The Officer and his Batman

When my friend told me the story of the bench warmer tradition in his erstwhile battalion, I was somewhat surprised, though not astounded. The British implanted some queer customs during the buildup of the Indian armed forces, and if you search you can find many. This one comes from a station somewhere up North, where the winters can be biting cold, and where the Sikh regiment had been billeted. It was a long standing tradition from who knows when and the story of its origin had been passed down the proverbial grapevine, to the present day. The British CO (Commanding officer), he said, had a daughter who used to come in the mornings, to where soldiers fell in and congregated for morning prayers. I don’t know why she came often, but take it for a moment that she was genuinely interested and quite fastidious about attending these prayers, albeit from a distance. 

The bench overlooking the Gurudwara where she would sit every time she came was made of cement or granite, and the result of the meeting of a compact derriere belonging to this English lass wearing just skirts (my assumption), with a biting cold bench surface, can easily be imagined with a grimace. The CO, her caring pop, decided that matters had to be set right and so a Sepoy was selected (how one selects a man with the warmest arse, is not a question I can answer, but thou shalt not ask such questions when I retell these stories) to get there ahead of time and warm the bench. So he did and when the lady in question arrived, he would slink away to perform his normal duties.  As I understood, the tradition continues with a Jawan still being selected for bench warming duty, though there is no CO’s daughter any longer. Still there, it is just that, a tradition, followed perhaps for military decorum…. Now most sportsmen would perk up to mention that there are bench warmers even today, those who do not play a match, substitutes or just members of a team who sit on the bench at the sidelines, nevertheless this story of a real benchwarmer was new to me.

But the article is not about bench warmers actually, it is about the batmen. Worry not, I am not going to write about the comic strip character and his sidekick Robin, I am going to cover the batman in the British and Indian army. Today the position is almost on its way out after having morphed through many names. But we will get to most of them.  The gist of the matter is that the batman was a personal servant or valet of a British Indian army officer. Sometimes it was purely personal duties, sometimes, it overlapped to that of an orderly or even to carry out radio duties, but we will get to all that eventually. That it was a necessity then, a tradition or even a matter of prestige, needs no mention. But the name is a curiosity, how and where did it come about?

The batman had nothing to do with bats (unlike the comic strip) or bat caves, but actually originated with horses and the term can be traced to pack horses in the French army. In French the term Bat signified pack saddles and bat horses (baw hors or bor hors) carried the cooking utensils of a traveling army. The person assigned to look after these horses and utensils were the original batmen. Over time, they took responsibility for all baggage of the regiment, and went on to become the keeper (baw man or bor man or bat man) of the officer’s horse. They were paid, as you can conclude, bat money.  Batmen were common in all armies and you will find books from the past mentioning the term often, be it Russian, East European, British or French. It was a common concept, the assistant or servant of a high ranking officer, like a Man Friday and make note of the real old pronunciation, it was bawman, not BATman.

Now it is time for the curious one to pipe in and ask, so is that the origin of the term bata or daily bata in the Indian expense statements? Well, no, while BATA is an acronym for boarding allowance travel allowance, Batta is maintenance or traveling expenses of an employee. It evolved as a common term for an extra allowance paid on special grounds to British officers, soldiers, and others serving in India! Batta came from Bhatta (Kannada for paddy and bhat - boiled rice), the term for this allowance, which in addition to their ordinary salary, provided officers with money for field-equipment and other expenses when on the march. In south India, East India Company officers were paid half batta while in the North, full batta (about Rs 600 or £60) was paid monthly!

If you wonder why I brought up the definition of batta, you will soon detect a possible link. In the early EIC days, the officer in the EIC army was paid a fixed amount and a batta, and with it he had to manage his expenses, his horse and well his servant. So the batta was used for all that and I could also infer (wrongly) that the man maintained with a batta may have been the original Indian batman. Perhaps that was a given, and the Batman became an institution even with the horse and the batman directly paid for by the British Indian army. When the use of horses for conveyance tapered overtime and mechanized armies were housed in billets, the batman simply became the British officer’s servant. His duties were varied and he had to take care of all sundry matters while the office rested and cleared his mind for more important matters!

