Today’s Scintilla Project prompt that inspired my story is “Tell a story about a time you got drunk before you were legally old enough to do so.”
The thing is, even today, I wouldn’t be able to tell you the minimum age to drink legally in India, because they’re always changing the limit when some kid’s night on the town goes horribly wrong. I never really drank underage myself, but I couldn’t resist this prompt either. This piece I’ve written today is about another form of illegal drinking.
My experimentative years were offset into my mid-20s, having spent the major part of college night life, begrudgingly, behind closed hostel doors. So when I moved to Ahmedabad, I was relieved to find that grad school was a lot freer. No curfews, no patrols. Heck, even the terrace floor had no parapet walls, and you could sit by the edge, if your heart allowed it, and dangle your legs over the 30 foot drop onto the concrete catwalk below.
I soon learnt that bootleggers lurking in the college parking lot were not an uncommon sight. The state of Gujarat is one of the few in India where prohibition is still enforced. Not exactly the best scenario when you’re a grad student in desperate need of an outlet. What’s that thing about people only wanting that which they cannot have? We soon came to rely on a classmate as our bootleg liaison. Of course, this also meant we were at his mercy. And so, in spite of my father having introduced me early to the ‘finer’ things in life with a glass of apple cider, within months I’d moved way past cider and, I’d imagine, also way past ‘fine’.
At the beginning of the program, parties were innocent enough. A few plastic glasses and some soda always accompanied the beverage in question, and light banter and raucous laughter was exchanged over the crunch-munch of Lays and Kurkure until the surly, mustachioed watchman would come by to lock up. And if we weren’t ready to go home, a hushed conversation over an extra plastic glass was always enough to buy us time.
The semesters went by and the parties became more rowdy, ‘outlets’ in the true sense of the term, and one evening I watched varying degrees of drama unfold in a smoky, crowded hostel room before our last assignment. When finally the host of that particular party flew into a tantrum on not being allowed one last drink (or so he said), and collapsed on the floor in a fitful of sobs, my three commandments of drinking party etiquette were born.
COMMANDMENT 1: Thou shalt not drink and dial.
Drunk-dialing, IMHO, is the most annoying thing anybody could do at a party. It’s just rude. It’s also very embarrassing. Especially if you’re the one who has to point out to your friend that while she thought she was whispering sweet nothings to her boyfriend the night before, it was really some other guy. And the only way you knew this was because you grabbed the phone in between to call the boyfriend a damn loser. I mean, if everybody goes about drunk dialing, where the %&!# is the party?
I suppose that’s why this was the easiest for me to break. It was an intimate gathering, three girls in a hostel room, one of them knocking down neat scotch for the very first time, the other a serial drunk dialer, and the third one… well, me. In two hours, the first one was flat on the bed, moaning into the phone by her ear, the second one was outside, needless to tell you what she was doing. As I sat there wondering what happened to old-fashioned conversation, I picked up my cellphone and made an international call to an old friend.
COMMANDMENT 2: Thou shalt not drink and bawl.
That last thing you want when you’re having a good time is for the party to disintegrate into a Greek tragedy. But unfortunately, this happened very often.
The truth is that I had a really rough time in grad school. I was always up against the odds, and if anybody should’ve been going home swimming in their own tears after every party, it should’ve been me. But I preferred to cry on my own time. Until my graduation day that is. After the ceremony, a couple of us gathered at a friend’s house. Whoever the bartender was, he wasn’t doing any of us a favor with the stiff drinks he poured. Pretty soon, most of us were reduced to blithering likenesses of our sober selves, which isn’t the bad part… really. That started when somebody thought this was a good time to get some 3-star hotel coffee.
I still do not remember what the name of that hotel was, or what it looked like. Nevertheless, we placed our orders. The conversation shifted to grades and I don’t even remember what the trigger was at this point, but I knew I was thinking to myself how much I’d busted my ass to graduate and that there was no recognition of my effort outside of the degree that was handed to me. I remember thinking how unfair it was because some others had it easier than I did. And that’s when the waterworks began.
I’m really thankful that my good friend Pailu was there that night. She took me outside for some fresh air and helped me get the whole thing out of my system. That’s the only time I’ve ever drunk-bawled, but I always think, that if I hadn’t I would’ve never set my mind free from all that pain.
COMMANDMENT 3: Thou shalt not drink and hurl.
99% of the time, I’ve had the ability to know my limits when it comes to alcohol. I guess I inherited it from my father who knows to enjoy his drink without ever getting drunk.
This was the last commandment, and the most surprising one, that I broke. I was long out of grad school when a few test tube shots of Romanov at a birthday party (never again, never again!) proved to be my undoing. Needless to say, it wasn’t pretty. And again, it was the first, and the last.
Grad school is now a distant memory. I have asked the God of Silly Things for forgiveness since breaking each of these above mentioned commandments. I still try to abide by my self-laid rules, but I don’t drink that much, save for a glass of wine now and then. It turns out I’m always the designated driver. Ah. Shame really for someone so well-versed in keeping it together.