Passing on the baton


Yesterday was my father, Dr Mukul Karmakar's, twenty fifth death anniversary.

As I was reflecting on this yesterday I was thinking about how a lot of what I am, and therefore what this blog is, is influenced by him. I knew him for the first nine years of my life before he passed away.

He had grown up in very humble circumstances first in Borishal (Bangladesh) and then at Calcutta. He went to a completely unknown world, UK, to study medicine. He spent about 14 years there at Canterbury (where I was born) and Liverpool and then had a short stint at Rasht in Iran. He’d been to countries and cultures which were completely alien to the world he was born in. Met people and made friends from people from across races. He was exposed to a life which someone from his background could never have thought of.

He was very open minded and would mix well with people from various ethnic origins - I think he had as many, if not more, British, European and later Persian friends as he had Indian friends.

At the same time his years spent outside India didn't cloud his original identity. I have seen him wearing traditional Bengali attires (dhuti Punjabi) on special occasions abroad, he would actively take part in occasions such as Durga Puja with other Bengali, he would cook Bengali food, stayed true to Bengali culture, cinema, books, songs observe Bengali customs such as not smoking or drinking in front of his parents even after he returned to Calcutta and wear a lungi (a sarong like thing which Bengali men used to wear at home) at home.

My father was a legendary cook and host. I have heard stories of how he had cooked Bengali food for more than 300 odd people (many of them British) for my Annaprashon (rice eating ceremony), of how he had taught my mother how to cook, of how used to make lovely Bengali sweets such as ras malai from scratch. I don't remember much of his cooking but I do remember he would toss up a piece of mutton and call it Turkish delight to make it sound interesting so that I would eat it (I was quite a fussy eater). Years later I found out that Turkish Delight was a sweet but hey it worked for me then. The other image which has stuck in my mind is that of the prawn curry which he had made for my mother on her birthday and whose picture I have seen.

His tastes in food were eclectic...so not just Bengali but continental, Persian etc. Plus He would try out a variety of meats (pork, beef) unlike other Hindus of the time. I had also heard stories of how he had learnt to cook Chinese from a Chinese cook in England.

I vaguely remember the big parties he would thrown and have seen pictures of my lavish birthday parties. He was fond of calling people over and entertaining them. Apparently we used to have lot of house guests staying over.

He used to take me out quite often. I remember some of the times when we ate out at Calcutta - grilled pork chops at Jimmy's Kitchen (we used to eat there very often after my school got over and before his chamber would start, he once muttered that they probably thought that we didn't have a house!), fish and chips at the AAEI Club, steak sandwiches at The Grand Hotel. And the times I would stand beside the ice cream cart at school when he would come to pick me up so that he would buy me ice creams or the time when he told me that the milk in the cafe at the Calcutta Zoo was tiger's milk so that I would drink it up!

He loved to travel and his journeys took him all over Western Europe, Japan, Philippines, Iran to name a few ... places never heard of in Borishal in Bangladesh where he was born.

Well, this was just a glimpse at the many facets of my dad's life. And if you have read my blog you would know that I have settled in a city which is not mine, have married someone who doesn't belong to my community or religion, that I love food, that I experiment with food, have a natural instinct for cooking, that I love to travel, that I love to see new places and meet people from different cultures and yet swear by Calcutta, its biriyani, rolls, phuchkas and recipes, its Durga Puja and its only sports icon (Saurav Ganguly)... and that I just spent my Saturday wading through the rain and slush to pick Bengali fresh water fish and then teaching my maid how to cook fish curry and use the micro so that she can cook for us given Kainaz and my late hours.

Yes, I guess, a little bit of dad lives on in this blog.

PS The picture is that of my dad and me when I was two. Oh yes, he was an avid photographer too... all of this when he was not bringing people back to their feet in his professional role of an orthopaedic surgeon.
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