The Alice in Wonderland world of the Anglo-Indian community in India was celebrated by journalism lecturer Clare Jenkins on BBC Radio 4 on 15th May. Teatime at Peggy’s focussed on the remarkable Peggy Cantem, 92, whom Clare has been visiting in the central Indian town of Jhansi for nearly 20 years.
In its heyday, the mixed race Anglo-Indian community was famous for its dances, its May Queen and Monsoon Toad balls, its meals of goats’ brain stew and toad-in-the-hole, and its homes filled with souvenirs of the Royal Family as well as mounted tiger’s heads.
It’s a vanishing way of life – there are just 30 Anglo-Indian families left in Jhansi, around 100,000 people throughout India, where they are designated a Minority Community. Since Partition in 1947, many have emigrated to Australia, Canada and the UK.
Peggy Cantem herself is a former stenographer turned English teacher, community care worker, and doughty overseer of the town’s large European cemetery, with its memorials to British men, women and children who died during the 1857 Mutiny/First Indian War of Independence.
“Having tea with Peggy,” says Clare, “is like the Mad Hatter’s Tea Party. Everyone talks at once and you never know who’s going to turn up next. Could be a priest reciting Winston Churchill’s wartime speeches, the BBC journalist Sir Mark Tully, the local editor of the Times of India, or the dog-meat wallah. I always feel like I’ve fallen down the rabbit hole when I visit her.” Teatime at Peggy’s is on BBC iPlayer: http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/b05tpwc7