"It’s not just resilience but it is about developing a will that is unwilling to relent" Social Activist, and author tells us her story
"It’s not just resilience but it is about developing a will that is unwilling to relent" ---- Jillian Haslam
No one achieves success without paying a price. The real story is always what came before. When you see Jillian Haslam on stage speaking, read her books, or give to her charitable work, what you’re seeing is a testimony to resilience, to never quitting, and to passionately pursuing a better world, even for those in greatest need.
But what you don’t see is how she got there. Born in Calcutta to parents with British ancestry in post-colonial India, Jillian faced a bruising childhood of extreme poverty, malnutrition & disease. She lived through the deaths of four siblings and some appalling instances of racist abuse. Her rise from the depths of despair and misery to wealth and international celebrity status is an inspirational story of vindication and coming home.
Today, she travels the world speaking to businesses, universities, and anyone else who wants to be inspired to keep moving forward. In these challenging times, Jillian’s brand of relentless determination is needed more than ever.
Her book Indian.English. A Memoir that tells the story of her dark childhood growing up in extreme poverty and fear, yet drawing strength from parents who gave everything for their children, and from the timely generosity and kindness of strangers. It walks you through her ascension in the Indian and British corporate banking sector and how she later became the motivational speaker, author, and philanthropist you see today.
The book’s greatest strength comes from the lessons Jillian learned during her hardest times that still shape her life and drive her ambitions to this day. These moments are poignant, visceral, and universal to the human condition. The book is an international bestseller that has received rave reviews in Indian and International press with her being dubbed the “Real Slumdog Millionaire and is in the process of being turned into a Hollywood production.
We ask Jillian a few questions:
Tell us about your dream job as a child?
Since I was a little girl, I wanted nothing more than to be able to reach out to hundreds of people in order to alleviate some of the sadness and the despair that is caused by abject poverty. I grew up facing it and I lived by the quote that “Poverty is like punishment for a crime that you didn’t commit - Eli Khamarov”. I grew up not being able to smile and was asked many a time, even by my bosses if I ever did smile? I had an impossible dream (coming from an extremely deprived background) and not knowing how I was going to accomplish that dream was a worry that never ever left me. It was impossible to smile but today, I do nothing but smile all the time, only because I now have six teams of people who work to change lives every single day (three huge food-banks for the poor and the disabled, five study centres for street children, a team that work for women in need, the youth, the disabled and for people with serious illnesses. Am I living my dream. I most certainly am. Go here to find out more: www.remediatrust.org.
What is the one emotion that kept you going at the time you were living under the stairs or in the Kidderpore slum?
It has to be perseverance, something that I like to define as “An Irrepressible Mind”. It’s not just resilience but it is about developing a will that is unwilling to relent until & unless the job at hand is accomplished. In most cases, we accept our circumstances and our fate. My father, my mother, and even my siblings had accepted their fate and were grateful for the same. But, it only takes one person or one child, to stand up and say, ‘I refuse to accept this as my fate, I can do better but, in order to turn things around, you’ve also got to take a decision to be willing to put in the hard work and commitment that goes with it – “This is easier said than done!”
When did you believe that you could find a way out of your circumstances?
Our first home was under a flight of stairs. Our second home was in a room 8 x 10 feet in a slum. We didn’t have a television, we hardly had any electricity, we filled water from a tube well, had no access to the internet or to a telephone. We went from boarding school to this little room in the slum. “My biggest moment of triumph would be when I decided that I had to find a way out. At 17, I finished school and went to Delhi and took a few small jobs. I understood by then that my hands were tied without money. It was this time that I applied and was selected to work at Bank of America. I took up two jobs. I wanted to give myself the best shot I could in life, so I put in all the hard work I could. In return, the only thing I sought was mentorship. I went to the CEO and asked him if he would mentor me. Surprised as he was, he said that no one had asked him for mentorship before. He put a few conditions like I had to get his kids to do their homework and in return, he would stay back, at the bank and mentor me for an hour or so. I found it in me to ask for help from the people who had what I didn’t!
