Famous Anglo-Indians

Updated on January 25, 2018
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Donna wrote for the Durban Mirror back in the 80s when news had a lifespan of up to 30 days. She now writes because that's what writers do.

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Who are Anglo-Indians?

The term "Anglo-Indian" has changed a lot over time. Until the early 20th Century it commonly described British people who lived or worked in India. Since then, it evolved to mean people with parents or grandparents of both British and Indian nationality. Time and globalisation has made the term largely obsolete, as people are increasingly defined by a combination of where they were born and the citizenships they hold.

Anglo-Indians were often sent to Europe for schooling by parents who lived in India. Prior to the opening of the Suez Canal, many European, and especially British men married Indian wives because few British women were prepared to travel the long, unpleasant voyage to India. This was regarded as perfectly acceptable in the society of the time.

After the opening of the canal, the journey was much shorter. India became a popular destination for unmarried British women who were ready to change their status and start a family. Life in India often offered many comforts that topped life at home. Sunshine and increased social status were attractive. These women brought their opinions and ideas with them. Snobbery caused some mixed-race people to be snubbed and regarded as inferior by the newcomers. This idea spread through the settler society, and Anglo-Indians were often passed over when recruiting for top positions.

Typically, Anglo-Indians spoke English and were raised and educated in Christian homes. Most regarded themselves as British, and were not easily accepted by the native population. They were increasingly regarded as inferior by some sectors of the British population.

Following the Independence of India in 1947, about half of them left the country of their birth. Some stayed on. Over time, both groups have largely been assimilated into their local communities.

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Where Are They Now?

According to the Telegraph, there were an estimated 500 000 Anglo-Indians in India. As the ones who stayed in India often married ethnic Indian partners, their numbers have dwindled to an estimated 150 000. These remaining ones have developed into a unique and separate community of their own. They are mostly Christian, and have their own foods and customs. They still exist as small, distinctive community.

The rest of the population, estimating around 500 000 in total (according to the Telegraph) live mostly in Britain, Canada, Pakistan and Australia.

Although they make up such a small proportion of the world population, they make up a surprisingly large sector of our rich and famous.

Engelbert Humperdinck

Engelbert Humperdinck was born Arnold George Dorsey in Madras, British India, in 1936. His father was of Welsh descent, his mother of German descent. He spent his early childhood in India until the family moved back to Britain when he was 11, in 1947 after independence.

His manager changed his name, and Engelbert finally made it big in 1967 when he recorded "Release Me." "A Man Without Love" followed the next year, and Engelbert's fame and popularity as a world-class crooner was established.

Norah Jones

Geethali Norah Jones Shankar was born in 1979 in New York City. According to the Hindustan Times*, she is the daughter of Ravi Shankar (born Rabindra Shankar Chowdhury), a sitar maestro when she was 18, and performed with him for the first time in 2013. She grew up in Texas with her mother, Sue Jones.

Music is in her blood. She played her first gig at the tender age of 16 and was signed by Blue Note Records in 2001.Her 2004 album, Feels Like Home earned her three Grammy nominations and one win.

Ravi Shankar was a Bengali-Indian musician, famous as a composer of Hindustani classical music. He was born in Benares or Varanasi, a city on the banks of the Ganges in Northern India in 1920. He went to Paris with his choreographer brother as a child and later joined his dance group. He learned to dance and to play Indian instruments. He won his first Grammy in 1967 for Best Chamber Music Performance (one of four in total) and he performed at Woodstock in 1969.

Shankar has an illustrious career and some famous fans. George Harrison was one of them who also took sitar lessons from and collaborated with Shankar. Harrison's introduction of the sitar caught on and started the so-called raga trend in western rock music. Shankar's other daughter, Anoushka, is also a musician in her own right. Both she and her father were both nominated for Best World Music Album at the 2013 Grammy Awards for separate albums.

I personally enjoy the work of Norah Jones and was delighted when she appeared on the same stage as my heroes, Kris Kristofferson and Willie Nelson.

*Coming to India is bittersweet: Norah Jones 23 February 2013

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Ben Kingsley

Ben Kingsley was born Krishna Panjit Banji, in North Yorkshire, England. His mother, Anna Lyna Mary, née Goodman, was English. His father, Rahimtulla Harji Bhanji was born in Kenya, but of Gujarati (western India) descent. Interestingly, the Gujarati language was the first language of Mahatma Gandhi.

Ben Kingsley has had a diverse and prolific career. He was a stage actor, as well as appearing on television shows and Broadway before receiving worldwide acclaim in the Academy winning movie of 1982, Gandhi.

Rudyard Kipling

Joseph Rudyard Kipling is probably one of the best-known English writers of all time. He was born in Bombay in 1865. He wrote The Jungle Book in 1894, and I doubt there has been a child since then who hasn't either read it or watched one of the movies based on it. He was awarded the Nobel for Literature in 1907 when he was just 42 years of age.

