Happy 70th Birthday Dad from Antarctica… a family history to celebrate!

 

As a favour, my friend and fellow Antarctic adventurer & overwinterer, American Dr Dale Molé, printed and photographed this photo I sent to him of my Dad – at the US Station located at the Geographic South Pole.  It required some forward planning… being taken many months ago… when there was a full head of daylight over the pole.

My Dad is pictured sporting a Fair Isle Shetland Jumper.  This one in fact was brought out of retirement for the first time… using the same pattern, knitting and yarn as had been used for the jumper worn by Sir Ed Hillary in summiting Everest who later crossed Antarctica via the South Pole for the first time!

In celebration of my father’s birthday, I would like to share some of my family history, showing how it has inspired me…

Kashmir, learning to walk

Being born in Jammu & Kashmir, and in keeping with a love from my mother’s side of the family also, my dad loves to walk and trek mountains.  A natural Sherpa of sorts.  In fact, me and most of my siblings actually learnt to walk whilst climbing the highest peaks in Britain and later the around the world courtesy of excursions taken during scientific conferences, where my parents often were invited to speak.  In the photo, he is shown carrying me on his back, alongside one of my brother’s.

Having survived the murder of my grandfather, my remaining family members were forced to flee their home in the North of India during the Indian partition in 1947 – with difficult times ahead.

In the Elephant House

I don’t think I have ever met another child who visited an Elephant House of an old, but now famous, Delhi monument and tourist destination- where my father and his family had lived in such awful circumstances.  My father also told me about once facing a Cobra (snake) that entered his ‘home’, perhaps initiating my interest in snakebite.  I recently visited the Elephant House with one of my brothers and my sister, at a time when the ‘planets had aligned’ and we had found ourselves for the first time in years, drinking coffee together in a bookstore in Delhi.

Chin up, Chest out

Tragedy struck again when my grandmother was killed during Indian Independence Day celebrations, having been run over by a truck driven by a drunken, off-duty army soldier, who never stopped or was identified.

Despite such set backs, with his brother’s motto, ‘chin up and chest out’, he studied harder than I ever could have – even being given his own key to the local library – and qualified as a vet before travelling to Britain, arriving around the time that the Beatles song ‘Yellow Submarine’ was released, describing it as a little crazy.  The rest as they say is history.

Kim

Despite this, the best of my family qualities survived these hardships.  My father instilled in me a Rajasthani charm and curiosity for life, feeling like a character from a Ruyard Kipling novel, I gained all this from my time spent on a very long leash whilst in India since a young age.  Our family has always found itself in and found a way through various difficulties.  It has seen me well around the world’s remote tribes, dangerous cities and once freed from being held-up at gunpoint in Cambodia.

Just our luck

In India, I was free to wander markets, learning to haggle, and have never forgotten when I was attacked by a black bear whilst in India as a child, a story I still smile about (though my mother doesn’t).  Later, whilst still very young, my brother and I were kidnapped by a person who just that day been released from a psychiatric unit… again not a story my mother smiles about… understandably so.  Other families have not been so lucky.

The lottery of life

And so I have never once took my freedom for granted.  I picked up a reasonable education during my school years where I otherwise spent my time looking into map books and wriggling free – I preferred to spend my time exploring and learning from the world.  Like my partner Kathy, whose family fled similar tragedy and war from Vietnam.  I have never been good at maths, but statistically the chances of us ever even meeting were astronomical- we met at medical school.

Being the youngest was never going to be easy

I am the youngest of 4, a mere ‘Sahib’.  I think this photo speaks for itself – my brother Ben, now a respiratory medicine consultant doctor, shown below, proud, having buried us two young-uns in the sand.  It doesn’t show him walking off laughing afterwards.  I hope his daughters (my nieces) are reading this… uncle Alex is on the right in the photo!

