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The Patiala peg mystery

punjab Updated: Jul 13, 2013 10:09 IST
Mahavir Jagdev
Mahavir Jagdev
Hindustan Times
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My childhood memories of days spent in the Patiala cantonment are full of men of the 16th cavalry in army uniforms, sporting barrel moustaches. The Hudson's Horse armoured corps tanks with their roaring engines were intimidating for every boy in the area, more so were the officers of the regiment. Their baseball matches with the Patiala royal team were well contested. The officers gave it their best, for a defeat could cost them a month's salary. The post-match party stories were equally interesting. The New Moti Bagh Palace, Patiala, was inviting and imposing for these officers, as were the lovely ladies at the parties. Scotch was always in abundance.

The evenings spent in the army mess after a swim in the pool, one would come across officers boasting of their capacity to hold their drink. The famous Patiala peg was always the point of discussion. The drink could be two fingers high -- between the index and the middle fingers or the index and little finger. One odd officer would order a tall one, two index fingers high of the two hands. But no one really knew what a Patiala peg was. It remained a mystery.

This mystery was finally broken decades later. While working with a British company manufacturing packaging machinery at Mohali, we were installing biscuit packing machines at Bakeman's, Patiala. The factory was owned by the Seth Charan Das family of Patiala, the owners of Malwa and Phul movie halls. The family had a long association with the Patiala royals. One afternoon we were invited for lunch at their imposing white house near Leela Bhavan, Patiala. The lunch was an elaborate affair with a multi-cuisine menu served by waiters wearing white gloves. After the round of desserts, we were served exotic fruits. The conversation hovered around the royal city and its lifestyle during the era gone by. Conversing with a person associated with the royal parties, I was tempted to ask about the illusive Patiala peg.

So it went; the parties in the palace would start late in the evening. The guests and courtiers arrived in their best attire. After a cursory round of drinks and snacks, everyone would wait for the Maharaja to appear for dinner. The wait could last up to the wee hours. Courtesy demanded that no one left till the Maharaja came in. Some guests would relish their drinks, while others would raise a toast to the Maharaja's health. The wise men had their whisky glasses always covered with napkins. The raising of the toast would go on, from one round after another.

He ended the story: Even if one wanted to, one could not dare to refuse an invite to the palace party. We had business to attend to the next morning, which could not be done with a hangover. Gentleman, there was no whisky in the napkin-covered glass. The Patiala peg was an empty glass.