A childhood of extreme poverty in India has spurred author Jillian Haslam to reach out to underprivileged children in the country.
There are two kinds of people in the world, those who break under adversity and those who take it as a challenge and rise above it. Jillian Haslam belongs to the second category.
She is an Anglo Indian who lives in England and has worked with various corporate houses. Her childhood and youth in India along with her ailing parents and siblings before she moved to the United Kingdom on a scholarship from her free missionary school in Kolkata was fraught with unbelievable hardship.
A 40-year-old Jill, as she is lovingly called, has penned a heart warming yet a hard hitting autobiography on her experiences called “Indian.English” published by Mehta Publication House, slated to be released in New Delhi this week.
It is important to know what Jillian went through in India before she moved in 2000 to U.K. to forge a successful career of two decades in the banking industry. She then devoted her energies to helping people, especially poorest of the poor, to improve their lives. She is now the Founding Director of Help Yourself Associates, a corporate and self development training company. In London she visit schools, trainings, women’s work-groups, alcoholic centres etc., working, speaking, inspiring and doing all she can to make a difference.
Jill belongs to one of those British families of post-colonial India who could not go back to Britain after India’s Independence due to extreme financial and health issues. Jillian’s parents stayed back in Calcutta (as it was then called) in extreme conditions. Though her father, Roland Terrence Haslam served in the British Army and had been rewarded of exemplary services, he could not help his family due to failing health and abject poverty, because of which he also lost four of his nine children.
Recalls Jillian, “Because we were fair skinned, spoke English and wore dresses differently, we were most hated among the teeming millions in all the streets we lived. We shifted several houses, begged, picked food from the garbage to eat, were beaten, bruised and abused by men and neighbours and lived always on charity. We were called white shit because of the fair colour of our skin. But for every atrocity, there was a parallel kindness. There was a shopkeeper who gave free milk to feed my dying sister Susan, a dhabawala who would throw hot oil on us as we (with sister Donna – also a philanthropist now) would stare at the delicious meat he would cook in his huge vessel, but would give us some mutton to eat every day, some neighbours who would make us dance on Dharmendra- Hema Malini song for a bhutta, someone who would allow us to watch television in their factory, and so on.”
Jillian has not forgotten the death of her parents and siblings in the duration of her stay in the country – all because of their pitiable health and lack of medical facilities. Yet, she is neither bitter, not vengeful. In fact, India, for Jill is the first stop for improving the lives of children living “in filthy, forgotten lanes”.
Unveiling her plans for India, she says, “I am coming to India to empower the youth with my sub-rural communication/ training programme called E-Ed. (employ & educate). It’s a one-year course in which I will teach primarily communication skills to the semi-educated. It will include computer skills, etiquette, spoken and written English. My courses are based on UNESCO reports on what children need to study and what their conditions are.”
She adds, “I am also going to create two voluntary organisations here --- one will serve as an educational centre for the extremely poor and the other will provide food and medical mobile services for the aged, the disabled and the blind. Apart from that I am opening a women’s network in India in which my heroine will not be a celebrity but a commoner in the crowd who has defied taboos and excelled in whatever she is doing.”
All this because Jill is “Indian by heart and soul”. “The fact that I was born in India makes me Indian”, she says with a smile.
A fair-skinned helping poor Indians makes a good story in foreign media but Jill is a genuine soul. She reveals rather blatantly, “My public relation agency in UK wanted to create an English woman helping Indian souls out of me. They told me, ‘when media asks you who you are, you should say that you are a British, not an Indian. We are trying to hard-sell you only as a British philanthropist’. I hated that strategy… If I had allowed that, I would have been a billionaire by now.”