MetroPlus visits Veteran Lines in Pallavaram, Chennai, and discovers that it has retained its Anglo-Indian ethos

Saddleback roofs, arched windows, trellised porticos, spacious gardens, a lane separating every two houses… Veteran Lines in Pallavaram reflects facets of British architecture. A huge Anglo-Indian community is another feature contributing to its uniqueness.

During British times, Veteran Lines was designed to be a residential area for retired military personnel. But, for a good part of the last century, it has been known as an Anglo-Indian area. The St. Stephen's church, built by four Anglo-Indian women — Mrs. A. M. Lightfoot, Mrs. C. Gomes, A. E. Drinkwater and E. McEnzie — is proof of Veteran Lines' long link with the community. Even after Independence, it continued to be ‘Anglo-Indian enclave'.

“In the 1960s, almost every house in Veteran Lines was occupied by Anglo-Indians,” says Clayton Bastion, president of the All-India Anglo-Indian Association, Pallavaram Branch. “Now, the Anglo-Indian population has been reduced to half.” Given the migratory tendency of young Anglo-Indians, this was inevitable. Despite the drop in numbers, Veteran Lines has not lost its Anglo-Indian ethos. It is kept alive by the Anglo-Indians' love for this place. Not just resident Anglo-Indians, others too have a special liking for it. The maidan is a magnet for Anglo-Indian hockey players around the city.”

Culture calls

Felicia Chatelier, who has lived in other parts of Pallavaram, has unshakable bonds with Veteran Lines and spends a considerable amount of her leisure visiting old friends there. Felicia's childhood buddy, choreographer Andrea Jacob moved back to her family's house in Veteran Lines about five years ago following a lean patch. “The return to Veteran Lines leads to a turnaround,” says Andrea. Living around people sharing her culture invigorated her.

“Dance and music are integral to the Anglo-Indian identity. In the days when Veteran Lines was an Anglo-Indian preserve, it was a major entertainment hub for the Anglos in Madras. It reflected music trends in the metropolis. In the 1940s, it was waltz. In the 1960s, rock and roll,” says Andrea. “The area has still not shed this character. The celebrations on Christmas eve will prove this.”

Ninety-one-year-old Eileen Devigues, living here since 1976, says, “A non-Anglo who comes to Veteran Lines becomes one of us!” Clayton Bastion recalls how P.S. Mani, a resident of the area, was more Anglo-Indian than the Anglo-Indians. “He loved our way of life! He lived and died an Anglo-Indian!”

However, the uninterrupted exodus of Anglo-Indians to other countries causes concern. Bastion shows a row of Anglo-Indian houses under lock and key, due to migration to England, Australia and elsewhere. “All other areas that had once throbbed with Anglo-Indian culture have changed beyond recognition. Veteran Lines maintains a tenuous link with its Anglo-Indian past, because it is governed by the Pallavaram Cantonment Board,” says Bastion.

The Board, which owns most of the properties, leases them out for a 99-year period to the residents. Residents can't add or raise any new structure in the leased-out property. In some cases, a part of the house belongs to the owner and another to the Board. Eighty-five-year-old Anthony D' Nazareth came to Veteran Lines in 1972 and has got used to the idea of a ‘divided' house. He points to a portion with a garden that belongs to the Board and then to the rest that is fully his. Thanks to properties with dual ownership, Veteran Lines does not lend itself to commercial exploitation and, therefore, has not attracted developers. This fact gives old residents such as Bastion the hope that Veteran Lines will continue as the last Anglo-Indian outpost for many more years.