During my drinking days, the one drink that I really relished was Beer. I used to love ads and jokes about the virtues of this ale; the only sparkling drink I could afford at all times, whether posted aboard or ashore or even abroad. For example: ‘Beer drinkers make better lovers’; or, ‘Beer drinkers live longer’.
The one joke that I detested was:
“When I drink wine, the music of heavens plays softly in my ears; a slow warmth envelops me like mist in the mountains; and magical elation uplifts my mood. I can hear the jingle of distant bells……Beer, on the other hand, makes me burp.”
I, on the other hand, felt completely at home with beer and could drink it in gallons. My idea of ecstasy was to have beer on a beach in the afternoon and then sleep on the warm sand under a tree.
My home station is Kandaghat in Shimla Hills, exactly ten kms from the famous and country’s earliest Mohan Meakin’s Brewery. Golden Eagle is their brand of beer; the only beer made with spring water in India as opposed to ground water used for all the other beers. Mohan Meakin’s Brewery actually came up in 1855 at Kasauli and brewed Lion Beer. But, it soon shifted to Solan near my hometown and it is still there. Every time we pass the place, whether by road or by train, the strong smell of the brew overpowers us.
And then, one day, we visited the Brewery. It was an experience to taste the brew at its various stages. Also, the posters from the British days filled us with nostalgia. When we left the brewery, we were high on both counts.
After I joined the Navy, we could have foreign beers such as Carlsberg and Heineken. But, the first beer that I actually had abroad was the Russian Peeva during the visit of my ship Himgiri to the Black Sea port of Odessa in 1976. Ugh, what a taste it was as compared to the light ale that we were used to. Some of the officers from the ship suggested that it was perhaps recirculated beer. Most people stuck to Vodka after that; the popular drink of the Russians.
I always liked Ian Fleming’s James Bond novels having been made into movies. However, the only thing that cheesed me off was his trade-mark Martini in all the movies. Last to last year in April, I rejoiced, when I heard the news that Daniel Craig, as James Bond, in the next Bond movie would be swigging a beer. Cheers (Read: ‘Bond With The Brand’) I haven’t seen Skyfall; but, those who have seen it can tell me if he actually turns out to be a better lover because of Heineken?
Of all the incidents that I remember about my beer-drinking days, the one in Coimbatore, whereat I was posted as a young Lieutenant takes the cake. Being the junior most officer posted in Navy’s Leadership School named Agrani (to be pronounced as agranhi or Leading; however, most people have come to pronounce it as Aggraani, making it Fire Queen), I was made in-charge of producing a play to be staged in the Southern Naval Command Annual Dramatic Competition at Cochin. I made the trials and tribulations of looking for a drama and the potential actors into a play called ‘Hamara Drama’. To cut a long story short, we bagged the Best Play award and I got the Best Actor.
We were already in high spirits. However, after driving back from Cochin to Coimbatore on my co-actor Amarjeet Bajwa’s Bullet, the celebrations started in real earnest. Those days a 750 ml bottle of beer used to cost all of Five Rupees. Bajwa and I finished 95 Rupees worth of beer that night; this we came to know next morning. This makes roughly two gallons of beer in each tummy.
What do we do with this much beer? Yes, some of it goes out the Peeva way. However, we still had enough to put us in seventh heaven. That’s the time when sleep doesn’t come easily. So, against all sane warning, we went for a drunken drive and landed up in an army styled camp at Madhukarai firing range. This range is next to a hill. I looked at the nearest end of the hill with steep rocks and thorny bushes and in my drunken stupor declared to Bajwa that I felt like climbing the hill as nostalgia about my home station in Shimla Hills had overpowered me. He looked at the steep climb and concluded that it was like inviting sure death. Anyway, before he could talk me out of the idiotic idea, I had already started climbing. Looking back, we now think that one small slip and we won’t have been here to tell the story. It took us nearly an hour and a half to reach the hill-top. It was three in the morning when we reached the temple door-step.
I was about to enter the temple when Bajwa reminded me that the correct way to enter the temple was after ringing the brass bell hanging from a chain. On his orders, I went about ringing the bell in great earnestness. Suddenly we had the temple pujari, running down the hill shouting something in Tamil that we knew was: “Ghost, ghost”.
Running down the hill? Well, at this stage we discovered that on that side of the hill, there were steps from the foothill all the way up and that the steps were lit with tube-lights. And to think we nearly lost our lives climbing over slippery and steep rocks. But, then that’s the effect of beer for you.
Then there was another time when I got sizzled with beer. And this time it was not after drinking more than a gallon of it. I was undergoing the higher command course with the army and we were visiting the North East. At Kalimpong, there was an evening party for us. By this time, I had given up drinking; however, my course mates insisted I have some. I accepted. It came out that after just two mugs of it, I was already feeling high. So when the next time the steward came to serve me, I took out the white serviette and saw the bottle. It was a bottle of one He Man beer and it was 8 % strong whereas the normal lager is about 5 %. It was then revealed to me that in that part of the world, it was difficult for bar owners to obtain hard liquor permits. So, they obtained what could be easily obtained; that is, beer permit. And, since the locals wanted their money’s worth or literally bang for their buck, they preferred to go to the maximum strength permissible.
Later, of course, I discovered that there are other equally strong beers such as Khajuraho, Kalyani Black Label and Haywards 5000; however, I always preferred the light variety so that one could spend hours devouring it and feel nice about it.
When I went to Spain, I discovered that their beer Cerveza is really light beer both in alcohol content and in colour. I also came to know that after Germany, Spain is the second most beer-guzzling country in Europe. On the evenings of the weekends, any bar would have about a hundred young people inside and another three to five hundred outside drinking beer. I felt totally at home there and guzzled beer in large quantities.
Urdu poets can write voluminous tributes to grape wines and even have songs and ghazals about them; but, to me, my loveliest piece of poetry is a sign at a roadside bar in my part of the world: CHILD BEAR SERVED HEAR. I still freak out on that.
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