Growing up in Chennai’s Royapuram area in the fifties and sixties, business executive and author Hari Bhaskaran developed a strong emotional bond with the Anglo-Indian community that was predominant in the neighbourhood. The tiny community that has existed in India since the days of British Raj has often been subjected to a large range of stereotypes owing to their mixed race origins. In an attempt to rip apart the biases held against the community, Bhaskaran’s recent book titled ‘These blooming Anglos” narrates the extraordinary history, achievements, and spirit of life exhibited by the Anglo-Indians. Bhaskaran’s book is also a tribute to the people he has grown up with and the emotional ties he has nurtured over the years. A combination of historical narrative and autobiographical account, ‘These blooming Anglos’ takes a deep dive into the lives of this vibrant community.
“For those who like to cock a snook at Anglo Indians, consider this: their military prowess resulted in the formation of legendary military units in the pre-independence era that are active in the Indian army even today,” writes Bhaskaran in his book. Apart from military, Bhaskaran also records the contributions made by the community to the education system, healthcare facilities and sports in India. In an email interview with Indianexpress.com, he wrote at length about why he wrote the book, the significant achievements made by the community in India and what he believes to be the Anglo-Indian way of life.
Your book seems like a combination of autobiographical writing and an account of the Anglo-Indian way of life. Why did you choose the subject and how would you want to categorise the book?
I grew up in Royapuram in Chennai and spent the first 20-odd years of my life there. Royapuram was a classical Anglo-Indian colony of the fifties and the sixties. It was formed around the railway station that was built by the British in 1856, the first to be built in Southern India. My motivation to write this book was that I felt a debt of gratitude to the community for the enduring memories of my childhood and the schooling at an Anglo-Indian school, St Mary’s, in George Town Chennai. I targeted the book at the Anglo-Indian community and to a large number of people who like me once had a close affinity with the community. The primary purpose of the book was to rekindle interest in a fascinating community among non- Anglo-Indians and re-awaken a sense of pride within the community. I chose to write largely about contemporary Anglo-Indians, although it was necessary to touch upon historical perspectives to correctly portray the community. The book has an autobiographical tinge because it deals a lot with my personal interactions with the Anglo-Indians and the insights I gained by this close association. It, however, remains a book on the Anglo-Indians and their vibrant lifestyle.
You mention in the book that Anglo Indians have been subjected to a number of stereotypes. Could you tell me what are some of these stereotypes and what is the reason for their existence?
I dealt exhaustively on this topic in a chapter of the book entitled, “Prejudice and Pride.” It is here that a historic understanding of the Anglo-Indian community is essential to really understand them. I tried to bring in this perspective without overly burdening the reader. It was also a chapter that I found the hardest to write as I wished to bring in a fair balance of views and not lead the reader down a particular path. Many serious researchers of the Anglo-Indians have told me that this chapter was very necessary and that the book would have been the poorer without it.
You also write about the significant contributions made by the community to national pride. Could you give a brief account of some of these contributions?
Anglo-Indian contribution to the defense of the nation both prior to Independence and post-Independence is outstanding. So is their contribution in the fields of education, healthcare, entertainment and sports and games. A brief reference to some of Anglo-Indians who are household names in the country includes, Air Chief Marshal Denis La Fontaine, Admiral Ronald Pereira, Li. General Reginald Naronha, the Keelor brothers, Eric Stracey (former Director-General of Police in Tamil Nadu), Ruskin Bond (one of India’s best storytellers), Melville de Mello (the voice of All India Radio), Olympian Leslie Claudius, Kenneth Powell (the gentleman sprinter who won 19 national sprinting titles), Wilson Jones (the country’s first world champion), Frank Anthony, Derek O’Brien, and the list can on and on. This is not an exhaustive list but enough to show the immense contribution of the community to the country. To stretch the point a little further, Anglo-Indian military prowess resulted in the formation of legendary military units which have continued in the Indian Army even today. They include Skinner’s Horse founded by Lt. Col. James Skinner and the Shekhawati Brigade, later known as the 13th Rajput Regiment, formed by Col. Henry Forster. In more recent times, post-independence and going into the fifties nearly half the fighter pilots of the Indian Air Force were Anglo-Indians. As many as eight Anglo-Indians reached the rank of Air Vice Marshall.
Anglo-Indians have an intimate connection with several educational institutions in the country. Could you give a brief account of their contribution to the education system of India?
In the fifties, sixties, and seventies the Anglo-Indian schools were the school of choice for many of us. The school I studied in, St. Mary’s, George Town Chennai is over 175-years-old and provided high quality and holistic education. There are today about 300 schools that could be called Anglo-Indian schools, a hundred or so of them would be over a century old. A feature that stands out for these schools is the ethos and dedication the Anglo-Indian teachers brought to their careers as teachers. The Anglo-Indian teachers earned a reputation of being duty conscious, meticulous and deeply concerned about the development of their wards.
In the final pages of your book, you mention that ‘I can say quite emphatically that there is tremendous merit in the Anglo-Indian way of life’. How exactly would you describe the Anglo-Indian way of life?
In a nutshell, I would describe the Anglo-Indian way of life as one where the sheer joy of living was paramount to their way of life. Among the community, you have a broadband of some of the most warm-hearted people you will meet irrespective of their economic status. The Anglo-Indians display a behavior that is insular from rank, title and position; a trait that leads to happiness and contentment in life, a life free of clutter.