in our gifts on the 22nd December to be placed under the tree. On the evening of the 23rd we all went for the function dressed in our new dresses with frills and bows, as was the dress fashion then. The hall was decorated with coloured paper streamers, while Christmas carols blared on the gramophone. One of the railway officials came later dressed like a Christmas Father on a tonga (a two wheel cart pulled by a horse). We were then presented with our parcel of gifts, lollies, some guava and peanuts to munch. We also had the Christmas pageant prepared by some of the children. Throughout the Christmas season we had groups going around the railway colony singing the carols. Uncle Dick never forgot to bring Bali sugar (sweets made from sugar crystals) from Calcutta and the salted meat or Hunter Beef made with the Buffalo meat for the Christmas occasion. At first no one bothered about seeing the meat man who brought buffalo meat every day for sale, but soon Aunt became cautious as the Hindu families around did not like it. The man who sold beef meat was a Muslim while the man who brought pork meat was a Hindu. Similarly the vegetable man and the baker delivered at the door everyday in their respective baskets and box. The Baker also brought along butter in a tin with ice blocks, and eggs.
A fortnight before Christmas Aunt bought dry fruits and sugar. She would prepare the ingredients for the Christmas cake. Not long after she took them to the baker, who would freshly bake the cakes in different category, plump cakes, fruitcakes, walnut cakes and so on. Aunt stayed around at the bakery till all the cakes, about sixty or more were baked. She was afraid that the baker would cheat her. We always had Pork or Chicken curry with yellow pea-pilaf for Christmas lunch and pork or Beef roast for dinner. Throughout the Christmas week we had people from the colony drop over for cakes, dry fruits and tea. We also visited the other Anglo-Indians friends and sometimes stayed over for lunch or dinner. I remember the Shepherds, the Cabrals, the Du’Casses and the Southcombs. They were all our neighbours.
Patience was a beautiful young woman of thirty-five years of age. She lived with her brother and sister-in-law at the railway colony. She was called a merry widow. Her husband had suddenly died leaving her with a five year old son. Patience loved dressing in the latest fashion. She was always at the church and in the Coral Club. Later she even moved to the Anglo-Indian colony before migrating to England with her so and her brother’s family. She worked as a receptionist in a Tobacco company owned by a rich Muslim family. She had many Indian admirers with whom she went out for meals frequently. Most Anglo-Indians like Uncle Dick disliked her for moving about with Indians.
“She is giving us Anglo-Indians a bad name by mixing with these wogs and wearing their wog clothes, the saree. She is going out with them because they have the money, but she does not understand that none of those Indian men will ever marry her. They only like to fool around with our girls because they think us to be cheap.” I heard Uncle Dick telling aunty. I considered Patience gorgeous looking with her beautiful white skin, slim figure, extensive make-up and fabulous way of dressing. I did not understand why it was wrong for her to move around with the well suited Indian men, especially when there were not many European and Anglo-Indian men left. Majority of them had left India for better prospects overseas. Patience was an excellent ballroom dancer. She taught dancing to the Indian men on the weekends. Indian women, in those days, did not accompany their men to the dances and the clubs. They did not consider the ballroom dancing and attending the club till late at night was good and respectable thing for women. Besides they did not think the club where liquor was served was a decent and respectable place for women. Indian people considered the Anglo-Indian women cheap just because they went to the club and did the ballroom dances in public with different men.
The Du’Casses lived opposite to us. Their apartment was on the ground floor. The eldest daughter, Emily was the same age as my younger sister and she went to the same convent school like us. Emily had two younger sisters and four younger brothers. Mrs Du’Casse was always busy with the children and the housework. They had their fireplace on the floor and at the back veranda. Mrs Du’Casse sat on the floor blowing into the fire lit with wood and coal, her white face blackened with soot cooking while breast feeding her little baby. She did not have any servants except for the sweeper woman. Her unit was very untidy and littered with children’s dirty clothes. Mr Du’Casse loved his alcohol and gambling. On payday he would go straight to the Coral Club after work and spent most of his pay on Housie and Rummy gambling and drinking. He would then come home late at night dead drunk after loosing all his money. That night he and his wife would fight and scream at each other. Mrs Du’Casse cried loudly with anger and hurt at the end of the arguments because Mr Du’Casse would end up bashing her till she bled from the nose and mouth. Emily and her brothers and sisters sat quiet in their beds watching, they knew from past experience that the next day their parents would forget and forgive each other and behave normal, as though nothing had happened. The whole month after that day they would buy grocery on credit from the little shop nearby.
