Calcutta Exile


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The Ryans are a typical middle- class Anglo- Indian family.

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Bunny Suraiya on her novel 'Calcutta Exile'

The head of the family, Robert, a senior executive with a managing agency, has dreams of going 'home' to England as soon as he can. His wife, the beautiful Grace, however, is unsure about leaving her comfortable life in india. Their two daughters, Shirley and Paddy, are meanwhile discovering new emotions and relationships which will make them cross invisible but inflexible boundaries. The Ryan household as included Ayah and her husband Apurru, a middle-aged Muslim couple who are making their own plans to go home - to an East Pakistan they have never seen. Also working in the same agency house as Robert is Ronen Mookerjee, the anglicized misfit son of a barrister who belongs to the Bengali landed gentry.


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  • Book excerpt: Bunny Suraiya's 'Calcutta Exile'.

Through the stories of these men and women, Calcutta Exile evokes a bygone era of one of the most vibrant and cosmopolitan cities in the world. The problem was that now, a good dozen years after India's independence, it was hard to see how this desirable outcome could be achieved. Other Anglo-Indians had managed to go home, it was true.

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The Cowpers, Errol and Joan, had left after a round of farewell parties just last year. Then it was John and Betty Ford's turn to go. And even Robert's own sister, Maud, with her husband Julius, had been living at home, in England, for the past four years. Robert Ryan hungered for nothing so much as to join them there, to find his way out of the country of his birth in which he felt increasingly a stranger, to shake the dust of India off his feet forever.

Calcutta Exile

Each Christmas he resolved, 'By next Christmas we'll be at home. It was still quite dark, the sun not quite having struggled out yet to light up the November sky over Calcutta when Robert Ryan awoke.


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  5. He opened his eyes and stifled a groan at the thought of leaving the warmth of the quilt and heading out to do battle yet again at Barton Ferne and Co, the managing agency where he worked. Not that he was merely a month-to-month employee, as he often mentioned with satisfaction to his friends at the DI an only-for-Anglo-Indians club officially named the Dalhousie Institute ; Ryan was a Covenanted Assistant, a designation which entitled him to several perks, not the least of which was job security in addition to annual increments. And after all these years, twenty-one to be precise, he made a decent enough salary every month.

    Nothing to quibble about over there.

    CALCUTTA EXILE

    No, what irked him, sometimes beyond bearing, was the daily humiliation of seeing himself playing second fiddle in the office to a newcomer, a damn Indian, something-orother Mookerjee, who had wormed his way into the good graces of the boss, a young Englishman named Peter Wilson, and was in subtle ways seen as being somehow superior to Ryan, even though they were both Covenanted Assistants of the same grade. There was a rumour among the chaprassis and peons that this Mookerjee bugger was related to the owner of the firm, but that might only be because they shared the same last name, which God knows, was common enough in Calcutta, along with all the Banerjees and Chatterjees and gunjees and chuddees that the place was infested with.

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    This was a joke invented by Ryan that drew appreciative laughs in the bar at the DI, but the memory of it failed to cheer him now, on this bleak November morning, with Christmas coming along next month and the new year after that - the start of a new decade in fact, the nineteen-sixties - and he having failed once again to achieve his goal of taking his family home. His family. He turned his head on the pillow and looked at his sleeping wife.

    Grace was a beauty, even after all these years, even with two grown children. Occasionally, whenever he thought about it, he was still puzzled by how he had managed to obtain such a prize twenty-odd years ago. Grace could have had anyone for a husband, he knew that. There had been suitors aplenty.

    And she had chosen him. He gazed at her cheeks, flushed by the warmth of sleep, her light brown hair cascading over the pillow, her long-lashed eyelids that covered eyes of a startling green and her creamy skin, so white that she could pass for an Englishwoman anytime she chose. The Ryans are a typical middle- class Anglo- Indian family.

    The head of the family, Robert, a senior executive with a managing agency, has dreams of going 'home' to England as soon as he can. His wife, the beautiful Grace, however, is unsure about leaving her comfortable life in india.

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