'What you drink has become what you are', Gaurav Bhatia, Moet Hennessy, India marketing director (The Economic Times, January 14)
If only I had known earlier you become what you drink. Instead of profitably spending my time drinking single malts, I misspent my youth downing beverages no aspirational figure would deign to touch with a barge pole. Not that they would ever touch a barge pole either.
I began my long alcoholic journey right at the bottom, drinking palm feni. The local hooch shop near my college in Pune served the stuff from two large tin drums fitted with plastic taps. One of them was for palm feni, which cost 50 paise a peg and the other contained cashew feni, which sold at a rupee a peg those days.
While I splurged on cashew feni at the beginning of the month, most of the time I could afford only the humble palm feni. On special occasions, when I was feeling particularly rich, I indulged in santra and mosambi,
country liquor thoughtfully bottled for us tipplers by the Maharashtra government.
Things changed after I got my first job and graduated to higher things in life. To be specific, I graduated to Hercules XXX rum and, when Hercules wasn’t available, to Old Monk. The only other stuff my drinking buddies and I touched was vodka. But that was probably because we were in Calcutta and had to doff the hat to the revolution. In those socialist days, you had to make do with the surreally named India Made Foreign Liquor (IMFL), unless you knew a friendly neighbourhood smuggler who could get you scotch.
My booze record deteriorated even further when I got posted in a village in the wilds of rural Bengal. Initially, I courageously made the three-hour bone-jarring bus journey from the village to the district headquarters to obtain my supply of IMFL. But soon I had no option but to try out the local hooch, which was made from fermented rice and tasted terrible.
The trick was to hold your nose firmly and gulp down the drink very quickly. The fiery liquid burned your throat and made your eyes water, but then this stuff wasn’t for sissies, it was a test of your character and your dedication. The only whisky available was dubious stuff made in Bhutan and I remember three of us sitting quietly one evening with our glasses filled, waiting for someone to make the first move. The booze stank of kerosene and the headline, ‘Three blinded by spurious alcohol’ danced vividly in front of my eyes. Later on, when I was posted in the hills, I varied my liquid intake with generous does of raxi and chhang.
Naturally, with that kind of background, the finer points of drinking were completely lost on us. A friend who once brought us a bottle of Glenmorangie got a severe tongue lashing, because it had absolutely no effect whatsoever.
Unfortunately, for some unknown reason my liver got enlarged and prematurely ended my drinking days, before I could mend my ways and move up in life to fine wines and single malts. That is why I have to eke out a lowly existence as a hack instead of sipping scotch, sitting on a well-padded sofa in a corner office, ordering a minion to write this column.
I do hope parents heed the moral of this story, throw out their milk cartons and make sure their kids get a wholesome supply of single malts.
(Manas Chakravarty is Consulting Editor, Mint)