Interview With Mukul Kulkarni: Founder Of The Breakfast Story

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The Breakfast Story has attracted a large audience in Nagpur as well those who come to visit the city. Its innovative approach to breakfast as well as food in whole has never been seen before in the city. We at Reacho had an exclusive interview with the founder Mukul Kulkarni, telling his life story and experiences leading to The Breakfast Story.

- Born in and where?

I was born in Madras (now Chennai) on 16th October 1958.

- How was your childhood? What games did you play during your childhood?

My father was working in Reserve Bank of India and we were always staying in the staff colony. Hence there were many opportunities to make friends as well there were many large grounds to play too. I loved cycling and I used to do large rounds of the colony every day till I got tired and mom used to call me. We also used to play a lot of lagori, marbles, gili danda and of course cricket and football (in the rains). Childhood in Madras was real fun. Being a Maharashtrian, we regularly used to go to the Maharashtra Mandal and meet and interact with other maharashtrian families. The parents used to let us play in the large play area and courtyard. My favourite past time there was to play hide and seek. There were many trees in the compound and we used to regularly pick wood apples, tamarind, guava, aavla and other seasonal fruits. There were huge banyan and other trees where we used to climb quite high on them and have fun. That was the only time when I used to meet others who spoke Marathi other than at home. In school it always used to be either English or Tamil. It’s been 45 years since we left Madras, but I can still speak the language. I love Madras and still always find an excuse to go there. I studied at Don Bosco School, which is a Christian missionary school for boys and it left a lasting impression on me till date. At school we used to play cricket, basket ball and baseball. In Madras badminton used to be played with soft yellow coloured balls, a game I used to play called ball badminton. Another game I distinctly remember is the wooden scooter we used to ride, with one leg mounted on the floor plate and the other leg used to push the scooter. My dad had a scooter and he used to drop me to school every day. That used to be my high point of the day as I loved to stand in front while riding and take in the sights.

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In Madras (Chennai) in 1960

- Educational background? Did anybody explore options other than medical and engineering during those times? Which was the preferred field and college during that time?

I did my matriculation (as it was called then) in 1974. This was 11th standard. The pattern of 10 + 2 started in 1976 in Nagpur. I studied in Saraswati Vidyalaya, Nagpur and my dad preferred this school not only because it was the best school in Nagpur at that time but also it was a Tamilian school, which helped me and my siblings. My father was a civil engineer and was in regular contact with many architects in his job. This influenced me a lot to pursue Architecture. Even though I did very well in my board exam (83%) I did not want to pursue Engineering though my father wanted me to do Chemical Engineering as it was the most preferred engineering discipline at that time. He even made me give the IIT, entrance exam JEE, which I gave grudgingly. As fate would have it, I did go to IIT to pursue Masters.

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VRCE (now VNIT) graduation

LIT and VRCE for Engineering and Govt. Medical College for Medicine were the most preferred colleges in Nagpur. In India at that time – the IITs. IIMs, IISC, VJTI, CoEP, UDCT, BITS Pilani, JJ School of Architecture, SPA, Delhi, NID and CEPT - Ahmedabad etc, were preferred for Engineering and Architecture. I chose VRCE (now VNIT) for Architecture. It was and still is a five year course, though engineering has reduced from 5 to 4 years now. I topped the university in the last 3 of the 5 years standing first with Honours. I then pursued Master of Design (Product Design) from IIT, Bombay.

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IIT Bombay hostel 1980

- How was dating scene? Was it a taboo? Which place was best for the couples?

Dating as such was taboo. But not so much in our college. It definitely was not the way it is today. My parents themselves had eloped and got married in 1955 so they were much more broad minded than other parents at that time. For me coming from an all boys school in Madras to Saraswati Vidyalaya which is a co-ed school itself was a kind of cultural shock. There were no ‘best’ places for couples, but still Telenkhedi and Seminary Hills, I guess were places where we used to see couples hanging out. Also eating out was never a big thing and there were hardly any restaurants worth going to. It was a total tapir culture at that time, also because that was the only thing we could afford. We used to have samosa and kachori dates ☺ and scooter and cycle rides (double seat). Like you see in the old movies. (Remember the song hawa ke saath saath, ghata ke sung sung…)

- Without mobile phones, how did you use to communicate with friends?

Phones themselves were a rarity. If you had a phone (land line) then you were supposed to either very rich or very influential. The only medium for communication were landlines, Indian Post, Telegrams, telex. So we needed to go physically and meet friends – hence the nukkad concept developed. There was a particular time of the day when friends used to meet at a pre-decided spot and have fun. Ice golas, ber koot, imli, ice fruit, bhel and pani puri, chat, samosa and kachori were the reason for meeting too.

