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Famous Anglo-Indians

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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.

Typically, Anglo-Indians spoke English and were raised and educated in Christian homes.

Typically, Anglo-Indians spoke English and were raised and educated in Christian homes.

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 have 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. Before the opening of the Suez Canal, many European, 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.

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 a small, distinctive community.

The rest of the population, estimated at 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, and his mother was 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. As a child, he went to Paris with his choreographer brother and later joined his dance group. He learned to dance and play Indian instruments. He won his first Grammy in 1967 for Best Chamber Music Performance (one of four in total) and performed at Woodstock in 1969.

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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 nominated for Best World Music Album at the 2013 Grammy Awards for separate albums.

I enjoy Norah Jones's work 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

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 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 and appeared on television shows and on Broadway before receiving worldwide acclaim in the Academy Award-winning movie 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 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 age five 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 he was not technically Anglo-Indian, his identity was complex due to the British Empire.

Freddie Mercury started life as Farrokh Bulsara. He was born in 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 with 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, and his mother, Dorothy Dazely was an Indian-born Brit.

According to the Daily Mail, Sir Cliff has another Anglo-Indian connection. An article dated 1 November 2011 claimed the singer's "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.

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. Their great-granddaughter is the link to Prince Wiliam (via his mother).

Small Population, Huge Impact

There is little doubt that the policy of European expansion in 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?


Francis Esaw on December 17, 2019:

My father (same name), was part of a long established Anglo-Indian family that had worked for the Indian railways for generations, living in railway colonies throughout pre-independence India. They were of mixed Indian and British decent, dating back to the East Indian Company. They considered themselves to be more British than Indian, with children typically being educated at Christian run boarding schools throughout India, in my fathers case St Mary's in Mazagon, Bombay, run by Jesuit priests. It is still one of the top schools in India and has a global network of 'Old Boys. While they considered themselves to be British and many had good upper management positions they were frequently passed over for promotion during the colonial era. After independence they were treated with suspicion and many lost their jobs to Indians, prompting many to leave India mainly to the UK, Canada and Australia. My father served with the British Royal Air Force (RAF) in India and the Far East throughout WWII and was the first of his extended Anglo-Indian family to leave India, shortly after independence, remaining in the RAF in the UK until his retirement. Ironically, his last RAF Squadron in India (31 Sqn) were employed for three months flying round the clock 'rescue missions.' across the newly created Indian/ Pakistan boarder with their DC3 Dakota aircraft. They were relocating Indian military personnel and their families across the new boarder depending upon their religion. The rest of his extended family and many of their Anglo-Indian friends followed him to the UK and others to Canada with just a handful remaining. Those that remained were generally treated like second class citizens. I'm now retired and slowly trying to piece together bits of my Anglo-Indian family heritage.

Biswa Prasun Chatterji on June 30, 2019:

A sizeable anglo indian population lived in Kharagpur and Asansol....Ruskin Bond is another famous anglo indian you missed....Louis Banks... Carlton Kitto were legenady musicians...Pam Crain and Lorrain Swinton of Calcutta were singer n dancer who hotted up Park Street nightlife

Jeffrey Palmer on April 30, 2019:

The British constitution does indicate that only descendants from the paternal side are Anglo. However similar to how the old names of Bombay, Madras and Calcutta have changed their names, today we consider any side descendants to be Anglo. This helps us to keep the heritage stronger. I'm a Bangladeshi Anglo from both sides, but either side works. Just saying!!

RAJ on February 08, 2019:

Not quite accurate. Anglo-Indians are those whose paternal lineage is European and thus BEN kingsley etc do not qualify to be called Anglo-Indians. Hope I am clear?

Trevor on November 14, 2018:

Merle Oberon, an actress, was Anglo Indian, she was known as The Most Beautiful Woman in The World.

Donna (author) from East Yorkshire, UK on November 13, 2018:

Great! Thank you. I will follow up on that.

Donna (author) from East Yorkshire, UK on November 13, 2018:

This is a short piece certainly not intended as any kind of academic study, but thank you for your interest. I accept your point around the evolving, accepted understanding of the term. It is a fascinating topic which I looked at while exploring some branches of my own family. Sadly, this forum limited the scope of what I what I could practically use. I appreciate your response.

yekollu on November 12, 2018:

Regarding the comment about Beatles instroducing Ravi Shankar, i belive it was The Papas and Mamas and not beatles

Kurt Coyne on November 12, 2018:

While the article is a good history lesson, most of them on the list are of mixed race or ancestry, yet not "Anglo-Indian" in the way that the term is used to describe the community that has been mentioned. The Anglo-Indian community isn't just about DNA. It's culture, practices and a way of life that is an amalgamation of our ancestry and history influenced by living in India. I invite you to do a little more research into it, and I would be happy to help.

Mark Sutton on May 16, 2018:

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 on March 26, 2018:

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 on January 31, 2018:

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.

Bill Holland from Olympia, WA on January 23, 2018:

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

Brendon on January 10, 2018:

This was very interesting to read

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