By Indranil Halder
I meet Mark Damerum at the Bourke Street bakery outlet in Potts Points. Being a Potts Point residence, he knows the best cafes in the area. Over chai latte and sausage roll, I was fascinated to learn about his Kolkata rugby union connection.
Mark was born to Anglo Indian Bengali parents in the Indian city of Kolkata. He played rugby union growing up. He came to Australia as an international student to study cookery. Today, he is the acting Senior Product Specialist manager for Service NSW (digital products) in Greater Sydney Area. He is part of Service NSW case studies on diversity and inclusion. He has 14 years of customer service as well as leadership experiences in banking, logistics and supply chain industries.
Having relaxed Saturday morning breakfast, Mark spoken about his most valuable possession. It is the only photo of his family in his Potts Point apartment. The family photo that includes his father, mum, younger brother and him. He narrated how his Anglo-Indian father with Irish ancestry loved Bengali culture, spoke fluent Bengali language and fell in love with his mum, a Bengali lady named Moon Moon Sarkar from Bagdrashar, West Bengal.
Mark still cherish his time with his multicultural family in Rippon Street, Kolkata. In his teenage years, tragedy struck. He lost both of his parents. The family was torn apart. Both brothers were orphan. Growing up was not easy in the complex Kolkata society. No social benefit payments like Australia’s Centre Link’s financial support. Choices were very simple : beg or work. No permanent home.
For three years, stayed with the Cubbins family. A noble Anglo-Indian family who loves him equally like their son Dallyn. Provided him with shelter at the crucial hours. He became an integral part of Cubbins family. Kolkata bound Cubbins family relatives from London would also bring him gifts like Dallyn. Memory of receiving his first aftershave is fresh as the smell of Cool Water. At the age of 18, he started working as an United Parcel Service (UPS) provider in Kolkata. He was working with Steven Ross( who was UPS operation supervisor) in Kolkata. He also attended Indira Gandhi National Open University , to educate himself. He studied in Assembly of God Church School. In his spare time, he played rugby union.
Mark said, “ Rugby Union was played in the Indian city of Kolkata, long before cricket. I loved to play cricket but lost hope and dreams to play in state or national level as it was highly competitive in Indian subcontinent.” He grew up loving Kolkata’s own Calcutta Cup ( rugby union) with his father rather then Nobel laureate Tagore for his poetry. Mark believes, the recently released Jungle Cry movie is a step in the right direction. He rugby union has the power to change socially disadvantage young lives in Indian subcontinent.
In between morning coffee, newspapers and my questions, Mark recalled playing rugby for Kolkata’s Rangers Club, Dalhousie or for La Martiniere Old Boys Rugby( an elite, independent and private school)team. While playing rugby union, in Calcutta Cricket and Football Club (CCFC) book which celebrated rugby union team in last 50 years, he found his grand father’s photo as a rugby union player.
Today, Mark is very proud of his connection with Kolkata’s rugby union for three generations. In Kolkata, Mark feels, the game of rugby union is not embraced by Bengali locals but players such as Kathain Patel (owner of tea garden), Sunny Singh (Founder & CEO Van Hawke Sports) and Mario Shelton (Anglo Indian who was India’s captain for 2008 IC08 rugby union tournament in Melbourne) learned to play the game in that very city. To help others, he even got in touch with Tim from Future Hope( an organisation that helped 3500 kids in Ballygunge with introduction of rugby and education) who promoted the idea of providing education and life’s lesson through rugby union. During this time of his life, one of his distant aunty from Australia, applied for his visa on compassionate ground. But the visa was rejected. Many told him that he will never reach Australia from Kolkata.
Mark did not lose his hope.
Later on he applied for international student visa again. Clara from Global Reach, Kolkata who also studied in Assembly of God Church School helped him with the process. And he finally succeeded in gaining his international student visa. He arrived in Australia and studied in William Blue College of Hospitality Management. All he wanted to be is a chef. It was work, study and work. Social life was nonexistent. He believes, it was determination and not the skill and education and connection that got him where he is today. After finishing his course, he started working and he would pass the HSBC building everyday in Sydney. He would say to his friends that he would work there one day. All he could hear is his friends laughing at his dream. Again, his friends were confident that he will never get a job in HSBC. But he proved them wrong. He did get a job in HSBC centre and was award with HSBC Bravo award in Sydney. He was Premier Relationship Officer for HSBC Retail Banking and Wealth Management and was HSBC Brand Ambassador.
Finishing his chai latte , Mark said, “For any individual, resilience and strength develop from personal tragedy. It either drives you or destroys you . And the chose is yours. For me as a 16 year old kid, tragedy made me driven, focused and result oriented.” As I said goodbye to him in front of Manar Potts Point( an exclusive apartment and it’s name represents the source of the wealth of the family who built it. It was pearl fishing in The Gulf of Mannar, between India and Sri Lanka), I was pleased to learn his goal is to achieve personal success by helping others.