Mom's UK diaries 1: The tale of an Indian doctor's wife

I have been down with a bad back for a while. So not much action happening - eating out or cooking. Writing's a bad idea. Need to prime myself up for my Australia trip, end next week. Most of my time is spent getting slow roasted on heating pads. 

But then when you are down and out then who else but Mommy comes to the rescue? In this case through her writing blog posts. Mom's written down her memories from her stay in the UK in the mid 70's. Fifty hand written pages. She got nine pages typed out so far.  The posts would be a bit sporadic from now on as she is getting the house painted. Hope you like them like you liked her earlier ones on Iran and Delhi. Please write in if you do and I will send the comments to her. My sis in law is getting photos scanned too but I thought I will just go with the flow  and post the articles as they come given my travel plans and mercurial back. So happy reading ... K

"In this post , I have tried to describe the lives of the Indian doctors of National Health Service(NHS) in the U.K. in the seventies purely from my point of view. I went to England in 1973 and stayed there for quite a few years. At that time I had the chance to observe closely the lives of the Indian doctors. However, some of the memories might have faded due to time, I also sincerely apologize if I have hurt the feelings of anyone ... RK

From Delhi to the land of the sahebs

It was India in the seventies. The country was still trying to grapple with the independence that it had achieved two and a half decades ago. Colonial hangover on the one hand and the need for an all out effort to build the nation on the other hand, made the youth of the seventies very uncertain. Whereas a few wanted to join the Indian Administrative service/ be an engineer or a doctor, the others wanted to go abroad for further studies and career development. There was a craze for going to Britain, the land of  the  Sahibs. People did not want to go to America, Canada, Australia or Singapore so much

It was at this time that I got married to a doctor who had gone to the U.K. for further studies and then settled there. I left my country, my family and college job holding the hand of a person who was almost a stranger to me, for an unknown land of the Sahibs i.e. the U.K

We left India by an Air India jumbo jet named’ Kanishka’ with the symbol of the little Maharaja painted on its tail. Sadly enough, this same Air India jumbo jet later crashed while going to Canada

After landing at Heathrow, we went to an Indian friend’s house and stayed there for a few days. In the evening, the first thing we did was to buy a coat for me which would be suitable for the freezing cold of London. (Reminds me of K and my first evening at Istabul where the first thing we did was buy her a coat …KK)

We stayed in London for one or two days. After that we started for Canterbury in Kent, where my husband was posted after our marriage. My husband was a surgeon employed in the National Health Service (NHS) of the U.K.

Canterbury Tales

Canterbury is a city in Kent county. Kent was supposed to be the ‘garden of England’. People were very posh and a bit snobbish compared to the other parts of England. But we gelled very well with the people of Canterbury and made the most number of friends there

Every student of English literature is familiar with the name of Canterbury through “Canterbury Tales” written by Chaucer, the father of English literature, in the 14th Century .

It is the story of a group of pilgrims, who gathered in the Cathedral of Canterbury and narrated their tales. This cathedral dates back to the sixth century. It belongs to the Anglican Church and is a world Heritage Site. I was thrilled to the hilt when I saw the Cathedral for the first time. The Cathedral of Canterbury has grandeur of its own and is very awe-inspiring. It was in the vicinity of v hospital as well as our house, which was at the back of the hospital

While writing about the U.K., I am a bit confused as to what to write and what not to write. Due to globalization, everyone knows everything about the U.K. There is nothing new in what I shall be writing. But everyone has his or her own way of looking at things. May be I shall speak about some very minor or trivial things which nobody has thought of recording.

The Indian doctors of the NHS

Indian doctors formed the backbone of the N.H.S. Their lives centred around the hospital where they worked. A nearby fully furnished house, usually a minutes walk from the hospital, used to be rented for the doctors so that they could be ‘on call’ during emergency. At that time, there were no ‘mobiles’ so for emergency purpose, the NHS doctors were given a small electronic instrument called’ blip’. During emergency, it  used to make a sound like’blip’, ‘blip’. And the doctor ‘on call’ wherever he was, used to run towards the emergency ward.

National Health Service or NHS was spick and span. Cleaning, mopping and polishing of floors were done regularly. There was no trace of dirt anywhere.

I had the chance to observe the activities of the NHSNHS hospitals. Their forefathers, who were originally from India, had migrated to Uganda and Kenya. But after so many generations, these nurses did not want to be known as Indians though their skin and facial features loudly proclaimed their origin. These nurses were very efficient in their work and took utmost care of me when I was in Canterbury Hospital, without getting too close and personal.

After I went home with my child, Miss Olson, a social  security worker appointed by the NHS, used to visit us quite often and look  after the baby. She was like my guardian angel and advised me on every little thing of child rearing. Pre-natal and post-natal clinics  were held regularly.

