A (post)colonial love story

Read this today and nearly puked:

“Ours is a classic story of forbidden love, elopement, family estrangement and reconciliation. People say it’s so romantic,” says Englishman Tim Wallace from the veranda of his home in the town of Tura in north-east India.

“People say it’s so romantic”, he says. Honestly, I hate stories like this, and I can’t believe the BBC has dropped its standards so low as to publish yet another white man-meets-‘tribal’ girl-girl’s family object-but they live happily ever after in the end sort of staple you find in cheap tabloids or mail order bride agency success stories. Tales of intermarriage such as this are always imbalanced, because it is always told from the man’s point of view, who is always white. This is because the women involved are unlikely to speak his language fluently enough to express their innermost thoughts, and because it’s likely that she is poor and uneducated. What makes their love story newsworthy has largely to do with where the woman is from. In this case (in a David Attenborough voice), from the remote Garo hills nestled in the north-eastern Indian state of Meghalaya. They have a daughter together, Amazonia, because she’s like, from the jungle, and all jungles are like all the same y’know, whether it’s in India or South America. But it gets much worse:

“The last decade has certainly been an adventure,” he says while drinking tea served by his wife Minna.

Ah yes, the ever servile tribal wife who is always making tea for her Englishman husband and who always lets him do the talking. Why is this bit of information important? Is the reporter being cynical in mentioning this master-slave/coloniser-colonised aspect of their romantic relationship? Anyway, if we look through the prism of India’s colonial history, Tim and Minna’s union is no different from their foreparent’s.

English women were typically barred from entering colonies, and only wives of high-rankings officials were allowed to set up homes; this created many illicit affairs between the single (and sometimes, married) men and their colonised subjects. This relationship is described as at best, ‘concubinage’, and at worst, ‘slavery’ by virtue of the power differential between the men and their local mistresses. Unavailable to afford to marry the English women of British India, lower ranking officers and ne’er-do-wells settled with the local sexual opportunities that awaited them. Tim, your typical bohemian/hippie/free spirit, is the modern-day coloniser:

A Sheffield University drop-out, Tim changed his name to Timbo Rainbow, embraced a hippy lifestyle in the late 1980s and took to travelling throughout towns in northern England to earn a living as a professional juggler.

When not entertaining the public in town centres across Yorkshire and Lancashire, Tim travelled extensively to India, Nepal, Sri Lanka and Thailand. When the money ran out, he would return home, juggle frantically and return to his travels. But his itinerant lifestyle came to an abrupt halt while travelling through a remote area of the north-eastern Indian state of Meghalaya in 1998.

“I wanted to travel through the Garo Hills because I had a relative who was posted in the area during the days of the Raj,” he says. “I was staying in a village in a jungle when I met Minna and I immediately fell in love with her smile.”

Connecting with his imperial past in India while on holiday – how convenient! Do people fall in love with smiles nowadays? Perhaps people still do. I’ve already found my way out of the romantic haze long ago so I refuse to believe it. What I DO believe is the imbalanced power relations that drew Tim to love Minna. She is, after all, a helpless village girl who needs to be rescued from her savage self – his long-dead relative must be so proud!:

Barely more than 100 years ago the tribe had a fearsome reputation as head-hunters – the decapitated heads of their enemies were often displayed on poles alongside village boundaries.

Bbrrr. Scary. He definitely doesn’t want to make her parents angry or they might want his head too!

Happy together: Tim and Minna

“Our backgrounds are totally opposite,” says Tim. “I come from a relatively rich, middle class, multicultural western society and can access any information I want. I have been able to travel where I want and do anything I like. Minna on the other hand comes from a small village where people are mostly conservative farmers, monocultural and reluctant to accept outside influences.”

So what you’re saying, Tim, is that your culture is materially richer, cultured, superior, and better in every way than Minna’s? That’s lovely. To put it all in a nutshell, this is the sort of recycled rubbish you hear from the many men who take wives from developing nations. I’m all for giving Tim the benefit of the doubt, and that there may truly be genuine love and respect here, but he just sounds so dodgy on many levels that I’m not going to try. What truly is lacking here is Minna’s voice, because she has ended up in this article a stereotype of a foreign wife; exoticised, servile, obedient, demure – everything a right-minded woman wouldn’t want to be, Western or not.

4 thoughts on “A (post)colonial love story

  1. Maybe she’s just shy.

    Yes, their baby’s name certainly fits into the ‘most pretentious baby name’ category commonly conjured up by celebrities, hipsters, and bobos.

  2. I think he says it best “I felt I was embarking on something of a risky adventure!”

    Its also interesting that they haven’t asked anyone in the community what they actually thought of Tim – all we have is what he thinks they thought. Did he ever stop to think that the reason why the comminuty didn’t accept him was because he’s a pasty faced white boy who doesn’t look like he can actually support his family within their community? And now he”s teaching them all English! How culturally superior he must feel.

  3. Farah,

    Like all marriages, it can be a risky affair, but even riskier when you’re stuck in a remote village with former headhunters!

    To be fair, it’s already a fairly detailed story and to get her family to talk about Tim would make it unnecessarily long. Also, it’s possible that Tim’s account was far valuable to the reporter than Minna’s and her community’s. A documentary about them would be able to cover all the gaps in this story.

    He does sound superior here, and probably always have been. Teaching English is probably the only thing he’s qualified to do, besides juggling of course. After all, he must feel that he is above working the land that he’s partly inherited matrilineally.

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