The man in the vivid purple turban padded silently down the stairs of the East 64th Street town house.
“Most welcome,” he said, bowing slightly and smiling toothily through his snowy beard. He wore a tailored black Nehru suit. “It is our good luck to have a great, learned person with us,” he added, leading the way up the stairs. “You, sir, have the expedience, and you have the knowledge. And you have the appropriate use of the word.” At the landing, he said: “Enter! And take a right.”
He pointed the way into a second-floor office, where his employer, the rakish, cocky attorney Richard Golub, stood leafing through some papers. The walls were hung with photos by Weegee and Albert Watson. A silver sculpture of a shark fin rose from the center of a table set for lunch. The word “lawyer” was engraved on its side.
“Sir, you are with a great person,” the man in the turban said, although it was unclear whom he was addressing.
Mr. Golub, dressed in a pale blue dress shirt open at the neck and a rich pair of gray chalk-striped trousers, regarded his Sikh manservant with an amused look. “K.,” he said, “When you say ‘a great person,’ do you mean me, or do you mean you ?”
“Both of you are the greatest,” Mr. K. replied.
Mr. Golub smiled and looked at me. “What’s so great about him?” he said to Mr. K.
“Whenever he thinks of the words and puts them in the language of the papers, it requires wisdom,” said Mr. K. “One knows to put the word and the comma into the sentence.”
“So it’s like manufacturing, a production.” Mr. Golub said. He was leading the witness.
Mr. K.’s turban gyrated. “No, no, no,” he said. “It is a production, but still it is a wisdomful production.”
“Wisdomful production. Excellent, Mr. K.,” Mr. Golub said, an acid tone creeping into his voice. “Now, are you going to hang Mr. Frank’s coat up or are you going to screw around here and not be a butler? This is not the butler’s day off!”
Mr. K. whinnied with laughter, and Mr. Golub smiled.
They might seem like an unlikely couple, but their 14 years together as employer and servant suggests that these two very different men complete each other. Part Abbott and Costello, part Johnny Quest and Hadji, part Bertie Wooster and Jeeves. If Mr. Golub, the 57-year old lawyer with a penchant for devastating his opponents-including actor William Hurt-on the witness stand, is pretty much the personification of Freud’s id and ego, then Mr. K., who is 67, functions as the superego. When Mr. K. spouts proverbs (he speaks Punjabi, Hindi and Urdu), it’s hard not to see him as having a tempering effect on the predatory, restless heat of Mr. Golub
“K. is family,” said Mr. Golub. “He’s part and parcel of the whole trip around here. Clients are always sitting downstairs with their jugulars pulsing and sweat on their brow. And he always approaches them and says, `Sir, we know you have problems. Please relax. Your problems will go away in a jiffy of a second.’ I never tell him to say that. And then they come upstairs and say, ‘Who was that man in the turban?’ And I say, ‘I don’t know what you’re talking about.’”
Ask Mr. K. what he does for Mr. Golub and he replies, “Any damn thing.” The Sikh butler, whose real name is Iqbal Singh, has carried out quite an eclectic range of tasks. He has kept Mr. Golub’s office in good order and filed motions at the courthouse. He puts particular zest into helping his boss search for a mate. He has also appeared beside Mr. Golub in several informal music videos Mr. Golub has made. In one, called “Jack’s Analysis,” Mr. K. plays a turbaned Sigmund Freud and rocks out with a red electric guitar alongside a busy Connecticut highway.
The good karma flows both ways: Mr. Golub suspects that, several years ago, a hit-and-run accident that left Mr. K. with stitches and a concussion was actually a warning to him to back away from a rough-and-tumble case.
Now Mr. K. is set to perform double duty for Mr. Golub. Next month, St. Martin’s Press will publish Mr. Golub’s hard-boiled novel, The Big Cut , a tale about a hotshot lawyer named Johnny Ocean who must navigate his sexy client’s case while battling a Chinese gangster and bedding a beautiful Asian woman. Like Mr. Golub, Johnny Ocean has a smart mouth, a swank wardrobe, an Upper East Side town house and a jaundiced view of the city’s legal system. And Johnny Ocean has a Sikh manservant named Mr. K.
Mr. Golub said that he has always seen his law practice “as a movie” and that he was inspired to become a lawyer after seeing Robert Taylor play a Mafia mouthpiece in the cult film Party Girl . Early in his career, he said, he used to walk into courtrooms and, just as Taylor did in the film, produce a large gold pocket watch and tell the jury that he would not waste their time. Employing a Sikh butler to greet law clients at the door certainly fit into that Cinemascope notion.
