Hic, hic, hurray!
This turns out to be an impressive collection on drinking in India and is the perfect opportunity for confessions and celebrations all shared over the perfect bottle of wine, writes SHRADDHA SINGH Our attitude to drinking is the same as it is to sex. We don’t do it. But , like sex, we do it all the time. And some states, it seems, do it more than others.” — The introduction to the book by Palash Krishna Mehrotra. In a bold one of its kind anthology of stories, essays and poems, Mehrotra, the editor of House Spirit: Drinking In India brings out the essence of drinking in India with 33 contributions from 27 writers. Published by The Speaking Tiger, the stories are a blend of all that is left unsaid when it comes to the topic of drinking. It’s amazing how a person remembers in all vivid details the night spent in the beloved arms of alcohol, be it when social awkwardness is taken care of and strangers turn into best friends or when the weather always turns romantic under its influence. We remember the night, yet forget the bottle that made it happen. So we finally have this anthology on the culture of drinking in India which has taken upon itself the task of doing right by the bottle. This is a fine collection of selected short stories by writers like Gautam Bhatia, Indrajit Hazra, Jeet Thayil, Anjum Hasan, Anup Kutty, Zac O’Yeah; poems by Manohar Shetty, Vijay Nambisan; and essays by Adil Jussawalla, Abhinav Kumar, Sidharth Bhatia, Kanika Gahlaut. It also includes seasoned as well as new writers who have collaborated to summarise the various facets of our relationship with alcohol consumption. From the first sip to sloshed nights, from pubs to thekas, from the elitist party drinking to the good old whisky and water with peanuts to go, House Spirit brings to you the essence of drinking in India. The stories talk about the good buzz when you begin but eventually also comes the part where alcohol and hangover bring to the fore the inevitable thoughts you wish to escape from. The book has a refreshing take on drinking from the common man’s perspective. It would remind some readers about the nervousness when they tried their first sip. More precisely, how awful it was in terms of taste. But sure, they gulped it down probably along with their pride because they wanted to look ‘macho’ in front of their peers; the promise of sinful delight during school days, as Gautam Bhatia calls it in Aristocrat. Or as written in Conduct Unbecoming by Manohar Shetty, an owner of a prominent restaurant-bar by the Bombay Stock Exchange, was given this sound advice by a veteran stockbroker: “Both ways you win: If we make a windfall we come here to celebrate; if we lose we come here to drown our sorrows.” This basically means you don’t need a reason to drink to, be it a thing of celebration or good old depression. Alcohol will always be the perfect companion for it. Anjum Hasan’s Hanging On Like Death turns out to be quite the tear jerker with a sublime narration. The uncharacteristic twist in the end will have you brooding into the wee hours into the night. Jeet Thayil of Narcoplis fame in his short story Delirium shows us how in just a span of 24 hours one can go from having the best day ever to feeling like the scum of the earth. So much so that one actually thanks God for just falling asleep in one’s bed. The fact remains that alcohol also functions as a social lube. Where it helps some to lose inhibitions under the garb of alcohol, it also works for some on the flipside, as Amit Chaudhuri writes in Epilogue: Some Pathologies, about being a non-drinker. That sheds light upon how you automatically become an outcast and are treated with suspicion if you don’t drink. Worse, if you don’t cite legit reasons for not drinking at all. In Permit Room, Sidharth Bhatia writes about drinking in Bollywood. A hero with a Muslim name and a heroine with a glass of wine are still an oddity for the audience and Bhatia examines why the latter is an eyesore. Some of the pieces are honest and blunt in nature. Vijay Nambisan’s Rehab Diary is a terrifying account where he talks about the ugly side of what goes on in the name of Rehabilitation Centres. Broken egos, broken souls. Some worthy enough of living in that hell and some betrayed by kin. Where ‘supposed’ alcoholics are being tricked into rehab. Mehrotra has managed a substantial balance of both established as well as novice writers in the collection, which presents diverse perspectives around a common passion, as well as around the extent some go to in order to pursue the passion. Personal accounts, fiction, sobering tales and fondly remembered anecdotes of sneaking alcohol out from home and tales of well marked days on the calendar when finding booze turns into treasure hunts. For what it stands, drinking has been celebrated in India, bringing life to a party quicker than any other social glue known. We glorify it but forget the humble whisky bottle that made it happen. This book is a sombre attempt where neither the alcoholic is ridiculed nor the drinking glamourised. It turns out to be an impressive collection and is the perfect opportunity for confessions and celebrations all shared over the perfect bottle of wine.Source