I have always been a heavy drinker – by any standard of tippling. I have been the chosen one, Bacchus’ blue eyed boy, ever since I can remember. I love my “whiskey- pani” and have literally drunk life to the lees (drunk myself silly, say detractors) not a single evening having been lost without the customary swigs followed by sheer bliss, or drunken stupor, or whatever.
The Doctors have warned against excessive intake of alcohol, friends (?) and family have waxed eloquent about the need to go slow and drink only that much that is supposed to keep the heart in good humor (and clinical fitness), envious do-gooders have passed judgment, curious bystanders have made snide remarks, elders have surmonised …. all, to no avail. I have heard them out, put on the blanket of the blank expression on my face, nodded my head as if in abject submission the “morning after” and begun punctually, in right earnest at the gong of eight.
Like the tough man I was, I got going whenever the going got tough. When I could handle things no more, I downed my sorrows in the right spirit. When I was happy, I celebrated with the customary fire water. 24X7 like the City that never Sleeps. Oh, how I loved the feeling of inebriation, of the mind being encountered with a flood of questions, first thing in the morning, to which seldom did I have had the answers “Where was I last night? When did I get back? What did I have for dinner, who all were there with me?”
Financial down turns, end of year considerations, economic recession, shooting inflation, current account deficits, pink slips, nothing could deter me from meeting my beloved in the evening, or from celebrating her companionship. Yes, the times were bad financially and I was, in effect like a Ponzi scam artist whose collections had dried up. Still, while all expenses were curtailed to tide over the difficult phase, the booze flowed, unhindered.
However, on that fateful day, I had just enough money to buy me my ticket to nether land – just enough to buy the quota for the night, when my six year old walked in with one of his innumerable demands. “Today we have a Mohun Bagan match. Go get the ritual chocolate boat pastries. I haven’t had them in a while and feel like having them right now” he commanded.
It has been a tradition in our family to consume boat shaped chocolate pastries from a particular up market confectionery to wish our beloved soccer team luck (the boat being the mascot of the National Club), especially on days of important matches. This particular pastry incidentally is also my son (and yours truly’) favourite.
“I don’t have enough money to buy pasties dear” I cajoled. “I guess we’ll have to wait for the next match”. My son, who is extremely understanding and accommodating, his tender age notwithstanding, accepted my submission and moved on and in due time, I hit the bottle had my fill and went off to sleep.
But something, somewhere had snapped. Through layers of alcohol enforced sleep I was asking myself questions. “Do I really love the apple of my eyes, less than even a glassful of cheer? What is this elixir that forced me to lie to my innocent child? What kind of a father I am, who puts his addiction before the happiness of his child? Am I such a slave to my compulsion that I am willing to put even my child’s wishes, who I love more than myself, on the ashtray with stubbed cigarettes and discarded tissues?” I tossed and turned, like Snowy in the Tintin comics, with the Devil in one thought blurb urging him to lick the nectar dropping from Captain Haddock’s bottle while the Angel in the other thought bubble restraining him…
Halfway through the night, I realised it was too heart wrenching an issue to sleep on and ambled back to my study. The matter was of grave concern and naturally I poured myself a stiff one, to mull over the intricacies of this issue that had jolted me out of my alcohol induced slumber.
For the first time in my life, the whiskey felt flat, the malt failing to unleash the symphony of flavors that have greeted me customarily. The flesh was willing, but the spirit was weak as I stood face to face with my soul, glass firmly in hand. I had to take a call – on the one hand was the love of my son, on the other, my beloved who has never left my side, even when I have passed away in sheer bliss, during the last one and a half decade.
My friends used to opine that if there ever was an Olympic event for arm wrestling, I was sure to emerge winners, considering the fact that I did no exercise but sit in the bar and raise my glass to the lips all evening. Even that faithful arm was refusing in sheer disgust, ensuring the proverbial slips between the cup and the lip as my mind filled with a cocktail of self deprecating righteousness, pity, hatred, helplessness and grief.
I don’t know how long I had remained in that state as my rational mind with all its faults played out the game of dice with my soul that is fueled by my love for my son. The first rays of the sun woke me up: a new dawn was breaking and birds were chirping everywhere. For once, my head was not shrouded in the fumes of inebriation and as I watched myself pour the unfinished drink slowly down the sink, I was overwhelmed with a joy I had never felt. I guess, it is the déjà vu of a new dawn with the birds singing, “love you son”!