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Publisher preserves history of his people

by Leon Tovey

The Cranbury Press

Friday, December 03, 2004

Monroe man works to preserve Anglo-Indian literature . . .

Voices on the Verandah book cover

"Voices on the Verandah"

Blair Williams wants his people to be remembered. But more than that, he wants them to be remembered as they were. Mr. Williams, who is a member of the ever-shrinking Anglo-Indian community - people of both English ('European' is the term used in Article-366 of the Indian Constitution - webmaster) and Indian descent who were born in India while it was still a British colony - says he worries that the truth of the Anglo-Indian experience will pass away with his generation.

"Literature is replete with works about Anglo-Indians written by others," says Mr. Williams, whose paternal grandfather, a British soldier, arrived in India in 1905. "At some point after I retired, it occurred to me: What will remain of our community when we cease to exist?"

The attempt to answer that question has led Mr. Williams, a 66-year-old retired AT&T executive and Concordia resident, to publish a collection of stories and poems written by Anglo-Indian authors from around the world.

"Voices on the Verandah" features works by veteran and first-time Anglo-Indian authors living in Germany, Australia, North America and India itself. The book's 22 short stories and 29 poems were chosen from hundreds of submissions Mr. Williams received for a 2002-2003 literary competition.

Mr. Williams, who retired from his job as a materials manager with AT&T in 2000 and now heads the manufacturing and industrial engineering program at Polytechnic University in Brooklyn, N.Y., sponsored the contest through Calcutta Tiljallah Relief, the nonprofit organization he founded in 1998.

All profits from the book's sale go back into the charity, which provides monthly pensions to some 250 aged Anglo-Indians and funds the education of more than a hundred Anglo-Indian youths living in India.

"I love (India) - it is my home country - but I just think they have such problems," says Mr. Williams, who immigrated to the United States in 1976. "Life has been good to me. I can't deal with world hunger, I can't even deal with Indian hunger, but I can deal with Anglo-Indian hunger, so that is what I'm trying to do."

Ellen and Blair Williams
Blair and Ellen Williams

Mr. Williams says that, like many Anglo-Indians who left India after it gained independence from Great Britain in 1947, he feels ambivalent about having left. As a gazetted officer in the Indian Railway Service, Mr. Williams says, his status in India was fairly secure.

"My wife wanted to come to America," he says. "In India I was what is called 'sahib' - an educated gentleman. I said to her that I have no real skills; all I can do is drive a car - and that on the wrong side of the road.

"But we came anyway," he continues. "And here, years later, I am again a sahib."

Mr. Williams studied engineering in London prior to coming to the U.S. and he earned an MBA from the University of Chicago after his arrival. But his status as an "educated gentleman" in the United States could not insulate him from the problems facing many of his former countrymen.

Mr. Williams says a return trip to India in 1998 drove home the difficulties facing Anglo-Indians who didn't emigrate and found themselves outside mainstream Indian society as a result of their mixed heritage.

Upon his return, Mr. Williams formed CTR and wrote "Anglo-Indians, Vanishing Remnants of a Bygone Era," a book exploring the problems facing the Anglo-Indian community, which he published in 2002. It was followed in 2003 by "Haunting India," a collection of poetry, short stories, travel pieces and essays written by Canadian Anglo-Indian expatriate Margaret Deefholts.

The books were published in very small runs (less than 1,000 copies each), and sold very well within the Anglo-Indian community, Mr. Williams says. He says he hopes "Voices on the Verandah," will be the book that breaks out of the community.

To that end, CTR has published 1,290 copies of the book and has already begun accepting submissions for a new anthology, to be titled "The Way We Were," slated for publication in 2006.

"Voices on the Verandah" can be purchased directly from this website.

For more information contact Blair Williams.

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