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Are Anglo Indians of Kolkata vanishing?   

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Fourteen years ago, my young grand-uncle and his family immigrated to Australia. They settled there into a new way of life, got good jobs, sent their young daughter, who was around 6 years then, to a good school and eventually bought their own home in the sub-urbs, like many other Anglo-Indians did after leaving Kolkata. The daughter is now a newly minted lawyer with several options in the world of law at her disposal.

The 1960s, 70s and 80s saw waves of Anglo Indian exodus from the City of Joy. You would hear almost every day that so-and-so and their family had taken off for greener pastures (most times clandestinely, for whatever reason). And before that, there was 1947, post-Independence, when many Anglo-Indians opted for the land of their forefathers, the United Kingdom. My great grandfather’s four brothers were among them. One sister remained in Kolkata, while another immigrated to Australia. My great grandfather was the only one among five brothers, to stay back in this city.

So, here I am. Because my grandparents also remained here, as have my parents. We have never been among those craving for that ‘better life’ tag on foreign shores. The reason, I suspect, is that while many were able, and willing, like us, to assimilate into ‘mainstream Indian society,’ there were again others, and still are many, who fought it, perhaps feeling that they did not quite fit in. They were not able to really get the hang of the local lan-guage and myriad cultures. They thought it best to leave for UK, Australia and Canada and, more recently, to New Zealand, which seems to have found favour among the younger generation.

It is there that they felt they would fit in with people who lived the ‘anglicised’ lifestyle, in which they were brought up, and were used to; where they would find more in com-mon with the locals, than their neighbours back in Kolkata. And once they left, their spaces and residences were taken over by clusters of people from other communities. This left the remaining of the city’s Anglo-Indians more vulnerable to lack of cultural similari-ties. More and more from the community felt more comfortable to move away to coun-tries, that were completely Anglicised, where they could interact with people, culture and languages, similar to ours.

Another reason that many immigrated was the job situation in Kolkata. There was a time when Anglo-Indians held high-level government jobs. Gradually, the British themselves, who once encouraged the formation of this unique community, sought to give them less importance and so jobs on offer were low-level ones. The women of the community were also, in the beginning, housewives. The ones that did go out to work, got jobs as salesgirls in garment shops or as secretaries. This soon became unacceptable options to the next generation, who wanted better prospects and more options to attain those prospects.

Things may have changed a lot since the days of my grandparents, and even since my parents were growing up, but here in Kolkata the job situation has not really changed. Many more of us are opting to go to college, complete Masters degrees, and enrol in pro-fessional courses. Yes, there are decidedly more options now on the education front, but not enough jobs available for new graduates, making people still look outside the city for better prospects.

The last real wave of Anglo immigration took place perhaps 15 to 20 years ago. Since then, some have left for foreign shores, most have stayed and settled into jobs which may or may not be to their liking – perhaps because financial constraints stopped them from making plans to move abroad. But of late, as India opens up, along with our choices, both professionally and personally, many are not leaving Kolkata for brighter prospects. Most of our youth are however moving to other cities like Mumbai, Chennai, Hyderabad, and Delhi, where job prospects are better, salaries higher, and the possibility of a good life more feasible.

As for me, I’m still only 14. I don’t know what the future holds. Perhaps I, too, will leave Kolkata for what I believe will be a better life. For now, though, all I can really think of is the fact that in another two years or so I will have to sit for my ICSE. Let me first get past that hurdle!