Registered with the Registrar of Newspapers for India under R.N.I 53640/91
Vol. XXVI No. 23, March 16-31, 2017
So many people have the fondest memories of the Anglo-Indian pockets of old. The list of such places is pretty long, but the ones that stand out in Tamil Nadu are Madras, Golden Rock, Madura, Trichi-no-poly, Villupuram, Arkonam, and Podanur.
Almost all these places have strong connections with the Indian Railways, many as an Anglo-Indian pocket has fallen by the wayside, for there is minimal Anglo-Indian presence in the railway today.
Still hanging on, but only just, is the non-Railway Anglo-Indian colony known as -Veteran Lines in Pallavaram, suburban Madras. Tucked away between the Chennai Airport runway on the southern and western side, and the hill overlooking Trisulam Railway -Station, the newly com-missioned Metro and the -modern Airport beyond, on the -opposite side, stands Veteran Lines, a haven of peace and tranquility and one of the last bastions of Anglo-Indian community life.
The name of the locality is, in itself, quaint. Adjacent to the Grand Southern Trunk Road on the Airport side, almost all the way to what is known variously as English Electric, GEC, Areva, and Alstom, in Palla-varam, the area known as ‘Officers’ Lines’. Behind this row of large bungalows, beyond the barracks and the parade ground, is what could be heaven on earth – Veteran Lines. -Perusing the records of the iconic St. Stephen’s English Church, I discovered that the Cantonment area was the hub of the EAV Company, EAV -actually expanding to ‘European Artillery Veterans’. Did Veteran Lines get its name from this military company? The -‘Officers’ Lines’ in the immediate vicinity lends weight to this assumption, and the area was probably peopled by European under-officers and NCOs, as well as those from the mixed race – the Anglo-Indians.
St. Stephen’s English Church in Veteran Lines came up in 1935, but the records go way back, since it was originally attached to St. Thomas’ Garrison Church in the Cantonment area of St. Thomas Mount. Four Anglo-Indian women, Mrs. Lightfoot, Mrs. Drinkwater, Mrs. Gomes and Mrs. McKen-zie, were instrumental in collecting funds for the construction of the Church, and, much later, the school was developed around it. There were a few Protestant families among the AIs of Veteran Lines, and there are some even today, but the Church has a special place in the hearts of worshipers, especially because, even now, it has a serene, homey atmosphere.
Veteran Lines today comprises some sixty to seventy, fairly big-sized houses, a few spanking new, most of the others in varying degrees of decay. I would not be far off the mark if I say that, until Independence, there weren’t any other communities living in the area. Of course, some properties changed hands, but the buyers were mostly Anglo-Indian. My own home, long before my time, was sold to the milkman to settle his dues, but until the 1950s at least, most properties were owned by Anglo-Indians. Today there are just a dozen families from the community who live in and sometimes own properties here and the number has fortunately remained stable since the late 1980s.
Imagine a small (big enough for us, though), compact community living its own life, at its own pace, in its own inimical way, and you have the essence of life in Veteran Lines in the 1950s, the 1960s, the 1970s and even the 1980s. Imagine neighbours coming and going freely, sharing a cuppa here or a glass of OT or wine there, or even a bottle of Cowl Bazaar’s famous home-brewed arrack with a tickle of beef fry or vindaloo to aid the process of imbibing such a potent drink. Imagine weekend parties, Sunday-morning fishing adventures at the nearby river, the Bingo evenings, the sing-along nights that went on till early morning, the songs becoming louder and smuttier as time rolled by. Imagine the Devotions to the Mother all through May, in a different home each day.
Imagine the whole community in and around Pallavaram meeting at the English Electric grounds for the Annual “Mini-Olympics”, complete with torch, banners and stiff competition between the four or five rival teams. Imagine groups of carol-singers willing to sing more than half-a-dozen songs at every home and happily partake of the refreshments so generously provided by most families. I am certain that a down-to-earth, not-so-genteel Jane Austen would have reveled in such a setting, and she would have most surely done more justice to the place and the people than yours truly.
