Recurring Decimals…..

Everything here is irrelevant

Friday Cocktail Blogging: The Culture of drinking …..

with 17 comments

………. according to this (slightly old) article, appears to be as ancient as the Egyptians:


Today, it sounds like a spring-break splurge on the order of "Girls Gone Wild": Drink huge quantities of beer, get wasted, indulge in gratuitous sex and pass out β€” then wake up the next morning with the music blaring and your friends praying that everything will turn out all right.

But back in 1470 B.C., this was the agenda for one of ancient Egypt’s most raucous rituals, the "festival of drunkenness," which celebrated nothing less than the salvation of humanity.


"We are talking about a festival in which people come together in a community to get drunk," she said. "Not high, not socially fun, but drunk β€” knee-walking, absolutely passed-out drunk."

Cool !

On a somewhat related note, I have wondered about the strongly negative cultural connotations that drinking carries in India society. I do not necessarily mean getting into drunken orgies or sloshing yourself silly, and I understand that in many areas of India there is a severe problem of chronic alcoholism with the side effects of wife beating and all. However, considering that a host of gods in the pantheon of Hindu religion indulge in alcohol (Somras – the nectar of god and all that), it is strange that even moderate social drinking never evolved into a social custom in India.

Japan has its sake, Russia has vodka and most countries in the world drink wine or variants and have traditional toasts etc for most social occasions. Not in India. Even when you try to buy alcohol legitimately, you need to talk to this person behind heavy metal bars, making you feel as if you are indulging in the worst kind of sin. Moreover, even if men can drink, the consumption of alcohol by women is highly frowned on (it is supposedly contrary to the sati-savitri image of Indian women)! While Hindi films are not the exact mirrors of society, they do depict this twisted morality – the villain and vamps drink unabashedly, hero does so only in response to unrequited love or rebelling against society and at best the drunk is a comic caricature (Keshto Mukherjee made a living out of it).

Our ancient practices of sexuality were supposedly put in wraps by Victorian prudishness. Considering the English penchant for downing a few pints, you can’t blame our abstention on them (although it could be that drinking was considered a British/Western practice and hence not adopted). Post-independence, the government has played a role by pandering to Gandhian prohibitionism and taxing the hell out of liquors, especially foreign ones. This has ensured that drinking good quality alcohol remained the rich elite’s preserve, leaving the poor to consume cheap, unregulated stuff (often with tragic consequences). By making alcohol a forbidden fruit aura, it has also ensured that when people do get their hands on the stuff, the worst kind of excesses are indulged in.

Of course, among the current generation with its disposable income and mushrooming of bars and pubs around the country, drinking is not just socially accepted, but possibly considered cool as well.

Of course, I might be just talking through my hat here. More erudite comments welcome.

[Coming up in future editions: Do drinks have genders ? ]

Finally, today’s drink recommendation – nothing fancy or new, but the old and dependable Manhattan. It is a good drink to make when you have cheap whiskey (never use good quality scotch/bourbon to make this drink). As usual, there are variations all over the place. The way like it, is closer to what is called the ‘Perfect Manhattan’.

  • 2.5 parts Whiskey (Canadian Rye/Bourbon/Jack Daniels etc)
  • 0.5 part sweet vermouth
  • 0.5 part dry vermouth
  • Dash of Angostura Bitters
  • A Maraschino cherry

Add the whiskey, vermouths and the bitters to a glass shaker with crushed ice. Lightly stir the mixture (best way it to gently rotate the shaker itself rather than using a stirring spoon) and strain into a chilled tumbler glass. Add a piece of cherry (not the syrup). Some recipes call for squeezing a slice of orange peel over the drink and around the sides of the glass.

Update: For those Indian fans who are emotionally (and perhaps $-wise too) invested in the team’s fortune in the World Cup, let go of formalities, and gulp down the whiskey neat. Yeah – that might help.

Enjoy and drink responsibly.

Written by BongoP'o'ndit

March 23, 2007 at 3:41 pm

Posted in Life, Martinis, Personal, Trivia

17 Responses

Subscribe to comments with RSS.

  1. Need a whole slew of these today.. What a day!


    March 23, 2007 at 5:32 pm

  2. Ditto Sakshi. Where is the daaru when you need it? Damn.

    BTW you forgot all those deshi daaru aadas. Always had a ragged curtain hiding ppl enjoying their ‘madira’ πŸ™‚ Love to cite ‘Aaj Sunday hai…aaj daaru peene ka din hai’ line by Ranji from Chaalbaaz (followed by a hilarious ‘mein madira nahi peeti ji’)


    March 23, 2007 at 10:40 pm

  3. […] raises an interesting question: why is drinking still looked down upon in India? Β Japan has its sake, Russia has vodka and most […]

  4. I am an Indian Woman (albeit expat at the moment) who drinks (from a couple of pegs of whiskey neat to unwind in the quiet of my home to the more raquous kind of drinking that is common in grad school ) and I thought about what you are saying here for a while…I was of the impression that alcohol and sexuality became sinful at the same time, but before the british, around the advent of buddhism and reformist hinduism. And the problem was agravated to where it got by the whole Gandhian thing. Am I mistaken?


