It was in the summer of 2004 when I had my first experience of, what they call, a ‘culture shock’.
My family and I went on a Europe tour that summer. My most distinct memory of that tour is walking into a regular grocery shop in London and seeing a bunch of pornos, right besides the newspapers! Since my parents were along with me, I had no idea how to conceal my excitement, and at the same time, casually browse through the magazines – which, by the way, had full on x-rated stuff happening on the cover, with absolutely NO attempts to hide any of the action.
And of course, I also remember how I entered my hotel room, which I shared only with my younger brother (who slept most of the time), switched on the television and saw.. MORE porn! For free! Entire channels devoted to it! And when I went outside for a walk, I realised how ‘baniyans’ were like the national dress for the chicks in London. Yes, I admit, I was in Disneyland, and I totally fell heads over heels in love with London.
A month later, I arrived in National Institute of Technology, Kurukshetra, for a four-year-long rape called engineering. My hostel was filled with all kinds, breeds and species of animals – and I’m not talking about the dogs, lizards, frogs and pigeons, who considered it home sweet home. Misery loves company, and on realising that just to shit, we’d have to travel like 20 metres from our rooms, by the end of the very first day in the hostel, all of us had gathered to pay our condolences and last respects – to each other.
That’s when I got my second – and much bigger – culture shock. One NRI kid, just like me, suggested that we wallow, not in self pity, but in bottles of ‘daaru’. To say that I was taken aback is like saying I enjoy getting kicked in the nuts (I don’t, just for the record). To be entirely honest, I was !@#$!@$ fucking shocked out of my bloody skull! It was like someone had asked me to donate my liver! .. While I was still alive! Or something much, much worse and sinister. Like.. like.. someone had asked me to share my food!! Only it wasn’t food, it was my liver. And only it wasn’t share, it was donate.
I was so scandalised, I thanked the group for the enjoyable evening I had spent with them discussing our very first respective sexual experiences (and umm.. the guy with the most exciting sex life was the one who got to shake hands with girls regularly) and went back to my room and hid under my bed. It took me some time to make peace with the fact that I had come to a place where people were much more grown up than I was (which is a polite way of saying that I thought they were cunts) and that they drank alcohol.
For the first semester, I tried to convert the religion of people from daaru to plain awesomeness. I tried Chanakyaneeti’s saam, daam, dand and bhed to make sure, at least the people I was friends with, stayed off it – or well, didn’t drink in my room. I broke bottles of whiskey that came from people’s fathers’ hard earned money, I threatened my room mate that I’d call the warden if he so much as smelt like he had been within a mile of a daaru battle, and I preached to everyone how they were betraying their parents’ trust by drinking.
No, this story doesn’t end with, ‘And then.. I had my first sip’. From being so contrived as to judging people and dividing them in categories of evil and good, depending on whether they drink or not, to giving them company with Pepsi (bottoms up) while they drink like there’s no tomorrow, I still haven’t had a sip of alcohol. Or beer. Or mocktails. Or cocktails. Or fruit beer (just because it has the word beer in it). Or Cheeku shake. Okay, the last one’s simply because I don’t like the sound of it :p
And the irony here is, that people now get a culture shock when they meet me! ‘Which planet are you from dude?’ ‘Fuck, are you serious? You’ve never even tasted it?’ ‘Chal, hatt, liar!’ ‘Mere liye vodka, aur Nikhil ke liye doodh’ ‘Do you want your Pepsi neat or should I order some water with it?’ And of course, the most common of all, ‘Is it a religious thing?’
No, it isn’t a religious thing. I don’t wear a sacred thread and haven’t sworn any oath that I’ll not drink alcohol until God helps me lose 30 kgs. Nor have my parents so far confessed to being from Pandora. And no, I don’t want doodh, I want my Pepsi. Neat, and on the rocks.
But obviously, the next question that everyone asks me is, ‘Then how come?’ Welll… it’s because… *suspense music* …..
My memories of being five include lying under the bed of my mom and masi and reciting poems to them, smearing vicks vapourub all over my body because I had a cold, running away from a five-year-old girl who wanted to kiss me (True story), being told by my teacher at school that I should wear chaddis everyday, falling into a drain next to my house, getting ready in a super hurry as my friends would come in to help me pack for school even as the rickshawallah rang the bell outside my house again and again and threatened to leave, and resolving to not speak to my father because he was a chain smoker.
Yes, for a five-year-old kid who hated chaddis, I had a strong sense of morality. I don’t remember how I knew smoking was bad, but I would tell my father to quit every day. My father would promise, but never live up to it. And then, one day, I just stopped talking to him. Considering how much I love to talk, I guess I must have kept quiet for a REALLY long time (like a whole day or something), that he freaked out. And gave up smoking forever.
I grew up in Bahrain, but when I look back right now, I might as well have grown up in Disneyland, because I have no recollection of anything remotely evil happening around (read people smoking, drinking or having underage sex… umm, okay, that may have been evil because I wasn’t getting any). In school, smoking and drinking were the least of my concerns. I was more worried about whether I’ll ever get to kiss a girl (or pull her cheeks – true story) than about anything else. And funny I should say that, because I was so daft that once a girl who actually agreed to like me back said she wanted to kiss me, and I got super freaked out about my izzat! I mean, I wasn’t ready to be a father at that age!!
But as Tapas pointed out in his comment in my previous post, I was just shut out to stuff happening around me. I do recollect that a few guys in my batch did smoke, and also remember how I’d give some of them, who were friends with me, long lectures about how they were betraying their parents (I had very few friends left at the end of school, yes). But funnily enough, I don’t recollect anyone who used to drink. Drinking was a thing grown-ups did at parties because they needed something to help them stand each other.
All my conversations about drinking at the time of school – with any of my friends – were about how it’s despicable that adults do it even though it’s wrong, and how we’d never drink on growing up (or on just growing, in general). Maybe it was influenced by the fact that in Bollywood movies we grew up on, each time the villain was shown drinking, in the next scene, he’d go rape the hero’s sister. And of course, the hero drank to take revenge. Or to do comedy. Since we were always funny (haha, see how subtly I slip in a word of praise for myself? I’m so cool! .. And there, I did it again!) and were concerned about people’s sisters, we had all decided that drinking was bad.
Even in my first year of college, all my friends who weren’t born with a bottle of Johnny Walker (or desi santara) in their hands, hadn’t had drinks because they actually thought it was bad. But as time went by, they all started drinking, for innovative reasons like, ‘Seniors told us that all grown ups drink’, ‘Dude, to socialise in office parties after you graduate, you need to drink’, ‘I wanted to see what being high means’, ‘I want to try out everything in life’, ‘It was a party, yaar!’ ‘Abey, we were getting free booze, get it? FREE’, ‘Arre, but everyone was drinking’, ‘I was thirsty’ or of course, ‘Teri ma ki ****’.
These were, of course, the same people who had sworn to not drink, not smoke, get good marks and get laid before college ends. None of that worked out, obviously (or there would have been a LOT of sex happening at NIT Kurukshetra). But to be really honest, while growing up, I never met a person who said, ‘When I’m old enough, I’d really like to drink because it seems like fun.’
In school, most people were anti-smoking and anti-drinking because it was all we knew at that time (or we didn’t know better!). In college, I felt that everyone started smoking and drinking, because the fad had changed. For a very long time, no reason seemed good enough to convince me to drink, or an explanation for why others did it. Because, most people, to me, seemed perfectly alright while growing up. I never understood how booze could have made those childhood memories more perfect.
Think about it. Your first crush. The first time you asked out a girl and she said yes. Or the 10 times they all said no. The first time your heart skipped a beat on seeing someone beautiful. Your first kiss. Your first attempted kiss. Your first attempted kiss that led to your first break up. Your first heartbreak. The first time you said I love you. The first time (years later), when someone said I love you back too. The first time you wrote a poem full of cuss words after you got dumped. When you worked really hard for an exam, and kicked ass in it. When you screwed up royally and blamed it on the teacher. When you kicked in the nuts of that guy you really hated. When you got beaten up for asking out a girl who already had a boyfriend.
All those happy/sad/proud/embarrassing memories you had in school. Did you go home and drink after that to ‘mark the occasion’? Weren’t they perfect the way they were? Would booze have made all those moments even more awesome? I don’t even get the whole concept of getting ‘high’. I’ve been high many times (at least I think so). The first time a girl said ‘I love you to me’ (apart from my Mom). The first time I made my parents proud of me. When I won that competition I had worked my ass off for. A brilliant movie (not the X-rated kinds. Okay well, that too). Getting my first paycheque. Dancing all night with friends (Balle balle!). Helping make a difference in someone’s life. Making someone smile. Doing something stupid with friends. A Zakir Hussain concert (hell yeah, baby!).
On a slightly serious note, I also don’t buy the whole concept of ‘I drink in moderation and don’t lose control.’ That’s because I am the only one who’s not drunk and I can see, first hand, all those who are. When you are drinking, your brain gets fuzzy and you hardly realise if you are losing control. A school friend of mine was at a beach party with his friends. They all had too much to drink. My friend went to piss into the ocean, and got swept away. His body was found the next day. I know it’s a freak incident, but the point is simply that you really don’t know what you are doing when you are drunk. You slip once, and you don’t know how you’d end up. And woah, that’s a scary place to be in!
But it’s not that I don’t drink because I’m scared of losing control and raping the hero’s sister, or because I think I *truly* know the sacred secrets of being high. I don’t drink simply because I never wanted to. And I’m often judged as this ‘nice’ guy (read: BORING), or this prude, and well, sometimes, as this plain weird dude (that rhymed!) who doesn’t know how to live it up (I know bhangra, okay?). But you know what? I don’t judge back now. Because well, I had promised myself to get six pack abs, like, 6 years ago, but as my two-pack body CLEARLY suggests, I failed. I had sworn never to watch porn after getting caught. But well… umm… no, didn’t work out. I had plotted to be world famous by 21. I’m 23, and well, I have the time to write this humongously long blog at 4 am. So no, no world domination yet.
Yes, I didn’t really live up to some promises I made to myself either. But some I did. At the same time, I know some AWESOME people who smoke, drink and even smoke up at times. Some are best friends and some I look up to. I don’t think they’d be any better or worse if they didn’t drink. In the same way, I have had ENOUGH kahaani mein twists through these years, without drinking. I don’t think my life could have been ANY more interesting, if I had been drinking.
Because it took me a long time to understand that who you are has nothing to do with what you drink. Whether your drink is Vodka or Pepsi. As long as you enjoy it (and don’t die), it’s all good, isn’t it?
Note: These articles first appeared on my other blog on Feb 4, 2010
Link: http://utthalputthal.blogspot.in/2010/02/hi-im-nikhil-and-im-not-alcoholic.html and http://utthalputthal.blogspot.in/2010/02/waisa-bhi-hota-hai-part-ii.html
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