Among the city's diaspora, the dwindling population of two communities - Parsis and Anglo-Indians - is hard to miss.
Known for their teaching skills and contribution to the Indian Railways, the Anglo-Indians have remained a quiet, close-knit community. The fact that the Chennai chapter of All-India Anglo-Indian Association is one of the largest and active in the country is hardly something to cheer about. Many of the members have migrated to Australia, and inter-community marriages are a cause of worry, its office-bearers say.
“In Chennai, we have six branches, while Bangalore and Kolkata have only two each. We have monthly get-togethers,” says Harry MacLure, Editor, Anglos in the Wind. In India, the Anglo-Indian population is about 1.2 lakh, with Chennai having about 35,000. “Ten years ago, Vepery had a large population. Today, it is hard to spot them as the numbers have gone down and those that are here have switched to Indian clothes.” According to Mr. MacLure, the matrimonial column of the magazine is one initiative to retain their identity.
At the Phiroj Clubwala Memorial Hall in Royapuram, on the last Saturday of every month, members of the Madras Parsi Association gather for an evening of fun. “Around 110 people come for some light entertainment. We dance occasionally and eat a sumptuous and subsidised non-vegetarian meal,” says B.P.Byramshaw, one of the oldest residents of West Mada Church Street, once the hub of the community.
Yet, of 260 Parsi residents, only the older generation find time to visit the Club. Given the small Parsi population in the city, finding a match is quite arduous. The Jal Phiroj Clubwala Dar E Meher (Fire Temple) in Royapuram, thus sees a wedding once in three or four years. “During the week, not many people visit the temple since many of them live in the southern part of the city,” says Bomi Vazifdar, the temple priest.
Despite all these concerns, for Anglos their cuisines and love for dance continue and for Parsis ‘Tambola' evenings continue to be source of bonding.
S. Muthiah, historian: The city has always been cosmopolitan and accommodative but it has massively changed over the years. The Madras, before Independence, was a commercial trading town with the British controlling all power. The native town formed then provided a lot of opportunities for retail, money lending and other smaller businesses to grow, hence traditional businesses of many communities flourished. But, after Independence, Madras moved on to become an industrial city, and professions and opportunities that never existed in those days, have become open to everybody now. Even the migrants have a new world to look at, beyond their traditional occupations, which most of them have started doing now.
J.K.Tripathy, Commissioner of Police, Greater Chennai: We have no clear statistics on how many people from other States including labourers, students and professionals, are right now in Chennai. But we are in the process of developing a database on different categories based primarily on professions and place of residence. We have already started collecting the data. It will help police to serve the public and specific residential areas where their concentration is more in a better manner.
Nandlal Pokardas, president, Sindhi Educational Society: There are around 20,000 Sindhi people in Chennai When some one asks me where home is, I say home is Chennai. Though initially, there were Sindhis who sold goods on the platform, now many of us are well-settled. We are a very close knit community and when someone comes in need of help financially or otherwise, we extend a helping hand. We are into businesses in electronics, textiles, finance, exports and real estate.