I drink therefore I am.

I drink.

For those struggling with this attempt at honesty, I don’t mean green tea. But let me make this easier. I am an enthusiastic consumer of matured and distilled grain and grape.

Some of you may question the intention and timing of this honesty …well, I have had it with people bad mouthing alcohol all the time. “Don’t drink or you’ll be a bum!”, “O MY GOD! You Drink! Is this the education you’ve got- what would your parents say?”  These remarks and the moral police who make them are likely to be met with guilt ridden silence, often followed by an apology; no one says what ought to be said: “Mind your own damn business!”

Those who enjoy drinking deal with a hypocrisy that is revolting. There is a gap between how the people enjoy their proverbial poison (although I’d prefer a less negative word) and the repercussions they have to face for it. Much of this gap arises from a misunderstanding the difference between ‘getting drunk’ and ‘drinking’.  (Just to clarify: Drinking doesn’t always lead to “drunken behavior”). There is also an astounding difference between drinking, being drunk, and being an alcoholic. These obvious differences are hard to miss, yet avoided for the sake of convenience.

By ignoring these differences, quantity becomes a non-issue.  This principle of ignorance is mostly used in institutions which profess and selectively practice the laughable “zero tolerance policy” as an excuse to congratulate oneself for having found a solution to the “drinking problem”.

And who says it’s a problem anyway? Brilliant minds are known to be drinkers. One of India’s finest authors, Khushwant Singh, had been drinking Scotch since 1939; he died when he was 99. Indeed, he admitted to have taught his mother to drink whiskey when she was in her 80s; she died when she was 94. Ernest Hemingway, Picasso, Napoleon, Truman Capote, Christopher Hitchens, Dorthy Parker, Winston Churchill, Edgar Allan Poe, Laxmi Devkota, Charles Bukowski, Margaret Thatcher, Harivansh Rai Bacchan, to name but a few, are known drinkers. Indeed it would be absurd to argue that they were creative because they drank, but it would also be highly biased to suggest that drinking had no effect on the depth and creativity of their work.

(Random thought: Imagine the world divided between drinkers and nondrinkers; surely you will agree that our camp is populated with the more interesting members of our species.)

On a Religious note

According of The Bible, Jesus, during the Marriage at Cana, turned water into wine. Two questions come to mind: how and why?  This text deals with the more interesting question regarding his intention. Surely someone who cured the sick and raised the dead could as easily turn water into any other beverage of his choice. So why wine? Did Jesus do something against the will of God, or worse, something that would have an adverse effect on his flock?

Sticking with religion, Shiva in his Bhairav roop is a patron of the spirit. So is the Goddess Kali. Many Hindu’s offer and consume alcohol as prashad.  As far as culture and religion is concerned, drinking too has an illustrious history to fall back on.

I am forced to bring in religion and culture in an otherwise materialistic debate because the censorious lot uses it as an excuse to snatch my glass. We all know the problems that arise from treating culture, regardless of where it comes from and whose it is, as a monolith.  Yet, the claim that it’s- not- in- our culture- to- drink refuses to die. This claim is, of course, not true. One need only ask which culture alone has the right to speak for “our culture” and the shaky grounds this argument stands on crumbles.   Also, why is it that it is always the culture that takes offense easily that needs protection?

Sexism, and Western Snobbery

The hypocrisy, previously talked about, takes uglier forms in our society when it gets coupled with other vices that affect us. Women are judged by moral standards that no man is put through. If a women drinks, and, worse, is “caught” then as a “characterless” person she is “justifiably” socially ostracized. For a man the consequences are always less severe. Instances where women have been raped because they drank are not uncommon. In such cases the sympathy is reserved: she drank, means it is partially her fault because she chose to drink.

