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Anglo-Indians adopted Indian spices into their cuisine

The origin of the Anglo-Indian culture spans 30 decades before independence, when the voyagers from the West first set foot in Indian coastal cities. It began with the Portugese, and the Dutch and French soon followed suit. When India became a colony under the British Crown, the emerging generation that resulted as a product of this historical era, was a culture that was independent of both the British power and Indian subjugation: the Anglo-Indians. Perhaps this generation of mixed-race children had prestigious roots, with their parents belonging to the British regime, or serving as officers in the governing East India Company, but in the eyes of the Indians, they were labelled as "kutcha bacha" (uncooked children/bread) , or as they were known in the South, "vellakaaran/vellakaarchi" (white men/women).

Through the years, this community of people who were darker than their ancestors but fairer than their Indian counterparts, began to form their own culture. They began marrying among themselves, and created a tradition of food, clothes, and practices that were a blend of the British manners and the Indian spirit. They began sporting richly decorated clothes, high heels, for both men and women, tall hairdos, and rich food. Some critics of the culture argue that they are known to live beyond their means, and that their tastes in their appearances are rather gaudy.

Anglo-Indian chutney and an Indian chutney is the extra dash of sweetness or ginger irrespective of its flavour. Grilled Chicken, Anglo-Indian style Image source: wikimediawikimedia

The typical Anglo-Indian woman is recognised by the knee-length skirt and blouse with shiny buttons, and puffed sleeves. She always wore stockings, did her hair in the same style, wore a lot of jewellery and lipstick. The man is dressed in a suit, for any occasion, is clean-shaved, and his shoes always have high soles. The fabric that they choose is usually brocaded or flowery, and their clothes are accompanied by a hat. Bengaluru's Austin Town, Richmond Town, and Langford Town used to be the areas where Anglo-Indians were most found. Today, one will find them in Cooke Town, D'Costa Square, and parts of the city close to Richards Town, but it is hard to distinguish them from the foreign settlers around these parts.

The British mispronounced "melligathanni" (Tamil for peppery water) as mulligatawny, which was their name for the South Indian rasam. The Anglo-Indians adopted this as mulligatawny soup which they famously call pepper water, even though it has no pepper in it. Their cuisine is a blend of the English combinations and the Indian spices. They have popularised chutneys, and often one finds that the difference between the Anglo-Indian chutney and an Indian chutney is the extra dash of sweetness or ginger irrespective of its flavour. At Christmas time, the world is their oyster. They dish out many different kinds of wines, jellies, curries, and desserts. Plum cake soaked in rum, ginger wine, rose cookies, and kalkals are now Christmas time staples in all major cities. Kalkals are the Indianised ways of saying "curl-curl" as the cookie dough is curled off a fork to get its shape. The Anglo-Indians had the blood of the Indian folklore pulsing through their veins, and this they incorporated in their unique dance style. They often host or conduct large gatherings that include dancing through the night. This is when their best clothes, highest heels, and best food come out . They began the tradition of all-night mass, and this usually ended with dancing under the lights, Today, the masses are more solemn and hardly have an Anglo-Indian crowd.

In December Christmas trees adorn each house with elaborate decorations, gifts are exchanged gatherings  happens in large groups Midnight mass, a tradition introduced by the Anglo-Indians Image source: wikimediawikimedia

The areas that they inhabit always has a distinct aroma, and a festive fervour about it. Red and green are the prominent colours that flash by. The streets smell of sugar, spice, and wine. At night, the houses are brightly lit, and there are celebrations right from the first week of the month till the last during special occasions. In December, Christmas trees adorn each house with elaborate decorations, gifts are exchanged, shopping and baking happens in large groups, families come together to sing and dance, and children are dressed up and eagerly learning their traditions for the time when they will have to carry them out and pass them on. Carol-singing, where groups of people go door to door singing, in the evenings, are the most looked forward to.

The Indian Certificate of Secondary Education board was founded by Anglo-Indian representative Frank Anthony. A chain of schools that taught English-medium and which were under the aegis of churches founded by the British began a tradition of bringing up students who were well-equipped for learning adapted to all cultures. Today, with Anglo-Indians becoming scarce in India, these schools have completely come under the Diocese rule of their respective regions. Even now, Anglo-Indians are privileged to attain a full education without having to pay any tuition.

The Indian constitution offers two representatives of the community to be nominated to the Lok Sabha. Many Anglo-Indian Churches and Schools have plaques like this on all their walls to remember their founderswikimedia

The Indian constitution offers two representatives of the community to be nominated to the Lok Sabha. Other regional governing bodies also allow for Anglo-Indian representatives, and currently, Ms. Vinisha Nero holds an MLA seat from Karnataka. Since the 1960, there has been a rift among legislatures to remove this provision, owing to which the community has faced insecurities about their identity in the country. The 104th Amendment Act of 2019, abolished the Anglo-Indian representation quota.

Under the British Raj, English was the official language of the state, and Anglo-Indians were able to survive in any part of the country irrespective of the local language. After more than 70 years of independence, times have changed for this English-speaking community. They find it hard to blend into a culture that they have never known, and despite being able to pick up a few words, are unable to completely adapt to a new language. As a result, most of them have chosen to migrate out of the country, to places where their mother tongue is better accepted. They are also able to find better jobs there. Canada, United Kingdom, and Australia have recently opened their doors, welcoming Anglo-Indians to take up residence in their countries, which has caused India to slowly lose an integral part of her history and culture. Christmas in the cities is no longer as vibrant as it used to be. All that is left of Christmas deserts are processed goods, and plum cake that does not exactly taste the same. A few families who have chosen to stay back keep up the traditions, but it is a small effort and often goes unnoticed.

Keywords: Anglo-Indians, Culture, Traditions, Food, Christmas


Photo by Flickr.

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