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Indumadhab Mallick revolutionized the kitchen with the invention of ‘Icmic Cooker’

7 May, 2021 11:27:49
Indumadhab Mallick revolutionized the kitchen with the invention of ‘Icmic Cooker’

The familiar sharp whistle of the pressure cooker emanating from the kitchen sounds so comforting at times. The trusted pressure cooker is a permanent fixture in Indian kitchens for decades. But when and how did this humble device cross the sanctum sanctorum of Indian kitchens? The predecessor to modern day pressure cookers, Rice cookers, Crockpot, Steam Cookers was invented in India! A century-and-a-half ago, Indumadhab Mallick invented the first steam cooker known as Icmic Cooker, where food marinated and stored in a tiffin carrier was steamed inside an elongated metal body with the help of burning charcoal underneath.

Mullick is a forgotten hero now whose name is buried somewhere in the annals of history, obliterated from public memory. This polymath was born on December 4, 1869, in a Baidya  Brahmin family of Guptipara village in Hooghly. Indumadhab’s father, Radhagobinda Mallick was related to the Mallick family of Bhowanipore in Kolkata. Indumadhab was a genius, a multi-faceted talent who completed his post-graduation in multiple subjects as diverse as Philosophy and Physics! He became a Bachelor of Law in 1894. Later, he went to study medicine at the Calcutta Medical College and wrote articles on scientific discoveries in magazines such as the Modern Review. He was an inventor, entrepreneur, collector, traveller, writer and social reformer.

The year was 1910 and Calcutta was still the capital of India. Indumadhab introduced his invention – the Icmic steam cooker and also launched commercial production of the device in the city. So how did the Icmic cooker work? It was basically a tiffin carrier of sorts with several bowls and each bowl would be filled with rice grains, pulses and vegetables, fish etc. separately which would be lowered into a larger cylinder with a charcoal stove below.

Indumadhab was married to Indumati while he was still a college student. From 1896, he started his career as a lecturer at Albert College and then moved on to teach at Bangabasi College, a renowned institution at that time. He went on a pilgrimage to Puri with his family. In the Jagannath Temple and watched how Mahaprasad aka 'Anna Brahma' is offered to the deities daily containing 56 types of delicacies cooked in the temple kitchen and then served to devotees. Food is cooked for more than lakh devotees every day in earthen pots, using firewood as fuel. Indumadhab became curious as he saw the seamless and systematic execution of the entire cooking procedure in the kitchen. He put on his thinking cap and decided to unravel the science behind the gargantuan system. His experiment led to the invention of the ICMIC Cooker! The name of the cooker is an acronym that is derived from ‘Ik’ of 'Hygienic', 'Mick' of 'economic', along with 'Cooker' — all in all, Ikmic cooker -- the predecessor of today's pressure cooker.

The year was 1910 and Calcutta was still the capital of India. Indumadhab introduced his invention – the Icmic steam cooker and also launched commercial production of the device in the city. So how did the Icmic cooker work? It was basically a tiffin carrier of sorts with several bowls and each bowl would be filled with rice grains, pulses and vegetables, fish etc. separately which would be lowered into a larger cylinder with a charcoal stove below. Water was placed in the outer chamber, the stove lit and the whole device sealed — with the steam from boiling water creating the effect of a slow cooker.

The moist environment of the Icmic Cooker was particularly well suited to cooking pulses, curry and meat, making the invention a runaway hit in Bengali homes. The best part? The fact that the cookers could be left alone — since they weren’t being pressure cooked, chances of the device exploding did not arise and also the possibility of the food being burnt was nil.

The compact arrangement and portability made it popular among bachelors and during trips where kitchen was not available. Students and bachelors living in boarding lodges were the biggest fans of Icmic cookers, because they would fill the cooker with pulses, rice and meat, light the coal burner, and then go to work leaving the food to cook slowly. When they returned, their meals waited inside the cooker, piping hot and ready to be eaten.

There is another version about this invention and some say Indumadhab came up with the idea of the Icmic cooker when he visited China and saw food prepared by arranging various bowls on the sidewalk. And it was this steam cooker that paved the way for the eventual widespread acceptance of stovetop cookers in Indian homes. However, his grandson and noted Bengali film actor Ranjit Mullick said, he had heard his grandfather got his inspiration from observing the time-tested scientific cooking process in the kitchen of Lord Jagannath in Puri. 

Indumadhab was a genius, a multi-faceted talent who completed his post-graduation in multiple subjects as diverse as Philosophy and Physics! He became a Bachelor of Law in 1894. Later, he went to study medicine at the Calcutta Medical College and wrote articles on scientific discoveries in magazines such as the Modern Review. He was an inventor, entrepreneur, collector, traveller, writer and social reformer.

Indumadhab also helped the Swadeshi revolutionaries, providing them safe shelter, treatment and even donated cash to carry on their daring activities for the country’s freedom. During this time, he came across a patient who needed an emergency surgery to save his life. He was also suffering from some highly contagious infection and no doctor was ready to even go near him. Indumadhab decided to operate the patient himself. During the operation Indumadhab, who had a small wound on his person, came in contact with the patient’s infection and was severely infected himself that led to his untimely demise. This great genius and humanist, who devoted his entire life for the welfare of the masses, died a painful death on May 7, 1917, at the age of 47 years only. 

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