As time sped by, this small cog in the gigantic army machine got delegated to mere mentions in officer’s memoirs, though some of them batmen did go on to choose their own illuminating careers. Many of them followed their officers in retirement to work in their homes as butlers or secretaries. But let us spend a little while to check their lives and times.

As you may have inferred, all commissioned officers were therefore assigned a Batman who served as a personal servant and assistant. While there were assigned duties which we will get into, one can generally state that they acted as runners to convey orders from the officers, as drivers, as valets, maintaining the officer’s uniform, handled the radio at times and had various other roles such as limiting and regulating personal access to the officer during busy and testing times.  It was always considered a good role in the past, because batmen received better rations and often, favors from their officers. He had in the old times, that is, among other unsaid duties, more formal ones such as waking up the officer, getting his bed tea and breakfast ready, whipping up the shaving lather, lighting the fire and getting (upto an inch of hot bath water as they say, for the tin tub) his bath water ready, collecting rations, cooking meals, cleaning the quarters, handling his laundry, maintaining the officers personal effects and sometimes even sorting of mail and handling communications as a radio man. Sometime it was just a lots of drudge work such as being a dogsbody (a menial worker, lackey or a gopher – but not a dog walker) for his boss! Dog robber" is American military slang, dating back to the US Civil War, for an enlisted man who acts as an orderly, valet and all-around facilitator for an officer.

There are so many stories mentioning batmen, be it the Russian novels of acclaim such as ‘the brothers Karamazov’ or various British officer’s accounts from the first and second world wars. Some mention them in passing, some talk about heroic batmen they associated with, some talk about their sheer necessity. These foreign accounts mention British and Australian batmen, while Indian and old BIA officers mention Indian batmen. They are interspersed or mixed up with orderlies, aides, assistants, aides, in all a confusing glossed over compendium, to say the least. Interestingly, there were batwomen as well, and we come across stories of British and Australian women who worked in camp messes as well as Red army girls appointed as batwomen to Red Air Force captains, with various kitchen duties including that of procuring necessities. Kay Summersby who served for Gen Eisenhower is sometimes termed a batwoman, though she was actually his confidante, chauffer and later secretary.

But it should also be noted that during the great wars, the batman was sometimes voluntary as one officer stated - senior officers on the staff and in command positions were entitled to a personal staff, including a batman. It was usual to seek a volunteer from the senior officer's regiment who was detached from the regiment and posted to the senior officer's headquarters or unit. A batman was in British Army parlance an officer's uniformed servant or orderly, supposedly taken on as a voluntary extra duty, for which the officer paid for the service. In the trenches, a batman carried his personal weapon and often acted as a bodyguard, while the officer carried out his duties as a platoon, company or battalion commander.

James Belton and Ernst Odell explain in their WW memoirs - ‘Hunting the Hun’ - A batman is chosen by an officer to act as his orderly; his duties are many, and wherever the officer goes while in the trenches his batman accompanies him. The higher the rank of the officer the easier the work for the batman and the less the risk, although there are exceptional occasions when a commanding officer takes as much risk as the junior Lieutenant under him. When a platoon officer leads his platoon “over the top” his batman goes with him; he therefore takes the same risk as the other men in the platoon, but he has several privileges that the private has not, such as: after he has attended to the requirements of his officer when out of the line he may spend the balance of his time as he deems fit, he is exempt from sentry and fatigue duties, and as a rule he has a good standing with the boys.

Another Brit definition states - The batman's services consist principally in grooming the officer's regimental horses, and cleaning his accoutrements, but he sometimes goes on errands, and does anything else which may be required of him; the officer pays him a small weekly sum, fixed by the army regulations, and he is subject to all military duty, at the will of the commanding officer, and attends the parades; he also receives a soldier's pay.

