Going “down the rabbit hole” on Radio 4

Peggy and Clare
Clare (R) interviewing Peggy Cantem at her home in India.

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


One Comment Add yours

  1. It has been a great surprise to view this site. I hail from the great and beautiful city of Jhansi where I spent my childhood and had the best education schooling there. In fact I did not know about Aunty Peggy who at this ripe age got a Herculean task accomplished that is the cleaning up of the British cemetery. During my early years of education – that is in the 60s – the Anglo-Indian population must have been not less than 6000 plus. The schools in competition were St Marks and Christ the King in the Cantt. We had some of the best Anglo-Indian teachers. I remember Mr Beecham, Mr Francis, Mr Te Allan our principal, Mrs Fernandis, Miss Daisy Baiden, Miss Yunis Henderson, Mr Scafe, Miss Myrtle O Connor, Mrs Young – and we stayed in a place where our neighbours were the Rutters. The city had a great set-up and the Sadar Bazaar had an elegant crowd with Anglo-Indians and the army officers. The school concerts were wonderfully directed and left an everlasting impression on the audience then. Those great days are over and now we can just get drowned in the Jhansi memories: in fact, Jhansi was at the strategic location and still continues to be as a central command force. With best wishes to the A I community ‘ .

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