RB Dum Briyani

“Uncle, lima kambing, tiga ayam.”

The uncle nodded in acknowledgement and turned around. His dark blue shirt was stained dark at the back with perspiration. Scooping the glorious golden yellow briyani, he generously heaped them onto the plastic containers, filling them to the brim.

“The one and only dum briyani cooked with olive oil,” the signboard above the stall boasted. There is no reason to doubt that; Briyani without ghee? In some parts of South Asia, that would be tantamount to sacrilege.

“Wah! You buy the whole shop ah?”

I turned around to see a bespectacled uncle carrying a tiffin in the queue right behind me.

Buy what?? What you talking about uncle?

Do I tell him that it’s Friday and I intend to have a briyani party at my aunt’s later that day to celebrate the end of a three week quarantine for my cousin? Or that it’s my abang sedara’s birthday and I intend to surprise him with some briyani from Tekka?

“What, uncle?”

I settled for pretending that I had no idea what he was saying.

“You buy whole shop ah? So many packets..” he replied with a nervous laughter. He was either trying to diffuse an awkward situation or he was anxious. It was 30 minutes past twelve. He might be leaving with an empty tiffin.

“Oh, no lah. That one not mine,” I said pointing to the four containers of briyani already on the counter. I wondered for awhile who they belonged to.

It didn’t take long. Briyani uncle had finished packing the rice.

Ini yang ada tanda, ayam. Yang tak ada tanda, daging.”

“Ok, uncle.”

Dalcha saya letak dalam dua plastic besar, boleh?”

Boleh, uncle.”

He scooped up the dalcha from a stainless steel pot in front of me. I saw some streaks of the brown gravy splash against the white wall. I looked up at the Certificate of Cleanliness issued by NEA. It had the big letter A printed in black against a red background.

He went back and forth from the stainless steel pot to the counter. Using a damp yellow tea towel, he wiped the excess dalcha off the plastic tali he had poured it into. He did this each for each bag of dalcha. I wondered if he worked alone all day.

“Uncle, tak ada assistant ke?”

Assistant ada, pagi saja,” he replied, with a generous smile.

Everything about this man seemed to suggest he was generous.

He reached out for a piece of paper and a pen. He started calculating the cost of five mutton and three chicken briyani.

Lima puluh tiga.”

I took out a fifty dollar note along with two two dollar notes, and passed it to him.

He returned two fifty cent coins.

Tak apa uncle.” I suggested he keep the change.

“No no no!” he gestured madly, all the while (you guessed it) smiling. He was so insistent. I didn’t protest.

“Thank you uncle. Apa nama uncle?”


He turned to the right and fished out a name card and passed it to me.

I said my salam to him and turned around to see the Tiffin uncle.

“This one, the best briyani I tell you. THE BEST!”

Reading Log 1: Kim (59 pgs)

In my first week of this reading challenge, I managed to cover the first two chapters of Rudyard Kipling’s Kim. Reading the novel hasn’t been very easy for a couple of reasons. The first is that the language seems a little dated. The novel is set in late 19th century British India and the language needs a little getting used to. The second is that the narrator’s voice and the way the characters in this novel communicate seem unnatural. I find this rather unsurprising given that the the characters are communicating in various vernacular languages, but eventually presented to the readers in English. I’m still getting the hang of reading the novel and I hope it gets less daunting over the next few chapters.

Why did I choose this book?

I didn’t buy this book, but rather took it off an ex-colleague who wanted to clear his shelf at work. I must have had it with me for at least six years. I’ve always read how Kim is generally regarded as one of Kipling’s finest works of literature. I knew I wanted to read it someday.

Kim by Rudyard Kipling is my first book of choice in this reading challenge

I’ve always been pretty fascinated about colonial British India. This has to do with my own heritage, but even more so when I studied post-colonial theory and literature (Po-co Lit) as an undergraduate.

I was introduced to Kipling (if I recall correctly) as part of a module on British literature and really enjoyed his collection of short stories, Plain Tales from the Hills. (It is one of the books sitting on my shelf.) Nonetheless, I was surprised when my Po-co Lit tutor regarded Kipling with such disdain, illustrating to us how his works (though of great literary merit) reflected his racist attitude.

Initial thoughts on the novel

Though reading Kim is fascinating in that it vividly portrays life in colonial British India, you find instances of Kipling’s racism through the voice of the narrator:

“That would have been a fatal blot on Kim’s character if Mahbub had not known that to others, for his own ends or Mahbub’s business, Kim could lie like an Oriental.” (pg. 36)

“He stood in a gigantic stone hall paved, it seemed, with the sheeted dead – third-class passengers who had taken their tickets overnight and were sleeping in the waiting rooms. All hours of the twenty-four are alike to Orientals, and their passenger traffic is regulated accordingly.” (pg. 40)

Nonetheless, I do enjoy the description to the people of India seeing how I’m able to relate it. One of the main characters is Mahbub Ali, an Afghan (Pathan) horse trader and British agent. On Afghans, the narrator notes:

“That north country is full of horse-dealers as an old coat of lice. There is Sikander Khan, Nur Ali Beg, and Farrukh Shah – all heads of kafilas [caravans] – who deal there…” (pg. 37)

I’m committed to seeing this book through, but perhaps may put it down for now in favour of another.

Reading Progress: 59/383 pages (15.4%)

Reading Pleasure: 2/5 (Pass me the coffee..)