On a different note, boards that read “ENGLISH WINE AND BEER SHOP” are hard to miss. Focus on the word ENGLISH; there is snobbery there. Local varieties, and those who drink them, trigger an automated inferiority complex. In this, alas, the drinkers and the nondrinker both are to blame: the drinkers for their snobbery, and the nondrinkers for showing a higher level of contempt for the cheaper local booze and the mostly poorer folks who drink them. Drinking “English” liquor somehow reflects a colonial era class, which no native liquor can provide.

Law of unintended consequences

If the rationale for the policy of “zero tolerance” was to encourage those who drink to quit, then as far as I know, not many have switched sides.  On the contrary, many have joined in the revelry, and found the occasional sip or two a pleasant stress buster.

Let’s own up: we all know that the policy of abstinence has failed. But still we shy away from making any change to it. Is this because of the taboo involved? Or because a new, more useful, policy is more work than any one is willing to put in? Of course institutions can have a zero tolerance policy de jure and relax de facto, but where does that leave us? At someone’s whim. Bad law is, more often than not, better than arbitrary law.

Master the drink, don’t let it master you. 

While starting this essay I use the word honesty rather than confession, because the latter suggests guilt of committing a crime. And I commit none. Yet, I am troubled by some of the possible repercussions of my honesty. Somehow I find it more difficult to not take a position and not say what needs saying.

Our hopes are not too high. We don’t want institutions to serve booze in the mess. Nor do we expect everyone to enjoy drinking. But to treat our pleasure as a sin, us as Satan’s child, and the issue as a plague is unwarranted.  I repeat: We enjoy drinking. We are not drunks or alcoholics or criminals and we’ll be damned if we are treated like one!

Drinking does affect the ability to make rational decisions. Some end up doing stupid things, and that needs to be checked and punished accordingly. Yet, there are millions out there who drink without falling prey to stupidity. For a drinker, especially in a relatively conservative society, there is nothing worse than instances where people abuse alcohol. They ruin the experience for everyone else. Attention seeking and bawdiness is as offensive—if not more—to drinkers who want to have a pleasant time, than they are to nondrinkers. Just because they can’t hold their liquor doesn’t mean none of us can. If people are bent on breaking the law and then conveniently pass the buck onto alcohol, then that it yet another reason to lock the ungrateful drunks up.

While discussing the content of this essay with some of my friends more hostile to booze (Yes, I do socialize with that lot as well), they took exception to me defending drinking. They tediously gave me the checklist of the effects of alcoholism on our society: domestic violence, crimes, debts and other social ills that get aggravated by alcoholism. And I agree with them—partially. While I agree that alcoholism is a problem we need to tackle with all immediacy, this essay is not about that.  This essay intended to show the hypocrisy involved in the understanding drinking and those who drink it. I am not an apologist for alcoholism. I am an apologist for drinking. This essay, hopefully, has made the distinction clear.

It would be quite a claim to suggest that drinking is a good thing (some do make such a claim), but to claim its very presence as an abhorrence is quite ridiculous as well. Look at the logic used: He broke into a house because he was drunk; he beat his wife because he was drunk; she murdered her husband because she was drunk; she got into a fight because she was drunk, as if alcohol is the reason for such heinous crimes. The person, her circumstances, her context and motivations are the reasons for the crime not the booze alone. Passing the buck from the person and society to alcohol is merely a convenience.

In Book One, Chapter Two of the Kamasutra Vatsyayana claims that pragmatists have always been weary of pleasure and said indulging “in pleasure acts as an obstacle to both religion and power, which are more important, and to other good people…[but] pleasures are a means of sustaining the body, just like food…people must be aware that there are flaws in pleasure, flaws that are like diseases…but people do not stop planting barley because they think ‘there are deer’.” If one does not derive pleasure from liquor so be it, we don’t care. But neither should you about our pleasure. People should not go around telling people what they can enjoy and what they can’t. And if we are to have a meaningful conversation let us at least try to be more open and look at the issue for what it is, and not qs narrow minded construction based on horror stories.

 

(This article has been previously published on Slok’s blog)

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