My interest in photography began by researching the older generation at the The Tollygunge Home for Anglo-Indians In Calcutta in 1981. I then went to photograph them in Bombay and in Ooty. I was more interested in the older generations , as they seemed to be the last remaining remnants of the British Raj. People who remembered the railway cantonments , the Marilyn Manroe look-a- like contests, the ‘Central Provinces’, and so on, a world long gone.
Mass migration to Britain, Canada and Australia left behind fewer then 100,000 of the estimated 250,000 at the time of Independence (1947). Those that I photographed have remained mostly because they could not afford to leave, although most had relatives living abroad.
They were first called Eurasion and were officially designated “Anglo-Indian” in 1911. They were at the bottom of the social order: the class system created for British India was not very different from the Indian caste system and rigid hierarchies prevailed. Provided with special jobs in the railways, police force, customs and armed forces, they rarely held more then subordinate positions.
A lot of the Anglo Indias I met called themselves European, probably because the Anglo-indian was never accepted in British Indian society. They believed (and were brought up to believe) that Britain, not India was their mother country. They were loyal to the British during agitations and the ‘Mutiny’ of 1847. This created animosity with the Indians, but the British remained suspicious of the Anglo-indians because of their roots in India.
My pictures are of the elderly. I was struck by their extraordinary resilience,their total lack of morbidity, their abundant joy and their zest for living. For people at the homes there wasn’t much to look forward to, only the annual dance. Myrtle was was 71, and still and outrageous flirt, admitted, ‘its impossible to remain faithful to one man: and that she had ‘barely enough money to buy lipstick and talcum powder for the dance’.
At the Homes they seem to be exiled form a rapidly changing world: the last of India’s Anglo-Indians live out their years in a colonial atmosphere sheltered from the ‘Indian ‘ society they cannot cope with; they Anglo-India they know lives on. Here they are no difficult adjustments to be made. And here the last of the a breed will slowly fade away.