Diya, my friend from University, and her diminutive husband Shaun, took a train to London from Sheffield to attend the races at Ascot and visit the perambulating Basu family (us). We agreed to meet at the British Museum at the sensible hour of 12 PM, because we were getting over our long journey, and Mia was still very under the weather from her cold.
We reached at 12-30, anticipating a lot of tsk-ing about Indian Standard Time, only to hear Shaun had fallen ill and that they would be delayed.
One doesn’t wait around with a toddler straining at the leash. (Purely a figure of speech; though I got over my horror at the idea of child leashes once Mia developed the habit of dashing off the moment you let go of her. Walk a mile in a parent’s shoes, and all the things that shocked you seem sensible very soon.)
So we decided to begin our tour of the sprawling British museum sans our friends. The Pompeii exhibit was the reason why Diya and Shaun had proposed meeting here in the first place, so we headed there first. Tickets were sold out till 4 PM, so we decided to explore the rest of their extensive collection instead. To quote an Englishman I spoke to there, “Everything that we stole from the rest of the world.”
This was a week before the MoMA episode, so we innocently believed we had Mia’s vote for this course of action.
We ended up quickly rolling a loudly wailing stroller from one hushed, venerable room to another, as though the target was to have been in every room rather than concentrate on the artefacts. Luckily, photography was allowed here; and Jeet took enough pictures for me to pore over at length back in Bangalore and consider myself satisfied that I really had been to the British Museum.
Shaun and Diya arrived when we were in the gift shop, by which time Mia had given up on us and gone to sleep. We quickly decided to head to a pub to have a pub lunch (and perhaps some tea for Poor Shaun). In quick succession we rolled a sleeping Mia through one door of The Lolloping Lion, then The Prancing pony, The Sleepy Hunter, The Ugly Duckling and the Frolicsome Ferret and out the other as all the tables were taken. We finally found a café run by a battalion of Russian-accented bodybuilders. We decided we would let Diya do the ordering because we didn’t speak Russian-English or Bodybuilder.
Lunch of excellent lasagne and coffee done, Shaun went off to keep his date with the museum while the rest of us struck out towards Covent Garden. I have rarely encountered a more charming spot; with its bazaarish ambiance and the relatively inexpensive little curios. This time we brought away a stubby, disgruntled-looking Queen Victoria about the size of my thumb. (Yes, yes ‘Anglophile’, etc…point me to such an adorable little Tipu Sultan or Aurangzeb who looks like he had a bad fish for lunch, and I‘ll be glad to add to my collection.)
We located the Tintin shop, and took such a while deciding between the Tintin figurine in a space suit and Tintin and Snowy looking amazedly at an enormous mushroom that Mia decided to hurry us up by trying to grab all the bow-bows (figurines of Snowy) she could see. “She’s not very well and it’s nearly naptime…” I explained as I restrained my flailing offspring. The butch lady at the counter raised her eyebrows in a ‘I-really-don’t-give-a-crap, if-she-breaks-it-you-bought-it’ look. Tintin with the mushroom thingy it was then and out we hurried, where Mia reverted to patient tourist baby mode (albeit a slightly snotty one).
Even though we’d had a full meal about five minutes ago, Diya announced we should go to one of her favourite places in Covent Garden, a place frequented by the British since Arthurian times, praised by Shakespeare in Corialanus, and Jane Austen in Emma. The Masala Zone. Though I sneer at most Indians who land on foreign shores only to frenetically ask around for the nearest dal-chawal joint (We were approached by two such individuals outside the Staten Island Ferry in New York, looking decidedly malnourished); We had a good chinwag over the excellent chaat platter and masala chai; and all four of us licked our spoons clean. Mia did such a thorough job with her spoon that I worried about erosion.
Unfortunately Diya and Shaun had to catch a train soon after; so after a few hurried pictures together and hugs we made our way back to the lovely home of our hosts – tired but happy.