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The Curry Conundrum - Chapter 1

by Inusukch 

Posted: 22 April 2007
Word Count: 2414
Summary: Rupal Mithra was everything you could expect from a young British Asian, tall, well groomed, addicted to recreational drugs, and skint. But when an opportunity fell into his lap in the shape of an uncle leaving him a half share in a curry house, things started to become a lot more complicated for the hard partier from Slough. Within a few weeks he was dodging gunshots from beefy Russian gangsters and wondering what had happened to the London he used to know...

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The morning post had lain undisturbed all day on a side table in the little row house where the Mithra family lived off a side street in Slough. It was not an exceptional house, Its front was a patchwork of fading brickwork with occasional concrete modifications. There was a small patch of grass a few feet wide in front, overgrown with a weedy bush with swathes of dead and dying leaves that made it look as though someone had unsuccessfully tried to assassinate it with weedkiller. Inside, much of the furniture appeared to have been rescued from a clearance sale at Oxfam. Two middle-aged women sat on the sofas in the living room, one of them the lady of the house, who had just picked up the post and begun to open it.

"Hai rabba!" exclaimed Mrs. Jairam as she read through an official-looking letter she had just removed from a manila envelope. "Come and look at this, Viji."

Her sister Vijaya, perched on the other end of the sofa with a mug of tea in one hand and a plate of toast in the other, moved closer to her sister with alacrity.

"This letter is from Pappu's lawyer," said Mrs. Jairam again, waving the paper about so her sister's eyes trembled from the effort of trying to focus on it.

"Give me that," said Vijaya, snatching the envelope, and immersed herself in its contents with an avidity that left no room for the world to impede upon her concentration.

The two sisters were a study in contrasts. Sunita Jairam, now in her early fifties, had long since given up the battle to control her expanding waistline and now occupied her half of the sofa with a remarkable assurance and solidity. She looked contented nevertheless, with only the slightest hint of worry lines on her smooth face.

Vijaya, who now stared at the letter over a pair of bifocals, was taller and straighter, with a habitually severe expression. Hers was a face that looked the world in the eye and said that if it didn't like what it saw it could jolly well sod off, see. She had not always been this way, but forty years of living in Slough have that sort of effect on some people. Perhaps if she had lived those decades on a lovely island in the South Pacific, lulled to sleep by the whisper of the waves on the shore and bathed in sunlight on afternoons filled with the cries of seagulls and the chants of fishermen bringing the day's catch home to shore, she might have turned out differently, but as it happens she had spent those years in Slough selling package holidays in a travel agency, and the way she had turned out was the best she could have done under the circumstances.

"Strange that he doesn't want Jeevi to go too," said Vijaya, as she pored over the document. "If he left anything for you, Jeevi has a share in it too seeing as he's your husband."

"What did Pappu have to leave anyway? I thought he was dead broke most of the time."

"You'll have to ask your husband. I wouldn't know. I sometimes think, Suni," said Vijaya with some asperity, "that you just ask me the first question that comes into your head so that it gives you time to think about it. Pappu was Jeevi's brother. I hardly knew the man. I think I've seen him three times in my life, at weddings, and he was stinking drunk every time."

"Yes, why do you think he was always drinking?"

It is not inconceivable that at this point Vijaya, who had been high-strung since she was a girl, would have delivered what she liked to call a "tight slap" with the edge of a raised palm to the side of her sister, had the door to the little row flat on Sunderland Street not opened to reveal the ample figure of Jeevi Mithra, his collar open and a tie clutched in one hand.

"Jeevi, look at this," said his wife.

"No," he said.

When Jeevi Mithra got home from his job at the Alliance and Leicester, the last thing he usually wanted to look at was more paperwork. Even out of the corner of his eye he could see that was what his wife and sister-in-law were looking at. He wanted tea and a nice quiet hour of sitting around in the back garden with the last hour of the summer sun. Experience had taught him that it was best to make this himself rather than wait for his wife to get around to it. He was accordingly on his way to do that.

"It's a letter from Pappu's lawyer."

"What does he want?"

"He wants me and Rupal to see him about Pappu's will."

Jeevi snorted, a choice which was not advisable in a man of his walrus-like aspect as it gave him even more of the appearance of a large seaborne mammal. "Will! Hah! As if that old drunkard would have anything to leave. It'll be something to jerk us around."

"Jeevi," put in Vijaya, "doesn't it seem strange to you that the lawyer only wants Suneeta and Rupal to go, and not you?"

He snorted again as he exited the living room in the direction of the kitchen. "Nothing strange about that. Never got on with that damn fool Pappu. He was nothing but trouble for the entire family from start to finish. We're well rid of him, I tell you, well rid of him. Call the lawyer and tell him whatever he needs to say he can put into a letter."

"Well!" said Vijaya.

