This little incident happened at Smith’s Grill near Paddington station in London. The restaurant is fairly ordinary, but it has a view of a lake with some boats plying during the summer season, and the neighborhood is ambitiously called "Little Venice". I wasn't really hungry as I was still trying to adjust to the local time, but the place offered WiFi, so I went in and grabbed a window seat, with the deadly precision and promptness of the good old days when I would artfully grab a window seat on a fast train leaving Borivali towards Churchgate, beating a dozen other passengers to the window seat. There was nobody here trying to grab the window seat ahead of me, which was kind of boring.
In looking at the 10-page menu, the least heavy main course was "Sausages & Mash", so I promptly ordered for the same, without indulging in a detailed analysis of carbs and calories. It would be like breakfast to my waking and aching body, and yet heavy enough to be suitable as a main course for lunch. The nice looking waitress seemed to be visibly impressed by my speed of decision-making. I patted my silk tie in quiet appreciation of the finely honed restaurant menu selection skills I had gathered over these years.
As I waited to log in to the slow WiFi, I thought about the rough start I had earlier in the morning......
Please choose the 15 minute window you would like to "die" in, I thought to myself, borrowing the idea from the breakfast card that needed to be hung outside the room door. 7:30 to 7:45am, 7:45 to 8:00am and so on. Wake-up breakfast didn’t have to be this morbid, I had consoled myself. Well, it was 3am in the morning my time, but it was 8am here in London. Bleary eyed I pushed the alarm by another half an hour. Why am I here? Why do I have to do this? What was the point? Why me...
Half an hour and a cup of Darjeeling tea later, I had successfully conned myself to go under the shower. Gawd it was 4:00 in the morning for Pete’s sake, what am I doing in the shower. Getting ready for an important meeting of course. Well I would rather skip this step. Nah, I need to feel good inside. Why do I need to feel good inside, argued my own belligerent self, I could use a lot of deodorant instead? No way, I need to wake up my whole body, before I can feel good about myself.
Another half an hour later I was dressed in a smart suit and tie, the remnants of the hairline gelled nicely to the side, the morning sun on my face, walking in step with the local traffic, towards the meeting venue.....
“English or French?” asked the nice looking waitress. Is this some kind of a joke. Which part of me did she think looked English or French. What could be the reason for such an insult. How could one miss my robust desi looks. Was it my receding hairline (English) or the expanding waistline (French)…
”Honey?” Now this was ridiculous…was she trying to get lucky with me?
Our gaze was locked for a few seconds. I felt as if I had accidentally boarded a slow local. Then I panicked with sudden and painful realization. She was asking me about the "mustard" I would like to take with the sausages and mash!
"French, of course", I said half-teasing her and trying to recover from the near faux-pas, but also because I was aware of the battle of supremacy between the French and English over who really discovered mustard as an edible thing. Apparently Dijon in France became recognized as the mustard capital, as early as the 13th century.
For a moment I thought of calling her again and asking for "Kasundi" instead. I would just have to say: Sorry I changed my mind, I would rather have the Bengali mustard, because it is the most pungent of all.
Apparently the delicious pungency in mustard is due to the presence of Allyl Isothiocyanate. When the mustard seeds are crushed and combined with water, they react and form these beautiful compounds. And these can be mind-blowing. Have a bit extra, and you could be experiencing a near-death experience! For anyone who has had fresh Kasundi (or the original strong Japanese wasabi) in one gulp, you know what I am talking about. The average American would either fall head over heels in love with it for life, or most definitely faint and fall off the chair, if Kasundi was put in place of the American yellow mustard, on top of the hot dogs.
Back in the hotel nine hours later after a busy day I had no energy left to plan any walking tour as earlier envisaged. The easiest thing seemed to be to just take the elevator to the skytower lounge and order a tall drink and just gaze at the tower of London bridge over the Thames. However a short powernap later, I started feeling the batteries recharge. I was alive again. Nah, a drink now sounds too easy, let’s earn it first. Rule number 1 for the pursuit of happiness – go to the gym. So I hit the gym. After a half an hour of brisk walking in the gym, while watching an old Bangla movie on Databazaar on the iPad, it was time to cool down with some water from the cooler, and a stinging hot shower. A good faucet can be the best tickle after a workout. A quick walk around the Trinity Gardens and 35 pictures later, I was finally at the same place where I had a nice meal earlier – the Perkin Reveller, a restaurant next to the old fort, the name inspired by Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales. Apart from being one of history’s greatest poets, a little known fact is that he was also the man who oversaw the building of the Tower Wharf at the Tower of London in 1389. How interesting.
The Pale Ale was smooth, the basket was full of warm bread and the salmon was beautifully cooked and laid on a plate full of tasty potatoes and vegetables. Ah, the good life. Do you have WiFi here. Yes sir it is Perkin guest, one word all lower case. I felt the urge to email some pictures while having this nice dinner in this nice restaurant. I looked at the beautiful fort from the window in the light of the setting sun. Were the spirits of the people who were executed at the old fort still around the place. I stopped myself: morbid again.
In any given moment one has to be in either of those two pure states. The alive can be dead in a moment with that one stupid remark from a belligerent spouse, a horrible boss or a pissed employee. Nothing in between is really whole. A fraction of a life is no life.
Life and death are the binary values like the zeroes and the ones. If zero means death, one must mean life. By analogy, in any moment one is completely alive or completely dead. Anything in between is just a probability. Now go ahead and choose your mustard.