KOCHI: When Barry O’Brien stepped into the house of Adrian (Jackie) D’Cruz at Fort Kochi, he gave himself a stiff task. The President-In-Chief of the All India Anglo-Indian Association decided to guess the age of Jackie’s five sisters in ascending order: Sonya, Donna, Odilia, Grace and Novella.
And, it ended up as a fifty-fifty. He got No five and four right, then put the oldest at No. 3 and vice versa. Naturally, one woman was happy while the other wasn’t. But there was laughter all around. They had come from places as diverse as Kuala Lumpur, Melbourne, New Jersey and Mumbai.
Apart from Kochi and Vypeen, Barry had been to Thiruvananthapuram and Tangaserri, Kollam. Ever since he became President in December, 2016, he wanted to get to know the members in different parts of India. There are five branches of the 140-year-old association in Kerala.
And the visit has been a learning experience for Barry. He was amazed to see that all Anglo-Indians knew how to speak Malayalam. “That is a big strength of the community in Kerala,” he says. “I don’t think too many Anglo-Indians in Bangalore speak Kannada. But I believe it is imperative that if you are living in India, you should speak the local language.”
The other plus, he noticed, was that many Anglo-Indians stay in their own houses. “Again, this is not so common in other parts of India,” says Barry. “Most live as tenants.”
Barry was also happy to note that many had become entrepreneurs. They run small or medium-sized hotels or homestays and own shops. “Earlier, the Anglo-Indians were content to do service jobs,” he says.
In fact, in the early years after Independence, most of the Anglo-Indians held government jobs: in the post and telegraph, customs, railways, and the police. Thereafter, there was a steady migration abroad, from the 1950s to the 1980s.
The situation changed when the Indian economy opened up in the 1990s. There were many jobs available in India and the quality of life had improved. “So the Anglo-Indian stayed back,” says Barry. “Today, many work in the travel and hospitality industry, as well as teachers, engineers, doctors and media professionals.”
In Kerala, Barry observed, the younger Anglo-Indians, like most youngsters everywhere, want to leave and explore new pastures in Bangalore, Chennai, Delhi and Mumbai. “There is a feeling that Kochi is a good place to retire,” says Barry. “Who knows, they may be right. But personally I think Kochi, as well as Kerala suits us Anglo-Indians very well.”
Meanwhile, when asked about the number of the Anglo-Indians in India, Barry says, “There is no clarity.”Up to the 1951 Census, there was a question on the form: are you Anglo-Indian? In later Census forms, this question was removed. “This is a sad development because if you have reserved seats in the legislature for the community, you should know the number you are representing,” says Barry, who was a nominated MLA in the Bengal Assembly from 2006-11.
Asked about the definition of the Anglo-Indian, Barry says, “If your father, grandfather or great-grandfather is of European descent, and you are domiciled in India, then you are an Anglo-Indian.”
However, like the Parsi community, because of dwindling numbers, the Anglo-Indians are marrying outside. “There are not enough boys to marry girls and vice versa,” says Barry.
“Owing to the definition, as soon as the girl marries out, the children are no longer considered as Anglo-Indians. As a result, the community is shrinking. But the bottom-line is that we are proud to be Indian by nationality and Anglo-Indian by culture and community. Long live our tribe!”