Grand balls and dances were held at the Coral Club every once in the month and on special occasions as Christmas, New Year, and Easter. Uncle Dick did not like dancing, or gambling and Housie. His one vice was drinking. He was a man of strict discipline and values. Two young girls came to spend a weekend with us once. They were the daughters of Uncle Dick’s friend living in a remote town. They said came to attend the Christmas Dance. Uncle Dick was not happy about keeping young girls. “Too much of responsibility!” He said, “Besides I don’t like the seductive dresses they wear these days to dances. They ask for trouble.”
He told the girls that they had to be back at twelve midnight sharp as he did not like anyone staying our later than that. Offcourse the girls did not return till much after three in the morning that night. Uncle was wild with anger. He locked the gate on the stairways exactly at midnight and told aunt that she was not to open it for them when they came later. The banging and calling out at the gate when they returned after three in the morning woke us all up, but no one dared to open the gate and let them in without Uncle’s permission. They must have spent the remainder of the morning sitting in the winter of December month and left for the station as soon as it was daylight. We never saw them or heard of them after that day.
We were admitted to St. Anthony’s Convent, a Hindi medium convent school at first. I was placed in the third class although I was nearly ten. The hospital where Mum was training was behind the house of Pandit Jawahar Lal Nehru, the first Prime Minister of India. His house, Anand Bhawan, had a huge area of land around it. After his wife Kamala Nehru died of tuberculosis, he had this hospital built on a portion of the vacant land. At first the hospital was only for women’s diseases and for childbirth, but later, dental, cancer and radiology facilities were added.
Christmas in the nurses’ hostel was a big event since the matron was a Christian, Miss Abraham and most of the nurses were Christians. They always had an elaborately decorated Christmas tree. The Catholic matron would put on a big show as the Nehru family was always invited to join in the celebration. On one such occasions, I performed an Indian dance in front of Mrs. Indira Gandhi, the second prime minister of India and the daughter of Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru. I danced with expertise; I had picked it up from the Indian films.
A few months after our admission in the Hindi convent school, one of Aunt’s brothers, David Rai, came to visit us for the day. He was a Jesuit lay brother in Jaipur. He insisted that both my sister and I should be placed in an English school and therefore, once again our mother took us to Hazaribagh, to a convent where we were admitted as the nieces of Brother David Rai. This time we were placed as boarders with the Hindu girls of wealthy families. We had good beds each and received good meals set at the tables. I came across few Anglo-Indian girls in the convent daughters of the railways guards who could not immigrate overseas after the independence. These girls slept on the floor on minimum beddings. They were in a separate from our dormitory. Their meals were different to ours, plain and simple, enough to fill their belly, they could not ask for more. I often stayed with them during the day and even quietly shared my meal with them. They were the second class boarders and free students admitted on charitable basis. They helped with the domestic work after school in the convent. The few railway Anglo-Indian officials found it very difficult to manage with their big family consisting of many children, especially when they continued with their lifestyle of drinking at the club and gambling. The children received free education from the churches but since more Indian children were accessing the schools, and willing to pay large amounts as fees, the Christians and Anglos had to be the second class students of the mission schools.
Uncle Eddie decided that we four should attend an English school in Allahabad when he came down on his six months leave. We were called backed from Hazaribagh and Uncle took us along with his children and Aunt to see Bishop Raymond at the very place where the parish priest, Father De’Mello had refused us help earlier. Perhaps it was because Uncle spoke in English and with certain authority that finally got us four free admission as Day Scholars into St Mary’s Convent, and we learnt to speak, read, and write in English eventually in late 1950. Reverend Mother Aquinas, the same corpulent principal agreed on our admission when the Bishop approached her this time.
The school had more Anglo-Indian students besides us; they too paid no fees. They had only to pay for the hire of the books and the stationary once a year. According to the new law, every Christian school needed to have a certain percentage of Christian students. Since a majority of the Catholic students came from poor homes and could not pay the fees, they were taken in free. Many young Anglo-Indian men and women attended the Secondary and Primary Teachers Training College at the other end of the convent. A few of the young women were orphans brought up by the nuns who were given the training for their future career. Some of these young trainees never came to know their parents and background and came either from the Indigo, tea garden or coffee plantation background, children of the native women and British left abandoned with the nuns.
