I first saw Panjit Singh Kumar, in November 1941, in our kitchen, in Brixton, South London. I was astonished. I had never seen a Sikh before. He wore his beard in a hair-net and had a bandage around his head. I was six. Not bad-mannered, just very direct.
'You hurt your 'ead?' I asked.
'Jilly,' my Mother hissed. 'Where's your manners'.
Mr. Kumar smiled and said 'No.'
My Dad acted as if he hadn't heard, but I could tell by the way his mouth suddenly went stiff, that he was trying not laugh. 'Wanta a beer, Panjit?' he said.
Later, my Mum was talking to Dad. 'He's welcome to stay Jack, but we ain't got a lot. I don't know if I can make that bit o' fish stretch to four of us'
This was a worry. Four of us to share food that normally fed only me and Mum, Dad being away fighting in the War most of the time. Rationing was a real problem in wartime Britain.
Dad said 'Panjit is our Company cook. I'll 'ave a word with him. See what he can suggest. That evening I had my first ever plate of curried fish and chips, and I learnt a new word. Spicy.
After the war Panjit bought a restaurant nearby, and moved his family over from India. I've been going there every week since it opened. Panjit died five years ago, but his son, Pavinder, still cooks the best curried fish and chips in London