Wednesday, January 02, 2008

Having been brought up in a typical middle class household, three basic tenets were drilled into my head from the day I could comprehend basic sentences:

1.I should not smoke for it is evil

2.I should not drink as it is just as evil

3.I should remain a vegetarian because that was simply the sensible thing to do

There was no religious fervor in my parents instructions. My parents had never attempted to mix religion with their philosophy on how life was to be lived. I never questioned the tenets. I accepted them and doggedly held onto them because that was the gentlemanly thing to do. During my teenage years in Chennai I was naïve enough to assume that those who didn’t follow the three commandments were simply “Bad Company”. My middle class morals had firmly taken root.

With the passage of time I began to judge less harshly. My first year in IMT was an eye opener. Alcohol flowed like water. I attended numerous parties where my friends drank buckets, made long, passionate and mostly incoherent speeches, threw up and then passed out cold. I inhaled more second hand cigarette smoke in my one year at the hostel than my entire life in Chennai. My project team couldn’t get ideas on how to proceed unless they had lit up a few smokes. I gave up protesting after a while. Without nicotine their brains remained inert. Since I could very rarely come up with the brilliant analytical reasoning that was essential to fake an entire project complete with excel sheets and hardcore number crunching, I let my friends puff away in my room in order to save the project.

While I continued to avoid meat, cigarettes and booze, at some level I felt sad that I was missing out on some serious male bonding. My upbringing has ensured that I could never participate in several rituals. Numerous friendships had been forged on sharing the same cigarette and puking in the same bucket after opening one’s soul under the influence of beer, rum, vodka and whisky. I had felt the loss acutely while I was working in my previous incarnation as a software engineer. During team outings to fancy restaurants the men would huddle around a table and exchange bawdy jokes while they enjoyed a chilled beer. I was an outcast, considered far to goody goody to share the table with them. With instructions to “Go drink milk and eat curd rice”, I would be rudely dispatched to the ladies table. I couldn’t really blame them, I could never be part of them if I didn’t drink or smoke. The ladies felt safe with me, my mama’s boy’s image having endeared me to them. I didn’t quite enjoy the label. Surrounded by middle aged women who smiled fondly at me, I realized that I’d never be considered one of the guys.

In my time at IMT I became far more comfortable in accepting booze as a way of life. I did not indulge in it but I accepted that those who did were not necessarily spawns of Satan. While the rigid views I used to hold may seem amusing to most people, it takes a while to reprogram an outlook that’s been hammered into my head over a lifetime. On numerous occasions I helped my tipsy friends back to their rooms. The stories of their drunken antics could fill several volumes by themselves. I watched them laugh, cry, open their hearts and dance with gay abandon. Their antics roused a great curiosity in me. I wanted to know what it was like to completely lose self control and do or say anything I felt like. Being a very reserved individual under normal circumstances I was eager to know what it was like to completely lose inhibition. What would it be like to break all self imposed barriers?

In the end it was the curiosity that won. I did not regard drinking as cool nor did I think that the male bonding rituals were always required. Purely from a scientific perspective, I was eager to know how I’d behave when I was completely sloshed. A couple of months before the placement season a few of us who had never touched the stuff before decided that we’d get ourselves pig drunk after our employment had been guaranteed.

Placements whizzed by and then it was time to celebrate. Mathew was hired to be the bar tender. His vast experience in getting completely sozzled at every party automatically made him the unanimous choice. He took to his role like a duck to the water. Having collected the cash from us he sped to Delhi to purchase the good stuff. He returned with two squat and evil looking bottles of rum, a bottle of whisky and a beautifully crafted bottle of vodka. I admired the vodka bottle for a few moments. It was frosted all over except a small clear portion in the shape of a guitar through which one could view the drink. Topped with a blue metal cap, it was the prettiest bottle I had ever seen. The inscription at the back read “It’s magic when purity blends with smoothness. Magic Moments is produced from the finest grain and is triple distilled to achieve the mark of purity. Blended with French grain spirit, it is free from sugar and preservatives, ensuring a taste which is highly appreciated all across Europe. Serve Chilled. Anywhere, anytime”.

I felt very classy for a few moments. I was obviously going to have a very fine drink. My visions of French aristocracy however quickly faded when I read the small text below the inscription: “Manufactured in Daurala Sugar Works Distillery, Meerut”. So much for royalty. Daurala Sugar Works distillery hardly conjured up visions of European luxury.

The bottles were hidden in my cupboard. I kept the cupboard open and gloated over them for a while. Booze in my room! Unbelievable! What would my grandmother say?

The party was held in my room, a location I was assured by my friends no one would suspect of fun and merriment. I wasn’t quite sure of how to take the remark. Anyway we wanted to party to remain small and private. None of us were keen on losing our dignity in front of people we didn’t really hang out with.

At 11 pm, the participants consisting of Surya, Aritri, Shublina, Deepa, Gaurav and Mathew assembled in my room. We sat on my bed and chatted as we waited for Mathew to begin. The bottles had been neatly arranged on my table but were completely covered with a towel. Mathew waited for the chatter to die down. He then whipped the towel off with an exaggerated flourish and let us admire the bottles for a few moments.

“Ladies and Gentlemen” he began with an upper class British accent, “We have with us two bottles of rum, some whisky, some fine vodka and some soda. I have also purchased peanuts and some fried snacks.” He picked up each bottle carefully and showed it to us.

“Abey magic show bandh karo! chal daru pila!” barked a visibly annoyed Surya.

Mathew lost some of his poise but then recovered swiftly.

“We will be beginning with some whisky and soda. Now remember, drink it slowly, and don’t gulp it down like barbarians. You can’t appreciate it otherwise.” He passed us each a plastic tumbler filled with amber liquid.

I held the tumbler in my hand, grinning self consciously. There it was: a glass of whisky in my hand!

We counted to three, said cheers and began sipping our drinks. It tasted horrible. There was an unnatural quality to it, something about the way it tasted and smelled which said it wasn’t meant for human consumption. I felt like I was drinking medicine which was meant to be rubbed on the chest. We all grimaced after the first sip.

“Yuck! Mathew, this tastes disgusting!” I exclaimed

“Look, that’s not how you drink it. Hold it in your mouth and let it roll over your tongue. You feel the difference? See how smooth it is!”

I swirled it around but felt nothing. It just didn’t feel right in my mouth. I took larger sips just to empty the glass as soon as possible. Mathew meanwhile prepared shots of vodka mixed with Minute Maid Orange juice. I finished my whisky and paused to see if I felt any different. Other than a mildly queasy stomach, I felt pretty ok.

“Now this drink is called a screwdriver. I want you drink the vodka in one gulp. No slow sipping like the first one. Take it in one shot ok?”

We snapped our heads back and poured the liquid down our throats. The orange juice had mercifully blunted out the taste. I began to feel a slight buzz. My head felt slightly heavy now. I turned to the computer to choose some music. Somehow clicking on the right song seemed a bit of a task. Not difficult but I needed to focus a little more than usual.

I turned back to face my friends. None of them felt any different. I was disappointed with myself. The girls had had no problems, why was I the first to let the drink go to my head? Could I not hold a few drinks?

I will not go further into the details of every drink and how uncoordinated our movements became. A drunken mans experience though unique to him, remains a clichéd joke to others. Aritri and Shublina oscillated widely between fits of giggling and suicidal depression. Surya danced and moved violently around the room like he was being buffeted about by strong gusts of wind. His body jerked and twitched in a manner that was completely out of sync with the music.

I felt like a thick woolen blanket had settled around my brain. It was like the rational, reasonable side to me was slipping further and further away. I was dimly aware that I was supposed to try and be as dignified as possible but at the same time I felt my inhibitions melt and ooze away. It suddenly became easier to say whatever popped into my head without letting it pass through the usual filtering mechanisms that had been put into place over the years. From time to time, I would turn to Deepa and slur “Look, I’m pretty steady ok?” She always agreed with me, something that ticked me off soundly. I didn’t like the way she humored me throughout the party.

Every trip to the bathroom became a huge source of amusement. I’d chuckle to myself all the way to the loo and all the way back to the room. Each time I caught sight of myself in the mirror, I would grin widely, savoring the delicious irony of the situation.

I woke up groaning next morning with a splitting headache. As I headed to the bathroom it took the combined effort of all my brain cells to keep from walking diagonally across the corridor. I was rational but unsteady. Surya, I was told later threw on his bed sheet and then passed out cold in the bathroom. Aritri and Shublina luckily did not suffer as badly.

At the end of it, I can’t say I’m a fan of alcohol. It tastes terrible and at no point of time did I feel like I was enjoying myself. I was stricken when I looked at the photos taken. I was anything but dignified in them. My eyes were glazed over and I smiled like a common drunken lout. Why anyone would want to reduce himself to gibbering idiot is a question I know I’ll never get an answer to. I think I’ll just remain a mama’s boy…