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DOWN MEMORY LANE

Delhi's Anglo-Indian connection

R.V. SMITH

R.V. SMITH visits Grant Govan Home behind Red Fort, still a habitat of Anglo-Indians in Delhi


Hidden away from the public eye is a refuge of Anglo-Indians in Delhi about which few know. The community has come a long way from the pre-Partition days when it was the hub and pivot of the Railways and the Posts & Telegraphs Department. And yes sports too, particularly hockey, football, athletics and boxing. As a matter of fact, the Gaitley Hockey Tournament was a tribute to it.

Remember Georgie Marthins who distinguished himself in the 1928 Amsterdam Olympics when India, aided by Dhyan Chand, won the first gold medal? The Times, London caricatured Marhins as carrying the ball on his nose with Dhyan Chand as a wizard mesmerising the field.

Many other names come to mind : the Skinners, Merrimans, Martins, Barklays, Maguires, Lyons, Arathoon, Baxters Bedoes, the Johns, who set up a chain of spinning and weaving mills, Helen Plough, Mrs. Morton, who wrote the first Christmas play in India, and Ball Sahik whose daughter looked like Cinderella when she went for a dance. In boxing, Frank Anthony observed, “Our boys could give a good pasting to the Tommies who tried to tease our girls at dance parties.”

Frank Anthony was from Jabalpur but made Delhi his home. So did his mentor, Sir Henay Gidney, who left his native Igatpiri in M.P. to settle down here. Born in 1873 Gidney was the one who moulded the community into a vibrant entity. He was also the one who took part in the expedition against the head hunters of the Northeast and returned safe and sound. He worsted M.A. Jinnah in a battle of wits in the Central Legislative Assembly and teamed up for hunting trips with Nawab Faiyaz Khan.

Frank Anthony succeeded him as president of the Anglo-Indian Association. A famous lawyer, member of the Constituent Assembly and keen big game hunter, he set up a chain of schools but refused the governorship of Punjab and then the post of Vice-President of India offered by Indira Gandhi. Anthony died in 1993 and like Gidney, is buried in the Prithviraj Road Cemetery, now the Anglo-Indian Association is headed by Stephen DaCosta. He succeeded Fanthome, whose ancestor wrote the now-hard-to find book, Mariam, A Story of the Mutiny, based on which Ruskin Bond visualized his story, A Flight of Pigeons, later made into the film Junoon. And who can forget such Anglo-Indians as Melville De'Mello, A.E.T Barrow and the mercurial lawyer Manuel?

Quite a presence

All these memories were revived when one visited the Grant Govan Home situated behind the Red Fort, near Nigambodh Ghat. Here eight Anglo-Indians live in their own fantasy world amid photos of the British queen and the Duke of Edinburgh. Ninety per cent Anglo-Indians have left Delhi. Countrywide only 20,000 of the 250,000 remain, says a study. They were quite a presence in Queensway, Kashmere Gate, C.P. and Queen's Road. There were also the Heatherleys, whose ancestor Alexander Heatherley Azad was a pupil of Ghalib's nephew, Arif. Professor Sydney Rebeiro is related to them. His mother happened to be the first women postmistress of Delhi.

Visiting the Grant Govan Home is like getting wafted by a breeze that blows in yesterday. The only male inhabitant is Tony Da'Silva. Like him, Philomena Berkeley and Philomena Butterfield are septuagenarians. But Doris Louis is 83. Grant Govan, a British Philanthropist, set up the Home 50 years ago. The book, Nigel Hanking, long settled in Delhi, also regarded himself as an Anglo-Indian and came out with his Hanklin-Janklyn, a book of Anglo-Indian words and expressions. Who can forget the community which gave the world Vindalo, Jhalfarezi and Mulligatawny soup, and the best pancakes and mince-pies east of the Suez? Besides the Tombola and khas-tatti, its remnants continue to be the repository of lost causes and forsaken beliefs.

Go to Grant Govan Home and you may came back convinced.

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