As I entered the contest, with the odds of winning being 1 in 999, Murphy’s Law brought a sneer to my face. Forgive me Pascal, I had just sinned, for I let an irrational thought like Murphy’s Law run through my brain. Murphy’s Law is a Law for people who do not understand probabilities. Probability Theory is my Bible, Murphy’s Law- a blasphemy.
I never believed in Murphy’s Law. I was too smart for it. I had noticed the situations, in detail, where people attribute a certain event to Murphy’s Law. Take the case of queues in Bangalore Railway Station. There are 15 counters, hence 15 queues. Sometimes I hear people grumbling that some other queue was moving faster than their queues. From Murphy’s Law- the other queue is always faster. If this statement is accepted to be true then it meant that 14 queues were slower than that 1 fast queue. So the people in 14 queues were experiencing Murphy’s Law, while the people in that fast queue didn’t. Hence Murphy’s Law is not universal.
The probability theory does a better job in explaining the above 15 queues experience of the people. The odds of anybody being in the fastest queue is 1 in 15. A very small chance. If anybody from the slower queues, visits the station again some other day, then once again, he has the same (even worse actually) small chance of 1 in 15. And chances are that this person will, in most cases, choose the slower queue. Hence this person generally feels that the other queue is faster.
With these positive thoughts in my brain, I entered the contest at the Motor Show. The contest was for the audience at the Motor show, and each audience member was blindfolded by an extremely pretty Korean Girl & the audience member had to select a ball from a bag, blindfolded. The person who got the ball with number 999 was the winner- and the winner would win a 4 hour date with that very beautiful Korean Girl. There were chances that many people might win a date with her on the same night, at the same time- but the announcer assured us all that such a scenario had never happened before. He obviously didn’t understand Probability theory or he was an excellent liar.
I let that beautiful girl blindfold me. I reached out into the bag of balls. Supposedly 1000 balls were here. I held one ball, the probability of it being 999, was the worst. So I discarded that ball, and took another, the chances of this being 999 were better than the previous ball, but still, not good enough. I kept on doing this, and kept on discarding balls, and improving my chances, for three minutes when, I felt her warm soft hand hold my arm. I took out the ball I was holding at that moment- and from the cheer of the crowd I knew that it was the ball number 999. This is why I love Math. Math had won me a date! I’m sure it’ll happen to all the other Math fans out there, one day. Have faith!
After she unblindfolded me, I kept on eyeing her with the widest grin. The organizers of the event asked me to take a seat and wait patiently for the rest of the audience to get their chance. They also explained to me to be gentlemanly in the date with the lady- this they did after realizing that I didn’t understand Korean. I was an Indian visiting South Korea. One of the guys explicitly warned me about the consequences of doing anything stupid with the lady. I wasn’t paying much attention to those organizers- all my attentions were to my dazzling date.
I cheered every audience member who got anything but 999. Nobody else won. So it was going be me- and her, on a date, for 4 hours, from 10 pm to 2 am.
It was a typical Korean restaurant where we had to sit on the floor and have our dinner. There were very few people in the restaurant, even though the restaurant looked very sophisticated. When I asked her about it, she said that the people were superstitious on account of the day being Friday the 13th. Irrational superstitions! How can Friday the 13th be unlucky? Wasn’t I on a date with a pretty girl on Friday the 13th? So how could it be unlucky?
We exchanged pleasantries and I told her that this was my first time in Korea. She asked me about how much I knew about Korean food, and I answered that I didn’t know anything. In fact this was my first visit to an authentic Korean restaurant.
She gave me the menu, asking me to gamble and choose. The menu was in Korean. But I was feeling lucky tonight- I closed my eyes, and ran my finger across the menu, and stopped my finger at the middle of the menu- it was menu item number 5.13. I was surprised by the sheer coincidence, but she didn’t seem to get it. I explained to her- Friday is the 5th day, if you count from Monday, and 13 was the date. 5.13 is Friday the 13th! The odds of this event were really lower than me winning the date tonight! She had a crazy expression on her face, when she finally understood- she was so cute!
She didn’t like 5.13 as she too was superstitious, and ordered for both of us.
“Don’t worry!” she said, “I have ordered the most prestigious, the most delicious fish in the whole of Korea! You’ll love it! It’s called Bok!”
“I was under the impression that you were the most prestigious, the most delicious fish in the whole of Korea!” I replied with a smile.
She giggled- “Oh you! Jokes aside, this fish is very special. It’s the most celebrated fish! People die to eat this fish!”
“Ah, but the fish can’t possibly taste as good as your good looks!” said I winking at her.
“This fish is at least 100 times better…” she replied.
