India

Why Mark Tully needs a Calcutta birth certificate at 78

Calcutta's Howrah Bridge
Image caption Mark Tully writes that he would "hate to lose my connection with the great city of Calcutta"

British journalist and former BBC India correspondent Mark Tully explains why he is trying to obtain a copy of his birth certificate from the municipal authorities in the eastern Indian city of Calcutta at the age of 78.

I cannot remember when I last needed a birth certificate or how it came about that the place of birth on my passport is Calcutta.

But recently, while applying to be an "Overseas Citizen of India" (OCI), I have found that this is not correct, or may not be correct.

I have been told that Tollygunge, where I was born, was not included within the municipal limits of Calcutta in 1935, the year of my birth.

So I have applied for a copy of my birth certificate to support my application to become an OCI.

Being an OCI allows me to retain my nationality, but I am also issued a lifelong visa for India, allowing me to work and live in the country indefinitely.

I hope I will be allowed to keep my place of birth as Calcutta because I would hate to lose my connection with that great city.

My connection with Calcutta stretches back a long way.

It goes back at least to 1857, the year of what my maternal great-grandfather would have called the Indian Mutiny.

He managed to escape the uprising in eastern Uttar Pradesh in a boat down the Ganges to Calcutta.

My maternal grandfather made his living selling jute in the city. He bought the jute in what is now Bangladesh, which is how my mother happened to be born there.

Image caption Mark Tully was born in Tollygunge - now a part of Calcutta - in 1935

But she met and married my father in Calcutta. He was the first of his family to come to India where he became one of the senior partners of Gillanders Arbuthnot, a Calcutta-based firm.

'Politically incorrect'

I remember, too, the kudos being born in Calcutta gave me by making me stand-out as a rarity when, at the age of 10, I found myself in the highly competitive society of a British boarding school.

To boost my kudos even further, I would boast that I was born in the "Second City of the British Empire".

During the nine years that Calcutta was my home, I lived a life which would now be seen as thoroughly politically incorrect.

From our youngest days, we were never allowed to forget that we were different - we were English, not Indian.

We had an English nanny who saw to that. She supervised us 24x7 and once, finding me learning to count from our driver, she cuffed my head, saying "that's the servants' language, not yours".

Inevitably, we were not allowed to play with Indian children. There were even class barriers to the European children we were allowed to play with.

My nanny would not allow us to play with children who only had Indian or Anglo-Indian nannies because their parents couldn't afford a "proper nanny", as she saw herself.

European society in the Calcutta of those days was divided by a strict class system, not dissimilar to the caste system.

Members of the ICS, the Indian Civil Service, were considered the Brahmins (the elite caste), while the members of the Indian army were regarded as the Rajputs (the warrior caste).

As a businessman, my father was a Vaisya (trading caste), dismissed by the snooty ICS and army as a mere "boxwallah".

Image caption Mark Tully says he is 'proud of his connection' with Calcutta

'Very proud'

In the 78 years since I was born in what I hope I am still entitled to call Calcutta - not Tollygunge - all this has rightly been swept aside, and my life bears no resemblance to my childhood.

Almost all my friends in India are Indian. I have an Indian son-in-law and an Indian daughter-in-law.

I do know an Indian language, although I would know it a lot better if more people would speak to me in Hindi rather than English.

I am very proud not just of my connection with Calcutta but my connection with India which is approaching 50 years now.

I do not like being called an expat. That's why I do hope to become an Overseas Citizen of India.

That will mean I will be acknowledged as a citizen of the two countries I feel I belong to, India and Britain.

I will bring together the two nationalities which were separated during my childhood.

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