9th International Anglo-Indian Reunion (Kolkata. Jan 6th to 12th 2013) – Blair Williams
Ellen and I have just returned home after attending the Reunion in Kolkata. We had a wonderful time, proof that one’s emotional state can transcend the physical environment. Here is my version of the reunion with comments – understand that these are my personal views, and, as an Anglo-Indian junkie, my comments are made with affection and respect. I have many photos and will post these in my blog on the CTR website.
Firstly CAISS are to be congratulated on staging what must be one of the best, if not the best International Anglo-Indian reunion (we have attended 8 of the 9, missing only New Zealand, a mini reunion). Up front the reunion was characterized by excellent organization – each attendee was issued a passport with a specific pass for every event they were registered for; the passport and passes being printed in different pleasing colors, with the date prominently displayed and a map showing the location of every event. Also noteworthy was the attitude of the volunteers and leaders of the reunion committees – they met every request with patience and equanimity - despite some very impatient and rude demands – and were extremely helpful. Kudos again to CAISS and I am sorry that we (the participants) did not get an opportunity to publicly congratulate you. I hope the team will celebrate their success.
Jan 6th: The reunion started with a wonderful ecumenical service at St Paul’s Cathedral. The choir was excellent and their soaring rendition of “My God, How great thou art” reverberated in my mind for the whole week. It was then on to ‘Meet and Greet’ in the cathedral ground and over a thousand of us, from all over the world, met, in many cases after decades and renewed friendships. There were so many shrieks of recognition and also in surprise at how we had changed since we last knew each other. A warm glow of affection and happiness hovered over the entire event. Some good Indian cuisine - kebabs, fish fry, biriyani and excellent Bengali sweets only added to the enjoyment of the evenings. What a way to start – definitely one of the highlights of the reunion!
Jan 7th: The reunion was officially inaugurated and followed by a “Symposium”. Rather a dull event redeemed by some home truths that surfaced and an excellent lunch. Out of all the formal verbiage came three concerns on the community in India. 1. The nominated MP’s and MLA’s are not using their resources adequately to help the community. 2. The Anglo-Indian schools are not honoring their requirement to allocate at least 20% of their admissions to Anglo-Indian children. 3. The community is not united (this was starkly brought home by a young Anglo-Indian speaker – the highlight of the symposium). Lessons to organizers - limit politicians (necessary, but keep to a minimum) and use established speakers. The lowlight of the reunion.
Jan 8th: “Pub Quiz” – which I missed, but hear it was full of fun and enjoyable.
“Those were the days” – a musical presentation in the evening, at the Science City Convention Center. A wonderfully stimulating evening with Priscilla Connors and Bryan Kennedy ( personal friends), Usha Uthup (Iyer), Shane Hyrapiet and many other distinguished Anglo-Indian singers entertaining us for over two hours (with some fine team dancing in between). The event was dedicated to Ken Stuart (personal friend) and I was overcome with nostalgia for our days in (then) Calcutta in the ‘70’s. What an evening!
Jan 9th: Morning: “Anglo-Indian Superstar”– this community can sing and all the participants were so talented. The attendance was thin and many missed a very entertaining event. I am sure some of this budding talent will blossom.
Evening – choice between “River Cruise” and “Let’s go Country”. We attended the later at the Boat club and had a grand time with Western singing, dancing and a superb buffet (being a foodie, I was in my element as all the events provided such a variety of scrumptious food). There were large bonfires all over the grounds and the mood was upbeat and happy. We chatted, danced, drank and ate – what more can anyone desire?
Jan 10th: The “AI exposition and a Food festival”. The exposition was opened on the 8th and it closed on the 10th. There were many interesting exhibits and posters of prominent Anglo-Indians. CTR had a stall and sold the “Anglo-Indian Heritage Series” books. I had about 40 books sent across and they were sold out, and had requests for more. We have a plan to have the series published by AITW in 2014, so hang in there.
The food festival was excellent with every type of food available (I missed the ball curry and yellow rice). It also gave us another opportunity to meet and chat with old and new friends. Fun in the soft, warm, Calcutta winter sun.