The waitress came with a huge plate of vegetable salad and mushroom on which the pieces of the famed fish were spread out. We kept all the ingredients on a stove, which was kept on our table & started heating our food.
“You have been very lucky tonight, no?” she asked.
“Yes, very! I never had a date with a girl as pretty as you…”
“Stop it, you’re embarrassing me! It must be fate…”
“I don’t believe in fate! I’ve never won anything in my life. And from the law of averages, I was due! Way over due! Not to mention that the past has a significant effect on the present and future outcomes. The chances of me winning were pretty good, actually…”
“You keep talking about chances… probability… Are you a mathematician?”
I smiled- “Not really. Just a Probability theory enthusiast!”
“I don’t believe in chances- I believe in fate.”
“How can you not believe in chances? The whole evolutionary theory rests on the concept of chances…”
“Ergo, I don’t believe in Evolution,” she said, “Ah! Now we can eat… The fish is ready!”
She served me generous helpings of the fish. I took the smallest piece of the fish in my mouth. Too often I had been disappointed, after all the hype was created. But, as I slowly felt the fish on my tongue- I was in a different dimension of sensual delight. It was better than all the hype. It was better than any food, any girl, or anything else I had felt in my past 25 years of existence. This fish was the closest I’ll ever be to attaining Nirvana.
“You like it?” she eagerly asked.
“Lovvvvvvvvvvvvvvvvvvve it… This is the best thing that has happened to me, ever!” I replied enjoying the heavenly taste.
“I knew that you will love it! This is the most celebrated fish of Korea and Japan after all! The chef who made this a master chef who was trained in Japan for many years to prepare this fish dish properly…”
After I helped myself to three more pieces of fish, I slowly began to come back to reality from my euphoric state.
That’s when I noticed a very strange wall plate in the restaurant. I asked her about it.
“It’s a plate decorated in the form of a chrysanthemum flower… Chrysanthemum is a symbol of death in Japan. Can you see those writings on the plate? It was written by a famous Japanese poet and he said –
I cannot see her tonight.
I have to give her up
So I will eat fugu.”
“Yes. Fugu is the Japanese name for Bok!”
“The fish that you’re eating now is called Bok here in Korea…”
“Oh! That’s amazing… He can’t be with his Lover anymore, so he wants to spend the rest of his life by eating Bok? I can understand… This fish is a piece of Heaven on earth after all!”
“I don’t think he meant it like that!”
“Oh?” I enquired.
“He meant it more like committing suicide…”
“Suicide? How can he commit suicide by eating Bok?”
“Well Bok is the second most poisonous vertebrate in the world…”
My heart froze. I went numb- as if I was dead! Dead! Me and die! She was joking right? She was smiling! I manged to exhale- “Bok is poisonous? The Bok that I’m eating now is poisonous?”
“Yes! People die eating this fish!” she said with her most charming smile.
Wtf! Earlier I had thought that this fish helped me attain Nirvana, figuratively. I didn’t know this Bok would help me attain Nirvana quite literally! Was I going to die? The panic of death was driving me witless and I began to sweat & shiver in that cold winter night.
“Don’t worry!” she said, “The chef is a master chef! He’d have removed the poison before preparing the fish… So it should be safe…”
“Thank God!” I exhaled. My heart realized that it had a job to do- beat, beat, beat. It was not fighting for a lost cause anymore.
“But there have been cases where people have died after eating the fish. People still take the risk because they like it a lot! Even famous celebrities have died eating this fish…”
“Even Celebrities?” I gulped.
“Yes! Because of its fatal attraction, this fish is the only food officially forbidden to the Emperor of Japan, you know, for his safety”
This girl was hitting nails in my coffin! Even the celebrities and the Emperor of Japan were not safe with this fish, how was I, a normal insignificant guy, supposed to be safe? What did I ever do to this girl? Why did she feed me this fish? Now that I thought about it, I never noticed her eating a piece of the fish! Oh, she was out to kill me! But for what? For staring at her? For calling her pretty? Plenty of guys must have done that! Maybe she was a serial killer! I was going crazy…
She must have noticed my panic- “Calm Down! You don’t have to worry! People died eating this fish because it was not prepared properly. Even if they boiled it well, the poison is not neutralized by boiling. The master chef here is a trained chef & he has a license to serve this fish! All the Bok chefs must earn a license to prepare and sell Bok to the public. This involves a two- or three-year apprenticeship before taking testing. Only about 35% of the applicants pass the test. This rigorous examination process makes it generally safe to eat Bok in restaurants or markets”
“But you keep saying generally safe- so there are chances!”
