Registered with the Registrar of Newspapers for India under R.N.I 53640/91

Vol. XXIX No. 2, May 1-15, 2019

The Honorary Anglo-Indian

– Richard O’Connor

The Anglo-Indian Community in India has been a much loved, yet much misunderstood one. Depending on the season, people ascribed many things to the Anglo-Indian: cool, fun-loving, simple-minded, generous, oafish, sexy, skilled, laidback, gullible, apolitical and so on. The British did it with scorn, the Indian with sarcasm. The history of the community was brushed under the carpet, its contribution to nation-building ignored and its social presence frowned upon. But India came into her own in the 1990s thanks to liberalisation, and so did the Anglo-Indian.

One person who keenly watched the community unfold over time was S. Muthiah. He himself was taught his 3 Rs and table manners by a Mrs. Smith, his Secretary in later years was a Mrs. Dubier and he was acquainted with a lot of Burghers during his time in Ceylon. In Madras, he interacted with Dr. Beatrix D’Souza when she was a Member of Parliament, and thereafter. He was impressed with Harry MacLure’s Anglos In The Wind (the Madras-based international magazine on the community) and sometimes drew notes from it for his writings on the city. He took interest in its special issue on hockey, highlighted its key aspects in his Madras Miscellany column for The Hindu and even attended the Dinner Dance held at St. Bede’s School in San Thomé in January 2009 at the end of an all-India Anglo-Indian hockey tournament. Quite recently, he picked up Dr. Bryan Peppin’s cameo on Pallavaram in the magazine, and reproduced it in Madras Musings, a weekly that he edited. He also made it a point to include the Anglo-Indian community in the Madras Week celebrations held each year, and as many would attest, the community responded with panache. The Madras Book Club, chaperoned by him, was also instrumental in the launch of many Anglo-Indian related books, Double Cream Memsahib, The Secret Vindaloo and Kipling’s Daughter to name a few. When Jenny Mallin visited from the U.K, promoting her book A Grandmother’s Legacy, Muthiah spontaneously called us over to his home after the event, where he offered us beer, red wine and canapés.

For some reason, Muthiah looked at the community with a loving eye. He recognised its immense contribution in the field of education across the country, through the various schools it ran or helped run, and certainly through the ICSE Board of Education which its leaders A.E.T. Barrow and Frank Anthony set up. He acknowledged its contribution in the fields of Defence (where Anglo-Indians held key positions, especially in the Air Force), the Railways, Sports and above all the role of its women who were the country’s first actresses, hostesses, secretaries and nurses, and were thus the forerunners of women’s liberation in India. Unknown to the community, he had been making notes on it, and in 2013 authored The Anglo-Indians: A 500 Year History, the most outstanding book on the community to date. Harry MacLure and I were honoured to collaborate with him on this. Many, both within and without the community, were thrilled to lay their hands on the book. When Muthiah visited Australia in 2011 where his daughter Parvathi then lived, he was treated by the Anglo-Indian diaspora like a star, especially in Canberra where Joe Bailey feted him in the presence of the Indian High Commissioner as well as the Chief Minister of ACT and other VIPs.

The thing about Muthiah was that he understood the community so very well, especially aspects relating to the Anglo-Indian way of life. He knew that its cuisine was a class apart, not just in India, but internationally, and devoted a Chapter to it in his book. He observed that matters of faith and family were quite central to the ethos of the community and disapproved of the caricaturing in the media. He was also critical that community members in the past did not make full use of the educational opportunities that they themselves gave to others, while also happy to observe that its youth are well educated and are taking advantage of the opportunities afforded by modern India. Dr. Beatrix D’Souza aptly called him an Honorary Anglo-Indian.

Despite his failing health, he made it a point to be present at the International Anglo-Indian Reunion, held in January 2019 in Madras, and even spoke at the Authors event held at Loyola College. He also bolstered it with a corporate sponsor.

All this has endeared him to the Anglo-Indian community, in India and overseas, and in his passing, the community has perhaps lost its finest champion. Stand up, stand up ladies and gentlemen, as you listen to that collective Anglo-Indian whisper of acclaim:

Rest in peace Sir Muthiah, rest in peace… you will always be in our Hearts!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *