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Where rest the Anglo-Indians


IF YOU pass by Prithviraj Road in New Delhi you will see a number of flower sellers sitting near the cemetery gate. They come here every evening and obviously business is good, for people stop to buy flowers not only for the graves in York Cemetery but also for festive and other occasions. Prithviraj Road once boasted of the residence of Sir Henry Gidney, the pioneer Anglo-Indian leader, who rests in the cemetery, along with his successor Frank Anthony. Also buried there are Anthony de Mello, founder of the Board of Control for Cricket in India, A.E.T. Barrow and Ernst Merriman, two well-known educationists, along with a host of others, among whom the name of Rajkumari Amrit Kaur, Health Minister in Pandit Nehru's Government and sister of Sir Maharaj Singh, a former Governor, is prominent.

Both of them happened to be Christians from their ancestral Kapurthala State in Punjab. Melville de Mello, the famous commentator, is however not buried there as he was cremated.

Sir Henry Gidney, after whom the Anglo-Indian Club in Delhi is known, was a colourful personality who had taken part in military expeditions and fought with head-hunters, once barely escaping with his life. His head would have adorned some tribal totem had it not been for the fact that he was a sharpshooter who was able to kill some of his assailants and scare off the others.

Gidney counted among his friends many members of the Indian royalty. The rajas and nawabs were forever inviting him for hunting trips. Particular mention may be made of his friendship with Nawab Faiyaz Khan, with whom he shot tigers and panthers in the Bah-Pinhat area. Sir Henry Gidney headed the Anglo-Indian community for 20 years before his death in May 1942. Born at Igatpuri, in the Western Ghats, some 80 miles from Bombay, in 1873, Gidney, a brilliant student was educated at Bangalore, Calcutta and Allahabad before qualifying for the Indian Medical Service. He them joined the Army and saw active service in China during the Boxer Rebellion, being mentioned in despatches for his bravery in 1901.

Three years later Gidney married a girl called Grace Wignall from Agra, which used to have a large Anglo-Indian community at one time.

But Grace was the daughter of a Yorkshireman who had settled down in the city of the Taj, after falling in love with the cantonment there. However the marriage was not successful and after some years Grace went away to England from where she never returned. But Gidney supported her right up to 1937, the year in which she died childless.

After his wife walked out on him, Gidney was posted as civil surgeon in Kohima where he joined an expedition against the head-hunters. Some time later he helped his group to thwart a Naga raid. Gidney's bravery on the occasion, however, went unrewarded, though other members of his team were honoured by the Government. This rankled him so much that he asked for a posting to some other station.

During World War I Gidney was posted at Peshawar and saw active service in the NWFP where again he distinguished himself. He was wounded during the attack on Shabkadar Fort, sought retirement from the IMS and set up practice in Bombay but continued to work for his community. He represented it at all the three Round Table conferences in England, testified before the Simon Commission and the Cripps India Mission, met King George V and spoke up for the sad lot of the Anglo-Indians whom he mentioned as "my people" and then corrected himself to say "Your Majesty's people and my community". Gidney was knighted in 1931 when the Central Legislative Assembly was formed he was nominated to it by the Viceroy.

Sir Henry Gidney, who headed the All-India Arts and Crafts Society, was a man of taste, a lover of art, wine and all the good things of life. He had a large number of women friends whom he regaled at the many parties he attended and where he danced the tango and waltzed with grace. His house in Prithviraj Road, New Delhi, was famous as much for its art collection as it was for its Persian carpets and chandeliers. Gidney died in 1942 of heat stroke on his return to Delhi from his native Igatpuri. Nawab Faiyaz Khan rests near the dargah of Shah Abul Ullah at Lashkarpur in Agra, and not far away lies his other friend, Fred Elis, OBE.

R.V. SMITH

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