The aide-de-camp in comparison is not a batman, but he used to be an officer on the personal staff of a very high-ranking military person, acting as his confidential secretary in routine matters. In modern times aides-de-camp are usually of junior rank and their duties largely social.

Radhika Singha who studied these subsidiaries (see references), explains - As the British entrenched themselves in India and availed of comforts, they too employed a number of servants, both in the army and in civil positions. However British officers in pre-war India, whether in the British army or in the Indian army were not allowed a British soldier-servant, that is a batman. The official reason was that the white combatant strength had to be kept up. By the close of World War one, the Indian service was said to be unpopular with British officers, so it was felt that they had to be offered more 'concessions in kind'. The Esher Committee appointed in 1919-20 to suggest army reforms proposed that officers of the British service be allowed a British soldier-servant (a batman) from the ranks when in India, as they were in the U.K., and British officers of the Indian service, a soldier-servant from the Indian ranks, deploying special enlistments if necessary. She adds that if high caste sepoys objected to 'menial' work, lower castes could be specially recruited as soldier-servants, clarifying also that British privates avoided the job and resisted the performance of 'menial' tasks in the sight of natives..

Officers received an allowance for a syce (grass-cutter and groom) and took him into active service as a 'private follower'. Thus we find the formal usage of the term orderly.  British Officers of Indian regiments were also assigned a sepoy as an orderly, who on active service took messages, cleaned his kit, found him food and a billet.

After the British left, the Indian army continued with the system, terming them buddies initially and later as the sahayak. The system became quite popular and lent prestige to a senior officer, so much so that when suggestions came to dispense with it as it was felt a demeaning activity and no longer a necessity for a modern army, there was marked discontent in the officer’s line. The Sahayak meanwhile was getting upset when some officer spouses would get him to do vegetable shopping, menial household work, baby sitting or even dog walking. Was that what he signed up to do in the army? Was it his choice? The discontent increased and the clamor to end a system that has been referred to as "an anachronism" and "a feudal practice", which has no place in a modern army, had become strident.

While the air force and Navy had disbanded the system long back, the army is still contending with some 30,000 sahayaks (and 41,000 officers). Looking at the Lok Sabha report, we see that the duties presently assigned to a Sahayak are: to provide personal protection and security, to attend to telephones, receive and deliver messages during operations, training and exercise, and in peace,to maintain weapons, uniforms and equipment of Officers/Junior Commissioned Officers in accordance with custom and usage in the Army, to assist in digging trenches, erect bivouacs and shelters during war, training or exercise, while the leaders are more busy in planning, coordination and execution of operations, to be of assistance during patrols and independent missions, to carry and operate radio sets, maps and other military equipment during operations, training cadres and outdoor exercises. In 2010 the defence committee recommended that the practice be abolished stating - The Committee expect the Ministry of Defence to issue instructions to stop the practice forthwith, as this lowers the self-esteem of the Jawan.

The army replied as follows - that the Sahayak is a comrade-in-arms to Officer/JCO symbolizing trust, respect, warmth, confidence and interdependence, which are the fundamentals of relations between the leaders and the led. The Sahayak is a solider who in addition to his duties provides the essential support to authorized Officers and JCOs, both in peace and war to enable them to fully attend to their assigned duty. He also provides leaders a direct contact with men and thus enables officers and JCOs to gain an insight into the state of morale and wellbeing of men. The Sahayak will be attached to regular Army units and provided proper living accommodation and messing facilities. The officers to whom Sahayaks are provided will ensure such facilities are arranged. And finally, that Sahayaks will not be employed for menial house-hold work.

In summary, The Ministry while defending the use of Sahayaks by Army officers only concluded that comprehensive instructions be issued to regulate the work of Sahayaks. They added that the Committee is not able to understand the necessity of having the services of Sahayaks by the Army officers particularly when sister services viz Navy and Air Force have abandoned this practice. Meanwhile, the system continued.

