Book and Film, Emotions

The forgotten legacy of the British colonization of India

“You are too fair to be of South Indian descent” remarked my friend who was from Pune. “So you have doubts to my Kerala origins? I replied. Along came another friend from Gujarat, he said “No! Girls from Kerala are so pretty and can be lighter skinned like you..” I wondered later about what they had said. While I did have a resemblance to the lighter wheat skinned Anushka Shetty a famous south Indian star, the question still bothered me, I knew that the native people of Dravidian origin were infact dark and had certain features… short stature, wide noses, dark chocolatey complexion. All of a sudden I felt less Indian than I usually would feel and be proud of. I was annoyed at being light skinned in that moment. I felt that I wanted to be duskier and more distinctly Indian than I was. I felt quite upset at being called not-so-Indian.

Could it just be the result of the Aryan nomadic ancestry? Was the Aryan heritage strong enough after 4000 years to retain that fair skin or was there an addition of Arab or Persian blood? Or is there more to it than meets the eye?

My fathers sister my paternal aunt was also a bit too fair to be classified as a Pakistani. My mother and her maternal relatives had a face far too western to be considered south Indian. Her father and paternal relatives and cousins however did share the traits typical to south Asians, short stature, dark skinned and flattened wide noses. However her mother and her mother’s cousins, her own cousins and aunts and uncles were strikingly white. They had very pointy noses, a noticeably cool, pink and white complexion. My maternal grandmother’s side of the family has far too many people with very light skin, and light green eyes and I don’t recall my mother ever saying that we are of Punjabi origin (native Punjabis are light eyed and skinned natively due to a genetic trait). My mother’s cousins whom I’ve met personally are nothing like Indians. My mother even commented that my British advisor looks a bit like her those cousins. My sister and I often jokingly called my mom’s aunt as Queen Victoria, she has large gooey eyes and a complexion which should not exist in a Pakistani society.

My mom had an uncanny resemblance to several actresses : Nafisa Ali, Poonam Sinha and even strangely to Elizabeth Taylor. She did not look Indian in any part of her life, she was always mistook for an Iranian or Arab whilst we all lived in Scotland. My sister has never been recognized for being a Pakistani either. The fact is you cannot look like Nafisa Ali, it isn’t normal, . Nafisa is an Anglo Indian with features more Anglo than Indian. If my mom looked exactly like her then could the truth be something long forgotten and long ignored…..

General William Palmer and his Indian Muslim wife and his lovely children. He looks very much at ease and in love with his wife to me.

By pure luck I came across William Dalrymple’s documentary White Mughals, a passionate story of Captain James Kirkpatrick and Khair-un-Nisa Begum, and their initially Muslim named children. I had no idea that the British soldiers fathered children from Indian women for almost 250 years. It was a revelation like no other. The interesting part is that the merging of Muslims, Hindus and Christians in the almost 350 years of interaction with the British soldiers and officers adopting the local culture was more widespread than what is thought. Adopting the Muslim Indian lifestyle of the Indian royalty the example of Lt-Col Kirkpatrick is only one of probably hundreds, possibly thousands of others all deliberately erased later or simply forgotten by history.

The noblewoman Khair un Nisa Sahib Begum and her handsome Hyderabad Resident husband Lt-Col Kirkpatrick.

Till recently it never occurred to my mind that as a person whose entire family migrated from India, who has roots in Delhi from the fathers side, and Kerala roots from the mothers side could ever have Anglo roots. But the skin color, features, eye colour, and overall appearance speaks another story. Given that Delhi and the entire south region of India was directly in contact with the British gives a very probable picture. But we are all Muslims with no Catholic relatives, not that I know of.

My research has shockingly proved to show me that there are far more Anglo Indians than I could have ever imagined and that many people in the UK and many prominent personalities also shared Indian heritage. This was something I was never taught in school and something I never imagined. It all seemed like the British came, stole all the jewels and gold and left. What I discovered was the British soldiers merely following orders and some ended up falling in love with their new homeland, enough to marry and adopt the local customs, language and even religion and still furthermore being born to British parents on Indian soil, speaking the native language and calling India their home. It was an intermingling at such a human level, all this time I had viewed the colonials as aliens so different from natives yet their lives had been spent here and they bonded with the heat and colour the same way I loved the Scottish rain, highlands and cold weather. Reality is far more stranger than fiction.

The lovely children Mir Ghulam Ali Sahib Allum the son and Noor-un-Nissa Sahib Begum the daughter

Is my slightly lighter skin colour actually due to the possibility of Anglo blood perhaps even from both sides of my family? Were my mom’s and her mom’s freckles and super pink complexion from the British colonizers? It is a question which has kindled inside me, and the flare has only ignited higher with the legacy of the unquenchable flame of love between Kirkpatrick and Khair, whose children were born into the Indian Muslim household, culture and titles . It is a paradox which I had never fathomed of in my wildest dreams. It is different reading about history in long boring chapters at school and in actual fact be a legacy of that actuality that whites and browns were mixing and merging, in which case it turns far more real and relevant. Am I Anglo-Indian? Only extensive digging and an ancestry DNA test will satisfy my soul.

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