The moment we have five ‘videshi mudra’, it’s possible we may feel pressured to be knowledgeable about wine culture as one of the prescribed marks of dominant farang culture. But we don’t NEED to know about foreign wine to appear stylish. I mean, let’s have a little cultural confidence, citizens. People have always enjoyed a good drink in India. There are reportedly 114 verses in the ninth chapter of the Rig Veda in praise of Soma, the milkweed brew, besides the Vishnu Purana’s description of how Amrita, nectar of immortality, appeared from the Milk Ocean as one of the fourteen treasures of the deep (and if you’re addicted to ‘Devon ka Dev Mahadev’ like I am, you would have rejoiced too at how the gods are very much with us despite the unohoos).
As you know, one of those fourteen treasures churned up was the deity of wine, Mada or Sura, who married the Ocean, Varuna, and became ‘Varuni’ (is that why — Jungian synchronicity and all — they call the sea ‘the drink’ in English slang?). And there are clear instructions to drink in moderation. If we don’t precisely remember how the Drinker’s Lament went in the Rig Veda, we all know about the Doom of the Vrishnis, how the Yadavas beat each other to death in drunken fury. But that does not mean our culture frowned upon drink, there are even old temple sculptures of ‘Surasundaris’ holding assorted jars and jugs.
In later times, too, the concept of the Saqi proved a popular motif in Indian poetry. And even today, it’s the done thing to offer liquor at Mahadev’s jyotirling at Ujjain. So who says we need to drink a Veuve Clicquot or Valpolicella or a Zinfandel to feel we’ve arrived? Those expensive foreign bottles are merely an option, nice but wholly unnecessary to being ‘upscale’. Meanwhile, this week in Bangkok at the Indian dinner at a Conference on Indian Writers in English, a fabulous insight was shared by a very sophisticated Thai academic who’s a Sanskrit scholar and world traveller and also very knowledgeable about wine. Sipping a glass of our homegrown red, he said, “Indian wine reminds me of South African wine, it’s the same soil.”
I got goosebumps when it hit me that he was referring to the continental drift aeons ago. Maybe there’s something to that Samudra Manthan story, for Prithvi seems to bear witness to it in the oddest ways.