And for at least a minute she did not find anything else that seemed quite adequate as a reply.

Coincidentally, at exactly the same time much the same subject was occupying the attention of Michael Saunders, Esq., in the offices of Cranfield & Whitlow, Barristers at Law, in a building off the Strand. He had been reading a file, and the contents had troubled him enough to call his secretary over.

"Did you send that letter to the Mithra family?"

"Yes, Mr. Saunders."


Michael Saunders did not press the point. He was not inclined to discuss what had clearly become a delicate problem with his secretary. Instead, he walked into his boss's office and got straight to the point.

"I think there's a problem with the Mithra estate. The will requires us to withhold certain information from Mr. Mithra's surviving family, whom he's leaving property to. It's quite legal but it might embroil us in problems later."

"What problems?"

"Mr. Mithra owned a half share in a restaurant which he wants to leave to his nephew. However he instructed us to refrain from mentioning that he had made certain informal agreements to borrow money from some, ah, informal lenders, which have not been paid back."

"That seems perfectly in order to me."

"You see, if these, ah, informal lenders were to impose, ah, penalties upon the boy when he inherits his uncle's share in the restaurant, we might be seen as responsible."

"Nonsense. Not at all. Nothing to do with us," said Peter Whitlow, cradling a telephone in one hand. "Is that all?"

"Yes, that's all, thank you, Mr. Whitlow," said Michael Saunders, withdrawing from the office backwards and inclining his head slightly.

As he did, in a small, dingy curry restaurant next to a pub called The Donkey Bridle on the Pimlico Road, the staff were getting ready to serve customers dinner. As yet not a customer had showed up, but when you run an establishment like the Punjab Kebab Corner you live in hope. The carpet was a shaggy red and had been freshly vacuumed, even though the steam cleaning that might have made an impression on the stale smell of thirty years worth of spilled curries and beer remained but a distant hope. Two young Bangladeshi waiters sat at the back, occasionally rearranging spoons and otherwise staring at the wall. The mournful screech of a thousand dying camels sounded faintly over scratchy loudspeakers to the accompanying plink, plink of an unidentifiable stringed instrument.

One of the waiters walked around the tables. At one he picked up a glass, inspected it, and wiped a stain off it with the back of his sleeve.

At that moment a bullnecked young man walked into the restaurant.

In describing the young man as bullnecked it is necessary to point out just how vitally this aspect of his personality crowded out any other attributes he had. True, he also wore trainers and what could easily have been a tailored jacket. His head was smooth as an egg on top, and shaved closely elsewhere. His nose bore the signs of battle, as did his forehead which bore no less than two small but jagged scars. Still, it was the thickness of his neck that commended itself most forcefully to anyone who observed him. It stood out against any other neck you could have pointed out in several hours of walking around London by virtue of its exceptional girth. Perfect strangers, passing him on Piccadilly, would point him out to each other, and the owners of nightclubs had on several occasions offered him, unbidden, employment as a bouncer.

"Good evening, sir," said one of the waiters.

"Good evening, sir," added the other waiter, who had a tendency to chime in.

The young man who had walked in did not look at them as he walked past. He continued to the back of the restaurant and into the kitchen as the waiters trailed uncertainly in his wake.

In the back was the usual scene to be found by anyone unwary enough to walk into the innards of a restaurant of this class on a working day. Some mutton lay defrosting in a bucket of water. Bottles of a brand of Bangladeshi beer called Crown had fallen on their sides on the floor. A man with a piece of cloth wrapped around his head was chopping onions with a rusty knife on the counter and tossing them into a basket next to his legs. The same mournful music as filled the restaurant could be heard here but at three times the volume.

"Where is the owner?" asked the intruder.

The onion-chopper looked up. He was a tall, skinny Indian with a pockmarked but intelligent face.

"Mr. Sarma is not here."

"Not Sarma. The other one. Mithra."

"Oh! You did not know. Mr. Mithra unfortunately passed away last week. It was very sad, very suddent. Are you," asked the onion-chopper, realising even as he spoke the words the basic implausibility of the premise, "a friend of his?"

"You tell this Mr. Sarma," said the intruder, "that he owes us twenty thousand. By next Monday. And though he disapproved of smiling on the job, the ghost of a smile flashed across his face as he touched a finger to a chopper lying on the counter.

The two waiters trailed after him again as he walked out of the Punjab Kebab House.

"What was that fellow wanting?" asked one of them to the cook, who had emerged from the kitchen with a look of concern on his face.

"I'm not waiting around to find out," said the cook. "Tell Mr. Sarma that he owes that guy twenty thousand pounds, and that I quit."

And, after waiting a decent interval, and before any customers had walked in through the main door, Subhash Patel gathered his things from the kitchen and slipped out the back door. That he might be forfeiting two days pay seemed to him a reasonable price to pay for avoiding further entanglement with thick-necked thugs who came into restaurants demanding twenty thousand pounds from him.

