The British Empire Library

More Voices on the Verandah - an Anglo-Indian anthology

by Lionel Lumb

Book Review by kind permission of Chowkidar, the journal of the British Association for Cemeteries in South Asia
As its title suggests, this is another in the series of Anglo-Indian memoirs by CTR publishing which commenced with Blair Williams' Anglo-Indians: Vanishing Remnants of a Bygone Era in 2002. For the book under review, a panel of five judges had the task of selecting entries from nearly 100 submissions from around the world.

The final selections comprise thirteen 'yarns' interspersed with several poems, followed by a dozen recollections and rounded off with seven 'musings.' The standard of writing throughout this anthology is high and it certainly achieves its aim of providing a focus for those interested in the Anglo-lndian way of life. The yarns have quite varying subjects. 'The banyan-tree cafe' by Sylvia Deefholts gives a vivid description of a kite-fight by twelve-year-old boys, while a family is preparing to leave India for a new life in Australia. 'Girl in the middle' by Denise Kiser tells a tale of an lndian woman recollecting being bullied fifty years ago at school. She is protected by an Anglo-Indian girl and later is attracted by her brother, Cliff - leading to a great sense of loss when the family leaves for England. 'The reluctant fugitive' by Jaysinh Birjepatel is an interesting tale of an Anglo-Indian's protection and flight from gang violence during disturbances. 'Where 's Olive Oyl now?' by Harry McLure is an intriguing story about an aging film actress, nick-named Olive Oyl, who surprisingly grants an exclusive interview to a young reporter. This has a particularly good denoument. But my personal favourite is undoubtedly 'A voice on the digital verandah' by Rochelle Almeida. This beautifully scripted and very funny piece is written as one side of a mobile phone call between two matrons. As it solely comprises recorded speech, the script gives Almeida full licence to explore the idiosyncrasies of Anglo-Indian speech, with occasional mild swear - words and lapses into Hindi.

The recollections tend, rather naturally, to concentrate on childhood days. ' Pindi days ' by Dorothy McMenamin gives a nice description of a secure, safe childhood in Rawalpindi - even though it started in the turbulent time of Partition. 'The first day of school' by Joyce Mitchell vividly describes how, aged only four, she protected her shy older sister on their first day at kinder-garten. My favourite amongst the childhood recollections however is 'But why? ' by Dolores Chew. This includes a good description of her loving 'uncle' Carl, an Anglo-Indian who seems to have given up the struggle to compete for employment with Indians following Independence. He rarely worked thereafter and of necessity lived with the family, doting on Dolores and her sister. I was also naturally drawn towards 'Nameless souls in sepia ' a passionate edict by Liola Lee to take note of all those family myths, including the ever-present one of having an Indian princess amongst our ancestors. (In my case, the myth turned out to be true!) In 'My brother the story-teller' Lionel Lumb talks with love of his brother, who died of cancer in 1991 and how his tall tales inspired him to take up writing as a career. In 'The Colonel's last campaign,' Jenny Petersen and Jean Schiavon relate their pride in their late father, Colonel Charles Campagnac, a keen sportsman who commanded the Gurkha regiment at the Dehra Dun training centre. On retirement he migrated with his family to Australia, where his last campaign was the establishment of Nepalese communities in Victoria and New South Wales. And lastly I must mention 'Three score and ten..... and counting' by Blair Williams, the founder and publisher of CTR books, in which describes how he has always felt himself a 'peripheral' Anglo-Indian, with a slight feeling of separateness from the community due to the fact that his parents were poor and lived on the Andaman Islands. This feeling became exacerbated by his success in becoming an officer-apprentice on the Indian railways, so that he subsequently mainly mixed with Indians rather than Anglo-Indians. Nevertheless since 1999 he and his wife have devoted themselves to supporting less fortunate Anglo-Indians through the work of the CTR charitable organisation that he set up.

The seven 'musings' provide thoughts on various related subjects. In 'Portrait of an Anglo-Indian girl' Sanjay Sircar analyses a 1954 article in a Calcutta magazine about an Anglo-Indian girl, discussing the differences from her Indian counterpart of the period. The subject of dislocation occurs in three of these essays - 'What becomes us?' by Kathy Cassity, 'Dislocation' by Peter Moss and 'Going home - Britain's Anglo-Indians and the anxiety of arrival,' a thoughtful essay on the reasons for emigration by Rochelle Almeida. 'Matrilineal Anglo-Indians' by Ann Selkirk Lobo describes the Anglo-Indians of Shillong, where the females belong to the Khasi tribe. They have bucked the trend of other Anglo-Indians by remaining stable and prospering since Independence. Assuming that the reader likes short stories, there is plenty of variety in this well-written book. Warmly recommended.

British Empire Book
Lionel Lumb
Blair Williams
Review Originally Published
Autumn 2013 in Journal of the British Association for Cemeteries in South Asia


Armed Forces | Art and Culture | Articles | Biographies | Colonies | Discussion | Glossary | Home | Library | Links | Map Room | Sources and Media | Science and Technology | Search | Student Zone | Timelines | TV & Film | Wargames

by Stephen Luscombe