Circa: Late Eighty’s
We [more than a dozen of us] were living as a joint family in house which had more open space and plants than rooms. In case you don’t know what a joint family is, please do your research. With so many people, the many festivals and half a dozen kids at home, there was no dearth of celebrations every now and then. Apart from festivals, there were many other reasons which called for a lavish dinner… starting from admissions into school, birthdays, wedding anniversaries, finishing well in exams, etc etc.
On such special occasions [at times even otherwise] my grandfather, my father and my uncle [my father’s younger brother] would suddenly disappear to the terrace. When they returned from their alfresco break, after an hour or so… they were completely transformed. The grumpy men had metamorphosed into this saintly and angelic threesome who could never even speak a harsh word, leave alone raise their hand on children. All smiles, doling out pocket money, hugging and playing with children… the changes were enough to confuse even the youngest of the kids at home. And at the same time, the ladies used to do everything in their capacity to prevent us kids from going anywhere near them. “Don’t you dare touch them… lest they become like you” could be heard many times. I particularly could not understand the harm in becoming like these godsend souls. Why will anyone not want to be like them? In a matter of two hours everything and everyone changed so much. The next morning was even more difficult to digest. I used to stare at them expecting some goodies. Upon hearing a sharp retort “Why are you starting at me? Have you not seen me before?” I would realize that everything is back to normal. Seeing all of this, perplexity was an understatement for me at that young age. I just could not fathom why the usual retorts turned into rhetoric and back again every now and then.
After watching many such encounters, picking hints from movies, gossip at school and other such sources, it slowly dawned upon me that there is something called alcohol and that this concoction can do wonders to its consumers. Phew… thereafter it was very easy to guess the sequence of events at home.
Back then drinking was taboo. And having your brother and father as drinking partners was something beyond taboo. The three men of our house were at times akin to social pariahs for their habit. And using the house as the watering hole was anathema to the women folks at home. But I feel they were pardoned time and again, since they all had steady jobs, worked extremely hard for the well-being of everyone else at home and had no other misgivings. And so they continued making merry on social occasions, until age caught up with them. In a household and society of conservatives, here were three folks who stood apart. With such traits running in their veins, it was only natural of them to expect that I will continue their legacy; that I will also stand out in the society when my time comes; that everyone else will look at me as atypical and that I will make them proud.
Circa: Present day
Now fast forward three odd decades. I have met their expectations partly. I think I stand out in society; I am a pariah by my own standards; people look at me as atypical … but all of this is because I have never had alcohol in my entire life. I am a “TEETOTALLER”! I can only imagine my grandfather squirming in his heavenly abode seeing the grave insult that I have bought upon the family legacy. Arrrggghhhhhh!
I really don’t know why I was not drawn towards drinking. It was not about ethics & principles mind you… maybe booze and I were just not meant for each other. And in case you have not already guessed it, I do not smoke as well. Keen to know a few more revelations about me. I don’t drink coffee, I don’t drink tea, I don’t drink milk as well. I used to indulge in carbonated drinks, but I stopped even this a few months ago. OK OK OK … OOOOKKKKKK…. now just stop frowning and pulling your hair out! I accept it… I don’t drink any beverage… it is only plain and simple water wherever I go, along with the occasional fresh fruit juice. A sheepish grin is my only answer when anyone asks me why I am like this. But don’t get me wrong. I am not a crusader against alcohol. I have never counselled anyone out of it, my father included. I have not built any stereotypes about folks who booze. I am very comfortable hanging around with my friends and colleagues when they drink. I am at ease when frequenting the numerous bars and pubs in Bangalore with them. I have been in sessions that start early and go way into the night… discussing everything and everyone from Swami Vivekananda to our very own Swami Nityananda and everything else in between. Thankfully in all of these, my chums have allowed me to be what I am. And I have returned the favor by allowing them to be what they are.
But I have to admit that it is getting difficult with every passing day to be a teetotaller in this world. I find my ilk nearing extinction faster than the tigers in India. Drinking is no more about macho; not even status symbol; it is now all about social acceptance. Ask me about being unable to blend in a party where the bar-is-open. I especially dread the corporate social gatherings for the questions that I am asked which put me in a lot of discomfiture. The askance look on the revelers face further augments my embarrassment. I cannot but help be a mute spectator to all the bombast, sentiments, braggadocio and humor surrounding me. No offence, but I have seen that ladies who drink find it difficult to comprehend that I do not. I wonder why. There must be something wrong in the geography of my face which belies me. With age and societal changes, it is getting all the more difficult to prove that I am and I have always been like this.
Here are some oft repeated questions that I am sick and tired of hearing, along with the answers I don’t tell. My actual response is … well… remember the sheepish grin I mentioned above!
“Lokesh you don’t drink?” / No dude I do not drink. I have told this to you many times. But you were so drunk that you don’t remember it.
“Come on Lokesh, it is just beer” / Then why do you drink it?
“You must try it at least once. Live your life” / Babaji… why dint you come earlier in my life
“Will you not drink for me?” / F^&@ you
“You are joking aren’t you?” / Wish I am
“You are high on life, you don’t need booze” / If that makes you happy
“What… you don’t drink?!?!? But you don’t look like a teetotaller” / Ass*$&@
“Only orange juice huh?” / Yeah…
“Ahh you don’t take alcohol. Sorry, I just have the Coca-Cola which was meant for mixing the whisky” / Poor me
”How do you manage without booze?” / Thankfully there is water and oxygen to survive
“Why da, there is nothing wrong in this” / So why do you bother me
“No one in your family boozes?” / You don’t want to know about my family history in booze
“Scared of your wife?” / Who isn’t? Aren’t you?
Off late I have even been thinking of inventing answers to such exasperating questions. Answers meant for those prying few who just will not leave me alone. “I am unwell”, “I don’t drink today”, “I have to drive back home”, “I do not want to misbehave” etc etc Not sure when these will come handy.
And so goes the story of my life. When all the drunks are speakinhg the truth, here I am thinking of lies… for the sake of my sans-spirit-virginity… cheers!!!