Teatime at Peggy’s

“The Alice in Wonderland world of the Anglo-Indians, a marginalised community in India, focussing around an extraordinary nonagenarian widow, Peggy Cantem. Over tea and seed cake, Clare Jenkins talks to “Auntie Peggy” at her home in Jhansi, an important railway town nearly 300 miles south of Delhi. She hears tales of moonlight picnics, pet mongooses, Mulligatawny soup – and Monsoon Toad Balls.

It’s an endangered way of life – there are just 30 Anglo-Indian families left in Jhansi, and around 100,000 people throughout India. Before Partition, they were the mainstay of the Indian railways, postal and telecommunications services. Today, they are a minority community. And if Jhansi is their heartland, Peggy Cantem is at their heart.

In this town of half a million inhabitants, everyone seems to know “Peggy Auntie”, daughter and widow of railwaymen, former stenographer turned English teacher, community care worker, 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 meals with Peggy is like the Mad Hatter’s Tea Party, a truly eccentric world and one that Clare has captured on numerous visits.

Peggy and her friends reflect on Anglo-Indian life. In its heyday, it was famous for its dances, amateur dramatics, May Queen balls (the women have always been famed for their beauty), fashion shows and country music festivals. Then there were the meals of goats’ brain stew, Mulligatawny soup, toad in the hole – as well as the homes filled with mounted tiger’s heads and Sacred Heart statues, aviaries of parakeets, plaster flying ducks and souvenirs of Britain.”

Access the full interview here: http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/b05tpwc7

Producer: Clare Jenkins
A Pennine production for BBC Radio 4.

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