As I researched this topic further, I chanced upon the sad story of Gunner Roy Mathew and his death at Deolali in 2017, a case which brought out the worst side of the Sahayak or buddy system hit the press, and turned out to be complicated one, still under investigation.

The MOD added in a 2017 justification press release that during operations in the field areas, the sahayak and the Officer / JCO act as buddies in arms. One covers the movement of the other buddy and protects him in operations where support has to be total, whether mental or physical or moral. A Sahayak, in addition to his normal soldier’s tasks, provides essential support to officers / JCOs both in peace and war, which enables them to fully attend to their assigned duties. The buddy also provides an alternate contact with the troops, whereby the officer is made aware of grass root issues, albeit through informal means. Clarifying that they should not be used for menial tasks, reiterate that buddies are combatant soldiers and form part of the Army and perform operational tasks as well. Thus, there is no additional cost to Government exchequer.

The deliberations are perhaps still on, while Sahayaks continue to do what they did. The term batman meanwhile died a silent death, unheralded and unlauded.

But there were heartwarming stories too, especially those dating to the war days. O. P. Bahukhandi in his Army Oh Army, mentions the close relationship between the officer and his batman. During the 1962 Indo China conflict, Capt Basant Singh (who retired as colonel) of the Sikh light infantry, refused to abandon his wounded batman and humped him back to safety through the mountains and jungles of Bhutan, himself hungry, sleepless and with festering sores. Lt Col Desmond Hayde recalls how he was saved from certain death when his batman Kunwar lal rushed in to shoot down three Pakistani assailants in the 1965 war. And there is also the story of a batman who went on to become an MLA after retiring from the army, as mentioned in Brig Kuldip Singh’s memoirs.

Blackford in his book humorously talks about Mustaffa, who regularly brought him his chota hazri (breakfast), hot water for a shave, organized the emptying of his thunderbox (shitpot), took care of his bath, had the dhobi starch and iron his uniforms, polished his shoe and shin straps, kept his tent spic and span and served his food. For this the British deducted Rs 50 from his emoluments and in addition, he paid him directly a sum of Rs 30 plus a baksheesh now and then as the master pleased! He goes on to term the batman ‘the Jeeves in Uniform’ (Jeeves would be familiar to the rare PG Wodehouse fan still out there). Glorifying the batman, who could very well turn out to be a friend, philosopher and guide, he provides yet another term – the batman during peace times was a madadgar (helper) or a Johnny who sometimes kept and controlled the officer’s expenditure and accounts. An invaluable asset, he even provided advance warning of major events or shakeup’s in progress, tapping the batman network’s upper echelons.

He also recounts the story of Field marshal Claude Auchinleck’s (Auk) sudden arrival at his post. Auchinleck had heard about a particular unit’s posting in this area and expressed his interest to visit them, much to the dismay of its CO. The CO hurriedly passed orders down and in haste they decided also to send out a particular officer nick named Bhola, one with a very Indian outlook as explained by Blackford and somewhat of an embarrassment, on a long reconnaissance trip to avoid any problems when the FM came. As it turned out, the FM was there only to check on the very same Bhola, asking in his booming voice ‘where is my Bhola?’, who as it turned out, happened to be Auk’s ageing batman’s son. The FM wanted to see the young fella, and make sure he was getting along well. What happened when he found him missing is left to reader’s imagination and naturally did not bode well for the CO.

There is the story of Lord Ismay’s batman (from the times when he was a military man in India) - Ismay had, for more than twenty years, been supplementing his old Muslim batman’s Army pension with one of his own. Just before he arrived in India, his bank manager wrote to tell him that the pension hadn’t been collected for some weeks. He realized why when he reached Delhi. His batman, hearing of his appointment on the radio, had set out on foot and walked for weeks and was waiting in Delhi to serve him again. And then, there is Sam Gamjee, Tolkien’s famous creation, Frodo Baggins’s Batman familiar to young readers.

