Page last updated at 08:46 GMT, Thursday, 25 September 2008 09:46 UK

Anglo-Indian tale of forbidden love

By Alastair Lawson
BBC News, Tura, Meghalaya, India

The couple's romance is a moving love story

"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.

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

The couple and their nine-month-old daughter, Amazonia, celebrated their 10th anniversary this month and to say it has been a turbulent decade would be something of an under-statement.

Forty two-year-old Tim's story reads like a modern-day version of a Victorian love scandal, complete with bouts of serious illness.

'Hunter gatherers'

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.

Tim Wallace during his juggling days
Mr Wallace's itinerant lifestyle has led to numerous adventures

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."

But any hope of romance was strictly forbidden by her family, who are members of the Garo tribal community.

"Minna comes from a small village where many tribal people are extremely conservative," explains Tim.

Fearsome reputation

Many rural Garos live in matrilineal communities - where property is inherited through the female line - and where men traditionally are hunter-gatherers.

Tim Wallace outside the Star Bird language school
Mr Wallace is now Tura's top English teacher

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.

The smitten couple decided to ignore opposition to their union by eloping together.

"I spent a night in the jungle and arranged to meet Minna on a bus heading for the state capital, Shillong," Tim says.

"I boarded it with a towel over my head to escape recognition and initially even she didn't recognise me!"

Minna told her family that she was going to Shillong to stay with relatives, but they soon discovered this to be untrue.

"They were so angry that they went absolutely nuts," recalls Tim, "and looking back I am amazed at Minna's bravery in defying her family to be with me.

"I think I am the first foreigner to marry a Garo woman and stay within the community."

Gradually people in Minna's home village accepted the couple, made them welcome and helped them manage their three hectares of land. Tim learned to speak basic Garo within six months.

The plot was jointly inherited by Tim because Minna comes from a matrilineal society and it was held in her name. For six years the couple eked out a living as subsistence vegetable farmers.

Baby Amazonia
Baby Amazonia has added a new dimension to Mr Wallace's life

"But I was under no illusions that the land belonged to Minna and if ever her family wanted to kick me out, they could do so at the drop of a hat. To that extent I felt I was embarking on something of a risky adventure!

"It was really tough. I had three bouts of chronic malaria, and became so weak that I could no longer cope with the work and the heat in addition to the snakes and scorpions."

Ten years on, the couple remain as devoted to each other as ever, but Tim says their married life has not always been a bed of roses.


"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.

Mr Wallace and Minna in the gardens of the Star Bird language school
The couple together have survived numerous scrapes

"Minna on the other hand comes from a small village where people are mostly conservative farmers, monocultural and reluctant to accept outside influences."

The couple are now jointly launching an English-language school in Tura which, because of Tim's nationality, has attracted numerous enquiries from prospective students.

Tim says that his long-term aim is to raise enough money to take his daughter Amazonia back to England to meet his mother for the first time.

"Life out here has been difficult, uncertain and at times dangerous," he says, "but it has been much more rewarding than juggling in the streets of Barnsley!"

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