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Friday, October 7, 2016

KOLAR GOLD FIELDS DOWN MEMORY LANE - Book Review by Dr. Beatrix D"Souza Member of Parliament Lok Sabha 1999-2004


Indian Editions - 2010 & 2014 Matha Printers & Publishers , Bangalore 
Price: Rs 260 
BOOK REVIEW - by Dr. Beatrix D'Souza
Member of Parliament Lok Sabha 1999 - 2004
Kolar Gold Fields , the name itself suggests not just a mining town but is evocative of the lure and romance of gold ; of fields of gold , hidden beneath the barren rocky terrain which is the Deccan Plateau in Karnataka
Bridget White's book is a well -researched historical and sociological document, apart from being a personal Memoir.According to legend attributed to the Ramayana. Rama, Sita and Lakshmananwhen sent into exile wandered in the forests of present day Avani village ,20 kms from what is now known as KGF . Rama chased and killed the Golden Deer with his arrow. The deer fragmented, its pieces scattered and created the ' fields of gold ' Gold was first extracted in shallow pits by nomadic tribes who noticed the unusual rocks. Gold mining existed in the time of the Guptas, the Cholas and during the reign of Tippu Sultan. The British Company, John Taylor and Sons started mining operations in 1880. The Mines were nationalized after Independence in 1956 and closed down in 2001 after 125 years of mining. As a sociological document the book points to the presence of migrants from Andhra ( Telugu )Madras State ( Tamil ), Punjabis ( Watch and Ward), and Marwaris (Rajasthan ) who started businesses. Their descendants continue to live in KGF and Karnataka. The Europeans at that time besides the British, were the Scots, the Irish and the Welsh as well as the Italians, the Germans and the Spanish. The European women staying behind in their native countries, the men married native women and the Anglo- Indian community was further strengthened in this part of Karnataka or erstwhile Mysore State. In the 1920s the Mines employed 24,000, of which 400 were Europeans, 650 were Anglo-Indian and the rest miners and other workforce. The Anglo-Indians as elsewhere in British India, served as a link between the Europeans and the other Indians whose language they spoke and understood. They worked in middle level positions under the British and after Independence in Administrative and Managerial posts . There were many A-I Covenanted officers who enjoyed special privileges. The posts were almost hereditary with the son succeeding the father and occupying the Company bungalow. Mr Sydney White (Bridget’s father) was a Covenanted officer. These three groups who worked together to amass huge profits for the British Company, lived in clearly demarcated social enclaves. While the Europeans lived in large bungalows as did the Anglo-Indians, the miners lived in the Miners Lines in rows of tin shacks with little ventilation, no safe drinking water or proper toilet facilities. Epidemics were common. Illicit liquor added to their woes. Their working conditions were no better. In the early days, they went down the mines in buckets with candles to light the way. Things gradually improved over the years, especially after they formed Unions to protect their interests. 
Anglo-Indians in their bungalows with a British lifestyle and customs lived life to the hilt in what came to be known as Little England. The men worked hard and were known for their efficiency and integrity. The women worked as Nurses,Teachers and Secretaries or stayed home as housewives. Not only former KGF residents but all A-Is will recognise ourselves,  our homes our food and our lingo in Bridget's detailed and interesting account of her childhood and growing up years . Our homes were furnished in the same way with rosewood furniture, Planter's chairs, dinner -wagons and meat safes. We had glass bead curtains, crocheted doilies and brass jardinieres . Foreign goods were easily available like Dutch Ball cheese, Polson's butter,Lea & Perrin Worcester sauce etc. at Cresswells that was owned by an Anglo-Indian which also sold perfumes cosmetics and the famous Tony perm lotion. They also imported dresses for formal occasions. There were also local tailors like Pansy Tailor (he walked like a girl ! ) who followed the latest pattern books. Anglo-Indian women were excellent cooks and had a retinue of servants to assist them in running the house . Bridget White herself is an accomplished cook and through her cook books has attempted to preserve and promote Anglo -Indian cuisine. While the Anglo-Indian men were called Dorai the women were called Missy. The men were always ' suited and booted ' to fit the occasion. The women dressed in the latest fashion. They wore hats and gloves and carried parasols on their way to church . They often had to listen to the good natured taunts of the local urchins ( in Madras too ) : Missy , Missy Lol , Meenkara Mol . Aramoodi thenga , kaapikottai , manga  Bridget gives a translation : 
“Lady, lady,  you are the fisherman's darling. He will give you half a coconut, coffee seeds and mangoes” It must have originated in Madras as KGF is not a seaside town. It was not ridicule and A-I women knew the local people respected them as nurses, teachers and employers. Small boys enjoy a good rhyme and there was no harm done. 
By the end of the 19th century, KGF was a thriving township, one of India's first industrialized towns with electricity, good water supply, well -equipped hospitals and schools. A truly secular society places of worship sprang up . In 1885,the KGF Gymkhana was established. It was a ' Whites Only ' club. It was only in the late 1940s that Indian officers were allowed membership. Other Clubs were the Nandidroog club, the Catholic club etc. The Skating Rink, converted to host weddings, Balls, concerts etc is still a popular venue. Although there were well known A-I dance bands there was Mr Gallyot 's Brass Band. The 15 musicians playing western instruments, marched along the streets playing for Marwari weddings. They also played for funerals. Mr Gallyot dressed up in bright satin jackets and pants and wore a colourful turban. The bandsmen also dressed up. For funerals they wore black. They played a medley of English marches and Tamil and Hindi film songs. I remember that similar bands in Madras ( non A-I ) always started with Come September ! 
I have my own memories of KGF. My sister Barbara lived there for 30 years when her husband, Neslyn D'Gama worked at BEML. The first time we visited my daughter Bettina fell out of the jutka. It was a peaceful place with a leisurely lifestyle like the Bangalore of old. As an MP I visited KGF to inaugurate the Computer Room I had funded at St Teresa 's School. It was a memorable visit with the nuns sending me a breakfast of trotters and hoppers and to my sister's astonishment and my amusement 
arranging for police to guard the house the previous night!

There were many A-I teachers. One I particularly remember was Carol Chapman who continues to live in KGF. With emigration thinning the ranks of A-I's and families moving to Bangalore , the community presence though small is significant especially in Robertsonpet. The A-I's, descendents of the early pioneering families are happily settled in their own homes and retain and are proud of their identity. There are still Dances and Housie and Christmas is a joyous time with children coming home from abroad.
KGF is still proud of its Olympic heroes & other sportsmen like the hockey players the Booseys and Kenneth Powell the athlete the first sportsperson to be honoured with the Arjuna Award in Karnataka. There were eminent cricketers like Ren Naylor and John Snaize in the 1940s. The Cyanide dumps still stand, silent sentinels of the mining past. A signboard at the entrance of the Nandydroog mine proudly proclaims ‘Welcome to the land of gold’
I enjoyed reading this book and will add it to my collection on Anglo India. Books like this one are necessary as they keep history alive. Change is the only constant. The old continue with their lives which embody the traditions that they hand down. The young seek new avenues without losing sight of old values and traditions and in this way a community continues to survive. We reinvent not to die but to continue 
to live.
Numbers don't matter. We have always been a small community but as Frank Anthony has famously said we have contributed to our country of origin far in excess of our numbers. Now
 wherever we have settled we contribute to the countries we have adopted, especially in the multi -cultural societies of today. With our mixed-race heritage we have lived all over India and been exposed to different religions, languages and customs. In ourselves we have metamorphosed into two world -views and two cultures. This legacy of tolerance, of understanding is our legacy to the 
outside world. Our children and our children's children will carry forward and our community will continue to survive through them.

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