Servants are nothing new in India and define high position, even today. They have been there before the British arrived and though the batman is as we saw, a colonial vestige, like so many other remnants of the British, such positions would surely have been there in native armies of various princely states even before the Brits came and I am sure, will remain for a long time to come.

The world in world wars: experiences, perceptions and perspectives from Africa and Asia - Front lines and status lines: Sepoy and 'menial' in the Great War 1916-1920 -Radhika Singha
Searching for Pop - Michael R. Brookbank
One hell of a life – Capt Stan Blackford
Standing committee on Defence - thirty first report October, 2008, 4th report 2010,

Note - While writing this I recalled a place from my Turkey days, located in SE Anatolian region of Turkey, named Batman after the Batman River. Nobody really knows how its name came by, perhaps it was a shortening of the Bati Raman Mountain located nearby (bati means west). Batman is also a unit of weight in Turkey! The unit of weight maund in India is somewhat equivalent to the batman in Turkey. Batman’s mayor Huseyin Kalkan once tried to sue Warner brothers for mental agony, and loss of identity, on the basis that there is only one batman, and that was in Turkey. Perhaps Kalkanbey has never heard of the Batmen in the armies…

Once the Promised Land

The Anglo Indians and McCluskiegunge

The Portuguese Mesti├žos had established precedent, when they congregated in Goa though a few remained in little enclaves at Mattanchery at Cochin and Bandra in Bombay. The Moplahs (many claiming Arab descent) attempted to obtain support in creating Moplistan in Malabar but are now well integrated and scattered across Kerala today. The Anglo Indians also tried to establish their new homeland at Whitefield and Lapra (renamed later as Mccluskiegunge) in Bihar. While most people know about Goa and Whitefield, and some have heard about the Moplistan attempt, only a few know the details behind the creation of McCluskiegunge. There have been a few articles, a film and a handful of academic books on the town though. Though the town developed, thrived and declined over time, McClusckie, the person behind its creation is not very well known and usually mentioned in passing, so I thought it a good idea to peruse the story of his effort and spend some time writing about it. McCluskiegunge today is mainly a curiosity and not many people tread the old path leading to that forgotten town off Ranchi, nevertheless I can promise you a short and interesting historic aside.

Till the turn of the 20th century, Anglo Indians were somewhat comfortably placed, working mainly in the Railways, telephone, schools and telegraph offices and the customs offices at the docks. They were quite well organized and lived in urban settings, though concentrated in certain locales and segregated to a certain extent. The church, schools, charitable organizations and their clubs kept them occupied. As government offices started to recruit more and more Indians, the Anglo Indians started to become more and more anxious about their future in India. After the 1920’s a sense of foreboding was apparent among the British and consequently in the AI community, that a departure date of the English was not too far into the future, as the nationalist movements perked up. Fears of discrimination, unemployment and an uncertain future for their progeny gnawed at their minds incessantly.

As Indianization speeded up, the AI’s pleaded for constitutional protection being a minority without a homeland, living in a nation where neither the British nor the Indian communities accepted them wholeheartedly. The feeling of insecurity and the sense of a lack of identity dogged the AI’s of that period. They had been loyal to the masters, religion and culture, but with the masters leaving, what would happen to them? That they were hardly concerned with or associated with the Indian independence movement was also an issue isolating them from the mainstream.  Ruled by two opposing complexes as McCluskie’s nephew Percevial Damzen observed, that of inferiority to the British and secondly a superiority to the native Indian, the community struggled to get along with changing times. It was under these circumstances that the concept of an AI homeland or AI ‘Mooluk’ were bandied about, and as you can imagine one of the pioneers was M T McCluskie.

Born in 1872, McCluskie was a well to do businessman in Calcutta and a representative of the Anglo Indian community in the Bengal legislative council. Living in a prestigious Park Street residence, he boasted of connections with the ruling British elite.