The school hours were between 9.00am and 3.00 pm except in summer when it was half day. Cheronji brought our lunch in Tiffin-carriers like other servants. He also carried plates, clean table cloth, serviette, and cutlery along on the bike cycle every afternoon. At 12.30 pm when the huge convent gates opened, he would rush in along with the other servants to catch the best spot in the sheltered area near the gym to spread the table cloth on the wooden table provided and set the table for us to eat our lunch in peace. There were no high walls around the convent then, but when the University hostels were built a few months later, and the young university students started flashing mirrors to the girls in the playground, the nuns immediately saw to the establishment of high brick walls around the premises.
Apart from the daughter of the editor of the local newspaper, Amrita Bazaar Patricka, Tushar Kanti Ghosh, Bulbul Ghosh and Susmita Dutta in my class, I also had many other Anglo- Indian girls in my class, Shirley Dedonkar, Alma Medley, Philomena Machado and many others. They were all belonged to the railway colony closer to the cantonment area. The Indian girls stayed in their own groups and the Anglo-Indians in their own. I belonged to nun, infact, Manju Vaish, another classmate once said, “You are different, you don’t talk like the other Christians about boy friends etc. You talk like us about Indian films and the actors and actresses. You can speak Hindi like us. They don’t.”
Mum applied Amla hair oil and Kajaal in my eyes whenever she was at home. One day Sister Joanna, a German nun told me to wipe the black thing off my eyes, “they don’t suit your thin pale face, take it off immediately and don’t use it again.” She said and I never did so much to my mother’s disappointments.
Thelma Beacham lived with mother and aunts behind the Palace Theatre. They all had blond hair and were very white in complexion. I often saw them asking for financial assistance in front of the parish priest’s house. Aunt said that they spent their money drinking and enjoyed going out with the rich Indian men. One day Thelma did not turn up at school and we were told that she disappeared from the Plaza theatre with a Russian man. That was the end of her, I never saw her again. The other Anglo-Indian girls slowly left the school either because their parents immigrated overseas as they retired or settled down in different parts of India.
In mid 1954 Uncle Eddie and Uncle Dick one day brought home a red coloured Echo Radio. No one was allowed to touch it. Uncle Dick told us that real people lived inside the radio. Every morning at eight Uncle Dick religiously listened to the BBC news, whenever he was at home. I enjoyed watching Indian movies with my mother and listening to the songs sung by Lata Mangeshkar. Unfortunately, Uncle Dick preferred his English programs. He was very British in his ways and choices!
Only two theatres, Palace and Plaza theatre in Allahabad showed English movies and that even only at 6 O’clock show, or on the Sunday morning at 10 O’clock. I remember watching the Coronation of Queen Elizabeth with the convent school at the Palace Theatre. That was specially programmed for the schools on one week-day morning. One day Uncle Dick came home with the news that Mount Everest was conquered. “Hillary and Tenzing managed to climb the highest peak on earth - what an accomplishment! I wonder when man will reach the moon also.” Uncle said at the dinner table that evening.
I soon learnt to travel independently and my mother at the hospital. I developed knowledge and love for Allahabad, one of the oldest cities of India for its history and culture. Besides its Hindu religious values, it also has history embedded everywhere, in its fields, forests and settlements. There is no city in India that loves to live in nostalgia as much as Allahabad does. There is no city in India where the past haunts you so obsessively. The massive fort built by Akbar in 1583 stands on the banks of Yamuna and has unique designs, construction, and craftsmanship. It has the Ashoka Pillar built in about 232 B.C. by the great Emperor Ashoka, and an immortal ancient Banyan tree, which has been there for centuries before Christ. It was this city that I grew up amongst the history, culture, and seat of ancient education and literature and I began to grow mentally even though my own life was sad and bleak without a home and a family of my own.
