Simon's grandmother and great-grandfather in Lyttleton
His best friends while at school in Wellington were either Indian or Anglo-Indian, he studied Indian history, taught himself Hindi and has a strong interest in Mughal history, art and architecture. He has recently started to learn the Telugu and Malayalam languages.
Simon's grandmother was born in New Zealand in 1929, shortly after her family migrated from India. Although she is New Zealand born, her family retained its Anglo-Indian culture and she has always identified strongly with it.
However, Simon says that for many years he didn't register that he was Anglo-Indian, rather than just ‘part Indian’ and didn't understand what being Anglo-Indian meant.
"I realised, when I found out about Anglo-Indians, and I was like, 'Hang on, there’s all these people … this culture that I’m reading about, it’s all the stuff that Nanny told me about growing up. The trains, the railways, the British not letting you work in the higher jobs'."
Armed with knowledge about India, and with Hindi, he travelled to India in 2014. He says his time in Kolkata was challenging but he did manage to visit the grave of James Cummuskey, an ancestor.
"It was very emotional. I could feel it as I was getting closer, and he [the mali, or gardener] said, “This is it, Sir.” And I was standing there thinking - because I’d had some very bad experiences in Kolkata - 'I’ve gone through all this, and here I am finally, at your grave. I’m the first one in probably three generations to come back'."
While in Kolkata, Simon also visited the Dalhousie Club, a club that is frequented by Anglo-Indians. He clearly enjoyed meeting Anglo-Indians there and commented that they felt familiar to him, “They’re just like my grandmother and her sisters”.
Simon and a friend, Supriya, at Christchurch Indian Social and Cultural Club’s Midwinter Ekta Festival (Photo: Uday Kumar Mudumbai)
Simon was one of the most knowledgeable of the people I met – about his own family, Anglo-Indians, and many other aspects of India. He maintains a real passion for the country and the culture. He has plans to go back again, and in the meantime takes part in India-related activities such as the Christchurch Indian Social and Cultural Club’s Midwinter Ekta festival.
By Dr Robyn Andrews, senior lecturer Massey University
Views expressed in this article are personal to the author and are not to be taken as representing those of the Asia New Zealand Foundation.