Leaving India 1947
During that impossible Indian summer of 1947, my grandfather made the difficult decision to uproot his small family from the country that he and his wife were born in and the place they both loved and the place that they both believed was their home for life. At that time my grandpa’s small family consisted just of my grandmother, my mother and my aunt. My mother was just four years of age at the time and my aunt was still a baby.
I know that my grandpa made this agonising decision to uproot his small family because he felt there would be little life left for him in India as an ‘Anglo’, perhaps feeling not quite ‘Indian’ enough for India at that time but also with a fear that his family might not be ‘British’ enough for life in 1940’s England. The ‘Anglo’s’ were a race of people who had developed a shared loyalty with two different cultures, historically and politically they had always sided with the British. Personally my grandpa always told me that he believed that the country of India should be run solely by the Indians and that as a child whilst he was growing up, this inevitability was always discussed amongst our family and that the Anglos always knew, that this day would eventually come.
As a captain in the Indian Army he was given the choice to take an Indian Passport or immigrate to Australia, Canada, New Zealand or the United Kingdom. He chose the United Kingdom; many Anglo Indians chose one of the other countries in the new Commonwealth, as the Anglo-Indian Diaspora age they continue to communicate with one another; this older generations number are getting smaller and they feel that they are like ‘scattered seeds’, around the world. There unique culture slowly being forgotten.
Violence was escalating in India soon after it gained independence from British rule in 1947. In a few short months, rioting and religious in-fighting grew. Where once good neighbours lived peacefully together, now Hindus and Muslims fought. My grandfather had already witnessed this violence and hatred surface once before, having photographed the Hindu/Muslim riots in Bombay in 1936 for The Times of India.
On many occasions in October and November in 1947, my grandfather put himself in great danger by helping to smuggle Muslim men out of what were fast becoming Hindu controlled areas of New Delhi, he did this by hiding them in the boot of his army jeep and driving them to safety.
Early in November 1947 as the tension died down a little, my grandpa took his family from the safety of the enclosed ‘Vice Regal Lodge’, along Janpath lane, around Connaught place and then down the Chelmsford Road to the New Delhi train station. There were dead bodies lying on the streets and my grandparents skipped their children over these corpses making them believe that the dead people who were lying on the ground were really only sleeping. My grandparents boarded a train from New Delhi and they headed south on a dangerous over land journey south to Bombay where they would connect with a ship that was heading north to the port of Karachi in the newly formed country of Pakistan. They had been warned that the Journey north over land across the divided Punjab would be fraught with danger, especially for an Anglo-Indian couple with quite clearly mixed race children.
The train my grandparents boarded from New Delhi took an agonising sixteen days to arrive in Bombay; it would normally take only two. During this arduous long journey south, the train they were travelling on was ambushed on two separate occasions by bandits. My grandparents unwittingly became part of the largest human migration the world has ever witnessed. During this time an estimated 12.5 million people fled their homes and half a million people lost the lives. This devastating cocktail of violence, mob rule, religion and politics gave a bloody birth to the world’s largest democracy and were sadly some of the last sights my grandparents witnessed in India.