A DRINK THAT WAS NOT A DRINK

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When I was in RS Colaba (Receiving Station), Bombay of the Indian Navy, I was friends with many MLRs (family men). Many a holiday saw a bunch of us inmates of RS Colaba barracks inviting ourselves to a gullible friend’s house to get a little high before the sumptuous lunch got up by the expert of a cook back in the barracks.

Gin was not a luxury that was served in the canteen. Not many sailors were fond of it either though an occasional peg or two of the clear stuff was never said no to (saying no to ANY stuff, be it of any colour in a rainbow, is not only unthinkable but in a seafarer’s life, almost blasphemous). So, in keeping with the tradition we had developed (Or, if you want it said in plain language, the propensity we had developed), one Sunday, three of us found ourselves knocking at the door of a Leading Seaman, a jolly good fellow if ever there was one. He was a senior by years, but that did not weigh too much with him. He looked upon us more like young brats to be tolerated than his juniors. Those were the days when you could visit anyone without prior intimation, and that was what exactly we did that day.

He was not really surprised to see us, but we could discern a certain perplexity doing a quick crossing on his face. He must have thought, “Good God, these buggers are going to burn a hole in my pocket today,” because that was the sentence written all over the crease on his face that made the crossing. Were we sensitive to his sentiment? You bet we were not: we were made of stuff that was stronger than gin. Besides, a drink is a drink, and you cannot let something as mundane as pity on someone’s purse getting thin overtake your strong emotions.

Before long, our host (an unenthusiastic one, I can tell you) asked us point blank, “What do you want?” It was the simplest question to answer at 11.30 on a Sunday morning. The Sardarji of the pack, my best friend of those days, said before anyone could open his mouth, “GIN!” so loudly that the sailors enjoying their holiday in the whole block would have come out with the gin in their cupboards.

So, gin it was going to be. For the record, I never had tasted it and was eager to learn all about the spirit. The host and a Tel I (a rank in the navy) among us went off to catch the bus No. 3 to Colaba and were back at the speed of an arrow that travels with the wind. The Leading Seaman had obviously got over his pensiveness and was positively bubbly. The two reached the second-floor residence leaping like monkeys on all fours! The madam of the house was such an understanding soul that she wandered off to the kitchen to fry some eggs.

There was no cigarette! A drink that does not have smoke twirling above to fill the air? No, that just can’t be! I was the one sitting close to the door and so got up and went down to buy cigarettes from the small restaurant near the bus stop that sold cigarettes. I almost ran drawing mild enquiring glances from all the passers-by. So complete was my thirst that had to be quenched by gin that I did not care that there were ha, girls among the onlookers.

When I returned with the pack of cigarettes and with a face that exuded victory, I saw the spectacle of the four full glasses of gin and the three boys sitting impatiently. The glasses were toasted even before I sat. I took a long drink off my glass and set the glass down as did the others. Gin, I found to my surprise, was not something you screwed your face at when
you took your first sip. In fact, it was so pleasant a drink that I regretted not having had it previously. When I finished the first drink, I was not feeling drunk at all. When I told the others, they praised me for the aplomb I displayed and the way held my drink though I had drunk close to two pegs. I was simultaneously happy at my being labelled a steady drinker but also annoyed at not having a feeling of having had a drink at all. I could, however, see they were getting their money’s (or, rather the Leading Seaman’s) worth.

We finished our first round within a reasonable time. The host poured the whole bottle down the glasses and emptied
it. The others were as limitedly drunk as was to be expected. I felt I had had no drink at all but saw I had to pretend as if I were in the same state as they were to maintain the equilibrium. I pretended overtime and did a dance step or two
impromptu to a tuneless song I sang to show I was enjoying my acquaintance with gin.

When we returned to the barracks and were eating lunch in the mess, suddenly there was a chorus of loud laughter
pointed at me from twenty or so boys there. The buggers back in the sailors’ residence had drunk the whole bottle of gin
before I returned from my errand and with a straight face, given me plain water to drink. I had been behaving drunk with
bloody water! Adding insult to injury was my bloody dance!

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