Thirty years ago, those were the golden days of college. The campus atmosphere was electrifying. Student elections were on. The campaigning was fierce and the competition tough. Every voter was a VIP.
The day of the results, the new-elected president threw a cocktail party and everybody was invited.
Foes now posed as friends to the winners as friends seemed traitors to the losers. A big tub was hauled to the centre of the hostel lawns and bottles of liquor, an uncountable number, emptied into it. When the celebrations began, boys dipped their mugs into the tub and drank. Some added water to the heady cocktail, others preferred neat. I, a non-drinker, stood there a bewildered spectator.
"What are you doing here, you odd man out," said my inner voice, "go home, day scholar." But the president wouldn't allow. We were close friends. He drank often; for me, everyday was a dry day, yet our friendship had blossomed. "You can't leave the party," he told me.
I looked around and found a few of my kind, who were holding cola bottles. I also grabbed one and joined the carnival, the victory lap of the hostel, where the "ho-ha" got louder with every step.
Hours passed and the cocktail rose to the heads, the jubilation mounted multiple times. The party continued till midnight. I could neither leave for home nor inform my parents. There were no mobile phones back then, only one rotary-dial landline instrument in the warden's room. Nobody ever went there to make a call. Tired, I hit the sack in a friend's dorm.
Back home, a worried dad had found the hostel telephone number and rung up the warden, who put him on hold and asked a student to fetch me. The lad knew me. He took the call and said: "He is lying here flat on the stomach… drenched in drink. Don't worry. He'll be home in the morning."
The next day, I came to know and had a good fight with the boy. 'How could you?" I said, "I don't drink at all." I was mad at him. "How would I know? You lay there like a corpse," he shot back.
That day, I got home without the courage to face my dad. For days, I avoided him.
These thirty years have given me enough experience of attending parties where I sit aloof, while the others enjoy the drinks, get lighter in the head, dance freely to drumbeats, hop, shout, have a hearty laugh and entice me. "Come, have a bit of it," they say, holding a glass at me. This is a test I have never failed. I don't care to drink.
Seen me avoid liquor, my son has developed the same habit. The day of his fresher's party in the MBA course, he rang me up. "Dad, the party is on. All students are enjoying drinks, while I am the odd man out. You won't succeed in life, if you won't drink, I'm being told," he said. "So, what's your decision?" I asked him.
"Dad," he said, "I know I can find my way to success without compromising on the values I treasure." Times had changed, values hadn't. I felt at peace.