Fahad Samar is a filmmaker, columnist and writer. His latest novel, Flash Point has garnered huge response
We Bombayites have certainly evolved in our drinking habits. Readers of a certain vintage may recall their younger days when one drank primarily to get drunk.
25 years ago, most Indian alcohol smelled and tasted like paint thinner. One drank vodka and gin with mixers like Limca or Fanta to mask the acrid taste of white spirits, often without success.
Indian whisky was truly disgusting, made with molasses not malt. Technically, it wasn´t even whisky but flavoured alcohol. A bottle of Scotch was both highly prized and priced. Black Label was poured in small measure and served only to important guests.
Indian rum was cheap and surprisingly good. It is little wonder that it is still such a favourite with the Indian army and hordes of budget conscious tipplers across the land. Many international rum aficionados request visitors from India to bring them a bottle of Old Monk.
Indian beers were also pretty awful, full of glycerine and high alcohol content. People drank beer not as a light, refreshing beverage but in denominations of 500, 1000, 5000 and got progressively smashed until they were out for the count.
The less said about Indian wine the better. For years, we could only buy plonk in this country, sold at Rs 30 a bottle. Indian wine has come a long way but it is ridiculously overpriced. Politicians who own vast tracts of vineyards protect their interests by slapping prohibitive import duties on foreign wine.
During prohibition, the quaffing of country liquor in speakeasies became common practice. The poor still drink narangi and tharra to fall into a calming stupor and many die yearly from this lethal brew.
With the advent of liberalisation, better booze became available in India. As we grew older, we travelled abroad, became financially independent and were exposed to the finer things in life. We began to appreciate alcohol not only as a means to getting sloshed but also as something that ought to be imbibed in moderation for itself.
The magic and mystique of whisky, the richness and complexity of fine wine, the clear, cool crispness of vodka, the heady, herbal infusion of gin, the refreshing, rejuvenating qualities of beer – drinking alcohol can be rewarding if you know when to stop. As with most things in life, moderation is the key. Instead of a Patiala peg, it is so much more satisfying to savour a dram of single malt. Rather than down four vodka shots, slowly sip a martini.
Unfortunately, as far as drinking is concerned, we Indians are much like our wine – we desperately need to mature.