You may not believe this, I had not heard of beer till I cleared graduation! Prohibition meant that we, as young boys then, understood ‘daru’ either as whisky or ‘desi’ sans its other avatars. We only saw filmi heroes holding a glass of whisky and some poor people were said to be addicted to daru [country liquor]. Our knowledge of alcohol began and ended there.
My home could not have provided me the knowledge in this alcohol consumption area. It required a stay in hostel to get ‘educated.’ Looking back I realise that my father must have understood his ‘break-all-rules-son’ quite well. When I packed up my bags to go to hostel, he casually spoke about how inappropriate it was to consume alcohol for persons who had a bout of hepatitis in the recent past. His son [who else?] had suffered a hepatitis attack a few months earlier, but in his innocence had missed the point father was making. Beer was not on agenda then. I realised much later that it was directed at me!
I do not remember how we got this idea of buying beer. Beer then was not sold to persons less than 21 years of age. My room partner bought a bottle of beer. We could afford only one bottle. My share was just a glass, but it gave me a bit of high. When you drink your first glass of beer, you signal to the world that you have now arrived!
The first taste of beer is something you don’t like. It is bitter. I think when you are able to swallow a bit of bitterness, you show signs of growing up – beer tells you this message clearly. And one clan that treated you like grown up persons was the Iranis. They had restaurants at Dadar TT [Is it still there?], Sion Circle had A1. They were all over Bombay then. They never questioned your age. You ordered it and they served. They allowed you time and space. The udipis and shettys cautiously stayed away from beer for quite some time before they succumbed to the people’s choice. But Iranis served it cheap. Real cheap.
I think there is a period in your life when you would like to experiment with breaking rules. Breaking taboos, to be more precise. For me, it coincided with my stay in the hostel. I suppose taboo-breaking is also an aspect of growing. You test what suits you. Some remain teetotallers. They are of very firm resolve. Some like me try anything that is not immoral and check what they are comfortable with. Youngsters experiment with ‘crossing the line’ in dress, language, food [non-veg] and drink. I have always enjoyed breaking taboos. I suppose there is some pleasure in doing things stealthily!
Why do people prefer beer over whisky or any other ‘hard drink?’ I have always felt that there are two kinds of personalities who make beer their first choice. Those who are loners – those who wish to quietly spend time contemplating something about life or some philosophical issues. These are the type of people who would hold their glass of beer for the longest time in a party so that they do not lose control of themselves. They are not the people who will let go of themselves – for example, they are not the type who would do bungee jumping!
There is another type who enjoys the quantity. Drinking copious quantities is possible only with beer. These people wear flashy shirts, laugh aloud easily and frequently, love big size cars, bags, pens, buy thick books and just about anything big. They usually have large paunch as well.
In late seventies Haywards, Golden Eagle and London Pilsner captured the market quickly. There was Arlem and Bombay Beer too. Then came the diet beer and went away! Kingfisher gradually took over everything. My personal preference has always been for draught beer which is unfortunately not available easily in Mumbai. Kingfisher has come out with draught beer in cans, but it is not really a draught beer.
Market offers you ‘strong beer’ like Guru, Haywards; but these are preferred by people who are confused. They cannot decide whether to have whisky or beer. They want to tell their wife ‘I only had some beer, no..no..not whisky.’ Timid people!
I have rarely enjoyed my beer in restaurants. If you want to enjoy your beer, you must choose the place too. Try it in some of the Bangalore pubs. Try it in the US Club, the southern-most point of Mumbai that gives you both breeze and the sea. And of course, very tranquil atmosphere. No venue in Mumbai can match US Club for enjoying your glass of beer. Taj offers you some good places for dining and a drink with friends, but it comes a distant second.
I have had some memorable moments with a glass of beer in hand. I entered a pub in London in the evening. It was quite crowded. People were watching a football match, getting tense when their team was under attack and cheering it loudly when it took the ball near the goal. It was quite an experience. Taking cue from it I organised a party at my home when India and Australia clashed in South Africa in the World cup. India lost. The effect was bad. Beer never tasted so bitter. I think beer can go only with cheer; you can drown your sorrow in hard liquor.
When I travelled the Caribbean, which I did several times, I noticed that Jamaicans, Bejans and Trinidadians have almost fierce loyalty to the beer made in their country. Jamaicans opt for Red Stripe, Bejans for Banks Beer, and Trini for Carib. In Australia one finds a similar loyalty to VB. Beer is part of their culture. We Indians are influenced by availability of foreign brands of beer, although Kingfisher rules supreme so far, but it does not have the same emotional appeal of Red Stripe, Banks and Carib.
I had thought that following my retirement I would relax at home frequently with a glass of beer. No, it was not to be. Man proposes and God disposes! Doctors declared me a diabetic. With that my darling wife placed a ban on beer. Sigh!
And with that ban on beer, the pleasure of drinking beer stealthily has returned! Cheers!!!
PS: Benjamin Franklin was right when he said ‘“Beer is proof that God loves us and wants us to be happy!” How true, Sir!!