I must have finished my first large. All of a sudden, I began to hear the voices of my companions as if they were speaking from a distance. It meant I had started having the kicks. I remembered the first time I had taken the drinks. It was on the New Year eve a couple of years ago. A friend of mine who had been to Goa had brought Cashew fenny, a very popular liquor there. He wanted to taste it but was afraid to do it alone. Therefore he had invited me and another friend of his. He stayed in a rented room which was cramped with a bed, a folding table and an old wooden chair that was squeaking whenever somebody sat on it. The three of us had decided to sit on the floor after making space by pushing the furniture to the corner. Prior to that I had some experience of drinking beer but I had never taken hard liquor. It was a full bottle and the host had acquired three small glasses made of stainless steel. We could not dilute the liquor properly with water. To show them that I was very brave, I went on drinking glass after glass and loudly announcing ‘second‘, ‘third’ and I think the last one remembered was the ‘fifth’. Next day when I woke up at eight in the morning, I was lying on the floor and the room had a fetid smell. Later I was told that I had thrown out almost everything that I had drunk. Since then, I remained too cautious while consuming liquor. If I must have it, I limited it to one and half measured pegs.
But here the members of the group were unconcerned of the consequences and were enjoying their drinks, shedding more and more of their inhibitions and were also becoming more and more intimate with each drink. I still felt an outsider and the cocoon that I had woven around myself was still in place. I was straining to break out of it, but it still held strong.
They were all talking about their college days, their teachers, the girls, their hometowns or villages, teasing each other, giggling, grinning, and at times letting out a roar of laughter. On the other hand, I was slowly recoiling into my cocoon, becoming more and more taciturn, and only adding a few words at the edges. The taste of the drink was now less bitter than it was at the start. Vijay was busy in devouring the peanuts as if he was not going to get dinner tonight and he would have to do with peanuts alone. By the time they had finished three drinks each, I gulped the last few drops of my first one and Vijay finished two plates of peanuts.
Pavan started pouring the drink in my glass, but I stopped him before he could pour a Patiala. “ You drink too little”, he said filling the rest of my glass with soda water. “How come you drink it neat? Not even on the rocks?” I asked him. He just smiled in reply.
“He always drinks like that. We have told him many times that it is very harmful but he doesn’t care” Mohan said with some concern. “Yes, it burns your intestines and that may cause ulcers” I said addressing nobody in particular. “Ok, if you insist..” Pavan poured some water into his glass.
Once again, I began slowly sipping my drink and now the conversation had become loud. Butter chicken and tandoori rotis were ordered for dinner and Vijay opted for vegetarian food. Vijay was now munching potato chips. Bhaskar and Mohan had hardly touched either peanuts or potato chips. I was using them in between my sips to lessen the bitter after-taste of the liquor. Pavan seemed to be enjoying the taste of liquor itself. They were now discussing the agricultural operations, the prices of cotton, onion etc. I knew so little about all these things that I could hardly contribute anything.
All of them had strong roots in the villages they had been born and Bhaskar was particularly very appreciative of how hard Mohan toiled in the farms during their vacations. They had lived in a city for the last more than five years. The city had changed their dress, their habits, their language, but not their love of the villages they hailed from. They wanted to escape from farming and rural life; but could not refuse the inevitability of going back to it, should they fail to secure a job. He said that most of his friends have become ‘IAS’. “It means Indian Agriculture Service”, he explained with a wry grin.
“At least you have lands to fall back upon, in case you won’t get anywhere with your education.”
“Too many people are already dependent on it man. At least I don’t hesitate to work on my land. Many guys who have got degrees are neither fit to get a job, nor willing and capable of working in their farms. If your land is not irrigated, it can not support you and your family”, Bhaskar replied.
“At least some of your family lands are irrigated. You till your land with tractor. You own a tractor. Ours is a completely dry land. If the monsoons fail, we got nothing” intoned Vijay.
“Hey, Come on guys. Let’s now have food.” Mohan said.
We all started eating silently. I had not eaten well in the afternoon and was famished. I could easily make out that the chicken was not afresh. It acquires a subtle change in the taste when the boiled chicken is refrigerated. I said so to Mohan, who agreed. But Bhaskar and Pavan could not find any fault with it, for they were basically vegetarians at home. They would never dare eat chicken or even egg in their villages, not to speak of their homes.
By the time we came out of the restaurant, it was already ten. We started running towards the bus stand, which was not more a hundred meters away. We were able to get into it just in time.