In 1974, I was in third year of my engineering course in Delhi. The last of our semester examinations had just ended and we decided to celebrate. Money was tight so we bought 3 bottles of Kalyani beer (650 ml each with around 8% alcohol) to be shared between 5 persons. A “topper” nerd G, who consistently scored high grades and was a favorite with all lecturers decided to join us. He was not familiar with the “aadaab” (etiquette) of drinking and proceeded to pour a “shot” of beer for himself, topping it with ice and water while we watched, barely stopping ourselves from cracking-up! For good effect, we reminded him to sip his brew very slowly to avoid getting drunk. Halfway through consuming his watered-down concoction, we noticed that G would periodically twitch and kick out, first with his right leg and then his left, in quick succession. After this happened a few times we asked if he was okay. Through half-open eyes he slurred, “This beer is effecting me. See, I am getting a “kick” out of it.”
As luck would have it, my father was visiting Delhi and decided to drop by unannounced to check on his prodigal son. The door to my hostel room was ajar, so he knocked and entered. There were 6 young men sprawled across the room in their boxers, each holding a beer. Cigarette smoke filled the room and stubs were strewn all around the floor. Each of us instinctively tried to hide the beer and put out the cigarettes. Without saying a word my father just turned around and left the room. I recovered and grabbing a shirt and my shoes ran out after him to explain and “clear any misunderstanding” arising from what he had seen. I made it out of the hostel gates just in time to see him get into his car. As I approached, he asked the driver to step outside and waiving me in asked how I had fared in the exams. I muttered something about having tried my best. He then said, “I know you smoke and that is entirely your choice as a grown man. However, I would prefer that you did not, as it is not good for your health.” He added, “I enjoy a drink and notice that you have taken after me. There is just one difference between us. I drink with my own hard-earned money. It is a strain for me to provide two sons the best education that I can afford for them, without money being wasted on luxuries you cannot afford at this stage of your life. I would appreciate if you try to stop indulging until you start earning. But, I promise that the day you get a job we will celebrate with the finest stuff of your choice.” Having said this, he bade me goodbye and drove off.
During our fourth year of the engineering course, we were required to undergo training for 6 months in an industrial location. So, in 1975 a friend and I opted to work for the fertilizer factory that employed perhaps 2,000 – 3,000 people and was headed by my father. We had thought it would be a breeze because of my father’s position, and so it was a rude shock when we were singled out for “special” treatment. My dad ensured that we worked shifts that no one else liked when the annual maintenance was underway and the mechanics and floor foremen derived special pleasure in putting novice “engineers” in their proper place by ordering us around to hand them a spanner, fetch their tea or sand down the cylinder lining etc. However, living at home did have advantages, one of them being my dad’s stock of premium scotch!
A year later I graduated as a mechanical engineer and in the summer of 1976 returned home after being interviewed for several Management Trainee roles at different companies across India. A few weeks through my leisurely stay at home I got my eagerly awaited dream job – a two years training program at an English bank, with a stint in London! A few of my friends and I decided to celebrate that evening.
Just as I was stepping out to join my friends, my dad called out, “Aren’t you forgetting something? You do remember that we had decided to have the first celebratory drink together when you got a job?” I was touched when he asked me my choice of scotch for the evening and said that we could finish the half used bottle of Famous Grouse, instead of cracking open a fresh bottle. He shook his head, “No, please get the unopened Balvenie. There is more water than Famous Grouse whisky in the other bottle!”
You see, when I was home during the internship I would occasionally take a bottle out, tie a string around it to mark the level of whisky and pour myself a shot. I would then refill it with water to the level marked, remove the string and put the bottle back. My father had known all along.
Alcoholic drinks deserted me several years ago. While I am still willing, the body rejects it. So, I now abide by the legendary poet Mirza Ghalib’s sher (verse):
“Go haath ko jumbish nahin, aankhon mein to dum hai
Rehne do abhi saaghar-o-meenaa mere aage”
[Though the hand is devoid of movement/agitation, the eyes retain the power (can appreciate)
For now, let the glass and goblet (of wine) remain before me]