The Anglo-Indian community remains in India as one of the many legacies of the British Raj. Racially, being neither here nor there, they were held with disdain as ‘half-castes’ by the sahibs, proper. Often, they were denied entry into European society, though the Raj did enlist their services frequently.
Over the decades, the numbers have dwindled as the community fades in India.
Karan Kapoor, a photographer who too is a child of an Anglo-Indian marriage, documented the continuing culture of the community in the two erstwhile Presidencies of Bombay and Calcutta.
The son of Shashi Kapoor and Jennifer Kendal, Karan had taken two separate series of photographs in black and white during the 1980s and the 1990s. The first series studied the Anglo-Indians of Bombay and Kolkata, while the second one depicted the Goan Catholic population. These were amongst his earliest personal photography projects, meant to record the lives of different communities.
Kapoor began by researching the older residents of the community at The Tollygunge Home for Anglo-Indians in Calcutta.
He wrote, in a brochure for an upcoming exhibition on the series, “I was more interested in the older generation as they seemed to be the last remaining remnants of the British Raj – people who remembered the railway cantonments, the Marilyn Monroe look-a-like contest, the ‘Central Provinces’, and so on, a world long gone.”
At the heart of his project was the idea of capturing an evanescent world.
This theme recurs in his second series on Goa as well. The 1990s series captures a more colonial Goa, the last of Portugal’s Goa. While the Goan Catholics, the inheritors of Portuguese heritage, are not dwindling like the Anglo-Indians, the old ways of living are fading away.
Kapoor’s photographs show how these communities hold on to their distinctive identities. They document a culture that was gradually fossilising. They depict “the last of a dying breed.”
Kapoor’s photographs will be exhibited by Tasveer for the first time in India, next month. The exhibition, entitled Time and Tide, will begin in Mumbai and travel to various other cities.