“And once the storm is over, you won’t remember how you made it through, how you managed to survive. You won’t even be sure, whether the storm is really over. But one thing is certain. When you come out of the storm, you won’t be the same person who walked in. That’s what this storm’s all about.” ― Haruki Murakami
The story of Jillian Haslam is that of a woman who has faced and overcome adversity and has risen above the despairing circumstances that destiny had willed her, to emerge stronger and transform her own life and that of her family. Incredibly unique and inspiring is her journey from the slums of Kolkata to being a motivational speaker, philanthropist, entrepreneur, and a celebrity author.
Born to British parents who decided to stay on in India after Independence, Jillian grew up in abject poverty living under a flight of stairs and then in the slums of Khidirpur in Kolkata. Living in poverty would have never been easy; the problems faced by the Haslam family were further compounded by the prejudice that people harboured on account of their different looks, colour and language.
At the age of 17, Jillian left Kolkata for Delhi. After working in the Delhi for a few years, she got selected by the Bank of America, where her projects for corporate charity earned her accolades and eventually a passage to England, where she now lives with her husband and two of her sisters.
Today, she travels the world speaking to businesses, universities and institutions such as Bank of America, Barclays, King’s College London, Cambridge University, Heriot Watt University, TEDx. A popular media guest, Jillian has been featured on Channel 5, the BBC, The Independent, The Pioneer, The Times, The Telegraph, the Metro, Gulf News and many other major media.
Haslam has made it her life’s mission to help the poorest of the poor to emerge from their desperate situations and make something of their lives, just as she did. By consciously choosing to remember how she managed to survive the misfortune and hardships, Jillian has used it to inspire people worldwide. Her book ‘Indian English: A Memoir’ tells the story of her dark childhood, and how she lost her siblings to malnutrition and poverty and yet survived the storms in her life to come out stronger. The book has received rave reviews in the Indian and International press. A major Hollywood production house is turning it into a blockbuster movie along the lines of Slumdog Millionaire.
I was introduced to Jillian by her Press and PR Manager Abhijit Ganguly, who arranged for an interview with her.
Here, I present to you my interview with the Indian English lady.
From a career spanning two decades in the banking industry, what made you switch to being an entrepreneur, author and a motivational Speaker?
My goal was never to be an Author, an Entrepreneur or a Speaker. It was just to be able to help as many people as I could who were in desperate need and to show my gratitude for what was done for me as a child.
An “Indian by heart and soul,” is what you consider yourself, though you had a tough childhood in Kolkata. Please tell us about some of those situations that shaped you into who you are today.
Absolutely and very proud of it too!! I cannot comment on my bloodline, my parents with British ancestry or my British passport but can only go with what I truly feel and what the past has done to me or for me. With that in mind, an Indian girl is who I am and always will be.
Our journey together—for that is what you are about to undertake—may well prompt you to think about the conditions under which you grew up, and compare them with mine. I do hope, most sincerely, that yours were entirely different.
My path to adulthood was not an easy one, and I cannot promise an absence of pain, but please be assured that I certainly do not seek sympathy. The revelations I make, the telling of my story, don’t make me sad for myself because I know that my childhood is not unique; not then and not now.
My book is about prejudice and the sadness and suffering that causes. It was never going to be an easy book to write and, at times, some of the content may make it a somewhat disturbing read, but please persevere because amongst all the sadness there most certainly is goodness and love and there, most certainly, is learning and greater understanding.
My goal is to simply make you aware and to show you that light can come from darkness. My family’s pain is not the entire tale, nor is it the end of the story. I simply desire that you will learn things that you can use to make your own life better and recognise that ultimately it is “hope” that permeates through the pages.
I want to remind you about the realities of humanity today and leave you wiser, and perhaps a little more compassionate, in regard to those who are much less fortunate than you, who are still deprived and who still suffer in the world today. I have changed my life and want to help as many as I can to do the same.
Together we will explore a family’s humble struggles alongside the human propensity for cruelty. We’ll see hatred stirred by ignorance, but rise above it with the shrapnel of love. There is the juxtaposition of values inherent in class warfare and the evils of discrimination and abuse.
But above all that there will be a determination to improve and succeed, driven by the capacity to overcome and to heal and, most of all, to forgive. My heartfelt wish is that my ‘cross to bear’, to use my late father’s words, aids those who need inspiration and soothes those disturbed by intolerance.
For every atrocity described in my book, there is found a parallel kindness. A sacrifice, really on the part of the poorest of the poor who helped us to survive. One cannot overlook those small, seemingly insignificant and mundane acts of human kindness. Within these humble people thrive a grace beyond description that literally saves lives every hour of every day.
It has and always will my greatest desire to give back and although nothing can repay these people for saving our lives, we can but try to show our gratitude to the people of our area in the city of Kolkata (where we spent most of our childhood), to this great city (that is second to no other city in the world) and to our country (that needs people “who don’t forget” where they came from, what they took and how they got to where they are today).
Please tell us about your sub-rural communication/ training program in India. When is it likely to start?
We have been very, very fortunate to have been able to reach so many children and young people through our E3 Program (Education, Empowerment & Employment scheme). We now we intend to take that to the rural areas of India. It is extremely important that every child is provided with an education. There is no other way in which to define the progress of a country.
If St. Thomas Girls School did not take us in and educate us (free of cost), none of my siblings or myself would have been where we are today. We have got to be grateful and to remember to give back. With that in mind, I plan on rolling this program out in India by the second half of 2018.
You also plan to start a women’s network in India. How will it help the women who chose to be a part of the network?
There are millions of women who have great potential, passion and the desire to do good. The problem is that they do not have the ability to make their own dreams come true and in the process I see the country suffering tremendously. I say this because women can be a great asset if they are given just a little support. I truly believe that as is the case with every child who is entitled to an education, so does every woman deserve an equal opportunity to fulfil their individual potential. I want to be able to create a platform for women to achieve great things for themselves, for their families and for their country. Empowerment is a great thing but it starts with us believing in the people whom we are passionate to help and as an Indian Woman, I myself have taken help from another Indian Woman, so, why should I not find a reason to give back and to give another woman a chance to demonstrate their greatness too??? It also helps me to create change faster. The more minds and hearts we have involved, the faster our true progress will be.
- One key message that you would like to leave for the readers.
“Never forget your past and the future will never forget you!”
So, my dear friends, this is Jillian Haslam for you. Hope you enjoyed reading the interview.