July 01, 2006

Celebrating Anglo-Indians of Chennai

Would you like to have Devil Chutney with idlis for breakfast? Turn to an Anglo-Indian lady for the menu. If you do not know one, make a friend.

Devil Chutney and Ball Curry came into my life quite early.

That is because I studied at an Anglo-Indian school. Though there weren't many Anglos even at that time, I am happy I got to know a small community that does not carry the burden of caste.

Those wonderful experiences continued well after we had passed out of school because of one classmate - Ashok.

Ashok's family runs the famed Charm Dress Makers in Egmore, diagonally opposite Hotel Ashoka.
Charms was the hang-out for us long after we had passed out of college.

It may have been a destination to catch up with old friends but for the Anglos, this was a key service provider!

For, Ashok's father, K. Krishna Rao, who had set up shop in the hugely Anglo-dominated neighbourhood of Perambur way back in the 1950s, and moved to Egmore soon after, was one of the four tailors the Anglo-Indians trusted in the city.

From Perambur and Narasingapuram, from Vepery and Royapettah, Charms had clients even as far as Arakkonam and Tiruchinopoly, some of the many hubs of this community which dominated the Railways and nourished those quaint railway colonies of this country. Guntakkal and Shoranur and Gooty . . .

And if we chose to sit inside Charms, we could eavesdrop on the fascinating stories that the women shared with Ashok's dad as he went about an elaborate exercise of planning a wedding dress to be made from 20 metres!

If we were lucky, at Christmas time, we would get introductions to the families which prepared wine and cakes and khul-khuls.

And if we wanted to partake of all this, we had to go after another classmate, Bully alias Alistair, now in the Gulf, whose family lived in the Anglo Blocks behind Sacred Heart Church in Egmore.

In course of time, our Anglo friends migrated and we were left with only a few.

Ashok, who has taken over from his father and is proud of Charms which completed its golden jubilee in business, is still happy with the many Anglo customers he has today, including those from Canada, visiting here, who get their unique dresses ordered.

The orders have thinned. And Ashok knows why - young Anglo girls simply do not want to wear the colourful frocks anymore; they feel comfortable in jeans and tops.

From this weekend, a celebration of the Anglo Indian community is being held in the city.

Themed 'Anglo Scapes' and designed by actor-director Rajiv Krishnan and Anna Nagar-based Harry MacLure, editor of 'Anglos in the Wind', there are a series of events which include a play, a food fest, photo exhibition, art show, films and readings and a concert. (Call 98845 02155 for info)

The fest, hopefully, will not only celebrate this unique community, but also enable those of us who have hardly known them or had misconceptions, to get closer to them.

And if you have always dreamt of a flowing, spotless-white bridal dress for your wedding instead of the Kanchipuram silk, go over to Ashok at Charms.


Ram Chander said...

Anglos were not only in the city. I distinctly rememeber the engine driver on the Tanjore-Mayavaram line. College goers used to feel happy when this anglo indian driver was on duty. The train used to arrive at right time. Many students who studied in Poondy Pushpam College during 1970s from the small town around Tanjore will remember this driver

Vincent D' Souza said...

Now that is indeed a great comment/anecdote to share.
Often, only Anglos respond to such pieces when actually, a larger community in places like Madras and Trichy, Shoranur and Arakkonam and Villupuram played a major role in our lives.
I would like to hear from many more people who studied at AI schools, who had Anglos as colleagues in offices and in sport and who enjoyed theior Xmas and annual parties.

Meanwhile, if you are in Chennai, please soak in the many events of the Angloscapes fest. A lot of effort has gone into it.
And you can even post your reviews here - be it the food fest, the play, the photo exhibition. . .

phantom363 said...

i grew up in santhome of the 60s. a good section of my friends were anglo indians, and i went to an anglo indian school. many of my teachers were anglo indians too. so i have fond memories of this community. it was also a time that many anglos felt the draw of australia and migrated in large numbers. it is good to know that there are still a significant number left in india and continue to add to our spicy mix of communities. it is interesting to note that there are also anglo communities in the north, and there is a movement to establish their own district in chhatisgarh. not sure what came of it. also, during my recent visits, i have found many anglo friends marrying into tamil christian households, with a deliberate view to merge their identity among their larger religious kin. oh well! what can you do?

Anonymous said...

I grew up in Perambur, studying in St.Mary's for Boys. Infact there are a few AI schools in and around the Perambur church.

But the girls of the Presentation convent were the cynosure of all boys. I can still remember pedalling furiously after school to catch a glimpse of the famed dames of the Convent.

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jimmy sleiman djimy62@gmail.com

Anonymous said...

Hi there..
I was formely from this school called Doveton Corrie boys in chennai. I'm in singapore now...I had always wanted to meet up with my old pals..really miss the old times..watching the 90's movies and all that. Flying kites. Having the anglo parties...

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Anonymous said...

Well My wifes wedding Dress was stitched from Charms. Ashok,good to know about you

Desmond Mc'Arthur

Unknown said...

hey there! was nice reading the stuff on ur blog and so happy to find something about charms ...
i stay in the US and would like to visit him to get some dresses made...do u have a contach # of his or the address of the tailor shop...pls help!
thanks n happy holidays!

Vincent D' Souza said...

Those who wish to contact Charms Tailors, Egmore here is the contact - Ashok - 0-9841017869.

Ashok is the son of the founder of Charms, one of the best tailors to work on wedding, birthday and western classical clotheswear.

The shop is across the western side of the round tana off Ashoka Hotel and Presentation Convent.

Anonymous said...

A very courageous honest and spirited lady, Jecintha Soff, was running a scool despite a lot of odds for years in Perambur. Does the schhol still exist? Does any one know that lady's contact no. or email address?

Anonymous said...

I am seeing an anglo indian boy.. who comes from a very nice family.. I am a brahmin and we have anglo indian family friends as well.. so I have always been fascinated by them .. so happy that I have fallen for one too.. will be getting married to him to soon..wish people would rejoice, appreciate and learn from this calm , practical community where love, family,friends, sharing and food come first.

Ravi Kumar K said...

I came across this blog while searching for some of my anglo friends.
I stayed in Perambur and studied in St. Matthias Schools, Vepery (1968-70)and Doveton Corrie Boys , Vepery (1970-1972. My best pals were AIs. They were fun loving and an unique culture which was too advanced for that age. We had fun in the Perambur Railway Institute and also at Royapuram.

Those were the days, I got introduced to English songs and movies a passion which still continues.

I wish I could contact my old pals. Is there any fora for contacting AIs.


Ravi Kumar K

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