In the 1950s, there were very few options for Christian women; most of them had to choose between teaching and nursing. Very few wanted to work elsewhere. They were not educated enough to take up any other profession. Nor could they afford it. Widow remarriage amongst the Indian women was not approved. Most of the nurses in Kamala Nehru hospital were from Indian Christian homes, but all the doctors were Hindus. They were largely women doctors since the hospital specialized in gynecology. Traditionally, an Indian village woman would rather die than see a male doctor for any female ailments. The ayahs did the job of nursing-aides. These ayahs, mostly illiterate and would do as they were told. The nurses knew very little English.
On the 15th of August 1955 Uncle Dick turned fifty-five. It was time for him to retire. We celebrated his birthday and retirement at a Chinese restaurant, the Nanking, in the Civil Lines. We had to leave the railway quarters now that he was retired and no more working in the railways. We had seen many changes in the colony over the period of five years. The colony was now had more Indian guards and their families. Most of the Anglo-Indians we knew had either retired or were about to retire. Some had taken early retirement and left for either Australia or United Kingdom. Coral Club had the same facilities of Housie and cards for gambling but they also celebrated the Hindu and Muslim festivals and also had dances for Dushera, Deewali and Idd. Uncle looked for accommodation in the Bundhwah Club, an Anglo-Indian colony.
Bundhwah Club was a huge area of land that was leased to the Anglo-Indians, most of them being retired railway officers and their families. Their children were now taking up teaching or secretarial professions. The young Anglo-Indians were now taking up other professions and studying further because in the independent Democratic India there was competition of education and qualification. Young Indians could afford high education and jobs were available to those with good university qualification.
There was a dance club in the midst of cottages built by the Anglo-Indian Trustees. A few old cottages were scattered around the club; these belonged to the Club Trustees and were rented to the Anglo-Indians. Anglo-Indians who had birth certificates to prove their identity as descendants of the British were permitted to become members of the Anglo-Indian Association of Allahabad. They could buy, build or rent bungalows at the Bundhwah Club Trust Property, at 27, Thornhill Road, Allahabad. There were no boundary walls or wire fences around the property. Each cottage or bungalow had servant quarters attached. They could be rented out for a small sum.
The Anglo-Indian Trust property had many great Anglo-Indian families just as much as many who wasted money on drinks and gambling. Mrs Cottie had two severely disabled sons, physically and intellectually sons whom she and her husband devotedly took care of as well as worked for living. Mrs Cottie’s sister married the famous Gordon Keeler, one of the two brothers who captured the enemy’s plain during the India and Pakistan aggression later in 1965. Then there was a family where the father beat his wife every time he came home drunk with cheap liquor till one day, his ten year old son stopped him by grabbing the belt off his hand and said, “Dad you beat my mother once more and see what I shall do to you.” Needless to say that he never ever did, walked out of the house and cried, he was so ashamed of himself. Mrs Baker was known as the biggest flirt and a merry widow. She worked with the Muslim tobaccos factory and daily went out with her employers. The colony of the Anglo-Indians was a very interesting place, a little England in some ways amidst the Indians. A little like the copy cat of the British with a touch of India!
The dance club was a large old building, in the center of which was a huge hall. Great dances were held here on every Christmas, New Year, Easter, as well on Independence Day. Every Sunday there was housie and gambling for the members and liquor would flow at the bar. They danced the Cha-Cha-Cha, Waltz, Tango, Twist, Jive and the Fox Trot. Only members of the Anglo-Indian Association or a child of a member could attend the dances, very much like it was at the Coral Club. An Indian or a non-member could enter as a guest of an Anglo-Indian member.
Uncle Eddie and Uncle Dick being Anglo-Indians were able to rent half a bungalow, ‘Anthony Cottage’ at the Anglo-Indian Trust Property. It was here I met Mrs Annie Clarke, a primary teacher from St Mary’s. She lived next door to us. One fine day she decided that I should look like an Anglo- Indian and therefore, one fine day she came with a Mrs Beveridge, a hair dresser, from the colony and with Aunt’s permission, got my beautiful long brown hair reaching to my knees cut to my shoulder length. And saw to the shaving of my hands and legs. “Anglo-Indian girls should like an Anglo-Indian and not a chowkri girl, with pigtails.” She said. She even once saw to having my hair permed by Mrs Beveridge which ended in split ends to my horror! She taught me to use lipstick and make up once I finished schooling and began working as a secretary at Hind Movies Pvt Ltd in Katra.