“I wasn’t a Harvard or Cambridge graduate, but I wanted to learn what these graduates knew. When you lack knowledge, experience and money, you need to be very humble (and commit to eating humble pie every single day until you succeed). You have to be willing to do anything to get to where you want to be.” I sought guidance from the brightest of minds in the banking industry, I did everything they asked of me in the words of Zig Ziglar “My attitude did define my altitude in life!!
You say that you’ve always felt that you were the “Weakest Link” in your family. Tell us why?
Given the trauma I had faced as a child (for want of a better word), I grew up with a nervous disposition. By the age of 10 I had cared for a child who was in my care and dying (my little sister Susan), I was traumatized every time she didn’t move only because I didn’t know if I had harmed her not knowing exactly what to do with a little baby, when my parents were away for long periods in search of money or food. Chocolate bombs were thrown in front of our little room, the detonation was like living in a war zone. Me holding my little sister and trying to hold my little brother too are moments I shall never forget. There were horrific, traumatizing and impossible to explain. Above all, Vanessa (my little sister) and myself stayed with a person when we were two and four and we watched my mother being beaten and thrown against walls etc. The person wanted money. Money she didn’t have to give. A little later, my Mum went to work for two ladies who allowed us to stay under their steps in return for my mother having to work for them but almost every day they pulled her hair and beat her and pushed her and we watched in horror feeling helpless, scared and totally lost. We were then cared for by a lady named Mrs. Cleofas who loved Vanessa and disliked me for some reason. She felt that one of my eyes were horizontal and one was vertical, I would therefore be good at nothing and as a punishment for being slow, I was locked in an Indian style toilet with thousands of flying cockroaches and the light turned off. This tuned me into a traumatic child and not just someone who was fearful of something.
As I grew up, I fell down everywhere I went and my sisters never failed to tease me either. I used to have a boyfriend and my sisters used to tell me “Now please do not fall in front of him” but you can well imagine that it was asking the impossible. I always did fall and with buckets of water too, in the mud, in the drains and almost everywhere we went. There are very many instances that I could give you just to show you how fearful I was as a child and as a young person but I also knew that only one person could cure me and that person was “Me/Myself”. My parents had other children, other serious problems in life and other hardships to deal with. I was the least of their worries. The fact that I was alive, eating, drinking, going to school was more than I could ask for. What happened inside of me each and every day was something only I had to live with and I had to endure but I was determined to fight this drawback, because I had a responsibility to fulfil, I had a promise to fulfil and furthermore, I had a duty to fulfil. This was to get strong and go back home and to help those who are suffering till this day as I did. How was I ever going to get to where I wanted to be if I was going to continue as I was “A bag of nerves” and to put it perfectly “The weakest link”.
I was determined to succeed so I put myself forward for jobs, I could only ever have dreamed of, I found great mentors, I set myself goals and tasks, I competed with myself to get up every time I fell down, I knew that Life was a DIY project (Do It Yourself). No one was going to help you, until & unless you Helped Yourself.
I am now grateful to God for having allowed me to find the courage to understand that I had a problem, I was trapped and that it’s only my own initiative that has helped me to shine through. I have chosen to tell you all of this only because I hope it helps in some way to believe that we all have it within us to be great and to excel but fear is a dangerous disease – if we allow it to spread!!
How would you describe your nationality?
“I am Indian and if I failed to feel it or to admit it, despite my ancestry or bloodline, it would be a down-right disgrace.
What is your famous quote?
Never forget the past and the future will never forget you!
Tell us about some of the awards & recognition you have received so far?
Recognition comes in many forms and is different for all of us. For me personally, the hugs, the kisses, the cards, the little gifts and the little gestures that come from the kids from my study centres or from the aged or women who are incredibly grateful for the little things we do for them, is the greatest recognition ever but if you are looking for a list of Worldly Rewards then here you go: