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HindustanTimes Tue,23 Sep 2014

Khushwant Singh

It’s alright to be a drinker
Khushwant Singh, Hindustan Times
July 25, 2009
First Published: 22:46 IST(25/7/2009)
Last Updated: 12:16 IST(26/7/2009)
One way to ensure a book becomes a best-seller is to have the government ban it, or spread rumours that it is about to do so. That happened to Lady Chatterly’s Lover and more recently to Salman Rushdie’s The Satanic Verses. The one way to ensure higher sales of items that many people indulge in is to ban them. The case of prohibition of alcoholic drinks is as old as history; the case of ban on smoking is recent. Both have proved to be flops wherever they have been tried.

America went through many years of prohibition before it discovered it did not work. India tried it in fits and starts in different states and gave up after realising that however stringent the laws, people addicted to drink got it, if not legally, then some spurious substitute which took their lives. Gujarat is the one state which has refused to learn lessons. It was not surprising thus that last month over 150 people died after drinking some poisonous brew.

Drinking is not a vice, drunkenness is. All over the world adults are allowed to drink when and what they like. It is only when they get drunk and misbehave that they are arrested. Drink like a gentleman or a lady; it is a civilised thing to do. It breaks the ice and encourages bonding. If England had no pubs, life in the country would become drab. All over Europe the making of wine has become a fine art. People have wine-cellars in their homes; Europeans have their favourite wine with both meals. No one is any the worse for doing so.

Indians have been drinking since pre-Vedic times. They were mostly home-made stuff or a cottage industry: arrak, mahua, tharra, feni, etc. With the advent of the Europeans, it was enlarged to an industry and we began to brew our own beers, distill whiskey, gin and rum. In recent years, we also started making wines. Vineyards came up in Maharashtra and Karnataka. So we have our own red, white and rose wines as well as Champagne. Many of them are as good as any imported wine, and are good enough to find markets in old wine-producing countries and earn us foreign exchange.

Our aim should be to produce good quality beverages with low alcoholic content like lager, cider and wines rather than spirits like whiskey, gin, rum or feni. And at low prices which the poor can afford to buy. But will our stupid politicians ever learn any lessons?

My new friend
My next door neighbour, Reeta Devi Varma, rang up and said: “Can I bring a friend to meet you?” Knowing my allergy towards strangers, she added, “Just for five minutes. You will like her.”

A few minutes later she came in with a small, fluffy black-n-white dog and introduced it to me. “This is Chanchala. I picked her up from the road with a broken leg”. In short, Chanchala is a lame bitch. And as her name indicates, a restless creature who wags her tail and behind non-stop. She sniffed all the furniture and my leg to make sure I was worth befriending. I extended my hand in a gesture of greeting; she gave it a couple of licks: “Nice to meet you!”

Reeta continued: “I found her bleeding on the road, run over by a car. I took her to the vet in Khan Market. He thought it best to put her to sleep. “No way,” I said. “You clean her wound and bandage her leg. I’ll look after her.”

She took the bitch home and nursed her day and night. She recovered. Her friends suggested she be named ‘Hope’ or Asha as she had survived against all odds. But she had become so restless and frisky that Reeta decided to name her Chanchal. I added an ‘a’ and a surname to make her Chanchala Devi.

After exploring my sitting room, Chanchala relaxed with her belly on the cool cement floor. Her tail stopped wagging. She was at home. I thought I would offer her a bribe to induce her to come again. I offered a cashew nut. She bit some to make sure she liked it. She looked imploringly at me and asked, “Can I have one more ?”

I gave her a second nut. She nibbled it with relish. Reeta reprimanded her, “Stop Chanchala! You are putting on weight. Cashews are full of oil and fat.”

Chanchals gave her a doleful look and rubbed her head between her paws. As time came for them to leave, I though I’d give her a parting bite — cheese on toast. She sniffed at the cheese, took a bit and decided she did not like it. “You see I am on a diet. Mom says I am getting fat.” I didn’t like that. So I offered her another cashew nut and asked, “Chanchala, will you come to see me again?”
She wagged her tail, licked my hands generously and ensured: “You bet I will; if Mom brings me.”
That is how I have acquired a new lady friend.

Post script
There is a cinema hall in Amritsar which has closed down. The last film it showed was Agar Tum Na Hotey. Even after its closing down the name of the film remained written on its boundary wall. Somebody wrote below the film’s title “Yeh cinema band na hota”!

(Contributed by KJS Ahluwalia, Amritsar)


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