In mid 1956 Uncle Dick decided to migrate to England. “I think England is the right place for me. This country is going to the dogs after the British have left. I can take it no more.” He said and he migrated to England. We were still in school at the time. Three months Uncle Dick’s troubled letter came, he wanted to return back to India. “It is very cold here. I was better off in India,” he wrote. “I miss the food and the luxury of faithful servants.” He had sold all his goods before going to England. I don’t know if he had enough money to return. A year later we heard that he died a lonely man. In late 1956 Uncle Eddie died suddenly. Our property owner, Mr and Mrs Simon decided to raise the rent of the half house and we were forced to find a cheaper house closer to Mum’s hospital on the other side of the famous Company Gardens where the freedom fighter Chandra Shekar Azad was shot dead.
One fine day Mr Guest from the Anglo-Indian Trust Property came to see us. He was the representative of the British citizens in Allahabad. He had two properties at the Bundhwa Club. One of them was falling vacant. Offered his property for rent to Aunt saying, “ This is no place to live for young Anglo-Indian girls amongst these wogs.” And so we came back to the Bundhwa Club and lived at ‘Eric Villa’ behind the famous Heera Banya’s sweet shop.
Mr Guest was once the Station master and had immigrated to England after his premature retirement when India got independent. But both he and his wife found it very difficult to settle down in a small cold apartment in London. They returned back to Allahabad six months after they had immigrated. His wife, Mrs Violet Guest was married twice and had no children. Her first husband, Mr Collis was the owner of an Indigo factory in a small Bihar village. He had fallen in love with a native village woman and lived with her for sometime before he was forced to marry her. They had many children born to them, the once born before their marriage were placed into the orphanage near bye. The others lived with them. Mr Collis never taught his wife English but lived in the village as a village man, wearing dhoti-kurta and speaking the Behari dialect. The girls in the orphanage were invited by Mrs Guest to Allahabad when they grew up into teenagers and she arranged their marriage to the Anglo-Indian railway guards. There were more of such Anglo-Indians from the indigo factories that were arranged marriage to the Anglo-Indian officers of the railways as there was a strict feeling that the girls with Anglo-Indian background should marry their own kind or the Europeans and not the Indians. There were very fair Anglos and very dark ones as well, some from the railways, retired officers, while others were from different part of India returned from UK due to dissatisfaction and unable to adjust themselves. Yet another lot were the Anglos who could not make it to England due to their lack of British identity. They spoke English with a touch of Hindi, yet could not speak Hindi fluently!! And never could read or write in the native language. They were very western in their lifestyle.
At the time the Indian families did not like their daughters to work in public places and deal with men and women at large. During the British days nursing was a good profession for women as they were considered compassionate, caring and loyal but it changed after the India became independence. Only teaching was considered a good profession for women.
One day I was looking through one of Uncle Eddie’s trunks when I chanced upon a neatly tied file and some photographs. I opened it and I rummaged through the papers. To my great shock, I found that all the letters mentioned my sister and me. From the letters I discovered that we were the children of an American Jesuit priest who had deserted us. Some of the letters were written on US Foreign Economic Administration (FEA) letterheads. One such letter mentioned that Papa had been given dispensation to work for the US Foreign Economic Administration in India as he was best suited for the job, having a good knowledge of the language and the culture of the Indian people. He had left us in Sharanpore and gone back to being a chaplain of the American Soldiers based in Allah bad till one year before the independence of India. It was a shocking discovery to me and it changed the entire outlook of my life. I set myself from that day to find my father in the USA. I did not want to be like Uncle Eddie and Uncle Dick and the young teacher trainees who never came to know of their background, it was not the vocation of my father as a priest that bothered me, but it was the father behind that vocation who I set out to find, as any child would have done. The discovery send me in search for identity and I was forced to leave Allahabad once I grew up.
By the end of fifties there were hardly any Anglo-Indians left the railways. The railway colony was full of the Indians and there was a selective test to be passed before getting a position in the railways. By the turn of the century, the Anglo-Indians interacted better and even wore sarees and dresses alike. Many married across the cultural barriers.
(Some of the preceeding paragraphs are extracts taken from
the autobiographies UNWANTED! and Bitter
Sweet Truth. Click for more information.)
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