Chef, by Jaspreet Singh, Bloomsbury, RRP£7.99, 256 pages
Ailing Kirpal “Kip” Singh, son of a Sikh war hero, returns to Srinagar to prepare a wedding feast for the difficult daughter of General Kumar, governor of Kashmir. Fourteen years earlier Kip had resigned as chef to Kumar (who then had been chief among India’s corrupt top brass in the border war with Pakistan) over the interrogation duties assigned to him.
At the heart of this austere, meditative novel is the young Kip’s relationship with gruff but principled chef Kishen, who steeps the innocent young cook in his fiery opinions on spices and women, politics and moral courage. Jaspreet Singh eschews any rapturous evocation of the disputed border’s ravaged beauty, offering instead the curfews and diminished lives of the Kashmir valley communities, scarred with religious hatred and suspicion, and defined by intractable, dogmatic warfare.
Culinary differences subtly satirise the idiocy of religious war in this understated, elegiac debut.