We were in Goa on a holiday, with two small children. After a blissful week on the shores at Miramar and Calangute, the evening before we were to leave, I told my wife it would be sacrilege to leave Goa without tasting feni.
Alone I walked into a bar teeming with clients and found an empty table. When I asked for a drink, the waiter was apologetic: it was the 2nd of October; they wouldn’t serve alcohol. Then, after watching the shadow of disappointment cross my face, he added, ‘Sir, if you don’t put the bottle on the table, I’ll get you one.’
Looking around, I found that every single person in that crowd was enjoying their drink, but the bottles were all on the floor. Abstinence: Goa style!
Further down south, men of Kerala too are reputed for their devotion to the bottle. Throughout Kerala, you find dimly lit joints selling arrack or toddy. At a temple near Kannur, people offer the presiding deity – a pagan God – meat and toddy: God’s own country liquor. Crowds of mostly economically disadvantaged people throng the temple on holidays. Kannur is dominated by Marxists; even religion there seems divided across class lines.
In much of semi-urban India, hotel means restaurant, just as an inn means a pub in England. Once, a colleague and I stopped for lunch at a hotel around two in the afternoon on our way to Ernakulam from Idukky. It was one of those small market places around a bus stand, a beehive of activities. Each of the two floors of the restaurant had rows of eight-by-ten-foot rooms on either side of a long corridor. And every room had two tables. A rather unusual design for a restaurant! My colleague, who was from the area, said the building had begun its life as a hospital, but the owners had shifted to a more profitable line of business. Almost all the tables were occupied by men holding glasses containing liquids, the colours of which ranged from sunset yellow to dark red. My eyebrows rose, ‘At 2 PM?’
My companion said contemptuously, ‘These fellows start drinking before they brush their teeth.’
For the sake of completeness, I must add that none of my numerous friends from Kerala imbibe a drop more than they should, although I have come across many alcoholics elsewhere.
Bengaluru / 22 September 2009 / 393 words