The next morning, in a greasy cafe in Peckham, the Mithras' son Rupal held his head in his hands. He was filled with resentment against the proprietors of the cafe, the nearest establishment to the flat he shared with two other college mates, because he felt that when one had paid seventy pence for a cup of tea and four pounds for some eggs and sausages one was entitled to enjoy it on a table that did not spin constantly from one side to another like a demented Ferris wheel. He laid his head gently down on the table and closed his eyes, a fork still clutched in one hand.

"Made it down here, did you?"

His housemate Zain was not the person Rupal would have chosen to exchange light banter with in the state he was in, but as there did not seem to be a choice in the matter he sat up, steadying himself against the back of an adjacent chair, and made another half-hearted attempt to tackle his sausages. There was nothing wrong with Zain at the right sort of time, he was exactly the fellow you wanted to have at your side when you were trying to get into a club with a strict admissions policy as he seemed to know everybody on the party circuit, but his ability to cheerfully wake up after consuming enormous quantities of vodka shots mixed with a bewildering variety of other sorts of alcohol in the course of an evening and act as though nothing had happened was infuriating.

"You were right hammered last night man... proper walloped..."


"Your head must be feeling like you stuck it in a washing machine, man..."

"Can I help you with something or did you just come here to take the piss?"

"Hey, don't worry man, I got to get going anyway. Just wanted to tell you, your mum called. Asked you to call her back. Said she couldn't reach you on your mobile."


Rupal Mithra looked at his mobile phone, which was dead, and put it back in his pocket. It was a good thing his mother had called, he thought. What with one thing and another, and having lost that job as a copy editor, he had hardly any money left. The five pound note he had paid for breakfast with was the last in his pocket, and he dreaded going over to check his balance at the ATM across the street, as he was reasonably sure there wasn't much in it. He would have to call his mum, he thought, and see what he could borrow.

He shoveled a mouthful of sausage into his mouth absent-mindedly.

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Comments by other Members

Account Closed at 09:45 on 27 April 2007  Report this post
I really enjoyed the humour of this, and also the descriptions of people and places are great. But I do wonder whether you need to do the scenes from one person's point of view and go easy on the "overall narrator" approach (which isn't, I believe, popular at the moment).

Also, I suspect we have too many people (though they're all wonderful!) being introduced in the first chapter. My feeling would be to start with the scene with Rupal, see it entirely through his eyes from there on in and have other character viewpoint scenes dotted in as necessary throughout. But for the first chapter or so, definitely stick with Rupal - he's great!

Great plot idea too!


Corona at 07:41 on 29 April 2007  Report this post
A good story kicking off here! I agree with Anne that you're introducing too many characters too early here! I managed to follow the first 'jumps', but as they kept coming I lost my way a bit. I would definately stick with Rupal, as he's the one that the story revolves around. He makes a great, believable MC; he's a hung-over, jobless, skint student with a storm heading his way. I sense that you are going to handle conflict really well! Nicely done!
By the way; the scene with the 'bullnecked' visitor at the restaurant makes a great 'problem continuation' as an opening 2.nd chapter!!!
All the best!


Account Closed at 13:27 on 29 April 2007  Report this post
Fantastic plot idea and bags and bags of promise. My only think is same as said that there were maybe too many POVs. It works, but Anne has a point on if it's popular within contemp fic which I imagine this will fall into.

I think this has huge potential. Hope you fully join us at WW and get stuck into this.


Xena at 21:07 on 03 May 2007  Report this post
Hi Inusukch,

You have a great story here. Your every character is memorable and has a distinctive personality. I enjoyed your descriptions of places and your humorous style, which is always a welcome bonus in an action/thriller type novel.

I agree that perhaps you introduce too many characters too soon. It makes it difficult to follow. In particular, I would do away with the lawyers. It seems to me that they serve only one purpose here: to tell us that Mr Mithra has debts. But this becomes clear from the restaurant scene. The fact that the lawyers know but not telling about it can come up smoothly at a later stage, if you need it. Of course, I can't see the bigger picture and it's only my first impression.

There was another thing about these lawyers I didn't quite get. I understand Cranfield & Whitlow is a firm of solicitors. What is a barrister doing there? Barristers don't usually work for solicitors. They are self-employed. It's changing now, but very slowly.

Her sister Vijaya, perched on the other end of the sofa with a mug of tea in one hand and a plate of toast in the other, moved closer to her sister with alacrity.

Is that Vijaya who moved closer to Mrs Jairam? I this case, it might be better to do away with the second 'sister' in the sentence and leave: 'Her sister Vijaya... moved closer to her with alacrity.'

I do hope you fully join us and continue to post.


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