Around 1930 he had been to Bangalore and toured the profitable orchard run by AT McIssac at Gangenahalli, near Hebbal. Returning to Calcutta, he floated the idea of a scheme where a colony could be formed for the AI’s and appealed for a government grant of land and monetary support, which were straightaway refused by Delhi. He would not drop the idea and then proposed a cooperative in the lines adopted by the Young family at Newllano (previously Stables) near Leesville in LA, USA, (moving from llano Del Rio in CA). The idea of a ‘homeland’ galvanized the community and soon The Colonization society of India or CSI was formed with McCluskie as Chairman. But what he did not contend with was the fact that while the early settlers in America were hard working people regardless of their age, driven by a desire to succeed and create what they started out for, the AI’s McCluskie had been herding were mainly retirees or people close to drawing pensions, desiring only of quiet solitude and a place to peacefully spend their last days, akin to a resort. What McCluskie wanted was to create an independent nation state, one which was truly self-sufficient serviced by a hard working commune.

That McCluskie was dependent on the wealthy AI was clear since he could not obtain grants from the British Government. But naturally, the wealthy AI was advanced in age. That was something McCluskie consciously accepted in order to realize his single minded dream of creating such a homeland with agriculture as its mainstay and self-help as its motto. Whatever said and done, McCluskie had decided that this was the only solution, what with some 800,000 AI’s in limbo as India started to rise up and agitate against the British.

The drive to find a proper locale for the homeland was easier said than done. During the early 1930’s, he approached the administrators of Lahore, Madras, Central provinces, Bombay, Bengal and Assam, with no luck. He tried going to London to ask for allocations, but that also failed. Pendra Road looked like a potential site, but while everything else was right, there was no a good water sources nearby and so he had to give it up. A couple of sites located in Dehra Dun could not be acquired, and with a heavy heart McCluskie realized that no government would help him and that he had to turn to private land owners. He was nearly successful with a place named Palamau near Ranchi, but the registration process was rejected by the government on the basis that the land was unsuitable and secondly because the AI’s were not agriculturists.

It was finally in 1933 that he and his team managed to find and register an area around Lapra (which had a railway station and located in today’s Jharkhand) near Ranchi in Bihar, acquiring it from the Raja of Chota Nagpur, Pratap Odhainath Sahadev. Finally some 10,000 acres were obtained on a perpetual lease across 10 villages in the vicinity. The Damodar River flowed along the north, there was ample space for growth and future acquisition as well as ample grazing land for cattle, sheep, goats and pigs. The other sides also had rivers, there was a rail and road link, the city of Ranchi was nearby (40 miles away). An agriculturist AB Christicole concurred that it was a good place to settle and cultivate. Some 163 members booked about 2250 acres of land in 1934 and by the end of the year it had surged close to 4100 acres and some 430 members. 

As the pioneers drifted in to settle down, the settlers decided to rename Lapra to McCluskiegunge, in gratitude to their benefactor and founder. In 1935, the colony was formally inaugurated and renamed as the pioneers, driven by McCluskie’s encouragement got to the task of making their ‘mooluk’. For three years the colony grew, built amenities and farms, cultivating wheat, groundnuts and potatoes, flourishing as other colonies sprung up around India like Abbot’s Whitefield in Bangalore, Majra in Dehra Dun. There were talks of others such as a prospect in the Andamans, dismaying McCluskie who wanted only one Mooluk for the AI’s. Strangest was the proposal to settle AI’s in Mexico, as Margaret Miles proposed or Papua and New Guinea as suggested by one Mr Ward! What most people may not know is that the settlement at Lapra was originally called Erin’s isle since its shape resembled Ireland! Most called it the Gunge.

But let us get back to the leadership. The dream and the idea of the homeland was mooted and driven forward incessantly by McCluskie. Soon after the inauguration of the homeland in his name, McCluskie the visionary passed away in Dec 1935.

