However hard I tried, I couldn’t understand what the old man wanted from me. Every evening before sunset, my two young sons and I walked down to the edge of the river Ganges with other Rainbow family hippies. Every evening an old, nomadic farmer, playing dice with his friends along the dusty track stopped me. He pulled me to one side and pointed at my eyes.

What did he want, what did he see in my eyes? 

This time, he took me by the arm and led me through a few bushes to the sandy riverside. My butt landed on the ground in front of a tiny, straw hut and my heart exploded.

I had come home.

He disappeared, leaving us in the presence of a young woman. I melted into a deep, safe and familiar place within as I ate the food she offered us. I had never been so nourished. Beyond food this was feeding my soul. I looked up and my two young sons were savoring every mouthful of this sustenance too.

I thought I heard her whisper, ‘we are so happy you are safe’.  

These were my people. But I had no idea how. Past lives maybe?

I did not receive the answers to this question for another 25 years.

My mother and her siblings were born in Calcutta, India. They came to England as children in the 1930’s due, I presume, to both the depression in India and the worsening protests for Independence.

My mother, my aunt and my uncles

As a child, I knew my mother was born in India – but that was it. I wondered why her family were differing shades of fair and brown. When I asked, I was told that there was some Spanish blood amongst the British. I believed them. 

My mother always strived to be as English and as ‘proper’ as possible.

Our meals seemed different from my friends’: prawn curry with boiled eggs, dhal and rice, lamb curry, dhal puri, vindaloo…

Apart from my mother’s siblings, we never met or knew anything about anyone else in her family, there were no photos of past generations.

We don’t talk about the past” was my mother’s stock response to any questions.

On one memorable family occasion, my cousin’s young wife made the mistake about asking my auntie about her Indian blood. “How dare you say that,” she screamed, “shut up at once!”

We had learnt young that Indian blood was a dirty word.

But sometimes mum told me stories about their family being asked to leave restaurants when they arrived in the UK because they “didn’t serve niggers.” And about how my grandmother hated England. From the moment she stepped off the boat, she said, “I will die here” and she did at the age of 54.

My grandmother and my aunt

You can’t fully hide who you are. The hidden roots of my maternal bloodline squeezed their way through the barriers and into my childhood. Without knowing, I knew something was amiss.

What is silenced and denied its rightful place in a family system will turn up in generations to come. If it is not made conscious, it will be lived out as fate.

Until the mid-sixties, it was believed that DNA was only located in the nucleus of our cells. Later, strands of DNA were found in the mitochondria, the cell’s energy center. Although the quantity of DNA in the mitochondria is tiny, it is interesting that it is only passed down through the cytoplasm in the mother’s egg. This type of DNA (mitochondrial DNA or mtDNA) is sometimes referred to as maternal inheritance. Because this mtDNA is passed down uniquely from our maternal line it does not change from generation to generation. There is a ‘she’ that is in ourselves, our mothers, our grandmothers, our great grandmothers, our great-great-great grandmothers, etc. It is this mtDNA that connects us through generations. It is the ancestral mother energy that supports us.

Mine had been severed.

Years went by and I had my own family. My life was extremely turbulent. It did not fit the middle class English education and upbringing I had received. I never understood why I felt a call to live with nothing, beyond the boundaries of society. I never understood why I chose violent relationships and why I needed to take drugs. Something didn’t add up.   

What is silenced and denied its rightful place in a family system will turn up in generations to come. If it is not made conscious, it will be lived out as fate.

With the onset of internet, I came across a website called FIBIS (Families in British India Society). My brother gave me half a family tree with some of the names of my maternal line. I began to research, I realized, I had to find out if I had any Indian ancestors.

It’s the gaps and empty spaces in our family trees that say the most. Thanks to FIBIS and other ancestry sites, I was able to fill in much of my family tree. However, the gaps felt like black holes. Where were the people that should have filled them?

There was no sign of my great-great grandmother, Jane Rebecca Lyman before her marriage or after the death of her husband nine years later. Her marriage certificate that I ordered from the British Library stated that she was married in Serampore, near Calcutta at the Baptist Missionary Church. Her father was called Kukharam and he was a tea-maker in Assam. She lived in Sivasagar, Assam at the time of her marriage and signed her name in Assamese. She was a minor (under 16) when she got married.

So why did she have an English name?

In 2014, my mother died and in 2015 I moved to the United States and within a couple of days found out that I had cervical cancer. My maternal lineage and traumas came up once more to be revisited.

But by then, DNA testing was all the rage. I worked out that if my great-great grandmother was Assamese, I should be about 6% Asian. My results came back with nearly 25% Asian ethnicity.

What is silenced and denied its rightful place in a family system will turn up in generations to come. If it is not made conscious, it will be lived out as fate.

Thanks to internet, I began to piece together my maternal bloodline.

An Anglo-Indian is someone with mixed British and Indian ancestry, the paternal line goes back to Europe and the maternal line to India.  

Meeting other Anglo-Indians

It is as this point that transgenerational and historical trauma meet. I was not only the first of my maternal bloodline born out of the mother country and denied knowledge of my roots, BUT my lineage belonged to a race and a community that had been created by colonization. 

The Anglo-Indians were brought into being by the direct policies of the Portuguese, Dutch, and British traders and colonists. Warren Hastings was the first to use the term ‘Anglo-Indian’ in the 18th century to describe both the British and their Indian-born children. The Directors of the British East India Company (which had been founded around 1629) paid one pagola or gold mohur (a guinea, coin) for each child born to an Indian mother and a European father, essentially, a family allowance. These children were “country-born” and amalgamated into the Anglo-Indian community, forming a bulwark for the British Raj (rule), a buffer but also a bridge between the rulers and the subjects.” (1)

So, here’s why she had an English name.

By British law the Indian girls had to be baptised as Christians in order to marry. I asked an Assamese friend to translate my g.g.grandmother’s signature. She had written her new name phonetically in Assamese, Jaine Ribeka Laimen.

My great-great grandmother’s signature

I researched the name Jane Rebecca Lyman. Jane was her husband’s mother’s name and Lyman was the name of an American missionary in India at the time (Layman Jewett) translating the bible into Assamese.

These mixed-race families were given a few rupees per week as family allowance, but this meant that their children were under the ownership of the British. When the children were three years old, they were forcibly taken away and placed in orphanages. This was to provide an English education away from the influence of their Indian or half-caste mothers. Only the father’s name was put on the school registration documents.

My great grandmother and her sister attended the Calcutta Free school for Anglo-Indian children. Her father died when she was four and there are so far no traces of what happened to her mother. In most cases, due to the caste system widowed Indian wives could not return to their families. A life of begging was what commonly awaited them.

Boys in the Anglo-Indian orphanages were groomed to work for the British as foremen and paper-pushers. The girls were bought up to be the wives of British or Anglo-Indian men. The schools primed the girls for this and allowed men to come to the school and choose wives from the age of twelve upwards.  

My great-grandmother and her sister married two brothers. She had four children before her husband died. She had no choice but to re-marry. She married my great-grandfather whose mother was Indian, and father was Anglo-Indian. They had another four children including my grandmother.

My grandmother

My grandmother born into the heart of an Anglo-Indian family and community in Northern India was sent to a school for Anglo-Indians in Darjeeling. She was eighteen when she left the school and re-joined her mother in Calcutta. She wanted to go to her father in Dinapore and wrote him a letter, but it was too late, as he died before receiving it. She stayed in Calcutta, became pregnant and was forced to marry. My grandfather was a British mercantile born and domiciled in India.  

And here we are full circle, my grandmother and her three kids were bought to England in the 1930’s. A cold, racist and alien place. And as many Anglo-Indians, I have since found out, they denied their roots in order to survive.

The trauma was repeated within the family, too. My grandfather was racist to his wife and his own children preferring his fairer children over his wife and eldest born who had more of an Indian appearance. The internal family racism went as far as to send the fairer children to private school and the oldest daughter to the state school.

What is silenced and denied its rightful place in a family system will turn up in generations to come. If it is not made conscious, it will be lived out as fate.

The dissonance between what I felt in my cells and saw in my family with the dreaded silence, denial and lies created a deep trauma of identity and belonging.

My mother line had been highjacked.

And so, I have spent the last four years piecing the story together and reconnecting with my maternal ancestors. The healthy ancestral group of women that carried the same mtDNA as myself were waiting for me to find them.

And I did.

On my first inner journey to connect, I came across a woman separating the wheat from the chaff by throwing grains up into the air and catching them in a flat basket. She told me she was a gateway to my healthy ancestral group. I felt a chill throughout my body and remembered the nomadic woman all those years ago in Varanasi who had fed us and who felt like family.

I had walked through this gateway in the material world 25 years before and here I was about to go through it again in the ancestral realm. But this time I knew what it was they had recognized in my eyes. I stepped through the portal, and for the second time in my life, I was nurtured like never before by the food of my people but this time the food did not need sustenance, it was pure love.   

Now we are connected, and I am mothered by my loving, kind and wise lineage of healthy ancestral women. Through my awareness of their presence, through my beholding of their powerful healing they are able to bring the recent dead home, those I have mentioned that were victims of colonization, back into their rightful place in our family system.

 “We all carry inside us, people who came before us” (2)

 

References

(1) http://ehlt.flinders.edu.au/projects/counterpoints/PDF/A7.pdf

(2) Liam Callanan – The Cloud Atlas