No blacks, no Irish, no dogs. 1958 Britain and they were not tolerant of diversity. For my Indian Grandfather marrying my Roman Catholic Irish Gran, this was not an easy time to be a mixed race couple. Yet somehow 5,000 miles across the ocean, they were able to find people who were willing to do just that, accept. A first class passage, 18 days with a 7 month old they would arrive in Bombay. After a night in a hotel they boarded a sleeper train, with blocks of ice to keep them cool. Lally, my gran, describes her first impressions of Kolkata, the heat, the noise, the smells; taking weeks to adjust to it, but the people embracing them with open arms -black, white, you were greeted with smiles unlike the racial abuse they had suffered on her ‘home’ land. Despite my grandparents arriving just after the 1956 constitution, when Indians took back the land, uniting to create an Indian government, Kolkata was still very open to expats. For over 200 years the British had ruled from the colonial capital of Kolkata.
For the next 7 years they would meet 8 other couples; all English/Irish wives who had chosen to live in India to be with their husbands, whom they met studying in the UK. Here they would raise families, embrace the culture, enjoying the Indian way; how you would greet someone, respect your elders, the importance of community and family, their respect for books and education.
Walking around today, seeing the streets my dad grew up on, you can still see the British influence, St. Paul’s church, the Victorian and Albert monument, his catholic school – Don Bosco. Most recently the current mayor has gone as far to declare Kolkata to restored to London, building a mini Big Ben and filling with street with Oxford Circus type lights! As you can imagine many people are not happy about how the tax money is being spent, whilst under English influence Kolkata may have been a place of power, but becoming London is not the way, let it be celebrated for its own beauty and achievements.