The low-lying Perambur bridge, the one where the controversial flyover is being built, connects Ayanavaram to Perambur. This bridge not only connects areas but also connects Tamil Chennai to the predominantly Anglo-Indian pocket in Perambur. Once you cross that bridge and take a left turn, you realize how different Chennai suddenly feels. You hear English music from screechy old players, you see Uncle John, in his really old suspenders, sitting outside with a pipe, wearing a hat that reminds you of Mr.Holmes. You hear someone shout out, “what child, early for school?”

As a child, this was my daily routine. Every morning, I crossed that bridge from a cosmopolitan Railway Colony to a quaint, endearing Anglo-Indian school. From class one to class ten, I was surrounded by Anglo-Indians – wonderful classmates Dalreen, Marilla, Roanna and others; pleasant teachers Mary Forest, Lorraine Joseph, Audrey Thompson and many others. Each day was a surprise because my friends came from homes that were vastly different from mine. Roanna’s lunch-box usually had sandwiches and mine, thayir sadam. She spoke about interesting boys in class five when boys and interesting were mutually exclusive as far as I was concerned. I remember laughing really hard when Dalreen tried explaining the birdie dance to me. I remember resorting to blows when Michael became unmanageable. I remember all my attempts to draw quiet Kevin out. I remember Danny laughing at his own jokes. I remember so much…

We were a boisterous bunch in class eight, often getting on the nerves of class teacher Audrey Thompson who invariably wore a furious look saying, Stop it! Hooligans! Barbarians! DMK Rowdies!. How we would laugh then! Mary Forest would walk into class in her crisp cotton sarees or her smart beige skirt and pale green blouse and teach us English, not as a subject but as a passion. We would spend more time reading books, talking about them than in writing tests. Ms.Forest’s words were gospel truths to me at that age. I remember Lorraine Joseph’s yellow and black frock and her dimpled smile as clearly as the first time I saw them.

How tenuous the fabric of memory is! Fleeting images from a distant past summoned at the mere stroke of a word. Chennai Online carried an article on the Anglo-Indians a few days ago where the author mentions

The current population of the Anglo-Indian community in India is estimated to be about 1,30,000. They are scattered all over country with a significant number in Chennai (35,000), Kolkata (25,000) Banglore (20,000) and Kerala (20,000).

Look at Chennai’s numbers – 35,000 Anglo-Indians live in this city and contribute in various walks of life. They are the shape of childhood memories for people like me.

July 1 – 15 is a celebration of the Anglo-Indian in Chennai. Various events and a food festival are all lined up. Details here.

Related link: Helping the Anglo-Indian

6 Comments so far

  1. david (unregistered) on June 30th, 2006 @ 6:08 pm

    Lavanya, what a wonderful post! And what a flood of memories it unleashed in my mind. I studied at campion High School in Trichy (long ago!), an Anglo-Indian School, and had similar experiences-except that it was boys school! i too had dear friends from the community, and still do today. Thanks also for the details of Anglo Scapes. I’ll try and take in as much as I can. Thanks for taking me down memory lane! And hey, check out my blog-have a couple of recent posts on Anglo-Indians.

  2. Nancy (unregistered) on July 1st, 2006 @ 11:09 am

    This is an excellent post. I never realised that the largest number of Anglo-Indians was right here in Chennai — I would have guessed Calcutta. I assume that they will no longer exist as a separate culture-group within a generation or two, so it’s a good topic for exploration.

  3. Kovai (unregistered) on July 2nd, 2006 @ 7:37 am

    There is also a significant number of anglo-indians in Coimbatore. Most attend Stanes High(er Secondary) School, which I attended too and it was co-ed for as long as I can remember. Again, most of them during my time came from the Railway Colony in Podanur. I understand now it is dominated by the Church of South India brethren and less anglo-indian in character and spirit. The changes started during the late 70s and early 80s and I distinctly remember two aspects of that worth highlighting:
    a) the anglo-indians were far more social, sports-oriented, and less caught up in the competitive rat race;
    b) the CSI influence had a very insidous effect as the (Christian) teachers would often mock the Brahmin students who were usually the academic toppers for their religious practices. I hear that still continues at Stanes. Credit where due, the Anglo-Indian teachers and administration never engaged in this nonsense.

  4. Lavanya (unregistered) on July 2nd, 2006 @ 2:56 pm

    Thank you David & Nancy.

  5. yuva (unregistered) on July 11th, 2006 @ 6:36 pm

    admire writing skills and appreciate your thoughts.

    yap, i remember by chennai school days with similar experience..

    on wide-context, just go to show – how integrated we all are, that’s reason: hate-off-india & urban indians specialy.. with the various difference but our daily-walk-of-life are crossed in many ways than one.

    way I see it – we are in right-path for better life, very slowly but for sure.


  6. Lavanya (unregistered) on July 11th, 2006 @ 7:17 pm

    Yeah Kovai, I went to college with a few folks from Stanes and I understand what you refer to.

    Yuva – thanks.

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