Nilmoni Sikdar – My Journey Began with £3.50

My Journey Began with £3.50


The Chinese philosopher, Lao Tzu said, “The journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step.”  Mine began with £3.50  in my pocket.

Every boy’s dream all over the world is to become a railway engine driver when he grows up.

I spent my formative years with Irish Christian Brothers at St Edmund’s School. The stories the brothers told  about England and Ireland fired my imagination and inquisitiveness and created a desire to visit exotic places and people.

After passing the Senior Cambridge in 1952, I did one year in Intermediate Science instead of two because of the higher grades I had achieved. Instead of Additional English, which 99% of my peers chose, I took Assamese as a second arts subject. It was a challenge because Assamese, Bengali and other languages were not taught as a second language in St Edmund’s School. It was a risky decision but despite all the hurdles, I scored good marks. It did not affect my preparation of the other subjects. The end result vindicated  my moral courage and unbridled principles.

I graduated from Assam Medical College in 1960 and worked as a junior hospital doctor in Dibrugarh for a year. I got transferred to the fledging Guwahati Medical College, where I worked as Medical Registrar in clinical medicine and as a junior lecturer in teaching medical students. Life as a junior doctor was tough. The modest salary was barely enough to make ends meet.

The political and economic situation was grim. In December 1962 Chairman Mao of China launched a massive invasion in India across the Himalayas.  The unprovoked aggression by China and war against Pakistan in 1965 for the latter’s cowardly intrusion into Kashmir left India in a state of moral and military humiliation and economic hardship.

After Mr. Lal Bahadur Shastri, Mrs. Indira Gandhi succeeded to the prime ministership on 24.1.1966. Her premiership was marked by extreme ruthlessness, uncompromising  centralization and corruption. Her goal was to fund her political party and bolster her image. Enough  was enough.  I decided to advance my own interest, to fulfil my potentials and to seek opportunity abroad.

Some of my people had my fortune assessed by  astrologists and they predicted that in no way could I make to a foreign land. Travelling abroad was  not supposed to be my forte. Mr. Indrajit Barua,  my childhood friend, school class mate for nine years and a mentor whom I love and respect .  He could not believe that I had made plans for the UK  and had succeeded. Even now he says it was a mere fluke.

I left for UK on 12.10.1968. The Reserve Bank of India gave me £3 and 10 shillings which converted into Indian Rupees 70.

My life in UK started on an overcast autumnal morning after an exciting flight from Dum Dum airport to London Heathrow . My first car ride in UK was in a Ford Escort. One thing that fascinated and excited me beyond all measure were the motorways which looked like a huge tarmac field with cars speeding both ways like bullets. We made our way through the beautiful undulating countryside of the shire counties. I was enthralled by the love and care of nature by the British.

Then the time came to stop at a restaurant. We had a modest snack. The bill, was about 10 shillings, which is equivalent to todays 50 pence. For the sake of courtesy I dig my hand in my pocket but was stopped by my friend. He asked me if I were to part with my hard-obtained cash from the Reserve Bank of India , how long would the balance last?  Just compare those days to the present foreign exchange situation where aspiring students from India can bring  as many sterling pounds and US dollars as they want.

Britain at that time was ruled by a Labour government under the leadership of Mr. Harold Wilson. There was a shortage of skilled professional doctors and nurses in the National Health Service at the time. In order to hone my professional skill and knowledge, I did a Diploma in Tropical Medicine and Hygiene under London University. Boy, how overjoyed I was! My first taste of success in foreign land. That was in Gateshead in County Durham. My first job as a Senior House Officer of a temporary nature in Chest Medicine was in Irvine near Glasgow.  However my heart was in London and Southeast. My long tenure as a Medical Registrar was in the coastal town of Southend On Sea. It was beautiful town in Essex. I got the first and of difficult parts of MRCP (London), which stands for member of the Royal College  of Physicians, by working long hours and studying between breaks.

From 1968 to 1978 it was a hard grind travelling all around the country doing jobs for higher training, experience and reference. That’s when I thought  hard. Children and responsibility took precedence over ambition and achievement. My final move  was to Dartford County, Kent, in August 1978. It is at this place where I pitched my tent for good and started my own General Practice. I retired in January 2005.

This reminds me an old poem by American poet Robert Frost “The woods are lovely, dark and deep, but I have promises to keep, and miles to go before I sleep, and miles to go before I sleep.”

Music and medicine were my first love. During my Assam Medical Days I developed an interest in writing and in taking part in debating competitions.

I keep myself fit by working out in the gym 3 times  a week. After retirement, I became a voluntary driver for a hospice as a part of my contribution to society. I liked human contact and competition.

I would like to update my skills  in Information technology because I think that to do well in the modern world, that is the way forward.

My life in Britain started modestly with £3.50 in my pocket. Like so many of our fellow travelers  I made it and have no regrets.  My profession and my career, which I have chosen has enabled me to have a roof over our, my family and my, head, two square meals a day and a comfortable pension for  the rest of my life.

However, looking back, I could have used my unacknowledged  potential to be successful as a lawyer, a journalist or even as an aspiring writer in English and Assamese. Medicine is a long, tough journey especially when one is trying to compete in a foreign land with the natives.

The good news is that my thousand steps have not yet ended