I drink only for medicinal purposes. Absolutely true. I don’t drink to enjoy myself, and I never get drunk. I am what in Bengali is called a JMTT – jaate maataal taale thik. Which translates really roughly to mean someone who is drunk maybe but keeps his wits about him while in that inebriated state.
I graduated to Old Monk very soon after mother’s milk had run its course. There was a short interregnum of cow’s milk – actually no. During my childhood days, there was no such thing as cow’s milk. We made do with adding milk powder to boiling water and drinking the proceeds. Whatever. After this brief period of ersatz cow’s milk, I switched to Old Monk and have stayed with it since. And look what it has done to me. Kids I teach call me a cool dude, at least twice a year. The other day I was complimented for my roguish good looks. I can still fit into jeans I had bought some seven years ago. I still have most of my hair. I have lost my sylph-like figure, but my paunch looks like a dwarf pumpkin rather than a prize watermelon. And this because of, and not in spite of, Old Monk. The first time I tried the blessed brew, I was reassured by the picture of the wise old pious and religious figure pictured on the label of the bottle. I knew instinctively that this was the elixir of life that I had read about. I remembered having read that monks in India and elsewhere had been in the vanguard of brewing excellent stuff – witness the references to soma rasa and kaaran pani in our ancient literature. And we would do well to remember that the prince of champagnes is named after a monk too – Dom Perignon.
So when I read that the monks in ancient Scotland had invented and refined the art of distillation, I was confirmed in my suspicion that whisky must be a good thing, indeed as much one of the glories of human civilisation as Old Monk is. I have tried the various concoctions that masquerade under the garb of whisky – including the Irish heresies, the strange American brew called Bourbon (George MacDonald Fraser used a better word – “burboon” – to describe this undescribable arak), and of course the various brands of dishwater that are sold in India as whiskey under the banner IMFL (India Made Foreign Liquor). Somewhere in the course of my experiments, I encountered single malts, and I have been a better man since. You should have seen me then, turning over a new leaf, making resolutions which I have kept to much better than to New Year resolutions. The names of single malts courses through my brain like a 15-year-old Laphroaig. In my extensive research on the subject, I discovered that the word ‘whisky’ originates from a Gaelic phrase uisge beatha, a translation of aqua vitae, which literally means ‘water of life.’
My son, at some point in time, wanted to study at the University of Aberdeen – I am full of encouragement in case he wishes to revive the idea. All he has to do is find the money, and he will find his old man a great friend, philosopher and guide who will show him his way around the various whiskys that Scotland still makes. A pretty fair deal I think.
I read in one of Fraser’s works that a Scotsman believes that there is no health problem – short of a nasty stomach wound – which whisky can’t cure. Friends from Goa say the same thing about feni. My first few encounters with feni were really fraught. The stuff I bought in shops was godawful. Would corrode a steel trunk, they would. Until a kindly soul in South Goa got me the real stuff from some friend of his, who knows a cousin, who knows the parish priest who knows the best feni chap in a 30 km radius around Varca. I never met the magician who made stuff. This is of a piece with all good feni. You never get to meet the head wizard; you always get to meet someone who knows someone who can get it for you. I am told that the parish priests are the key repository to such arcane knowledge. So we are back to where we started – all these good things of life have been brought to earth by men of religion, men of god.
Let’s drink to the men of god – long may they thrive and prosper. And long may they keep the tradition of preserving the sacred knowledge of making and knowing of a good drink. Amen!
(first posted on sulekha.com on Mar 27 2007)