Vehicles need petrol, but what about us? The world generally agrees that a bit of enhanced fluid can’t hurt the inner esse. But not everyone says “Cheers!” before diving in headfirst. In some posh circles, Devi is ritually offered a drink with three classy flicks of the finger from the first glass drunk. Liquor is the official offering to Shivji at Ujjain and mind, that’s not some little wayside temple where the real business is the superior local ram-laddoo, it’s one of the twelve ancient, powerful Jyotirlingas that knit India. And while Himachal Pradesh is justly famous for its modern breweries, I wonder if anybody still makes the traditional Himachali drink, ‘sur’ that once contained about 169 ‘jari-booti’ to make the liquor a health drink, building energy and immunity? Rather like those oldstyle Rajasthani drinks, ikbara, dobara and asaav? Since I come from a depressingly long line of sour buttermilk and rasam drinkers, I am not in a position, alas, to swap exotic heritage recipes for liquor. But thankfully I have a brother-in-law to show off who’s into brewing his own beer, all that Viking blood, no doubt. The name of the game is ‘microbrewing’. So if you have a spare balti or two, a kidproof and petproof zone and a really, really close and knowledgeable friend from Rajasthan or Himachal P, you might even like to take a shot at it yourself.
As to which, I saw a curious newsclip once about a place called Devimogra in Gujarat, where Bhils offer country liquor to their ‘kuldevi’ or clan goddess, who is none but Kunti from the Mahabharata. The belief goes that she worshipped Kali at this spot during the Pandavas’ years of exile. A sociologist or anthropologist may have made a meaty thesis out of it, whereas if we look really deep down it may be that they’re just doing their own thing. Except, in an old society they continue to make a collective ritual out of it instead of, well, just doing their own thing as a hobby like my brother-in-law from Copenhagen makes beer (not tasted it yet), a photographer friend in Delhi makes heavenly moussaka or an orthopedist friend from Jind makes fancy bread. And Bhil ‘mahudi’ liquor certainly seems to beat nimbu rasam as the drink du jour.
Now, how did the old folks make som-ras? Do tell, before someone abroad patents it as Vedic Red Bull.
Renuka Narayanan writes on religion and culture