Curiosity for life

During a holiday many years ago, before I was born, my dad’s curiosity even led him to Shetland – just to see what it was like.  It was the first time he had been on the ocean- and he crossed the North Sea!  I later visited and worked in Shetland… being rolled out of my bunk at 3am in the morning by Gale Force 10 winds on the North sea, smiling, and now hold a similar love for the land and its people.  I smiled again later when facing ‘waves the size of houses’ crossing the Southern Ocean to come to Antarctica.

All hail ‘Idukki’

My father became the first Indian to live in our Derbyshire village, Whaley Bridge – imagine that!  And he was one of the first indian research doctors to work in the ‘NHS’ – which now sits in the top five (multicultural) workforces in the world.  In the UK, he re-trained in Pathology and followed a research career, but maintains his love of animals, where we have always had a family dog to walk out in the Derbyshire rain.

Now alongside my own Mishi and my brother’s dog Eva, we have a family Dalmatian, called Idukki, whose name came from a national park in India and sits very much at the top of the food chain in all respects (and all too often on the sofa)!  I’m not sure how far back in lineage we have to go to trace us to the ancient Egyptians, but Idukki remains a celebrated religious icon, comparable to Anubis.

In this photo I was kayaking on a local Derbyshire lake – with Idukki – who swam beside me all the way across the reservoir.

 

Kathy with Idukki in the Lake District

My sister, Natasha, with the latest additions to our family – Abigail and Yasmin.

Walking in the British countryside

Vascular Endothelial Growth Factor

My father recently retired as a Professor in Cancer Research, having brought the field of Angiogenesis to the UK and spent a lifetime searching for cures.  I grew up sharing my dinner table with stories from some of the greatest minds in science.  There were more scientific publications held at the dinner table than I had words in my own vocabulary… I think I learnt what VEGF stood for (Vascular Endothelial Growth Factor) before I learnt how to spell ‘Breakfast’.

Serving the Best Curry…

Despite always being questioned why I carry the (Indian) name, Kumar, by each and every patient that notices and some hospital security staff also, I have never given up or got bored or considered changing it – I am extremely proud of my joint British-Indian heritage.  I often visit my family in India, where the younger generation alongside my dad’s own brothers and sister have gone on to do great things, not just in science.

My uncle Vijay, who sadly passed away, left an incredible entrepreneurial print of originality and indian flair of his own.. winning the national Curry awards not once but twice, and who continues to inspire the family in spirit.  I won’t mention the naughty words he taught us in Hindi… those remain a family secret.

BBC Article (Curry Award): http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/uk_news/wales/8354616.stm

Vijay Bhagotra (second from left) received his award at a ceremony in London’s Battersea Park, which was presented by TV presenter Sir Trevor McDonald

 

Magician of Life

This year, whilst living in Antarctica, I lost the head of my family – Raj, the eldest of my uncles – who used to be head of antiquities in India.  He the wisest person I have known and he was truly the luckiest man alive, sharing stories of how he had dodged death with a gun pointed at him and his family during the partition and even suffering a massive heart attack as he entered through the doors of lift in a specialist cardiac Hospital in Delhi being there just for a ‘check up’.  Alongside my father and our family spirit, to me, he was a magician of life.

My father’s lesson to me: Make the best out of what you have

It was never an easy life but in respect of my family’s struggle and strife, I have always made the most out of every opportunity, loving and living life to its limit… Ernest Hemingway once said he ‘didn’t just live life, he bit big chunks out of it’.  I think I understand that and am feel I always have a direction, despite living down here on the dark side of the world.

Anyway, here is a toast to having a bloody good family, heritage, history and upbringing… from both sides of the globe… Cheers!

Home soon

Happy 70th Birthday Dad and so sorry I cannot be there… hope you, Mum and Idukki are well.  We have all come a very long way.  I hope to have a safe 17,000 km journey back home where I can once again stand in the Northern rain … see you at home for Christmas!  Not long now.

All me love,

Alex (photo attached below from a long time ago)

& Thanks Dale!

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