As I made my way inside the airport, I found myself heading straight to the food-court. I was heading home from Chennai, after spending a meagre 40 days in a hostel where I was pursuing my PG Diploma. The food-court invasion wasn’t really my standard airport ritual, and this wasn’t exactly a feeling of freedom after being subjected to 6 weeks of the mess food. That night, as a boy growing up in a middle-class family, a new chapter of my life was going to unfold. I was going to have my first drink with Dad. Some nervous chomping was in order.
If you’re frowning at the heightened emotional state for something so ‘chilled out’ – let me explain to you how significant this moment really is. DDLJ’s Anupam Kher is basically some Bollywood optimism injected with Aditya Chopra’s version of ‘cool’ from the 90s. Indian fathers generally don’t celebrate their son’s failure to graduate from college. Forget popping champagne with him after that. Amrish Puri’s Baauji is more like it. That steely glare could make even the most restless children lay still, and thus was the more familiar sight of the two. For me being obedient came from a place of reverence and some fear since my father, 6 feet and muscular, looked totally capable of slapping the living daylights out of me. He never raised his hand on me, but that’s a different story.
It is important to note that most of us (especially Bong kids) get used to our mother’s slaps by the time we hit teenage. But a father’s beating is like a chicken-pox diagnosis that you hear about from others all your life, and hope you never have to face. And that is exactly why that first drink with your father is such a momentous occasion. It is at this very moment in life, that your father chooses you over his Laphroaig 10. He considers you worthy of the most expensive whisky in his cabinet. And he finally stamps the label of ‘adult enough’, and that is a serious seal of approval for any desi kid.
I began experimenting with alcohol in my early 20s, but I didn’t tell my parents about it until after I got my first job. One of the office parties left me dehydrated, looking like one of the War Boys from Mad Max: Fury Road. And in that morning phone call my Mum could smell the alcohol on me from 900 miles away, as I spoke to her massively hungover. I didn’t know what to expect, but I could hear Dad’s amusement as Mom filled him up on their son’s Saturday night mishap. I let out a sigh of relief.
Alcohol wasn’t exactly taboo for us during our growing up years, as I stole sips of beer and whisky from my Dad’s glass during family gatherings. I couldn’t understand why people would shell out thousands of bucks for something so disgusting as compared to a sweet soft drink which was so much tastier. Obviously I was too young to understand intoxication. But Dad never really stopped us from drinking with him. There was always the middle class conditioning that you drink with your father after you have accomplished something in life, which is exactly what I did. I remember my elder brother sent the family a mail full of Wikipedia links of all the spirits he had tasted at the bar, after finding a job post-Grad school.
When I reached home, I was greeted by my father and my elder brother. With the 2016 Wimbledon final playing on TV, my Mum (who would join the three men in her family) made Malai Kebabs and tore open a packet of peanuts from Bharuch. That’s when my brother and I nervously held our glasses to our parents, clinked them, and gulped down the most expensive alcohol to have entered my system. The celebrations didn’t quite pick up from there, as Federer lost to Djokovic in 5 sets.
However, we went from being father-son to fellow adults within a span of 60 ml. That drink was also an assurance that he would confide in me things he wasn’t very sure about, and that I could do the same. It was an unspoken thing where he showed faith in me to drink like a responsible adult. And that trust instilled in me a sense of responsibility more than anything else.
Looking back, I think it was more than just a drink.