Abdul Karim arrived in Cambridge in 1957. He came from a village called Fenchuganj, East Pakistan (now Bangladesh).

At the time, he had two brothers Abdul Rohim, Abdul Aziz, and a sister. His younger brother and sister died at a young age. They were all orphaned in their formative years.

In the years between World War I and World War II, the Indian restaurant community started to expand beyond London. As the number of Asians entering Britain increased so did the demand for more Indian restaurants and so business within the Indian cuisine market gathered momentum.

It was during the 1950s and 1960s when a large influx of Punjabis, Bengalis, and Africans migrated to Britain that the Indian restaurant concept started to spread even further throughout the UK, which now boasted around 500 Indian cuisine eating establishments.

Abdul Karim worked as a cleaner when he arrived and then moved into the catering business. He also had a shop on Mill Road.

In 1963, he took out a 12-year lease on an office space at 43 Regent Street, Cambridge, which was converted to The New Bengal Restaurant. The property was owned by the estate agent, Watsons and Son, who had premises next door at no. 45. It was located at the heart of the city centre. Some of the staff and others lived in the upstairs room.

He was living at 19 Willis Road, Cambridge, from around 1963. He moved to 6 Devonshire Road in 1969.

In November 1975, the lease of the New Bengal was due to expire but Watsons did not wish to re-let the premises, wanting it to enable them to expand their own offices. They were already using the top floor of the restaurant. A public enquiry was held and Watsons won an appeal to use it as offices. He did not want to lose the New Bengal and was extremely disappointed by the decision.

By then he owned another restaurant, which was named as The Bengal Tandoor Mahal restaurant at 4 Fitzroy Street, Cambridge. It was knocked down in the mid-1990s to pave the way for new shops. It was owned by Jesus College, University of Cambridge.

So most Bengali men worked in this trade. Some helped other male members of their family to come to England and had work ready waiting for them in these restaurants. At that time, he helped bring over his cousins, whom lived at his home when they first arrived and moved on.

His wife, Fultara Banoo Karim, arrived in 15th January 1964.

Abdul Karim’s children (three sons and two twin daughters) were born in the Mill Road Maternity Hospital, originally a poor house built in 1838, which became a maternity hospital by 1948. His daughters were born two days before East Pakistan became the independent state of Bangladesh in 1971.

He sold the house on Devonshire Road and moved to Gurney Way, Cambridge, in 1976.

He returned to Bangladesh on business in 1984 and never returned. He passed away in Bangladesh on 7th September 1985 after a short illness.

Written By

Shahida Rahman

Editor and Co-Founder of Cambridge Muslim Heritage