All these joyous congregations would not have been what they were if not for the bond that brought everyone together as a single unit – the one and only Pallavaram Recreation Club or PRC, for short. I really don’t know when the PRC actually started functioning, but it was certainly doing wonderfully well in the 1940s. The trend continued right through to the early 1990s, and I must confess that I was the last acknowledged President of the Club. When I returned to Pallavaram after a short stint in the Gulf, the PRC had disappeared and the Anglo-Indian Association tried its best to take its place. But, as the super-seniors and seniors will tell you, and even a late-comer like I could, the passing of the PRC was felt by the old and the young alike. These experiences are now memories, and even these are fading fast because most people nowadays do not know how to unwind, or “chill”, or even just hang out. Anyway, all you Veterans, wherever you are, take heart: a revival is on the cards.
Veteran Lines was a great place for the young. In those days when TV and computers held little or no attraction, boys (and sometimes girls) trooped off to the huge military well in the colony, or went to the abandoned quarry that was always filled with water. Pallavaram hill often beckoned, the more adventurous choosing a direct climb up the hill, rather than using the road to the top. Mango season lasted at least two months and since the mangoes next door always tasted better, midnight raids were fast and furious and very seldom did any of the raiders get caught. If the night offered no real entertainment, there was always recourse to the old ‘Kottai’ or cinema-house situated in no-man’s-land, as seasoned ‘Veterans’ will describe the tract of land between the colony and Pammal beyond. The cinema-shed has disappeared, but many Anglo-Indians, including myself, rejoice because its place has now been taken by a booze shop.
The heyday of Anglo-Indian life in Veteran Lines had almost vanished when I arrived in the late 1980s. Even our very own bus – Route 52-G – has been taken from us; it plies another circuitous course. And even the formerly famous (or infamous) ‘Loafer’s Bridge’ next to the School Bus-stand is gone, just a piece of the culvert’s brick-work standing mutely by. The nearby mini-hockey field is in a mess now, abandoned by everyone today, but it used to be bustling with Anglo-Indians, young and old, eager every Sunday for a game, not too long ago.
We always take pride in our musical talents, and Veteran Lines has had its share of musicians. There was Cliffy Phillips, the lead-guitarist, and Shad Bronkhurst, the excellent jazz-guitarist – guys who have passed on. We still have the versatile Raymond Julian, singer, guitarist and composer, his brother Reginald who likes to lend a helping hand, Irwin Netto, the connoisseur’s lead guitarist, Trevor Starr the bass guitarist, John Fernandez on keyboard and mouth-organ, Eric Ed-monds, singer and keyboard-player, Dave Thomas, singer and guitarist, and Gerard D’Nazareth and Kimberley Daniels, drummers. Once, while some of these guys were practising in the house next to mine (where Raymond was then staying), Deb – my wife – and I could not help taking the floor, which happened to be the newly-laid concrete road in front of our homes. Just think, can you dance in public (yet in total privacy) anywhere else in the world? That is Veteran Lines – Heaven, a real Heaven on earth.
The Christmas season is still welcomed with zest and fervor every year. On the very first day of December, the Tree comes out to be decorated and the Christmas records leave their storage place. Over the next few days the special delicacies are prepared – plum cake, seed cake, rose-cookies (as we knew them), kul-kuls, diamond-cuts, murukkus, coconut sweets, dhol-dhol, and whatever else. Visitors, from India or abroad, trickle in, to enjoy the company of old friends as well as the festive, yet sedate, atmosphere. The days when dances were organised in Veteran Lines have gone, but a few private parties do take place. In the past, shows at the Shiraz, Abbotsbury, or Hawk-field would be thronging with AIs from everywhere, but even these entertainments have disappeared.
But life goes on, as it always does; and, of course, good things always have a knack of lingering on, at least in the memory. (Courtesy: AITW)
I remember with affection my last visit to see my grandparents, at ten years old in 1954. They had move there in the 40’s from Kanpur, to retire, after working for the telegraph. My grand father James Douglas DeVine and his wife Katherine (nee Van Der Wart) had lived there with a community and ethos they were familiar with. Grandmother’s sister, Iris, lived nearby and Fanny was a nurse in Kola Goldfields, Bangalore. The children I got to know were Diana Hatton and Jimmy Maddox. I wonder where they are, no doubt, scattered around the world like most Anglo’s have done. I am in the U.K. and have been here for fifty six years.
