These days, the lady of her house you are partying in will trot up to you in her short skirt, pat your shoulder and ask,
‘What’s your poison?’
And then go on to rattle off the various options –
‘There’s vodka, there’s gin, there’s rum – dark and white, some really nice Chardonnay we got from Spain and of course, lots of beer and breezers.’
To impress her, you will ask for something that was missing on her list,
‘Tina, I’d like to go with my regular – you have some Gledfiddich?’
Tina smoothens her hair glibly, and without batting an eyelid, yells out,
And, then addresses you,
‘Single malts are Abhay’s department, you see.’
I love watching these little interludes. And am transported back in time to when we were kids. Just about twenty-five years back, things were very different. Firstly, we did not have fancy names like ‘poison’ , ‘booze’, ‘stimulants’. It was called ‘sharaab’ and was a really bad word. In some circles, it was called ‘drinks’ and cursed by women –
‘Do you know that they serve ‘drinks’ in their house?’
‘Her father is a drunkard.’
‘I will not go to any party where there are ‘drink’ and all.’
My mother belonged to a staunch ‘anti-drinks’ lobby. There were none stored in our house, and we did not go to parties where people were expected to drink. It was something that was accepted as a norm and all was going on fine till Srivastava uncle got posted in Allahabad. He was papa’s school friend and was now in the army.
We met them at their house at the Army Cantonment one evening. It was a nice evening with the kids making polite conversation with each other –
‘Who is your class teacher?’
‘What are your hobbies?’
And the ladies sharing best-practices in the kitchen—
‘Yeh gas tandoor bahut useful hai’
‘Aisa kariye, atte mein thoda moin daal dijiye’
Then, Srivastava uncle mentioned the ‘D’ word. Mummy froze, her smile withered into a slim, stern purse of her thin lips. She glared at my father, who chose to look away towards the Kashmiri wood-carved stool.
I wonder why every army family has wood-carved stools and screens picked from their travels! Does the Indian Army Admission Form has something like Clause 26 [E], which says,
You shall pick carved, wood furniture as shown in Exhibit 463, Section 3B, from different states that you are posted in, and report back to the General when the said purchase is made.
She wrapped her pallu around her waist – this was always a bad sign. We cringed in our respective places, no more interested in Sanju’s stamp collection.
Finally, she spoke,
‘Bhai-saab, I don’t encourage this drinks-vinks.’
Srivastava uncle was naïve, not having ever witnessed her rudra-roop.
‘Arre bhabhi-ji, this is mild, just some good old rum.’
Mummy decided to let go of the battle. She resumed discussing the home-made paneer with aunty, while we resumed showing feigned interested in nose-wiping Sanju’s stamps from Mozambique.
For papa, it was like he was on the first rung of the stairway to heaven. A couple of ‘drinks’ later, food was served. And then, dessert. Then we bade our goodbyes and came home. Papa after being yelled at, and having been called a ‘drunkard’, and like ‘Prakakh’s father who sold off his mother’s sarees to buy drinks for himself’, crept under his blankets and slept.
We thought it was all over, till, the following week, Srivastava uncle showed up at our house one evening. The two friends sat in the drawing room, recalling school-days, laughing and talking. Then, for some reason, they shifted to another room, where the ironing table was.
Srivastava uncle then took out a small bottle and in a low tone, asked papa to get two glasses.
Now, given the rules of our house, this would be called ‘Code Blue’ or ‘Mayday’.
I just hoped mummy would remain in the kitchen and not spot this. But, as they say, women have four pairs of eyes and antennae to boot.
Soon, the inevitable happened. With her pallu folded around her waist, she descended upon the men. This was her house, and she was not going to let this one pass.
‘Bhai-saab, yeh kya ho raha hai?’
‘Namaste bhabhiji’, bhaisaab choked on his drink.
[Note : If a sentence started with ‘Dekhiye Bhaisaab’, it meant that bhaisaab was now in deep shit]
‘…I don’t allow all this in this house. Please get out now and take your bottle with you.’
[Bhaisaab laughed nervously, looking at my father for support. My father was staring at the iron]
‘And if you are coming back with bottle-shottle, please don’t come to our house ever.’
Srivastava uncle put the bottle back in the newspaper it was wrapped in, laughed some more, and tried to convert his exit into a cordial, normal one, with small talk and ‘namastes’. I waited next to him, so that I could bolt the door when he left.
Phew! It was close! Come to think of it – being punched by a friend’s wife could not even be flaunted as war scars.
Over the years, time changed – some people called it ‘degeneration of values’, some called it ‘western influence’. Whatever it was, people moved on to embrace a new lifestyle. And, even the older folk, graciously, moved on.
Just last week, my sister offered my seventy year old mother a glass of wine and convinced her to drink it. She looked shocked, reluctant, but we egged her on! My father looked the happiest, as he sat with his glass of beer.
Wish ‘bhaisaab’ was here to witness it!