“Yes, maybe. But in this restaurant there never has been a Bok poisoning…”
“That’s even bad… If it has never happened, the chances of it happening have dramatically increased! What is the fatality rate of this fish in the world? I mean how many people die eating this generally?”
“About 7%, I’m not really sure… These are old numbers…”
“This restaurant must have an antidote with them right? How can the fatality rate be so high!”
“Bok poison has no antidote!”
This girl was dropping bomb after bomb on me. Bok has no antidote and the fatality rate was so high. Oh God! She’s so relaxed about it all. She doesn’t believe in Chances, so she doesn’t worry about these numbers. But I believed in probability!
Friday the 13th. The Japanese symbol of death. The Japanese poet. Death was dancing in my head as the Bok fish, to the tune and voice of my date singing “Jokes aside, People die to eat this fish, People die to eat this fish…”
I had a good chance of dying. I had never died before, I mean no near death accidents before, this little information had significantly increased my chances of me getting poisoned! Oh how I hated Math! Curse you Pascal! This was Murphy’s Law. I didn’t win a date. I had won death! Just like DiCaprio in Titanic. My life, now, was so much like Titanic! Maybe they’ll make a movie about it, someday. Maybe James Cameron will direct it. Maybe DiCaprio will play me. Maybe…
But the story has no real romance, like the Titanic. I was being the ordinary panicking passenger in the Titanic, not DiCaprio! I am supposed to be the hero of my own story! I had to live my last minutes with dignity and in love. I had to be DiCaprio.
This surprisingly calmed me down. Once again my brain started thinking rationally. There was a small chance that I may die- and I have information only from this pretty girl. So I do not have enough data to reach any conclusions. So let me hope for the best and prepare for the worst. Let me just be me, in my last minutes…
I looked at the Bok fish on my plate. This could be the last meal I’ll ever have. I was glad that it was the most delicious, the most notorious food of the world. I looked at the girl before me. I was glad that I had my last meal with the most beautiful femme fatale I had ever seen. She may also be the last friend I’ll ever make… I had to become larger than me… larger than the sum total of my life, in these last minutes…
I calmly picked up another Bok piece and relished the taste. I was happy. I was content. I was enjoying a different flavor of Bok now. This did not have a fatal flavor anymore. This was no fish fatale. It was no fish of death. It was the taste of self realization, of life. This was the true taste of Bok. Now I knew what the Japanese poet meant.
“You are suddenly so calm! What happened!” she asked, startled by my sudden change of behavior.
“Well, I have roughly three and half hours of the date with you, and if these are my last hours in this world, then, I want to go as a happy gentleman…”
“Today, I was sad that the contest was not won by some tall dark and handsome hunk…”
“Hey!” I yelled, softly.
“But I’m happy now, at the prospect of truly enjoying the 4 hours of this forced date, for the first time in my life… Are you ready for the next mind blowing thing in Korea?”
Those four hours were probably the best four hours of my entire life. In her company, the world looked so much prettier, so much nicer. I was so happy I had run into such a nice girl. Sometimes pretty girls forget about being just a girl, when they realize the power they have over boys. But she was different; a genuinely nice person- except that she was the one who fed me Bok, the poisonous fish.
And somehow, as if she understood what I was thinking, she said, ”You must be thinking that I tried to kill you…”
“No, not really,” I replied, “Well, maybe a little, yes!”
“This four hour date is just a job for me. I needed money desperately. But the people I end up on these dates are just pathetic. Murphy’s Law always was true for me. So I devised a plan to make the four hours to half an hour. I found a great way to scare the guys away from a girl like me- I just fed them Bok, and revealed later, after they had eaten Bok, that Bok is poisonous… And they’d just panic & run away to some hospital…”
“That doesn’t really put you in my good books…”
“Well, the funny thing is, Bok is really poisonous. Fatal, sometimes. But recently, scientists have found a non-toxic variety of Bok. And the restaurant I took you to, serves only the non-toxic variety… That’s why the fatality rate is 0% in the restaurant…”
Tears were welling up in my eyes. I wanted to laugh, to celebrate that I was not going to die, I was going to live again; this time truly live, and I wanted to cry, after so many years. These four hours had changed me. I was overwhelmed with multitude of emotions- and I just took her in my arms and kissed her…
Some of the story elements (without the contest, romance part etc) actually happened to my friend, Raghu and he has blogged it beautifully @ http://ragooooooo.blogspot.com/2010/05/once-upon-time.html
He also writes amazing poetry, as well Visit his blog @ http://ragooooooo.blogspot.com
Some of the information is from Wikipedia on Fugu fish. (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Fugu)