    March 24, 2007 at 12:27 pm

  5. Where does one buy bitters, my friend? googling didn’t help.


    March 24, 2007 at 2:42 pm

  6. The opposition to alcohol in Indian society was primarily an offshoot of Brahminical philosophy, which placed great emphasis on the power of the mind to reason, and by reasoning, to escape the illusion (maya) of reality. Unlike other cultures that came to be opposed to alcohol (or any form of intoxication), Hindu culture never considered alcohol to be “sinful.” On the contrary, an Arab traveller to India during the Mughal period explicitly states in his memoirs that the Hindus “are not averse to alcohol, but hold it in great contempt.” Thus, the more precise answer to your question of why moderate social drinking, even without getting sloshed, is looked down upon in India is that a wise and thoughtful principle of moderation was overapplied in the interest of caution when it became a mass phenomenon, and became a social norm.

    To some extent, this process was probably reinforced by the Buddhist reform movement within Hinduism. Many of Buddha’s greatest followers and successors were Brahmins who had no sense that they were “converting” to another religion. If anything, Buddhism was an attempt at the extension of Brahminical principles to a wider section of the population. But I digress.

    The commenter who speaks of the “aggravation” of a “problem” has it wrong, in my opinion. Ensuring that everyone is moderate in their alcohol consumption is socially desirable, but much harder to achieve without general social opprobrium directed at alcohol. The consumption of alcohol by women is looked down upon because being intoxicated leaves women more vulnerable to various forms of exploitation, and that is as true today as at any point in the past.


    March 24, 2007 at 3:44 pm

  7. ahem…..don’t you mean “cocktail” πŸ™‚

    that said…India has a proud tradition of brewing illicit liquor, hooch if you may.

    The finest booze made out of sugarcane, coconut, palm wine (arrack, toddy, “kallu saarayam”…..booze by any name remains booze) comes out of India.

    A noble tradition.
    (read some here).


    March 24, 2007 at 5:52 pm

  8. @Lokapala : Sorry about the poor choice of words earlier, what I meant by “aggravated” is extended beyond the Brahmin part of the society (I realized the Brahmin-buddhist extension).

    @bongo : Sorry for using your comment space for an OT conversation!


    March 25, 2007 at 8:00 am

  9. […] it OK to Drink in India? Not according to BongoP’o’ndit, who describe the lack of a social drinking culture in […]

  10. @Sakshi: As an eminently quotable fellow named Mark Twain said: “Sometimes too much to drink is barely enough……”

    @Patrix: Yeah daaru addas ! Another thing immortalized in Hindi films. But again – that negative social connotation (whereas a pub or bar do not have that

    @curiouscat: you could be right, unfortunately I am not an expert in social history – Lokapala’s comment seems to make sense though. And you do not have to apologize, the comments section is to carry out discussions so that we may learn !

    @Lokapala: Thanks for the erudite commentary. It does make sense in many ways. And even with social drinking becoming more acceptable, I guess it will take time to get over the inertia.

    @sunil: Thanks for the correction.
    Unfortunately I have never had the fortune to consume toddy but have heard good things !


    March 25, 2007 at 4:15 pm

  11. these days. it is indeed cool for us women to go pub-hopping in India but the taboo is so strong that you would have to resort to all sorts of excuses to your parents about where you are headed.

    also ‘baang’ is another of those indigenous drinks to India.


    March 26, 2007 at 5:16 am

  12. The Angostura Bitters are in the supermarket right near the A-1 Steak Sauce and the Worcestershire Sauce, mustard, etc.


    March 26, 2007 at 4:23 pm

  13. Nice site! kabababrubarta


    March 26, 2007 at 7:32 pm

  14. Nice post! India and drinking – certainly worth an in-depth look. One of my knowledgable relatives claimed that Somras, on which the gods and the demi-gods got sloshed, was definitely beer made from barley.

    As for the puritanism towards alcohol, I would point to Morarji Desai as more draconian than even Gandhi. During the brief reign of Desai as India’s prime minister, Delhi went completely dry. And that Desai himself was given to drinking his own urine for “therapeutic” purposes and he interfered with the drinking habits of others, literally “pissed off” many citizens of Delhi. I noticed that anger pointedly expressed by some witty passerby who had had painted the graffiti “Morarji Bar” on the wall of a public urinal near a busy bus stop in central Delhi.

    Ruchira Paul

    March 27, 2007 at 1:00 pm

  15. […] come to the cocktail. Recently, I have been experimenting with bitters in my cocktails (e.g the Manhattan and what I called The Bitter Rose in previous editions of FCB). In the really old days, bitters – […]

  16. What is so great about alcohol? It is an intoxicant and poison that takes one mind into a world that is less real than the current one we live in. Alcohol is so overrated and don’t see how it can be in accordance with Hindu dharma.

    And as a man I can see nothing less attractive than a drunk female. Can’t speak on behalf of females but I’m sure they don’t find a drunk man attracive!


    April 9, 2007 at 11:23 am

  17. IUDgmI Wow, it can be truth


    December 19, 2007 at 5:44 pm

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: