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Himalaya

Day 94: Digboi to Dibrugah

Michael Palin - HimalayaAnne, the older of the two, is the daughter of an illicit relationship between an English tea-planter and one of the women from 'the lines' (i.e. a tea picker). Such liaisons were strictly forbidden and Anne's father could never publicly acknowledge his child. He went off to the Second World War and died in Singapore in 1942. Anne's mother, poor, uneducated and illiterate, had no idea how to find information about him. She didn't even know how he spelt his name.

Anne, neither English nor Indian, never really fitted in with the tea-planters, who, embarrassed at such situations, were unapproachable and unhelpful. Enquiries about her father were stonewalled.

Anne was sent to a convent school and later met and fell in love with an Indian fighter pilot, who wrote to her every day, and even once dropped a letter to her from his plane. They had a daughter together, but he was a married man and, in a mirror image of her mother's situation, they kept their relationship secret. He eventually returned to his wife. Anne got a job as a secretary in a tea company, where she saw a copy of the London Daily Telegraph in her office. She noted down the name of their defence correspondent and, on a whim, wrote and asked him how she might find out about a tea-planter called Stuart who went missing in 1942.

Thanks to his help, she eventually learnt her father's name, one of many on the wall of a mass grave in Singapore. Armed with this lead, and with some help from one of the tea company's directors, she finally made contact with her father's family in England, 47 years after his death. His sister Mary was still alive and asked to meet Anne. Mary's granddaughter Sarah is the girl travelling with Anne today.

The two women derive so much pleasure from each other's company, that one can only wonder what things might have been like if they'd known of each other's existence years earlier.
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PALIN'S GUIDES

  • Series: Himalaya
  • Chapter: Day 94: Digboi to Dibrugah
  • Country/sea: India
  • Place: Digboi
  • Book page no: 222

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