IN WHICH AN ELUSIVE Irani dupes Sexton Blake in a Freemason's hall.
It is a hazy November morning and it is already warm. The roads are thronged with bullock carts, cycles and pedestrians. There is bustle and noise all along the pavement, which is shared both by those who walk along it and those who make their living there. Barbers deftly wield razors, while the chappal-seller unpacks neat baskets of shoes from the shoemaker. Women in saris sit on flower-shrouded mats preparing garlands of roses and carnations and men in white kurtas dash around on errands. Spice, jasmine and dust mix in the air. Circling crows caw.
We are now taking reservations for 17th May onwards.
It is a hazy November morning. The roads are thronged with bullock carts, cycles and pedestrians and there is bustle and noise all along the pavement. Barbers deftly wield razors, while the chappal-seller unpacks neat baskets of shoes from the shoemaker. Women in saris sit on flower-shrouded mats preparing garlands of roses and carnations and men in white kurtas dash around on errands. Spice, jasmine and dust mix in the air.
Slightly away from the scene outside, a smartly dressed Englishman with pomaded black hair and a lantern jaw, sits on a bentwood chair in Café Excelsior, an Irani café on Ravellin Street. He takes a sip of his strong chai and studies the character of the Irani café and its patrons. Families enjoy their morning tea and talk. Students (chatting more loudly than they need to) tuck into their plates of omelettes. In a corner, a well-dressed businessman reads The Bombay Chronicle, while a ‘modern’ woman opposite coolly waits for her breakfast. As new customers enter, they exchange loud greetings with a wizened Irani sporting a prominent moustache and thick steel-rimmed glasses. He is perched behind a desk near the entrance, and appears to be the owner.
The man observing is Sexton Blake, the world-renowned detective known for his penetrating intellect and his taste for fine cigars. He arrived in Bombay that morning, summoned by the note from enemy-turned-ally, Beram. Its few but forceful words are etched into his memory: “You must come to Bombay. Meet me in the Irani café behind the Freemasons’ Hall – I will know when you are there. Your debt has been called.”
We are now taking reservations for 17th May onwards.
Since their last meeting, Blake had believed that a truce had been declared between he and Beram. Indeed, the two men had been thrown against each other as opponents when Beram – a suave and mysterious mastermind with an intellect at least equal to Blake’s – sought reprisal for the desecration of a site sacred to his people. His duty to justice had made him Blake’s direct adversary.
Blake always recognised a good opponent. Beram was his match, and rivals as they were, there existed a bond of respect between them. Though Blake is now distracted from his musings by the old Irani who approaches his table. The two look at each other a brief moment before the Irani roughly jerks his head towards the back of the café, intimating that Blake should follow. He senses that something dangerous may be afoot but follows anyway.
They walk towards the kitchen at the back of the café and pass behind a wooden screen out of sight from the other patrons. Blake sees a plaque on the wall with the carved-out words: ‘Faith. Hope. Charity’ (which he remembers dimly as being words of Freemasonry). Immediately, he feels the Irani’s wiry hands push him forward, as he places the tips of three fingers onto the plaque and pushes. Instantly, the wall rotates, swallowing the two men. Blake has been ambushed.
They abruptly re-emerge in a large, opulently decorated and high-ceilinged room. Blake, momentarily dazed, looks around to get his bearings. The hall is filled with marble tables and bentwood chairs. Tinted light pours through enormous stained-glass windows. Well-dressed men of apparent Muslim, Parsi, Christian and Hindu descent sit smoking and chatting. It is plain that these are men of power and authority and that this is a secret masonry hall.
Blake was smarting from having been hoodwinked so easily. He spins around to lunge at the Irani. But Beram (for it was him, in heavy disguise) deftly eludes Blake, who loses his balance and falls to the floor, smarting again. Before Blake can recover and get to his feet, Beram pulls off his disguise. He stands over the Englishman, a smile hovering on his lips. “It was good of you to come so willingly, old friend,” he says.
We imagine this to be a continuation of The Tower of Silence, a novel written by Phiroshaw Jamsetjee Chevalier in 1927 and later recovered from a lost manuscript by historian Gyan Prakash. The British Museum had a copy of most of the manuscript except the nail-biting concluding pages which were found (after much scouring of libraries) in the Secretariat Library in the Asiatic Society’s building.
BEGIN YOUR DAY AT DISHOOM with breakfast, which might be a Bacon Naan Roll, a Kejriwal or a Big Bombay. Then lunch lightly on Roomali Rolls and Salad Plates, or linger with a feast. Refresh your afternoon with a drop of Chai and a small plate or two. Dine early or dine late. Or just join us for a tipple – perhaps an East India Gimlet, a Viceroy’s Old-fashioned, or our very good Dishoom IPA?
SINCE 1949, and to this very day, Bombay has been under a state of prohibition. A personal permit is required by law if one is to 'continue to require foreign liquor and country liquor for preservation and maintenance of one’s health.'
Set apart from a family room, there is a special place which has come to be known unofficially as a Permit Room. Herein liquor can be sold and imbibed, but only for the goodness of one’s health.
We warmly invite you to step inside The Permit Room – a space dedicated to the most delicious and sincere tipples, great music and good cheer.
32 Bridge Street
Tel: 0161 537 3737
Reopening 17th May