- What were the media for entertainment?

Movies, Marathi theatre, picnics, long cycle rides, parties at home were the only medium for entertainment. TVs came in 1972 in a big way and a new era and avenue for entertainment came up. It was only B & W TV at that time. Colour was introduced much later in 1982 when the Asian games were held in Delhi. Dyanora, Onida and Videocon were the only brands known and Doordarshan was the only channel. It was magic at that time what TV did to the masses. Cricket matches were a rage and so was Wimbledon. The whole family and their neighbours used to be glued to the person in whose home the TV was. I remember the TV and its surrounding were decorated in detail and it used to be encased in a cabinet.

- Why did you go to the US? Any interesting memories of the country?

I had applied for a Rotary Foundation scholarship in 1982 and after 2 rounds of interviews, I had been selected to represent District 315 of Rotary Club. I selected the US to go for my higher studies then which was completely sponsored by the Rotary Foundation. I got admission to the University of Kansas, Lawrence, USA and was there for one year.

Apart from my studies, I had to attend some of the Rotary club meetings and give lectures. I utilized my extra time in college to work on campus and not only earn some extra dollars but gain useful experience. I travelled a lot in the US and Canada on my own, back packing which was the highlight of my stay there. On my way back to India I took a break journey In London and travelled in 8 countries in Europe soaking in their culture. This was my first trip to Europe and greatly influenced my decision to keep going back there so many time thereafter.

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On top of Empire State building, New York in 1983

- Why did you come back?

I decided to come back simply because I did not like to stay in the US. It may be difficult to understand for many but I have never regretted my decision. I could have easily stayed back and later become a US citizen like countless people have done, but I have never liked the listless lifestyle of that country. Yes, you do have all the materialistic life, money and everything you ever wished for, but I didn’t see any culture there. Life is so plastic and dull there. Also I wanted to do so much here back in India where the sense of belonging is there unlike in the US where even if you become a citizen you are still and Indian and always fighting with duality.

- Any favorite places in and around Nagpur that you saw changing?

Telankhedi has changed big time. The biggest change in Nagpur over the years is the food scene. There has been a huge spike in the number of eating joints and the eating out culture here. The mall culture though late has hit Nagpur but in a more subdued way. Some of my favourite eating out places like Moti Mahal, South India mess, Naivedyam, Ashoka and Nanking are still there and many others have adopted to the new generation. But South India mess was and still is my hot favourite.

- What was your first salary in Nagpur?

My first job was in Bombay in 1981 after I graduated from IIT Bombay. It was in a company called NR Jasani and my job was that of a furniture designer. My salary at joining was Rs. 1600/- and in 5 years it had gone upto only Rs. 5000/-

- Where were you during the time of emergency?

I was very much in Nagpur and studying in VRCE at that time. Was in 3rd year Arch, I remember so vividly. Nagpur which houses the RSS headquarters was the hub of a lot of activity, albeit silently. My father was a staunch RSS person and I remember unknown people visiting and staying with us for intermittent periods and we were told not to tell anyone about it and neither talk to them.

- How did you celebrate 1983 cricket world cup win?

As most people I love my cricket and am an avid follower of the game. Even before television came to Indai, I used to be glued to the radio listening to the commentary. Its funny and weird that we use to make friends at the drop of a hat during those times when we used ask some one listening to the commentary as to what the score was? And the discussion would continue ending up in friendships. 1983 world cup was huge. Massive. TV was big time then. I was at my friends house in Kurla and we were watching the match and of course having a party. I can recollect every ball bowled and every run scored and every wicket taken. Gavaskar’s wicket, Mohinder Amarnath’s fight back but more importantly Viv Richards running catch taken by Kapil Dev, Balwinder Singh Sandhu’s wicket of Gordon Greenidge and Mohinder’s final wicket and everyone in the stadium rushing on the ground to Kapil’s holding the cup and his sheepish ‘Palmolive ka jawab nahin’ smilish grin……We rushed out on the streets later on and saw that the entire city was out to celebrate… It was nothing short of awesome and mind blowing… we never slept that night

- How was air travel then? Any visa hassles?

As students we used to get 50% discount then and I used to travel to Bombay from Nagpur quite often. The planes - Avros, Dakotas and Boeings used to be smaller and noisier too. Getting tickets used to be a hassle as one had to physically go to the Indian Airlines offices in the city and purchase by giving cash. Air India and Indian Airlines were the only operators then. Visas were always a hassle. One had to go to the embassy / consulates stand in unending queues. Especially for European countries as the common Schenegen Visa was not there.

You can find The Breakfast Story here.

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