A Community matters . and how!
What are the different fields in which Anglo-Indians have made a mark from way back in 15th Century India and then after Independence?
You would have been excused for thinking this was a tricky quiz question as veteran Quizmaster Barry O’Brien popped it across to the 60 strong audience on the evening of May 19th at Zach’s Lounge.
Where in India could the Anglo-Indians have had their own State, if they had wanted one?
What changes have Anglo-Indian women pioneered in the country of their birth?
Emerging from his writing cocoon after almost five years, Barry the author shared his highs and lows of writing his magnum opus, “The Anglo-Indians. A Portrait of a Community”, with the house of avid listeners at the program organised by the DI Library team. He shared the surprises that came along the way of doing research in the non-fiction space. He shared his trepidation as the size of the book began to grow under his keen mind. At 538 pages including pre-scripts, indices and everything else in-between, it is set to become a reference on the community we all know and love.
Our own Raju Raman, no stranger to stage and theatre, dramatically brought Barry out into the open, intellectually, and emotionally. What started out as a two-chairs-and-mics-on-stage program saw both Barry and Raju leap up and make their points, sans microphones, in rich “Barry-tone” and excited tenor, respectively. The dramatic moment heightened when Barry read passages from the book to emphasise a point or illustrate a point of view.
Ruskin Bond, whose birthday we celebrated yesterday, started the proceedings virtually - commenting on the writing via a recording which Raju played for us. With appreciation such as that from the Literary Bond and several others quoted by Raju (see the images below), readers who had scrambled for copies of the book, available at the venue, courtesy Starmark, were happy that they had their copies secured. Also, they were happy that we started a little late as Barry was busy personalising those autographed copies and taking photos with the recipients in the inner room. Rajashree Kundalia, who heads the Library Team, introduced the evening and we were off!
On a DI note, after a pretty decent tea sponsored by Starmark, Barry began by thanking everyone individually for making his post-Covid return to the club so emotionally memorable. Raju countered with a comeback of his own, that Barry has turned things topsy-turvy by starting with the Vote of Thanks. On reflection, this flip might have been deliberate - the book itself begins with a P.S., a pre-script instead of a post-script. As Barry points out, many an Anglo-Indian party ended with the P.S. often longer than the party.
If I were to use a “feel-o-meter” for Barry’s selection of passages to comment on, I would list the following as his “closest felt” views expressed last night:
- The contribution of Anglo-Indian women: women in the corporate workforce, nurses during the war effort, trend-setters for women’s empowerment in post-independent India.
- The British ideated the Railways; the Anglo Indians actually built and ran them for decades. The railway colonies with their own culture are proof of that.
- The key role played by the community in the two world wars along with contribution to nation building in key areas such as education, sports, and the police force.
- The Anglo-Indian Way: a vignette of the ‘bindaas’ community, its highs and lows, its involvement with horse-racing (for good and bad), the aggressive tendencies like pehle laat phir baat, and the migration for a ‘better’ life to Australia, Canada and UK.
- The support and research done by a diverse team of people led by his wife, Denise, which led to the historical backbone of the book supporting the flesh and blood storyteller himself.
Barry’s love for the Dalhousie Institute, where he and his brothers learnt life’s lessons, the sneak views into the lives of his parents, friends and their families and the anecdotes with which he regaled us all, come together in this book. It is surely a labour of love.
And it’s an endearing treatise on the community that might accidentally be called “Anglos” but are more Indian than anything else, judging from the vast diaspora that longs to come “home” to India.
A thoroughly enjoyable evening ended with a call to the bar for some, the lawn for others, as a reluctant few left for home after a 90-minute enthralling evening.
[Editorial Note: The Library Team plans to have regular Book Reading sessions under the brand “Book Adda”. These will feature our own author-members to begin with and, based on popularity will expand to cover the larger book writing fraternity. Look out for the next session with member and author Supriya Newar on her books Kalkatta Chronicles and Kolkata Classics: a Book of Verse]