Home > Calcutta (Kolkata), General > Jillian Haslam, under the stairs to Entrepreneur, Author and Motivational Speaker

Jillian Haslam, under the stairs to Entrepreneur, Author and Motivational Speaker

The story of Jillian Haslam

From living under the stairs to Entrepreneur, Author and Motivational Speaker

It was almost mid night of Christmas Eve and Santa Clause, accompanied by a Anglo Indian lady, was giving gifts to the street kids in Kolkata.

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Jillian Haslam and Santa Clause with a street kid in Kolkata

Nothing much unusual and Kolkata. The city has seen many such foreign charity. But there was a twist in this in this charity!!! The lady who accompanied the smartly dressed Santa Cause, has spent are childhood in Kolkata.

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Jillian and Santa distribute gifts and blankets, Kolkata

Her days in Kolkata were not spent in posh apartments or villas but on road sides in similar conditions of the kids, who were receiving the gifts from her.

This is the story of Jillian Haslam a present day resident of London and Entrepreneur, Author and Motivational Speaker.

She was born in Kolkata of British parents. His father Roland Terrence Haslam was of pure British lineage while her mother Margaret Haslam was of British – Armenian lineage.

Both of them stayed back in India after independence and both had a previous marriage, which didn’t work. The couple had a total of 10 children out of which only 6, including Jillian, survived beyond infancy.

Jillian was born in 1970 and was the fifth (third of the surviving) sibling of his parents. Her dad at that time was working in a tyre company as a mechanical engineer.

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Jillian Haslam

He had his first heart attack, soon after Jillian was born. Jillian’s mother took him to the Salvation Amy Hospital for free treatment.

As her father recovered and her mother tried desperately to makes ends meet, infant Jillian spent most of the time in the care of a family friend.

But Ronald recovered soon, although not fully, and in 1972 Vanessa was born. Thing move for better, as in 1974 both Ronald and Margaret were offered jobs in a newly established English Medium school in Dum Dum. The couple moved to Dum Dum, with the two young siblings and along with their eldest sister Dona, who was just in her teens.

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Jilian next to the stairs in Princep Street, she lived undet it with her mother and younger sister Vanessa

After a long time the family had a proper home but sadly there good old days were numbered. It was 1976 and the Naxalites were still a force in Bengal, and Naxalites threatened to kidnap Dona, who had turned out to be a beautiful teenage girl.

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L: Showing her old neighborhood and R: Meeting old friend in Kidderpore, Kolkata

The family left Dum Dum in the dead of the night, assisted by a few friendly locals, leaving almost there entire possessions behind. It was during the train journey to Kolkata Ronald had her second heart attack and had a temporary loss of vision.

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Meeting old friends in Kidderpore, the Parida family

After reaching Kolkata Ronald was again put in the care of Salvation Army and a family friend volunteered to keep Dona in safe custody.

Margaret finally arranged for  an accommodation (it was barely an accommodation) for herself and the two kids under a stairs in Princep Street.

The sisters, who provided the accommodation, lived in a tiny room above the stairs. They expected Margaret to work for them for free.

In spite of her best efforts the sisters were never satisfied with her work and used to beat her up on a daily basis. It was the worst days for the two sisters aged 6 and 4 years, as they survived in the poorest of poor conditions, while there mother did every possible odd jobs to feed them.

Sometimes Margaret would keep the kids in the custody of a friendly lady. who lived nearby. For unknown reasons the the friendly lady was not much friendly and used to torture the kids by locking them in cockroach infested toilets.

But like all neighborhoods in Kolkata there were friendly neighbors too and the friendly shop keep provided the kids with food and even milk, completely free of cost.

But our parents’ marriage, despite all the terrible hardship we suffered, was one full of love.

Jillian Haslam, Indian English

Finally Ronald recovered and managed to get a job as a stenographer (he learnt shorthand during is recovery period at the Salvation Army) in a law farm and they moved to their new home in Kidderpore.

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Jillian in front of the grocery shop in Kidderpore, that provided free rations

It could be hardly be called a home it was just a room measuring 10 feet by 6 feet with a varandha 4 feet wide. A cot and a chair was all the furniture they had. Three were three toilets to be shared by 3000+ odd people.

Jillian and Venassa were admitted to the nearby St. Thomas School, which not only provided free education but also free boarding.

It was in this house Neil was born and just after his birth Kolkata witnessed the notorious floods of 1978.

Although Jillan and Venassa were in the comforts of their school boarding but their parents and the newly born sibling suffered terrible and were lucky to have survived the floods.

Two years later the last of the Haslams Susan was born, she was extremely malnourished and doctors gave up all hope of her survival. But with extensive nursing from Jillian, who took a long leave from her school, Susan did survive.

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Jillian with her class mate from St. Thomas School

As Jillian and Venassa reached their adolescence, they were subjected to all shorts of harassment from the local men. The harrasment was even more serious because of the differnce of their colour of skin and their different lifestyle.  Holi and Diwali were the worst time for the sisters as they were pleated with water balloons and bombs.

The neighbours made them dance as Dharmendra and Hema Malina in exchange for a few rupees or some food. But there were friendly neighbours too, like the local grocer, who often provided rations on loan, and the loan kept on increasing. The milkman provided free milk to the two young kids and the local eatery provided meat and roti.

Jillian completed  school in 1987 and moved to Delhi were she joined her first job in an export house. After switching several jobs she finally joined the Bank of America in 1995. On the other hand her mother was diagnosed with cancer and Jilllan took her to Delhi. But with years of neglect and the damage was already beyond repair, she breadth her last in September 1993 in Delhi.

I have, until this day never met an woman so strong and so astoundingly courageous and it fill me with tremendous pride and gratitude to realise that, above all, that amazing tower of strength was my mother.

Jillian Haslam on her mother

She joined Bank of America as executive secretary to the CEO but in a short span of time was promoted to the post of  president and head of the charity and diversity network and continued with her charitable work.

Jillian met with her husband in Bank of America and got married in 2000, the same year she left for England with her husband and younger siblings.

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L: Awards received by Jillian, R: Jillan’s book cover of Indian English

Although Jillian has settled in England over over a decade and half her heart remains in Kolkata, where she keeps coming back every year. She continues with her charitable work and is well known for her motivational speeches.

She has received awards and recognition from all over the world and also have penned a book titled “Indian English, A Memoir” Recently the Hollywood has planned a movie on the life of Jillian Haslam.

Special Thanks:

  • Jillian Haslam for sharing her life story with me
  • My friend Abhijit Ganguly or introducing Jillian Haslam to me
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