One visitor Mc Gowan wrote in Feb 1934 - [McCluskiegunge] is like a beautiful dream, everything your own and in a lovely spot with no dogmatic treatment and no dread of the sack, and, above all, no streets and drains for latrines and spittoons, no dirty leaves, waste paper and mud chatties to be served in and to trample on of an evening walk, and, lo, no ... Dewalies, ...riots, and any fear of Dacoities and Bomb throwing. It would be just splendid: Farming, Commerce, and Industry, Dance Halls and Picture Houses for the money-maker…………….

As the community grew, there were record stores, cosmetics shops, we had a bakery, a butchery, a cobbler. The inhabitants would go on picnics and shoots, hunt wild boar and deer.  While the arms magistrate used to go from Ranchi to renew gun licenses because there were so many guns in McCluskiegange. They say it was a very sociable place in those days, where dances were held, stage plays and fancy dress parties organized while the staid played housie or bingo. Colonial bungalows and smart little houses with gardens dotted the landscape. It had thick forests around and streams flowing. People mentioned that it was like a mini England, a Chota Vilayet.

There were other minor problems, such as when Christians (of Portuguese origin from Goa), tried to move to McCluskiegange and the settlers complained of the menace of intrusions of outsiders posing as Anglo-Indians. But it held on and in May 1938, Gidney described McCluskiegunge as ‘A home for Anglo-Indians under the sun of India, their motherland, an effort at self-help which will command the respect and admiration of our compatriots, a colony worthy of the traditions of our forefathers, a concrete evidence of our affection for the land of our birth, a memory to the blood of our mothers and grandmothers which runs in our veins.’

Water which was in theory available all over, was actually a huge problem and we can find that no administrator or engineer worked out a decent solution for it showing a lack of initiative or insight with digging deeper wells and getting water up from a low water table. The Anglo Indian in Lapra was nether good at tilling the land nor commercially savvy and soon Bania shops and local labor took over the commerce and labor, setting to rest the idea of a self-driven, self-helping colony. Soon the settlers were driven by petty behavior, jealousy, non-cooperation and meanness. The complacent and somewhat isolated or marooned pioneers of Chota Bilayet or mini England were prey to all kinds of manmade and other types of problems.

By 1940 the bubble had burst and with a lack of leadership, increasing overheads and no light at the end of the dark tunnel, properties started going up for sale and settlers planned departure to far away destinations. In what way was McCluskie himself responsible for its failure? One classic reason stated is that he himself never left the comforts of Calcutta and settled down in Lapra. Other community leaders also stayed put in Calcutta and they all talked about their orphan child Lapra, from far away. Was it not a recipe for failure?

Two other factors can be attributed to the failure of a rebound by the fledgling colony. One was the Second World War and the second was the drive for Indian independence and its realization in 1947. Most of the Anglo Indians succumbed to the first of the complexes, insecurity and fled to Australia, Canada and England. It is not right of course to lay all the blame on the fleeing AI, for the native Indian was also to blame, for not giving them a welcome, albeit wholeheartedly. The Indian complained that the fleeing AI did not think themselves as Indians in the first place, so why should they have any fondness for them? There were other reasons, the resurgence and concentration of Maoists in nearby villages, not to forget the collapse of the Colonization Society of India in 1955 and the drift of its youth to other locales.

Sadly, the colony declined rapidly through the post-independence years and is a relic of what it once was with not much left of the dream of its founder. It is today a destination for a certain kind of tourist while remaining Anglo Indian descendants do not take kindly to prying eyes, fed up with articles detailing its failures and glorifying its past. But it is what it is and unless a new generation of AI descendants come back to refurbish it, the ‘mooluk’ or Chota Bilayet would crumble away to remain only in articles. The town itself is not dead nor one which has to die, it just needs fresh leadership and a new objective and a different kind of entrepreneurship drive to keep it going.

As the 1990’s approached, we saw that most dwellers had left and the population finally dwindled to some 50 residents. But a savior came by. Alfred George deRozario, an Anglo Indian (and his wife Dorothy), pained by the plight of the settlement established the Don Bosco Academy in April 1997. It soon became a prestigious institution and today boasts a school with classes upto the 10th and strength of more than 1,300,The Don Bosco School did provide an opportunity to the old timers who converted their homes as hostels for students, but I think all agree that it not surely a permanent solution.

