Jillian Haslam
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Conversation

INDIAN.ENGLISH.

Prior beginning the conversation, you must essentially know that this book features stories revealing the path from rags to riches. These are true life stories of a flourishing business woman of the modern world. Go through the conversation – it is as convincing as the book.

A CONVERSATION WITH AUTHOR JILLIAN HASLAM


INTERVIEWER : When I read Indian.English. I was reminded of Angela's Ashes - except that, in addition to abject poverty, you and your family also suffered from reverse racism and a lingering hatred of the British. Could you talk about how hard it is to see daylight when you are looking at both poverty and racial abuse?


JILLIAN HASLAM : Suffering any type of abuse is always hard on the victim. We were no different. Unfortunately, the poverty endured at the same time meant that most choices that people being abused may usually be given to avoid or get help with the pain were not available to us. We had no choice but to endure and hope that “tomorrow will be a better day”. At times it got so hard we felt we were losing the will to live and life couldn’t really get any worse. I remember how hard it was for me and my sisters individually, so I can only imagine what life at that time must have been like for my parents, who not only had to face the abuse themselves, but also were helpless to do anything to either improve the lot of their suffering children or offer them any solace because they simply could not afford to do so.

Fortunately, in a way, I don’t think we were targets of abuse just because we were British or anything else. However, like any abused person will recognise, we were merely in the unfortunate situation of being “different from the powerful majority” and therefore easy targets. It seems to be sadly something within human nature that makes a group victimise anyone who is perceived as different or weaker, be it the colour of your skin, how tall or short you are – or even which local sports team you happen to support.

However, both from my experience of going through this abuse and my learning as a Life Improvement and Success Coach, I have realised that it is often the insecurity or lack mentality felt by those meting out the abuse that is responsible for their behaviour. While this may not immediately be a comfort to someone who is currently an unfortunate victim, they can use this assurance to work out how to make their abusers feel less threatened by the difference and perhaps get relief that way themselves. For example, when my youngest sister was growing up, learning from our experiences she became fluent in the local language and dressed and behaved much more like those around her and had a much easier time through adolescence than we had.


Q: You grew up in some of the worst conditions imaginable, and you suffered loss at an early age. What did the loss of your siblings do for you in terms of your will to live, to persevere, to make the most of a bad situation?

JH : My parents lost four infants due to the conditions and poverty we were living in at the time. For two of those losses, I was too young to have any recollection. However, even as a 4- or 5-year-old, I can recall enjoying having the new twin babies to play with and can still remember the sense of loss I felt personally and the pall of gloom and despair that descended over the house for months after my mother “decided to send them to Jesus”.

I suppose in a way, this was manifested in my frantic struggles as an 8-year-old (which I describe in more detail in the book) to ensure my youngest sister, whose life had been given up as a lost cause, survived and we did not have another little one sent back to Jesus.


Q: What were some of your dreams as a young girl?

JH : My dreams as a young girl were very different from that of a typical child. Dreams of a bedroom done up in pink or a Barbie doll set, etc., did not even exist in my imagination. My dreams were much simpler, ensuring that the little ones had good meals, to see my parents not get upset over there being no money and not worrying about the rent or how to pay the outstanding bills, or to see my family just alive every day without something serious happening to any of them was what I wanted the most.

As I have grown older, my dreams have changed slightly. I would like to put a smile back on the faces of people still caught up in those sorts of unfortunate situations that I faced as a child. Through my book and my business, I hope I can go some way towards achieving this goal.


Q: Could you briefly describe the politics of the India in which you grew up, particularly their attitude toward the British post-independence and why they came down so hard on families like yours?


JH : In our condition at the time, we were so engrossed in making ends meet and where the next meal would come from that we had no time or frankly interest in the overall political changes happening around us. There were so few British families left in India post-independence and even less like us who had neither money nor power. Our lot was therefore lumped together with the Charlatans, who through whatever minimal contact with the departed British now claimed to be Anglo Indians and often gave the term and the community its poor reputation.

That said, the fact remains that the few families like mine who truly had British ancestry but for one reason or another had fallen on hard times stood out like sore thumbs and were therefore picked on as we were different and in no position to fight back.


Q: What were some of the things your parents did with you or said to you to maintain dignity and cohesiveness as a family in spite of the conditions?

JH : Both my parents had a strict British upbringing. It was this upbringing and values that they attempted to pass onto their children. So, we were brought up adhering to adages like “children should be seen and not heard”. Even though there were six or seven of us in one tiny room, we were quiet as mice!! We were also taught our ‘pleases’ and ‘thank you’s’ and to refuse second helpings, even when our mouths were watering for that delicious second biscuit on the rare occasions when we were at someone’s house who could offer us such treats. Despite their poverty and hard circumstance, my parents tried their best to ensure all of us turned out to be honest, upright and good human beings. These are core values that change lives when there are no other possibilities readily available.


How deeply imbedded some of these cultural habits were, came home to me only when I moved to the UK and found things I had always done at home were part and parcel of everyday life here in the UK. For example, even in our one room, my Dad would always ensure he washed and changed before he had his dinner and we would always tease him about it, but I later realised that this is common practice with people of his generation in the UK.

Q: Could you share, either from the book or in your words, the most harrowing experience you faced during your childhood?

JH : Given all the hard times and experiences described briefly in the book, it is hard to pick one as the most harrowing. If I asked each of my siblings, we might each come up with a different occasion that was personally the worst.

From my own perspective as one who is quite reserved and quiet by nature, the worst was the sheer helplessness of six or seven of us being locked into a tiny enclosed space of about 8 x 10 ft., while around us were ear-splitting detonations as bombs went off every second.

It’s very hard to describe the sheer bedlam of noise and trauma from the explosions and the smell of cordite – only someone who has been through it could possible relate to what I mean. The sheer feeling of helplessness against the assault and the impact it was having on my grievously ill infant youngest sister was perhaps the lowest point I can recall. The reason this memory is vivid for me is I remember thinking, sitting there with tears streaming down my face, “one day when I grow up, I will make sure we no longer have to go through this.” By the grace of God, that has now come true and we are no longer trapped in those types of situations. However, my heart still goes out to the many who still suffer similar fates in those very same lanes in Calcutta.

Read the rest of the interview…

















Jill's family photos