Introducing Kamil Rahman
Kamil Rahman, the protagonist of The Waiter, is an honest guy who wants to make it in a corrupt system. His father is at the top of the pole as Commissioner of Police and Kamil’s always looked up to him as the perfect example of the values he himself wishes to emulate: honesty, fairness, commitment to justice – but when you earn £185 a month, it’s hard not to be on the take. Nevertheless, Kamil is determined that he’ll get ahead in the Kolkata Police Force on his own merit. He has to prove to himself, and also to his indomitable father, that he is capable.
When Kamil’s big break arrives, he is put in charge of the murder of a Bollywood superstar in his hotel room. He sets off to make his name on a high-profile case, but finds that in India, getting a result requires some flexibility with your scruples. Kamil’s innate integrity proves to be a serious hindrance in the cesspool of Indian policing.
Under threat from nefarious forces out for revenge, he escapes the heat of Kolkata and finds himself working illegally in Tandoori Knights, an East London restaurant kitchen where he soon finds that he’s jumped from the from the balti pan into the fire. It’s tough to stay under the radar of the immigration authorities, and during the day he has too much time to ruminate on the mistakes he made in Kolkata. If only he had made different choices at crucial turning points, he would be on target to reach the top of his profession instead of lying here alone, in his tiny room above the restaurant, a fish out of water in a cold, rainy city.
His saving grace is the owner’s daughter, Anjoli. Funny, feisty and friendly (with a penchant for home-made sloganned T-shirts) she tries to draw him out of himself and he is drawn to her – the spark in these otherwise dark days. I loved writing Anjoli, and her interactions with Kamil are some of the funniest parts of the book.
One night, while Anjoli and Kamil are catering a birthday party for a millionaire at his mansion, a body is found in the swimming pool. Kamil is elated to use his detective skills again with Anjoli providing essential help, and we see Kamil’s dippy, romantic, awkward side, too.
The idea of a chef in an East End restaurant solving crimes around the area had been rattling around inside me for over a decade. In his first incarnation, Kamil was a Bangladeshi chef and amateur detective who solved mysteries from the restaurant where he works in Brick Lane. The people, places and experiences from his Sylhet past would provide parallels to the cases that presented themselves in Brick Lane and inform Kamil’s methods and theories, a parallel to St Mary Mead in the Miss Marple books.
But as I wrote I realised I knew nothing about life in Bangladesh and didn’t want to fall into the Inspector Ghote trap where HRF Keating wrote ten novels about his wonderful creation without ever visiting India! So, I transposed my protagonist to Kolkata where I had grown up, and made him an ambitious young sub-Inspector – and Kamil Rahman was born. His Muslim background was an opportunity to examine the challenges he faced – given the rampant anti-Islam hysteria in India today. And putting him in Kolkata gave me the joyous opportunity of dipping back into the environment and experiences of my childhood, the sights, smells and not least the flavours! Like me, Kamil loves to eat. Indian food permeates the book as Kamil misses the flavours of home and writing. In fact, The Waiter allowed me to relive some of my favourite dishes and I missed Kolkata as well – I haven’t been back there for over twenty years.
As I wrote more about Kamil Rahman, Sub-Inspector turned Waiter, he moved away from being anything like Miss Marple (it would appal him that I’d even considered that). In his head he is James Bond, but in reality, he is a stubborn, naïve, sentimental guy who is just trying to find his way in a country he doesn’t understand and doesn’t feel a part of but at some point, may become his permanent home.