Emerging From Shadows: The “Unhomed” Anglo-Indian of 36 Chowringhee Lane

Kathleen Cassity


Like many underrepresented and misrepresented minority groups, Anglo-Indians are understandably sensitive to the way they have been portrayed in literature and film.  For as long as the Anglo-Indian people have existed, negative and stereotypical literary representations of them have proliferated.  Some of these are well known in literary circles, such as Rudyard Kipling’s hapless Michele d’Cruz in the story “His Chance in Life,” to E.M. Forster’s chauffeur in A Passage to India, “vexed by opposite currents in his blood” (26).  Others have faded into relative oblivion with the passing of time, such as the early 20th century novels of Patricia Wentworth, Irene Burns, and Henry Bruce, who went so far as to say: “Possessing no advantage of birth, breeding or education, it is no surprise that [Anglo-Indians] should be found lacking in moral stamina.  With the exception of their lissom bodies and dark flashing eyes, they have little else to their credit.”  (In Singh, 192)  Even in non-fictional studies of the British in India, Anglo-Indians have been negatively characterized, as when Dennis Kincaid paints an over-the-top caricature of “Eurasians” in British Social Life in India.  Most recently, the film Cotton Mary (Merchant & Ivory, 2000) unleashed a fury in the Anglo-Indian Community.  One of its most outspoken critics, Anglo-Indian MP Beatrix D’Souza of Chennai, referred to it as a “terrible caricature of our community,” a sentiment shared by Anglo-Indians the world over.  MP D’Souza continued:  “There have been earlier stereotype films showing us in poor light, such as . . . 36 Chowringhee Lane” (www.soc.culture.indian.kerala, 2000).  Given the problematic history of Anglo-Indian literary representation, this sensitivity is completely understandable.

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