Wednesday, October 29, 2008

An Anglo-Indian Family in Essex

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

I actually overslept today, waking with a start at 7. 15 am. Had no time to do any reading in bed as I had to call my parents in Bombay, finish up my syllabus, find the time to do my new foot exercises and leave the house for my day out in Essex. I had been looking forward to meeting the Haliburns again and I was not disappointed. Together, we spent a truly lovely day and I know not where the time flew.

I had met Ed and Hazel Haliburn in New York almost two years ago through a mutual friend named Margaret Deefholts of Vancouver, Canada. When I had asked Margaret for Anglo-Indians contacts in England, she had suggested their names and when the Haliburns were passing through New York en route to Honolulu, Hawaii, to spend a few days with their daughter Wanda and her family, we had made plans to meet near NYU on Broadway. We hit it off immediately and I knew that they would make wonderful 'subjects' for my investigation when I arrived in England.

It was so easy to get to their place in Essex as it lies on the Central Tube Line that passes right through my stop at Chancery Lane. In about 40 minutes, I was at Woodford Station from where Ed picked me up in his black Mercedes and drove me to the town of Chigwell where they have lived for the past 25 years. Just two years ago, they sold their vast house and property and downsized to a two-bedroom flat and it was there that we spent a very interesting day.

Waiting at home was the lovely Hazel Haliburn in a flat that is spacious and superbly decorated. It offers a sweeping view of the Essex countryside all the way to London and the Millennium Dome at Greenwich. Autumnal views through the windows brought the blazing yellow leaves of mature trees right into the living room where we settled for a chat over coffee and Digestive biscuits. It was great to catch up with them and find out about their fascinating lives for the Haliburns are intrepid travelers. They divide their time between their home on the Costa del Sol in Spain, daughter Wanda's place in Hawaii, visits to South India and, of course, their Essex home. Having spent the last 40 odd years in the UK, they are now a comfortably retired couple who make the most of every single day and the opportunities they bring.

In about an hour, their gorgeous daughter Wendy arrived, trendy in blue jeans, a plaid jacket and a cashmere sweater. She accessorized stylishly with a mauve silk scarf and matching mauve ear-rings, the very epitome of cool chic. It was hard to believe that she has a 21 year old daughter who, like my Chriselle, is pursuing a career in Acting after training in Musical Theater at one of London's best drama schools! Wendy lives close by and since she has a career as a high school teacher and was on Term Break, she was able to join us for lunch. I was delighted to meet her and because she was willing to become a respondent in my investigation, I was pleased to include her in the interview. But first, we had to partake of Hazel's incredible lunch.

Seriously, it is one of the best meals I have eaten since I have arrived in the UK. Every single one of the Anglo-Indians couples I have interviewed have invited me to stay for lunch and every single meal has been memorable. But Hazel's was singularly outstanding because she served Steamed Rice with South Indian style Mutton Stew, exactly the way my dearest Aunty Anne used to make it. I was filled with nostalgia for my Aunt's marvelous cooking as I savored each mouthful. Hazel proudly informed me that she had learned to cook at the age of ten from her grandfather who taught her everything she knows about Indian food. The stew is a one-pot meal including, as it does, virtually every vegetable--carrots, cauliflower, beans, peas as well as starch--potatoes.

It was immensely satisfying, especially as the temperature had dipped suddenly and the morning was frosty. In fact, I had bundled up in my down jacket for the first time this season and am I glad I did. Samosas and a salad were our starters and Tesco's Apple Pie served warm with rich English cream was dessert. I had raved over the meal so much that at the end of the day when I was ready to leave, Hazel asked me if I wanted to take some of the stew home and while, in normal circumstances, politeness would have prompted me to say "No, thank You", I could not resist the offer and found myself instead saying, "Oh, thanks so much for offering and Yes, I would love some." In fact, since Llew will be here day after tomorrow, I shall save it for him as I am sure he will enjoy it too. I know it will bring back for him memories of a similar stew we were served in Dublin, of all places, in an Irish pub named Farringdon's by a chef who happened to be Indian--one Patrick Shah!

The Haliburns were truly a joy to interview. Not only are their stories fascinating and unique, but it is the manner in which they articulate their thoughts and ideas that always impresses me--especially Hazel who has a most balanced view of things and is hugely charitable in her ideas and expressions. Wendy brought another dimension into our discussion and what struck me as I carried on our dialog was how different is the attitude and experience of every single one of the folks whom I happen to be studying. There is really no one box into which I can pigeon hole this community for each of them brings startlingly new perspectives to our meetings.

The Haliburns are unusual in that while they started their lives in the UK as immigrants taking on any job that came along as a matter of survival, they actually went on to create, develop and sustain a hugely successful business in landscape gardening that led them to have clients as famous as model Elle McPherson and Richard Branson's business manager. What is also striking about this couple is the camaraderie and genuine friendship that exists between then. They have accomplished everything in their lives together as a team and they take such pleasure in what they have achieved. Hazel, for instance, gave me a tour of their home and pointed out with such pride all the home improvements that Ed has done and how much more they wish to undertake before they bring their flat up to snuff.

Before I knew it, the sun had set golden over the Essex countryside and darkness fell swiftly. Hazel served tea in a flowery porcelain tea set and I thought to myself, "This is so English. English tea in an English household that exudes warmth and contentment". With my pen flying along, I filled many pages of copious notes while my tape recorder caught every nuance of our conversation.

At last, I had to leave but not before I took my doggy bag home and received invitations from the Haliburns to see them again. They also extended invitations to me to come and stay with them in their home in Spain and to call upon them if I ever need anything while I am here in England. It is this warmth and hospitality that endears me to these people--friends for life gleaned out of an academic project that is proving to be far more fun that work.

Back on the Tube, I was pleased that my feet were holding up well though I have to admit that I barely did any walking today. At home, after I had eaten my dinner (leftovers from last night's Indian dinner from Sainsburys), I did my foot exercises, gave myself a good foot massage by rolling a Coke Bottle filled with hot water as Megan, my physiotherapist, had instructed me, then sat to watch some more of Thomas Hardy's Jude the Obscure.

By 10. 30, having spoken very hastily to Llew who is excited about his departure from the States, I sat to write this blog. And I am still marveling at the sea change that has been wrought in my psychological state by the single visit to the physiotherapist yesterday!

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