Basil, Diana Hatton still lives in Pallavaram while Jimmy Maddox lives in Perth Wester Australia.
I am also from Pallavaram and do remember your aunty very well. Lived there for 38 years till I migrated to Australia myself.
My great grandfather, Samuel Charles White, owned an estate, El Dorado, somewhere in Madras. I think it is now a shopping centre, He was a surgeon in the East India Company in Madras and later the Superintendent of the Orphan Asylum. His son, my grandfather, Fred White and my grandmother, Violet (nee Foran/Conway), both born in Madras, spoke a great deal about Pallavarum and Egmore
TODAY THERE IS A TASMAC RETAIL SHOP IS OPENED IN THE VETERAN LINES TO SPOIL THE WHOLE PEACEFUL ADMASSPERE. PL TRY TO SAVE THE DIGNITY OF THIS AREA. .
I left Pallavaram in November1948, settled in Eastbourne, England, early December, lived there for two years, moved up to Kent, my young brother Keith died in the Royal Marine Cadet Corp. local bus disaster. I made my way through life, married an “English Rose” Barbara, and we’ve been married for 65 years this 7th August, but all is not well, my wife has been living with dementia for 12/14 years, and I have been diagnosed with an aggressive form of prostate cancer, but, with the help, love and care of our children, we slog on!!!
Hello Mr Walker.
Just seen your message and I would love to know more about your time in Veteran lines Pallavaram. I spent some of my youth in the late 60s and 70s. I also now live in Kent-England
Dear Mr Walker,
I would dearly love to know if anyone remembers the James de Souza family for Veteran Lines, from the early 1950 to 1958. My husband Roger de Souza and I live in Melbourne. Or if anyone has photos of that time, the family seem to think they lived at 38 Veteran Lines? They were neighbours of George Ross
Thanking you in advance
I am d oldest living member of Veteran Lines who has just sold the old house and moved out. The D’Souza’s did in fact live in Veteran Lines in my.mother’s rented house at one time. I had the pleasure of knowing all of d family. The children were – Vivienne, Jimmy, Roger, Shirley n Charmaine. I’m in touch with Vivienne, who cannot remember me she says. I could point you to d last house they occupied before they left. Roger may renember coming over to visit me when he grew up and joined the Air Force.I was away visiting my daughter in Dubai.and missed meeting him. My eldest daughter, a Sharon too, described Roger as a very handsome Air Force guy’ who had come to visit me.
Best of luck with what you’re looking for.
Mrs Hazel Thomas (nee D’Rozario)
Hi, Does anyone remember Denis Rodrigues who passed out of the College of Engineering, Guindy in 1973 and moved to Australia right afterwards. Thanks in advance for any information
We were 4 young budding pilots undergoing flying training when we first came to 9 Officer Lines in 1967 and were introduced to two wonderful families, the Cliffords and the D’Nazereths. We began boarding with them. Much to our surprise at the end not a penny was accepted from us. Tony D’Nazereth (now 94years) bought a bungalow in Veteran Lines and both families shifted to number 24, Veteran Lines. While my others friends left I remained in Madras and so was literally taken over by this wonderful family. Lynette and Colleen were two ladies of substance ever so kind and generous to any and everyone they came across. So was their mother, the grand old lady known to all neighborhood as Mummy. I began to be called Girish K Clifford. Tony, a big hearted gentleman ever ready to help anyone in the neighbourhood, be it reaching someone sick to the hospital or escorting the elderly to church. Jackie, Ian and Melonie are 3 wonderful children. Jackie and Ian have settled in Canada and Australia respectively. Melonie is in Veteran Lines .The jam-sessions and Christmas Eve dances are now a thing of the past. Yes, Veteran Lines was indeed a heaven on earth. “Those Were The Days”
I wonder if anyone remembers my grandparents, Bertha and Cecil Ashe, who lived in Veteran Lines till 1964? My Father was in the Air Force and my Mother’s parents lived in Pallavaram. My Uncle, her brother Denis Ashe, was a doctor in” Madras”. I m looking for their old house and the cemetery where my grandfather was buried.
My mother lived in Veteran Lines, she lived in a house also called Hill View, they were the Bartlett Family. She married my dad whose name is Fernandez at St Francis Xavier Catholic Church in 1955. they came to England in 1964.