Parvati rediscovers her roots - and home

17:00, Aug 11 2014
Parvati Erikson
FINDING PARVATI: Waiuku marriage celebrant Parvati Erikson was brought up in an Indian orphanage and started a new life in New Zealand more than 50 years ago. But she has never stopped thinking about her Indian roots.

Waiuku marriage celebrant Parvati Erikson was brought up in a Presbyterian orphanage in India - the child of a British father and Indian mother. Her life changed more than 50 years ago when she was brought to New Zealand. She spoke to Natalie Polley about her journey.

Parvati Erikson's eyes tear up as she admires the naming certificate hung on the wall of her Waiuku home.

It reads Parvati. It's in honour of her mother.

The change of her birth name from Nancy to Parvati was an important final step in reconnecting with her Indian roots; and of the family she knew nothing about for decades.

Parvati grew up in a Presbyterian orphanage, devoid of any connection with her parents.

She dreamt she would one day find her mother and learn how she'd ended up in Dr Graham's Homes in Kalimpong, at the foothills of the Himalayas.


"I had no idea how or why I was there," Parvati said.

"I was born in Assam, North East India, and was placed in the homes when I was just over 2 years old. I knew I had a British father, Harold, and an Indian mother, Bella, but I had no memory of them or my eldest brother."

When a little Nancy Harris arrived at the homes in 1946, she discovered she had three siblings there.

Parvati said the siblings were not encouraged to connect, among the hundreds of other children in the homes.

One day, a house mother took Parvati to see Hazel and Jim Dick - New Zealand guests who had come to Dr Graham's Homes with missionaries.

"The letter writing started and eventually they asked the house mother if they could take me to New Zealand," Parvati said.

"I was the youngest child, at age 11, to ever leave the homes."

Parvati said she travelled to Auckland by cargo ship.

"All I had seen of New Zealand was Maori people in grass skirts that I'd seen on tea towels. I was really disappointed to see no people in grass skirts when I arrived."

She settled into life in Remuera with Hazel and Jim Dick, but she found school difficult.

"I was the only dark person at Epsom Girls Grammar. I was ridiculed and humiliated."

At age 20, Parvati said she prepared for her first job interview, as a flight attendant for Tasman Empire Airways - now Air New Zealand.

"I saw all these beautiful girls and thought, ‘what am I doing here?' It was the most terrifying thing."

But Parvati got the job, and she worked as a flight attendant until she married Waiuku's Rex Erikson in 1967.

"Sadly, during those dark ages, you were unable to continue flying when you were married," she said.

"I left my social life and flying to move to Waiuku; the contrast was immense."

The couple soon had two daughters, Bella and Kim.

As the years continued, Parvati said she felt an emptiness - she ached to know her mother.

"I hadn't researched my family because I didn't want to hurt Hazel's feelings," she said.

When Hazel Dick was 90 and her health was failing, Parvati had an extraordinary urgency to research her roots.

She wrote to the orphanage in India and was put in touch with her eldest brother.

"I had no memory of him, as he'd run away from the homes when he was 12 to look for our father," Parvati said.

In 1995, Parvati hired a detective to search for her father. All she knew was his name.

"I didn't even want to meet him," Parvati said. "I just wanted to know whether he was alive; and whether he knew about my mother."

Parvati found out her father had remarried a British woman, but had passed away in 1978.

"I learnt I had an aunt and an uncle in Remuera and I had been living there all those years. I had an aunt in Dunedin and a half brother and sister in England. It was huge."

Parvati still knew nothing about her mother, so she bought a plane ticket to India in 1996.

"It was hard for Rex to let me go by myself, but this was my journey," she said.

"I needed four months. I'd left as an 11-year-old. I was a Westerner - but I didn't really know who I was."

Parvati arrived on Indian soil for the first time in 42 years.

She met her brother and the two visited Dr Graham's Homes.

"I learnt that we had lived on a tea plantation when the war had started.

"We were right on the border of Burma when the Japanese attacked. That's why we were put in the orphanage . . . including my youngest brother, who was just an infant."

Parvati said her father had wanted to keep the children safe, while he helped Burmese refugees through India.

"I learnt that my mother had her five children taken from her. She'd had no choice."

Parvati and her brother visited the house where Parvati was born, then they found the village where Parvati's mother was from.

It had since burnt down and in it's place was a grove of palm trees.

"My daughter Bella had given me a pounamu before I left Waiuku," Parvati said.

"From Aotearoa this pounamu travelled and we buried it in honour of my mother in the grove of trees. But I never found out how or where she died."

While in Rajasthan, meditating on Mt Abu, Parvati said she started to think about her life back home in Franklin and how to connect her Indian heritage to life in New Zealand.

"I had an epiphany. I wanted to return to New Zealand and search out how to become a celebrant. The Indian part of me was so ceremonial. I realised this spiritual side of me had diminished during the years."

Parvati returned home to Waiuku with a new purpose.

"I had never known where I belonged. I returned home to New Zealand and said to Rex: ‘This is where I belong, this is home. India's my place of birth."'

"I had finally found all of me." 

Waikato Times