Jan 11th: Again a choice between “Kolkata Highlights” a bus trip; “A visit to Bandel” and “Catching up at the Rangers Tent”. We attended the last named and being a Vice President of the club before I left in 1976, I basked in the ambience of the tent and remembered the good (some would say naughty) old days. So may memories of so many persons and events – so much nostalgia. Ah, but life moves on.
There was a Federation (AI groups) meeting in the evening. I asked why the financials of the reunions are not available (I have tried to get them without success). My question was met with a long winded discourse and the question was not answered. This is public money and the financials should be publically available (in the USA lack of this is a jailable offense). CAISS stated they would post this reunion financials within a short time. Another plus
In the evening there was a fund raiser at Bengal Taj “An evening with the Stars”. A most enjoyable event with wonderful singers and (yes again) appetizing food. A few of us who help CAISS were felicitated with a plaque and a scarf. In my thanks, I mentioned a ‘fourth’ concern (remember the three from Jan 7th) – Anglo-Indians in India are not helping their community adequately. We, CTR, have 12 projects in India (in 2011 we sent India over 75,000 dollars or about 40 lakh rupees) and in most of the projects we provide close to 100 % of the funding. Our generation that migrated in the 60’s to 80’s are facing mortality and our children are not Anglo-Indians. When we pass on there will be little funding from abroad, and unless there is some dramatic change in local funding, many seniors and children will lose their current support and be subjected to a poorer quality of life.
Jan 12th: “Caring for the Aged of the community” held in the morning at St Catherine’s old age home. I am so glad that the organizers included this event and the sisters provided their admirable old age home to stage it. I spent my time talking to and dancing with friends from the Mary Cooper home (I could be there as an inmate). Lunch included ‘Bandel’ sausages (wow). Such an emotional event - we must care in deeds and not just in words or prayers. Another reunion highlight.
“The Grand Ball” at Nicco Parks and Resorts. A fitting stage to the climax of the reunion. It was brisk in the night air, but the music and the food compensated for the chill. In all these events the emotional stimulus transcended the physical conditions and this was no exception. I was disappointed that we could not thank CAISS for staging a memorable and deeply meaningful reunion. The fitting end to a memorable reunion.
We met so many old friends and made so many new friends. The reunion renewed the Anglo-Indian culture we once knew and enjoyed. That it was well organized made this process easier and pleasurable. In the final analysis we were again proud to be Anglo-Indian.
I had the good fortune of being involved in three other events – each distinctive and significant. Here they are briefly:
Jan 10th: CTR (Jen Busby of Perth and Cheryl Chater of Sydney) and the Loreto Entally Sisters staged a magical evening at the convent, where over 100 girls, 6 to 15 years (65 of whom CTR sponsors) staged a variety show for over an hour (they had practiced for 4 months). Enchanting. The entire convent grounds were beautifully lighted and it was Disneyland. There was Entertainment (Shane Hyrapiet, Reanne Selwyn, Rodney Rodrigues and Chris Lobo – all donated their time to the event), dancing and food (there was a food court with over 14 types of food and drink). 600+ persons attended. The entire proceeds (one lakh, twenty seven thousand rupees collected) was presented to Sister Tina (superior). Can anything be more fulfilling?
Jan 11th: The Derozio Anglo-Indian Research Collection was inaugurated by the Vice Chancellor of Calcutta University and a section of the University Central Library was dedicated to Anglo-Indian literature. The initial collection was made up of my entire personal collection of books, manuscripts and ephemera. The community will now have a permanent source of information for researchers and persons who want to learn about our community. What a singular honor! My personal highlight.
Jan 14th: Robyn Andrews (a professor from New Zealand) and Brent Otto (a Jesuit to be ordained) organized an Anglo-Indian researcher’s workshop at St. Xaviers, where several scholars read papers of their research on the Anglo-Indian community. Very stimulating and informative and since it was attended by a few young Anglo-Indian students, it bodes well for the future.
Blair Williams is the founder and administrator of CTR (a USA NGO helping Anglo-Indians in India) and the publisher of the “Anglo-Indian Heritage series” (seven books on Anglo-Indian culture and way of life). He and his wife Ellen live in the USA. Website: http://www.blairrw.org/ctr email: email@example.com