“Serendipity!” Robyn Andrews pronounces the word and flashes a smile as she describes the birth of her book, Christmas in Calcutta: Anglo Indian Stories and Essays. “It’s quite true actually, I went to India for a holiday and fell into a research topic,” she informs.
Writing was certainly not on her agenda, as Ms Andrews made her discovery of India during a tour in 1996. When she reached Kolkata, it was late December, the city’s festive spirit in general and a community’s in particular, made a lasting impression on her. Good enough for her to come back again and again, and capture its essence and much more in 200-plus pages.
Taking the Yuletide spirit as a metaphor, the author goes on to explore the life and times of the Anglo-Indian community in her book. “In the city of millions, roughly 30,000 Anglo-Indians can easily be overlooked most of the year. However at Christmas, it is difficult not to notice them.”
Keeping in mind that presenting a comprehensive picture of a community scattered all over a big city was not an easy task, the New Zealand-based author made sure of bringing her professional skills to use. “Being a social anthropologist, I use the discipline’s hallmark method of participant-observer research… I travelled a dozen times, spent lengthy hours with the Anglo-Indians, taking part in activities and observing all the while, interviewed people, collected life stories and took photographs. I‘ve joined in family celebrations such as weddings, anniversaries, christening and birthdays. Also other life-span events like burial and memorial services...”
With more than a decade of research behind it, the book comprises life stories, memoir pieces and essays on issues of contemporary interest. It is organised into four sections: ‘Identity’ focuses on the origins, characteristics and the constitutional definition of the community; ‘Faith,’ on the practice of Christianity; ‘Education,’ on some of the failings of the education system for the community; and ‘Community Care,’ on Anglo-Indian care and the consolidation of their community through this care.
The author says, “I hope to spend many more Christmas in Kolkata and am keen to extend my research further.”
Excerpts from an article published in The Asian Age on December 15, 2013 Feature image: amazon.in
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