The persona of McCluskie other than being a founder of the colony in Lapra is not clear to many people, so let me tell you what I could unearth. Ernest Timothy was the son of an Irish father and an Indian mother. According to a contemporary and writer Harry Hobbs, McCluskie used to work as a tie fitter in an outfitters shop and once won a lottery with which he set himself up as a land agent and worked his way to success. I think his home was once at 5 Park Street which is today location of the Park hotel. Kunta Lahiri mentions that it was 22 Park Street in which case it is the home to a shop called twigs and Tales as well as a medical center! McCluskie is generally described as having been a successful real estate house broker and land agent in Calcutta and his first claim to fame was the printing of the  ‘The Calcutta directory and guide” in 1906. In 1907 he complied and released the McCluskie's Indian Directory & Guide. Commercial & Official. While McCluskie did create the Gunge, he was not part of it for long. Though not often mentioned, he visited the Gunge just once! Perhaps it was due to his failing health. The Statesman headlined his obituary calling him 'A Great Leader and a Worthy Citizen', which was perhaps just right. Other than this little amount of information, nothing else has been put to words or published, to my limited knowledge.

In the opening pages of Vikas Kumar’s novel, Denis McCGone is wistful – He is infuriated with his wife who is upset with Denis always thinking of his homeland and McCluskieGunge. He retorts Hell…? Lisa, in this naughty world, the connectedness with one’s soil, the sense of our own roots, is really felicitating. Each and everything is fallacious in this prosy life. But the root always steers the life, it can’t die easily. I know I have to carry the weight of a fool, you can’t understand Lisa, the pull of the rootless people…..

As Lord Irvin said, ‘God made British and God made Indians, but we made the Anglo Indian’. It is as Jha explains, the AI is a paradox, neither British nor Indian, neither fair nor dark, they ate not just English dishes, but loved the ladoos, and they were like the veritable Indian coconut, brown outside, white inside. McCluskiegunge is still the only place AI’s can continue to claim as a homeland, so someday somebody will come back, as they say, it is still a leftover of a dream for independence.

Post-independence, it was not uncommon to see Anglo Indian secretaries in most large offices, and perhaps men found more competition at the work place. But this was not applicable to every Anglo Indian. A huge number of them lived, remained and thrived in post-independence India. A classic case is that of Cyril Stacey an INA colonel, whom I had written about earlier. There are so many more and I have come across and knew a few in Madras and Bombay. In hindsight, one can always say that fears are fears and they tend to grow until one is forced to act, only to realize much later that it was perhaps not so bad, after all. Do the Anglo Indians scattered across the globe think so? Maybe, maybe not!

The story of Bangalore’s Whitefield is equally interesting and I will get to some of it someday, and probe into that oft mentioned juicy rumor of Churchill’s visit and trysts with a certain Rose Hamilton at the Waverly Inn.

In search of a homeland – The Anglo Indians and McCluskiegange – Kuntala Lahiri Dutt (1990)
Domicile and Diaspora – Alison Blunt
Anglo Indians and minority politics in South Asia – U E Charlton-Stevens
McClusckieGunge – A novel by Vikas Kumar Jha
A lovely ode to the Gunge by Usha Utup  with reworded ‘what a wonderful world’

Note: Most people today spell McCluskiegunge as McCluskieganj, perhaps for convenience. The former is the spelling used by the founders. It was sometimes referred to as Gunge in correspondence. Lapra is still valid, but largely forgotten. 

I am obliged to Kuntala Lahiri and Alison Blunt for the original work which forms the backbone of this summary and count myself lucky for having had the opportunity to access and read their theses.

McCluskie plaque courtesy Soumyendu
ET McCluskie pic courtesy Malcolm Hourigan