Calcutta's Anglo-Indians

Calcutta, once the capital of British Raj, is home to the country's largest population of Anglo-Indians, a fast-vanishing group of native English-speakers who are of mixed European and Indian ancestry. Anglos thrived under the British, who set aside important government jobs for them, especially ones having to do with the railways. Many others were successful teachers, secretaries, nurses, and singers. But after Independence many Anglo-Indians left for North America, England, and Australia, fearing hostility from other Indians, who identified them with the former rulers.

The exodus continues, but the dwindling community works hard to maintain its identity. Younger generations marry outside the community and are gaining familiarity with the Bengali language and culture. But at home, they eat chicken jalfrezi (with tomatoes and green chillies) and other Anglo-Indian dishes, attend the community's churches, and speak English with little trace of an Indian accent. At Christmas, Anglo-Indians from around the world come to dance, sing, and party on the narrow street that anchors Bow Barracks, a century-old neighborhood of Anglo-Indians behind Bowbazar Police Station in Central Calcutta. Among the most famous Anglo-Indians are singers Engelbert Humperdinck and Cliff Richard, who spent his early childhood in Calcutta. The moving documentary A Calcutta Christmas (1998) covers the lives of some elderly Anglo-Indians living in a home, in a city that’s much different than the one they grew up in.

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