However you choose to look at it, modern India has been fundamentally shaped by its experience as the British Raj, a colony state which lasted for close to a century. India was widely considered, among the British elite, as the “crown jewel” of the Empire, whilst the Indian elite was inducted into the ways of the English upper class.
Beyond this, Britain’s colonial legacy is unavoidable to anyone living in India’s cities. The streets of Mumbai, New Delhi, Chandigarh, Kolkata and many other places are lined with colonial-era buildings, whilst the type of English spoken on the streets is of a distinctly British inflection. However, things seem to be changing, with Anglo-Indian culture fading at an unprecedented rate.
Many of the colonial-era buildings in booming commercial cities like Mumbai are being furiously demolished to make way for shiny new skyscrapers and offices. The Anglo-Indian population of Indians with British heritage is also dwindling, from a colonial height of close to half a million to a little more than 100,000 today.
Most importantly, Indians no longer view British culture and Anglophilia as a sign of bourgeois sophistication, with the new generation of middle-class Indians showing a renewed pride in India’s own unique cultural heritage. Many of the trappings of Britain’s colonial legacy do still remain and cut across all class boundaries, but it is debatable how long things will stay this way.
For one, cricket is still the most popular sport in the country by a wide margin, with everywhere from the posh country clubs on southern Delhi to the slums of Chennai being equipped with a wicket. As are numerous other games brought over from Britain centuries ago.
The popular card game three-card brag, known in Hindu as teen patti (literally meaning “three cards”), is a 16th-century British game which is much more popular in India than it is in the UK. While gambling dens are less prolific, technological developments are helping keep colonial traditions alive. In the same way that Indians can now watch live streams of the latest Ashes fixtures on their morning commute on the Mumbai Metro, technology is keeping teen patti alive across the country.
Whilst the 2011 Federal Information Technology Act restricted access to domestic online casinos, foreign ones such as Paddy Power operate freely, contributing to the $80 billion a year Indian gaming market. With bets as low as £1 and live streaming technology allowing people to play with real dealers on the other side of the world, the people can continue to play three-card brag online and keep the tradition alive.
Tea, that most British of beverages, is still the undisputed national drink of India, with a staggering 973 million kilograms consumed every year, although some studies suggest even this is declining.
Indian nationalism under Modi has prompted a renewed focus on India’s precolonial past and a rejection of Anglo-Indian sentiment. This partly explains why the most prominent colonial legacies, the school system and the style of governance, are changing so rapidly.
Additionally, the English ‘social clubs’ left over by the governing elite are also declining in popularity, suggesting that Anglophilia has almost certainly lost its cachet as a signifier of social status and refinement. Although wealthy Indians are continuing to migrate to the UK at almost record levels, there’s every reason to believe that this is due to pure employment opportunities rather than any particular affection for British culture.
India is going through a period of remarkable change. How much British culture will still be visible there in ten years remains uncertain, but for the sake of remembrance, hopefully something will remain.