“I just cast him in that role,” said Mr. Golub. “People either get it around here or they don’t. It’s not like walking into Dewey Ballantine.” (Until recently, Mr. Golub said, he also employed a Chinese houseboy named Chang, who spoke little English. “He and Mr. K. had an incredible relationship,” he said with a chuckle.)
The Mr. K. in The Big Cut carries a kirpan , or sword, under his shirt, and is part of a Sikh intelligence network. In one of the book’s scenes, he enlists a small army of kirpan -wielding Sikhs to save Johnny Ocean from certain death. In real life, Mr. K. explained, he does not carry a kirpan , because the law forbids it, and he said that since he began working for Mr. Golub, “I have lost all contacts.”
Mr. Golub laughed. He said Mr. K. is a regular at the Sikh Center of New York in Queens, where he reads from the holy Granth. On occasion, Mr. Golub has gone with Mr. K., who always introduces his employer as “the attorney of great repute.”
Meanwhile, Mr. Golub maintained, Mr. K. “has an incredible amount of power” in the lawyer’s exclusive Upper East Side neighborhood. “He knows everybody,” said Mr. Golub. “Everybody on Madison Avenue. Everyone in the bank. Everybody in all the stores. There’s nobody that he doesn’t make contact with that he doesn’t have a relationship.” One day, he happened upon Mr. K. helping some men unload a Poland Spring truck. “I said, ‘What are you doing!’ He said, ‘Oh, sir, you know that you can’t drink the city water anymore. I have to get my own water.’ To this day, I don’t know if he was working for those guys or what.” Mr. K. often disappears for hours. “If you send him to the mailbox, that’s like sending him to Timbuktu,” said Mr. Golub. “He carries a beeper, but he never responds to it.” But Mr. K. doesn’t head home to the Bronx at night until he’s made sure that Mr. Golub has eaten his dinner, or at least has plans for dinner.
Mr. K. is oblivious to the boldface-able names that traipse through his neighborhood. He doesn’t know. Celebrity names bring a blank stare. Asked whether Mr. Golub’s book might bring him recognition in Sikh circles, Mr. K. says that it will make Mr. Golub important. “He’s not getting it about him,” said Mr. Golub.
Mr. Golub and Mr. K. said the Sikh butler has risked his turban for his boss. “I’m always getting into jams,” said Mr. Golub. He recalled nearly coming to blows with a very large, angry man at Union Station in Washington, D.C. “K. goes up to the guy and says, ‘Honorable sir, just be cool. Be cool.’ The guy got so weirded out he left.” Mr. K. has also done some quiet reconnaissance for his boss’ firm. “I have been in very, very bad localities at midnight even,” Mr. K. said. “Sometimes he asks me, go this way and go that way. But my khanda is with me, and I am secure.”
The khanda is a Sikh emblem, depicting two curved swords, which Mr. K. wears in the center of his turban. The swords represent “justice,” he said, and the emblem reminds him that “I am a servant of all humanity.”
Mr. K. comes from a village called Sewa Singh in what is now Pakistan. His parents were killed when he was 13, during the violence that erupted when the Indian subcontinent was partitioned in 1947. He has two younger brothers, but said his sister died of a heart attack when she learned of her parents’ deaths.
Mr. Golub was serving himself salad and listening to Mr. K. tell the story of his childhood. Mr. K. was still standing.
“Tell him about your background with your grandfather,” Mr. Golub said.
Mr. K. said a phrase in Punjabi, which he translated: “Coming events cast their shadows before. When the baby is born, you will be able to see, and you will be able to predict how we will look upon that baby. And you will be able to tell of this baby what will be its future. Will it be a great engineer or a great personality?”
“Or a great serial killer,” said Mr. Golub.
Mr. K. repeated the Punjabi phrase three more times.
“K., you’ve said that now six times,” said Mr. Golub, getting impatient. “Tell him about why you came to work for me as a lawyer. About your grandfather .”
“My grandfather was a very, very man of great wisdom. Though he was not a literate man,” Mr. K. said. “He was such a great man that all landlords, big landlords that surrounded our village were convinced of his wisdom.”
“But what did he do, your grandfather? What was his function ?” Mr. Golub said as he pointed a fork with a cherry tomato impaled on its prongs.
“He was the judge of the five villages.”
