Pursuit of Happiness

Diving's on his menu

Prahlad Kakkar divides his time between cooking and his other love, scuba diving

My epitaph will read: Men who cook get the girls more often than men who pump iron,” says the inimitable Prahlad Kakkar with a guffaw. Sitting in his spacious Bandra apartment, the ad film maker is busy attending calls, browsing on his iPad and reading assorted literature. Getting Kakkar to talk about his passions — cooking and scuba diving — proves to be a formidable task. The man is holding forth on Catholicism, probably a fallout of his recent cameo as a priest in Bejoy Nambiar’s film David

“How many times have you read the Bible?” to “Did you know the Inquisition was brought to Goa by [St] Francis Xavier?” But, after a while, he returns to cooking and his interest in it right from when he was a callow 14-year-old to setting up Papa Pancho da dhaba in 2002 to becoming a wine connoisseur and a cigar aficionado. Kakkar’s experimental cooking spans continents — for example, a classic Bengali dab chingri dish cooked the French way with a Thai tom yum paste.

His love for cooking found an outlet with Papa Pancho da dhaba that serves food with a “home-cooked flavour.” He likes to cook and eat non-vegetarian food and his tastes are eclectic — he can mix French with Punjabi and Bengali with Egyptian cuisine equally well. “The food has to be about texture, flavour, presentation and experimentation,” he says.

Kakkar may seem more toned down about his other major interest — diving — but that’s just a façade. He’s as much, if not more, fixated about it. “My first diving experience happened in 1989. I’ve been hooked since then,” he says. It took place during a business trip with his friends to Mauritius. After much cajoling, he took to the waters and turned an instant convert.

“The next day I went back, convinced a diving instructor to teach me and I have been diving ever since,” he grins. He started a diving club back in Mumbai in 1995, where people learnt scuba diving in a swimming pool. Now, he runs a scuba diving school in Lakshadweep and two in the Andaman islands. He has gone diving all over including the Bahamas, Egypt, Thailand and Germany. “Every dive is phenomenal,” he says, proceeding to mention a life-threatening experience in the same breath.

During one of his Mauritius dives, 50 metres underwater, his cylinder ran out of air. At that depth, the diver cannot reach the surface quickly as his reaction time suffers due to lack of oxygen. “I grabbed the instructor’s ‘octopus’ (a breathing device with more than one outlet) and surfaced,” he says. Kakkar is as passionate about his interests as he is about his profession, and that’s why Papa Pancho da dhaba and his diving schools are still talked about.