My word! There's good news for Anglo-Indian literature

Sep 03, 2013, 01:48 IST | Fiona Fernandez

In what will bring a smile to Anglo-Indians scattered across the globe, Anglo Ink, the young publishing house, is ready to release a dozen new titles by authors from the community. The MiD DAY newsroom's lone Anglo-Indian, Fiona Fernandez, delves deeper to gauge what this will mean to a community that gave India more than just Devil Curry, Leslie Claudius, railway engine drivers and High School Grammar teachers

Of all the book releases that one has attended, or read about, this one stood out, and how! Harry MacLure, founder-publisher of Anglo Ink, a publishing house to promote and preserve Anglo-Indian literature, tells me over the phone lines from Chennai that their launch title, The Year Before Sunset by veteran travel writing couple Hugh and Colleen Gantzer, was released during a dance.

TWO DEFT FEAT: Nifty dance moves are part of being Anglo-Indian. Anglo Ink’s first book was launched during a dance in Chennai. 

“This was in Chennai, in February 2012; between 500-600 people attended the event. Mid-way during the dance, we announced that a book release was to take place. The response was terrific,” recalls MacLure, as we try hard to visualise the scene. “We thought this would be a novel, social way to introduce Anglo Ink, away from a routine affair; after all dancing is integral to the community.”

INITIATIVE: Harry Maclure

For a unique community whose culture emerged from a delightful potpourri of Indian and Eurasian (mostly British along with French, Dutch and Portuguese) lineage, mannerisms and traditions, complete with its own glossary that lives on till date (thankfully), an indigenous publishing house could open immense possibilities and, more importantly, infuse life into forgotten, sepia-tinged chronicles of a fast-dwindling community. And MacLure knows this well.

The write platform
We listen in as MacLure --- editor, illustrator and now filmmaker (see box), leads us into how this venture took shape, “We started the international magazine for Anglo-Indians called Anglos In The Wind (AITW) 15 years ago. Along the way, many suggested that I write a book about the community. I toyed with the idea but then I asked myself why not start a publishing house, instead? No doubt, the idea sounded niche at the time.

DOWN THE PAGES: Some of the titles published by Anglo Ink

We needed a publishing platform for, of and by the community.” He tells us about the five-year-long wait until the idea fructified: “This had to be really pucca, not some random, half-baked idea. It had to be a professional setup, in terms of not just the ideas and stories but also editing, proof reading and design. We couldn’t take chances with typos, errors and poor English -- after all, we Anglo-Indians set up so many schools across India, and imagine if a non-Anglo-Indian were to spot a mistake… it would look bad on the entire community!” he admits.

PAGE POWER: (From l): Dr Oscar C Nigli, Former Anglo-Indian MLA, Tamil Nadu; (Dr. Nigli released the book). Patricia Nair, Chennai socialite; who received the first copy of The Year Before Sunset, with Colleen and Hugh Gantzer.

“Recently, we released Blood and Steel, an autobiography by MVC Desmond B Hayde who served with the Indian Army. We had to rely on a Bangalore based expert from the Army to proofread the entire manuscript,” says MacLure pointing to the extent to which every title is screened.

CHUG CIAO: A send-off party for retired Railways personnel

By popular demand
With 12 titles ready for release, it is a busy but satisfying time for MacLure and his six-member-strong team at their editorial office in Chennai’s Anna Nagar. “Almost 4-5 are hot off the press while a few, like Call of the Blood Hostages to India (1920s) has been republished. The copyright belongs to public domain so we decided to reprint it and keep the story alive.” Anglo Ink’s catalogue is a mix of solid, research backed historic fiction and non fiction, accounts of life in former Anglo-Indian colonies, and short stories that represent a community whose fast-fading stories, seem to have finally found a safety net. By 2014, he is confident, at least 25 titles will hit the stands.

VARIETY: The Very Best of Rudy Otter’s cover was illustrated by MacLure

Authenticity remains topmost in MacLure’s rulebook, especially because references and archival content isn’t easily available. “We don’t have one, honestly,” he admits, referring to the lack of printed information on this less than four lakh-strong community. “Anglo-Indian writers are hampered by the lack of a repository. For my own research, I was lucky to have chanced upon copies of the now defunct publication, The Anglo-Indian, at the Tamil Nadu Archives. It opened up fascinating stories from 1890-1910.” MacLure rues the fact that most of the community’s history is in danger of being lost. He cites two books: Frank Anthony’s Britain’s Betrayal in India and The Anglo-Indian Vision by Gloria Moore as two of the best examples of published history.

“...This is where Anglo Ink comes in -- we plan to publish titles including novels, biographies, memoirs, besides showcasing our rich tradition in sport, and of course, our food,” his reassured voice might come as manna for plenty of aspiring talent within the community; many had caught MacLure’s eye while having contributed for Anglos In The Wind.

Keep our stories alive
Amidst all the activity, MacLure is quick to remind us of the support to kickstart this venture. “When we wanted to begin Anglo Ink, Noreen Wood, a Quebec-based friend, came forward. She believed in us and in my decision. She agreed to fund the first set of books; I’m sure it will not be the last. She was keen to do it in her father’s name, which is why she came forward to set up the Philip Lawrence Wood Foundation,” he shares. He is confident that the publishing house will encourage writing talent from the community -- “The opportunity to get published should be their biggest draw. We don’t charge a single paisa to the writer, not even for distribution. Each published author is presented with 25 copies,” reveals MacLure. He rattles off names of a few of their writers who sold as many as 400 copies due to their huge network abroad.

MacLure has big plans to widen their reach and to make these titles more accessible: “We are developing a website to facilitate easier access to these titles for the community. It will also have a payment gateway since most titles are priced at $6, too small an amount for international cheque transfers,” he says, adding how on several occasions they’ve shipped titles free of cost to readers outside India due to this hurdle. “It’s our goodwill gesture. We must do whatever is possible to keep our stories and tradition alive because nobody else will...”

Unique Image Creations, in association with Anglos In The Wind, has produced a 40-minute film, Going Away, a moving story about an Anglo-Indian family coming to terms with the possibility of emigration to Australia and having to leave loved ones behind in India.

MOVIE MOOD: A poster of the film, Going Away

The film’s producer, Nigel Foote, an Anglo-Indian is based in Melbourne, Australia. Born in Bombay in 1955; his family left India in 1960 for the UK and moved on to Australia in 1971. The film’s writer and director, Harry MacLure, is the Editor and Publisher of community magazine Anglos In The Wind and publishing house Anglo Ink.

The filming was done in an authentic Anglo-Indian bungalow in St Thomas Mount, Chennai. The cast includes Denzil Smith, Joel Nigli, Shaan Katari Libby, Mohamed Yusuf, Sharon White, Sonu Somapalan, Jaravis Dee and Gillian Williamson. A theme song has also been written by Harry MacLure and Michiline Igayemi titled Neither Here Nor There. The film will be screened at upcoming film festivals in India and overseas. Going Away will be the first time that a group of Anglo-Indians are involved in the making of a film that revolves around an Anglo-Indian family, with a story set in an Anglo-Indian milieu. 

Book Look
The Anglo Indians by S Muthiah and Harry MacLure is a comprehensive look at the community’s 500-year-old history. Niyogi Books, Rs 350

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