Kerala’s Eurasian enclave
By Shane J Alliew in Kollam
It does not take me much time to locate the beautiful house of 77-year-old Gerard D’Crus. Even though I am not familiar with the local language, I get directed to his house easily. The very mention of his name makes people smile and point toward his colonial-styled villa.
Everyone knows the Anglo-Indian, ‘sahib’ of Thangassery, Quilon, now Kollam.
It’s been 22 years since he returned to India, having retired from a prestigious job in Kuwait Airways. He would never leave to settle down anywhere else in the world.
“My father having retired from a British firm in Alleppey, brought the entire family here in 1946 when he purchased this ancestral plot for us to settle in,” says D’Crus, “And then onwards Tangy (the area in common parlance among Anglo-Indians) became the center of our lives.”
D’Crus mentions, “Even though retired, my old man Andrew and old girl Constance, never hanged up their boots. They decided to do something creative and what better than food, Anglo-Indian cuisine; hence was born Mount Carmel Bakery a little before independence.”
“The bakery ran very successfully and we had 13 employees at one point of time,” recollects D’Crus.
He says, “We supplied bread and cakes, puffs and patties to the schools, to Anglo-Indian teachers, Bishop’s House and the likes; oh yes, it was a hands on job. My ten siblings and I had our plates full.”
“But in 1972, dad began to feel the pressure, when my siblings began to fly out of the nest one after the other and we were faced with labor issues. He decided to close down the bakery. Tangy lost one of its finest,” he laments.
“Till date many old timers recall the special Christmas cake, a secret recipe that only mother knew about,” he states with pride.
I ask about him how he began life. He chuckles and says, “It was a rather grand beginning!”
D’Crus had applied to the Indian Railways and cleverly had written 18th year in his application form. He had been accepted as a trainee, was given a pass by the Railway Board of South-Eastern Railways and was on his way to Calcutta, the ever busy hub of the Railways in India then.
He trained and was preparing, when his line supervisor discovered that the bloke had not completed 18 years of age! Of course D’Crus was asked to enjoy his holiday in Calcutta and pack off before he was discovered and would lose his pass and offer. The lad did just that.
A year later he was absorbed into the railways having being stationed at Trichanapoly and later on in Chennai. That is where he began to pick up Tamil and mastered the language. He served 14 years in the railways.
Incidentally, D’Crus met his sweetheart Leela Thomas, in Quilon. She was studying nursing and they happened to meet in church. Thus began a courtship lasting a few years.
When Leela was sent on deputation to Libya through the government of India, would D’Crus stay behind?
“No way,” he says with a teenager-like laughter. “She left in 1975 and I followed her a few months later. I had bagged a job as a baggage claims officer in Kuwait Airlines, stationed at Tripoli and I grabbed the opportunity.”
“In fact we were married in Tripoli,” he appends. D’crus goes onto to say that the official language of the church at that time was Latin and the Bishop of Tripoli had to send the couple to be married in a smaller chapel, taken care of by a Maldivian priest, the only one that could say the mass in English.
D’Crus rose to become supervisor and subsequently retired. Leela worked as a nurse in Tripoli for 21 years.
Post-retirement, it was India then and no other place for both of them, even though they had travelled globally where they had met several Anglo-Indian families (siblings and cousins) who had emigrated post-independence.
Today, Cynthia, his eldest daughter is married and happily settled in the States, whilst Andrew his son is a visual effects specialist, based in Chennai. The rest of D’Crus’ siblings and their families are settled in cities like Bangalore, Cochin or abroad.
I ask him, what according to him were the reasons of the large-scale migration of the community abroad? He is very clear, “better opportunities.”
According to him, at one pint of time there were 250 Anglo-Indian families that called Tangy their home, today there may be just about 90 or even lesser left.
There has also been “inter-community marriages which has also led to further decline in the numbers,” opines D’Crus and hopes that one day “Tangy becomes vibrant once again”.
Vibrant it was for the D’Crus family on two occasions; once in 2007 when grand dame Constance passed away at the ripe age of 90.
“Every single member of the family was down- from Australia, Canada, Bangalore and all over. The house was full. We had to book hotel rooms and guest houses. Yes, mummy indeed got a grand farewell,” recollects D’Crus.
“In 2014, it was a happy occasion; Cynthia’s marriage. This time it seemed the numbers had doubled- we had cousins and relatives fly in from across the globe and country. Yes even cousins had come in from Calcutta,” adds the gentleman with a glitter in his eyes.
Calcutta, now Kolkata, claims to house the largest numbers of the community in India.
“There was a celebration held, that Tangy had not seen for several decades. All the Anglos of Tangy rose to the occasion,” he adds
How does he spend his time now, I ask.
“My service to my community and fellow Anglo-Indians take up most of my time,” reports D’Crus who has been serving as the Honorary President of The All India Anglo-Indian Association, Kollam Branch, for the last eight years.
As part of the association’s mandate to look after the welfare and education of the members of the community in an established area, D’Crus and his committee organize social gatherings, provide scholarships for students in school and for higher education and look into the benefit of its senior citizens.
Monthly membership subscriptions collected are sent to the head office in New Delhi from where annual scholarships on need-based are awarded and announced. The Kollam branch like others across the country is part of the mother branch, with its nerve center in the National capital.
“We are indeed grateful to the management and administration of the Infant Jesus Anglo-Indian Higher Secondary School, for the concessions they offer to our boys on being admitted,” accounts D’Crus.
The school was established in 1940 by the educationist Bishop Jerome M Fernandez, to cater to the education of the Anglo-Indian community, then predominant in the area.
The leader proudly states, “We have students studying MBA, MBBS, Nursing and even MSW. The future of the community sure looks bright.”
But, why did he not choose to go away like the others?
“Where could I go, this is my home, my heart is planted here and I will be buried here too, with the bones of my ancestors,” reports D’Crus.
As I fold away my scribbling pad and tuck away my camera, Leela proudly brings in homemade wine which the couple say I must taste and tell me if it’s worth serving to guests at Christmas dinner.
I propose a toast, to the couple, their wonderful family and to a community that made India its home and the center of its lives.