The idle ramblings of a Jack of some trades, Master of none

Aug 8, 2007

Hobson-Jobson, what?

The Anglo-Indians have one privilege that most other communities in India do not: they have two seats reserved for them in the Lok Sabha. Like the Parsis, they too are a jewel in our land, a folk with an influence entirely disproportionate to their numbers.

Historically, the community has been defined as those with an European ancestor in the male line. Unfortunately, during the struggle for India's independence, they found themselves faced with a double whammy: Britain, whom many of them looked towards as home, disdained them; their countrymen suspected them of seditious tendencies for not plunging into the fight for freedom. After 1947, many of them left India for Canada, Britain, Australia and the USA, where they bore the brunt of racism as much as any other immigrants.

But the three to four hundred thousand that remained in India produced stalwarts to do the country proud: educationists, film stars, writers, sportsmen, soldiers, musicians, and entire generations of railwaymen...

An entire culture has grown around the community, with its own cuisine, vocabulary, accent, and mores. There have been films, both recent and old.

Growing up in a little colony in New Delhi, I met some of them for the first time in the late 1970s. As I was not fluent in Hindi, I found I could get along with them just fine in English. The family consisted of a handicapped grandfather, and his daughter and son-in-law, and two kids. The grandfather was a chatty man with an elegant turn of phrase. I was fascinated by his wheelchair, the bicycle chains 'pedalled' with the hands driving the back-wheels, and tried to propel it myself any chance I got, much to his dismay (and amusement). The rest of the family was polite, but not overly friendly. Some of my friends said they looked down upon the rest of us because they had white ancestors. I never felt this, but it seemed to be a common prejudice.

Many desis have a name for the community, just as they do for the Bongs, Illads, Ghatis... Some consider it offensive. Judge for yourselves: Dingo (often shortened to ding). I have been unable to determine its etymology, but I doubt that it has anything to with the wild dogs of Australia. There's a story, however, that it stems from the answer one of them gave when asked what they were doing in India after Independence. In the classic Anglo-Indian accent, the worthy is said to have replied cheerfully, "We dingo!"


Maddy said...

from what i understood the term dingo came because AI's wanted to migrate to Australia 'dingo land' after Britain tightened the immigration rules. some bright convent kid would have started associating the aussie dog to signify Australia. On the other hand, the dingo itself originated from the Indian wolf family!!

Maddy said...

now there is another link - ding ding is an AI dish - like the beef jerky. so did some guy extend that?

Ding-Ding is one such dish, Bridget says, that Anglo-Indians themselves hardly make anymore. A savoury of meat crispies, it's quite a process slicing meat, soaking them in a masala and stringing them up to dry them in the sun. "On a day when there's no meat in the house, you bring out this stored meat, soak it and fry it. It makes a tasty dish," says Bridget with her eyes twinkling at the thought.

Fëanor said...

Thanks for the link, Maddy. I'm afraid the etymology of 'dingo' is somewhat suspect - I don't think it's been authenticated by anyone, so lots of interpretations abound. I'm not even certain if the Anglo-Indians consider it offensive. Any ideas?

Post a Comment