“He was the local judge. You understand,” Mr. Golub said to me. He looked immensely happy. “That’s why he works in my law office. Because he has a legal background !”
Mr. Golub took over telling how Mr. K. came to work for him. He said that Mr. K.’s work for the ASAP messenger service first brought him to his office, in 1986. “It was the middle of winter. It was snowing out. He arrived at my doorstep, and all I saw was a blue turban. He materialized out of the mist,” Mr. Golub said. “And he said to me, ‘I am Mr. K.’ I had never seen anything like this before. I said, ‘Would you like to work here?’ He said, ‘I will return tomorrow and give you my answer.”’
Mr. K. giggled exuberantly.
Mr. Golub has begun working on a second Johnny Ocean novel, and in it, he said, he gives the relationship between the Sikh butler and the attorney even deeper roots. He and Mr. K. traveled to India to do research.
“What happens is that Johnny Ocean’s parents were killed in the early 1940’s driving through the Punjab, and K. discovered me by the roadside,” said Mr. Golub. “K. took me back to his village and he raised me. And then I came back to this country when I was about 8 years old, you understand, and I completely repressed the fact that I had been brought up in India. And then K. came and applied for a job here 14 years ago. He just arrived here, never telling me he had raised me in India.”
Mr. K. was giggling.
I asked Mr. K. if he has read The Big Cut .
“One or two chapters, ” he replied.
What does Mr. K. think?
“Writing is not an easy job,” he said. “There are implicative phrases and deep meaning.” Then Mr. K. loosed another one of his proverbs: “Only the wearer knows where the shoe pinches.”
“That’s very important,” said Mr. Golub. “That applies to writing, too. It applies almost as a universal proposition.”
“And uneasy lies the head that wears the crown,” added Mr. K.
“You are being charged for this,” said Mr. Golub.
The Big Cut has sex scenes, one of which takes place against a marble statue in an unused room of the Metropolitan Museum of Art.
I asked Mr. Golub if the scenes were based on experience.
“What do you think?” he shot back with a smile.
Mr. K. said something that sounded like, “Jagra banita yagra banita.”
“Which in Hindi means?” asked Mr. Golub.
“All human problems are created by women or property,” K. said.
Mr. Golub let out a loud staccato laugh. “So true!”
In one scene in The Big Cut , Mr. K. runs afoul of Johnny Ocean when he brings up marriage in front of one of the boss’ hotsy-totsy dates. In real life, Mr. K., who is married with three grown children, admitted that his aim is to get Mr. Golub married.
“He is a very, very haaard test. He has very, very great taste,” Mr. K. said as he gripped the back of the chair he was standing behind. “But I will be ambidextrous. His mom is also anxious to get him married.”
“Why listen to my mother?” Mr. Golub asked. “I have been married, and you know my ex-wife.” He was referring to model actress Marisa Berenson to whom he was married for five years in the late 1980’s. Although things are different now, the couple’s divorce was acrimonious.
Mr. K. had a notion of why it didn’t work: “This wife was a little bit different. He asked her, ‘Oh, please, let us have kids.’ She refused! That’s it.”
“But she’s a good woman,” replied Mr. Golub. “She still comes to visit us. She’s also a highly spiritual person.”
“All right, what is your favorite book?” Golub asked the Sikh. “For seven years, he tried to get this book, and then he finally got it.”
Mr. K. smiled sheepishly. ” 15,000 Useful Phrases. “
Mr. Golub slammed the table. “So you can imagine. You’ve only heard maybe a thousand today.”
I asked Mr. K. for his favorite phrases.
“Favorite place?” he replied
“No! Phrase !” Mr. Golub exploded with laughter. “Your turban is on too tight, man!”
Mr. K. looked at me sincerely and said, “You have kiss-provoking lips!” then dissolved into laughter.
“Stop being so silly, man,” said Mr. Golub. “You think his lips are kiss provoking?”
Mr. K. sucked in some air. “When I see a girl for him, I ask him, ‘Please, look at her, she has kiss-provoking lips.’”
“When we walk up Madison Avenue to the bank, he looks at this girl and says, ‘Sir. Shall I bring her? She has kiss-provoking lips,’” said Mr. Golub.
Both men were laughing hard. “No matter what woman he ever walks up to, they go with him. He charms them like that,” said Mr. Golub
“A complete, dazzling sort of beauty,” said Mr. K., with a giggle.
And then Mr. Golub asked him to go upstairs and bring back a glass of ice.
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