During weekends, the Indian doctors, who were mostly Bengalis, usually used to assemble at one of the doctors’ houses. Whenever a few Bengalis got together, one thing is sure to follow. That is ‘adda’. Roughly speaking you cal call it ‘chatting’. This ‘adda’ continued incessantly for two to three days and made us very happy.

Another pastime of the Indian doctors during weekends was to go to the sea-beaches and other  tourist centres.

The Island Nation

England, being an island, is surrounded by beautiful sea beaches on all sides.

We too loved going to the sea beaches whenever K’s dad visited any hospital situated by the sea, he used to take K and me along with him if the day was sunny. He used to drop us by the seaside. We spent the whole day on the beach, roaming about and eating fish n chips, sandwiches etc. K used to make sand castles with his spade and bucket. When tired, we used to go inside the hospital for hot coffee and biscuits. These short trips helped me to get relief from my everyday household drudgery.

Among these sea side hospitals, we liked the one in Dover, Kent  most. Dover was by the side of English Channel. If you remember , this English channel was crossed over by a Bengali swimmer named Mihir Sen. You could go over to the French border city named Calais simply by crossing over English Channel from Dover. Above the sea were the famous chalky white rocks, which seemed to be whitewashed with white chalk solution

K and I loved to spend the day on the sea beach of Dover Hospital while Ks dad used to work inside the hospital.

Commuting from one place to another place was no problem. Roads were very well maintained. Once you were on the motorway, you could drive miles after miles with ease. You could get down at petrol pumps, buy food and relax. Most of these doctors used to drive to far off places by car"         To be contd


Sassy Fork said…
Ahhh....the white cliffs of Dover...remember seeing them,they're beautiful!
Went to a beachside town...Yarmouth...was so full of life!
..very well..narrated..wud love to read more..
especially life in UK.
Miri said…
Hope your back is better - I was on a drip 2 days before my trip to Oz and I still made it, so don't worry. :)

BTW, you didn't get in touch for Oz ideas, do let me know if you need any inputs.

Kalyan Karmakar said…
At Miri, ouch that was terrible and I am so glad you could make it...good for you...yes, yes of course I need the inputs...will write :)

From FB:
Sharmita Saha loved this one; could not find the older posts....:)
Friday at 05:55 · LikeUnlike
Anahita Mody Beautifully written...... so glad your moms posting her memoirs again they are a fantastic chronicle & very interesting to read. Thanx Mrs K (Senior) :-))
Sunshinemom said…
Now I know where you have got the gift of writing from! Your Mom is a wonderful story teller. Do keep this series going. Reminds me of my Mother when she gets talking about her days during the Indo-China war and Dad was posted in Shillong(My dad was in defence administration).
Hermano 2 said…
This is a lovely post. It echos my own family where my father (A Bengali doctor from Calcutta) came to the UK to train as a surgeon and met my mother (a nurse from Wales) while he was working at the Royal Gwent hospital in Newport. I truly look forward to reading more.

All best wishes

Simon Majumdar
Kalyan Karmakar said…
Hey Simon, thanks so much for writing in. Mom will be thrilled. i was amazed by the similarities in our lives and quoted the title of your latest book in the next post. Lots of food stuff in that one

Hey Harini, you must get your mom to write and bring the stories to the rest of us
kaniska said…
as always, lucid, descriptive (am i repeating myself?) lovely description of the country. and the infamous me as an aircraft make an appearance... now about to read part 2. please to create a book out of her experience
Kalyan Karmakar said…
@Kaniska, well part 2 is ready for you
Preeti said…
It is so nice to see Britain thru your mum's writings....not much changed I must say...Dover still flaunts the white cliffs...NHS is same with blimps possibly with better radio systems. Our NHS is loaded with South Indian Doctors though:)
Juelle said…
Mr K, I am a big fan of your blog and first thought it quite strange for a Bengali to have a surname like yours, which I thought was Maharashtrian(of course, I was subsequently educated through your posts)!

I've never commented before, but had to on this post - it is simply beautiful. Your mum is a splendid storyteller. What first attracted me to it was the story of someone coming to UK and life here in the 70's.

We live in London and the post made me see UK through the eyes of another Indian at that time....the sepia tinted photos were like the icing on the the risk of sounding repetitive, I have to say it is simply beautiful - I loved it!

Many thanks to your Mum - please tell her it made for splending reading
Kalyan Karmakar said…
@Juelle: Got this mail from my mom when I forwarded your comment:

Thank u so much 4 sending the comments. Think things hv changed now. Though even at that time it ws worse in london. That's why ur dad never took up job in london or in places where there were many indians. We too came back bec we felt that staying in england, u wd b nowher. Iran was only an inbetween stay

But I really liked uk. Being a student of Eng lit, England was my dream country.
Juelle said…
Mr K, thank you very much for this. Coming back to India and starting life afresh seems like a daunting task, but after reading your mum's mail, I feel very re-assured...really, that maybe we are making the right decision to come back home.

Please pass on my many thanks to your mum and also very best wishes to your blog Mr K!
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