His parents met and married in England. They courted in Rudyard, Staffs, and were so impressed by the beautiful area around Rudyard Lake that after moving to India in 1865, they named their son after it when he arrived later that same year.

In the 19th century, people of English origin living in England were described as Anglo-Indians. Indeed, Wiki states that According to Bernice M. Murphy, "Kipling’s parents considered themselves Anglo-Indians".

The young Rudyard was schooled in England from the age of 5 before returning to India in his teens. His very first job as assistant editor for a local newspaper set him on the track he would follow for the rest of his life. It seemed as if he was born to write and delight. He was also a great traveler and visited, lived and worked in many countries including South Africa and the United States.

Freddie Mercury

Freddie Mercury is probably one of Britain's best known rock stars. Although who was not technically Anglo-Indian, his identity was complex due to the British Empire.

Freddie Mercury started life as Farrokh Bulsara. He was born 1946 in Stone Town, Zanzibar, where his father had been posted to work for the British Colonial Office. (Zanzibar was a British protectorate until 1963) The island has a complicated history, no doubt because of its historic importance to world trade.

Mercury spent much of his childhood in India. His parents were Parsis from the then province of Bombay Presidency in British India. He was schooled at a British type boarding school near Bombay (now Mumbai). He moved back to live his parents in 1963, where he lived until the family moved to England to escape a revolution. He had already started calling himself Freddie while he was at school in India.

Freddy Mercury, while not Anglo-Indian, was a product of the British Empire. The rest is rock and roll history.

Sir Cliff Richard OBE

Harry Roger Webb was born in Lucknow, India in 1940. (part of British India at the time.) He is mainly of English heritage but would have been regarded as Anglo-Indian under the older definition. His father was British, his mother Dorothy Dazely, was an Indian born Brit.

According to the Daily Mail, Sir Cliff has another Anglo-Indian connection. In an article dated 1 November 2011, Bigamy, the Raj and the scandal buried in Sir Cliff Richard's past claims that the singers "great-great-grandmother, Emeline Josephine Rebeiro, was the daughter of an Indian man from Goa, Vitriaus Rebeiro."

The family opted to relocate to England (after independence) in 1948. Sir Cliff went on to become an icon in the British music industry.

Prince William Duke of Cambridge, Anglo-Indian Ancestry

Researchers have confirmed that Prince William is Anglo-Indian -according to The Telegraph, 14 June 2013. (Source link below)

http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/worldnews/asia/india/10120344/DNA-tests-show-Duke-of-Cambridge-has-Indian-ancestry.html

The connection is said to be on his mother's side, six generations back.

Theodore Forbes was a Scottish noble. He worked for the East India Company which ruled British India back in the day. Forbes (Princess Diana’s ancestor) had a relationship with a housekeeper, Eliza Kewark. Several children resulted from this union, including Katherine in 1812.

Until recently, it was thought that Ms Kewark was an Armenian living in India. Reportedly, DNA testing played a role in setting the record straight.

It tells us that Katherine moved to Scotland and married James Crombie in Aberdeen. It is their great-granddaughter that is the link to Prince Wiliam (via his mother)

Small Population, Huge Impact

There is little doubt that the policy of European expansion of earlier times did cause increased and extended pain and suffering for many people in many different parts of the world. It was the root and the start of the great age of globalisation that we live in today.

The people that were born, raised and descended from this era are diverse.

It is convenient to generalise, but every person is unique. It is all too easy to look at politics, laws, and statistics and lose sight of the very real people who navigated these changing, complex times.

I do not think it is that difficult to understand why small groups of people who went through troubling and often contradictory times have left such a big mark on our world which is totally disproportionate to their tiny numbers. Anglo-Indians, like other minorities, have successfully carved out a special and important niche for themselves in our world today.

Their art, beauty, and resilience shine through and illuminate our troubled world. Anglo-Indians have certainly come into their own, and I hope they remain as a people in their own right for a long while yet.

Please let me know if there is anyone that has made an impact on your life?

Questions & Answers

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      • profile image

        Mark Sutton 3 days ago

        The comment about the Beatles below. Pete Best was also of Anglo-Indian descent and I don't believe that Norah Jones is technically Anglo-Indian.

      • jgshorebird profile image

        Jack Shorebird 7 weeks ago from Southeastern U.S.

        I agree with Bill, great history lesson and something I do not even recall. Being from Florida (USA) we have so many cultures, races; I rarely think about such divisions.

      • Robert Sacchi profile image

        Robert Sacchi 3 months ago

        It is an interesting article that gives a good background about Anglo-Indians and some famous Anglo-Indians. The Beatles introduced Ravi Shankar and the Nehru suit to the west.

      • billybuc profile image

        Bill Holland 3 months ago from Olympia, WA

        Wonderful history lesson about a topic I knew next to nothing about. Thanks for broadening my knowledge base.

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        Brendon 4 months ago

        This was very interesting to read

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