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Steve Savage Publishers Ltd
CoverThe Last Burrah Sahibs

Max Scratchmann
sample extract...

A tubby driver with a cheeky grin loiters in the meagre shade of the airport building, but he hastily stubs out his cigarette and lumbers over to open the door as my mother and Peggy approach, followed by a flotilla of bashful under-managers' wives in their best saris, all hot cerises and peacock blues, gold embroidery flashing in the baking afternoon sun.

Everyone else is being bundled into a ratty old Volkswagen minibus, but, before the dust has had time to settle, the Vauxhall speeds off in a cloud of dirt, and I realise that I am eleven years old and alone in a car full of maniacs in a very foreign land. However, I've no time to feel insecure as Barry takes off after the speeding sedan, his horn blaring as we cut out into the main thoroughfare, a bumpy, dusty road jam-packed with cars, bullock carts, cycle rickshaws and gaudily painted trucks.

'Faster, Uncle, faster!' the twins cry, hanging out of the windows without fear of imminent decapitation by the honking lorries. 'Let's race that fellow and teach him a lesson!'

Barry grins and accelerates, swerving past wavering baby taxis, the twins swearing loudly in Bengali at their drivers, but the car ahead spots his ploy and leaps forward into the afternoon traffic. On the right-hand side of the road there are busy docks and breakers' yards with towering ships at anchor, and on the left sun-baked jute godowns and small bamboo kutcha houses and shops, which soon give way to jerry-built concrete structures as we get nearer to the town.

The noise is deafening and the three o'clock sun is white-hot and punishing, bouncing off the tarmac in shimmering mirages that blind stoic white bullocks as they pull their heavy loads towards the factories and markets of the city. Inappropriately dressed in a blazer, nylon shirt, school tie and heavy synthetic grey shorts, I feel like I'm being broiled alive in the hot tin can that masquerades as Barry's car, and I silently take my handkerchief from my pocket and wipe the sweat off my face as the twins continue to hang out of the open windows and exchange insults with street urchins who sit on top of high whitewashed walls.

'You hot, man?' Harriet, the slightly more human of the two enquires. 'Take that jacket off and get some breeze.'

'Yeah, what you in all those clothes for?' Elsa chimes in, appraising me with her practised slaughter-man's eye. 'You look like an office baboo who's forgotten his umbrella!'

The twins find this analogy hilarious and translate it into Bengali for the benefit of their friends, who giggle disproportionately, and Barry, catching my despairing eye in the rear view mirror, winks and says, 'Aye, you're no in Dundee now, Burrah Sahib!'