Our First Beer!
It was forty years ago, when we were in our Seventh Class, a mate of mine and I, both aged twelve years, went to our district headquarters, Nellore (in Andhra Pradesh, India - on NH 5), which was 58 Kilometers away, south of my hometown, Kavali, on the Calcutta-Madras Grand Trunk Road (GTC) – to have our first Beer. Indeed, we both were donning neatly pressed, terry-cotton pants with likewise formal shirts duly tucked-in, for the occasion in place of the usual, rarely pressed cotton knickers, slacks / t-shirts and we wished we also had at least a pencil mustache each like, our more seniors of the school began to display. The beer, I knew to be something like Whiskey, Brandi, et al. that we used to get to see in the cinemas drunk by all the villains, jilted heroes and comedians, in certain scenes. My more knowledgeable pal assured me that it would be the gentlest version of all the spirits, which was not even categorized under hard drinks and so we planned a secret trip, on that mission.
On a Sunday according a previous evening’s plan, we met at the RTC bus-stand and boarded the bus, with a hundred-rupee note in his pocket and some jingling change in mine. It was the 1st time ever for both of us, moving alone, independently and without any parental supervision. But, that one-and-a-quarter hour journey seemed to me just of a 5-minute One, on account of my anticipation, I reckon. We sized-up the whole bus to check whether there were not anyone from our home-place that we could recognize or vice-versa and after satisfying ourselves that there were none, we relaxed with a sigh of relief that we could avoid any grilling by the prying elders. There were, by and large, farmers from the nearby villages returning homes after getting their paddy dehusked, their motors / pumps repaired and the like and the vendors of all varieties – fruits, vegetables, sea-food and so forth – debating, severally, aloud some issues of their importance, which spectacle couldn’t hold my attention for long. Nor the expansive luring & luscious greenery on both the sides of the high-way, intervening villages with the spirited rural setting – the people in the traditional costumes, both the kids with bare bottoms playing and country-roosters chasing hens, running helter-skelter – unmindful of the traffic, mothers holding their thumb-sucking infants – yelling at their kids to stay away from the highway, ruminating cattle being huddled by their hollering herdsmen and bullock carts – loaded with hay, dry sticks, un-processed Paddy, Jowar, Bajra along with Tobacco, Chillies, Groundnuts, Sugar Cane and so on – blocking the road everywhere. All along the road, we could also see the village folk, women and men carrying head-loads of grass, fire wood, freshly caught fish marching, swinging their behinds. Along the highway, on our right, from afar, we could see goods, passenger and, once in a while, express trains chugging off, mostly drawn by steam & diesel engines, while we could also see the electrical traction work, under way, along the railway track. On the way, we crossed, twice the railway track – one at Alluru Road and the other at Kovur, during which stretch we travel on the right side of the track. The road at each village was secured, on either side, by typically, the thatched red-mud hutments, painted with thick dung coating and some white washed, stone or brick walled, mostly un-plastered houses, with clay-tiled roofs and a very few concrete ones, crudely plastered. All the houses are full of agricultural implements, discarded cart-wheels, tractor tyres, haystacks, manure-pits, grain-silos, buffaloes, goats, fowls, while walls dotted with round dung-cakes and the home fronts with lime-powder line-drawings (like rangolis, without any colors); not to speak of a very small, but crowded kirana-shops & tiny tea-stalls, land marked by oversized iron-mongers’ sheds here and there, By the way, there was also housing behind the road in case of larger villages and some brick making units along the highway. The main transport within the villages was tractors, bullock carts, bicycles & Enfield-Bullets. Of course there was this pleasant sea-breeze as on the Eastern side of the highway, 7 to 20 kilometers was the Bay-of-Bengal.
Bingo: we were in Nellore in no time, awe-struck with that mega-town’s majesty which was hitherto a mammoth town, I have ever seen, having a very gigantic RTC bus-station, far wider roads with dividers in the midst of them, traffic junctions with circular gardens duly fenced with iron grills, statues amidst them and the ubiquitous cops controlling the traffic, standing on high pedestals covered with towering shelters, and whopping shops, with neon boards, on all sides, with colorful awnings and huge hoardings along the heavily crowded roads, unlike what we used to see in my little town.
We roamed from the bus-station along the GTC, for about a kilometer and a half, which was also the arterial main road of this massive town like it was for my own, to find our long-cherished beer, with little success. After exercising our legs enough, we finally, thought of taking the assistance of a local guide. Accordingly, we located a friendly looking rickshaw-puller (tricycle man), whom we hired for the Day, for five rupees. Having struck a bargain that he would take us to a beer-shop and in the evening drop us back at the main bus-station, we boarded our conveyance. He took us to a few wine-shops on the main road and the connecting roads but we haven’t seen anybody drinking beer, there. We thought that it was too early since it was barely 11 O’ clock in the morning and regretted having come all the way, in the wrong time. A little later, our guide had showed us a few wine-shops with small, attached drinking-rooms, where there were some drinkers, seated on the benches, talking hoarsely, guzzling their spirits and we were reluctant to have the beer at such ugly spots. As our guide appreciated our delicacy, he suggested that he could take us to the one-and-only licensed-bar of the town except, that it could be very expensive and my mate motioned to him to take us there immediately, with a kind of imperious wave of hand that you could expect from a brash royal prince.
The ‘XYZ Bar & Restaurant’ proved to be on the 1st floor of a shopping complex in one of the busy roads, parallel and far away from the main road. After leaving our guide to stay put at his place till we were back, we picked up a king-sized cigarette packet and an expensive looking match-box with wax coated, rolled paper sticks in it, at the killi-dubba (pan-dibba) next to the concrete stair case of the bar, we went up to be received by a ‘Maharaja’ (with all his attire including, Silk Sherwani, Zari Kurtha, Turban, a glittering Sheathed Sword hung to his side and a very prominent Handlebar mustache, the kind, again, we get to see on the shady characters of movies or on military men) at the entrance and we got so taken aback by the apparition that we were about to bolt back through the same stair-case, we just came up. But we were stopped by the very courteous & reassuring voice of the “Maharaja’, bowing and begging us to enter, while opening that large, ornate, mahogany door of the bar, crisply. In a trance, we both obeyed his command and immediately on our entry, he closed the door swiftly behind us, without any noise.
Enter the Dungeon:
Lo, suddenly, we were in a very dark-hall and as we stood there for a few moments (it looked to me like it were an eternity) in absolute silence, there materialized another imposing personality except he was in his well-starched, milk-white uniform with blue shoulder badges mounted with brass ornamental plates, a vest studded with coin-sized brass buttons, a blue belt with palm sized buckle and a white, pea cap, encircled with a blue strip highlighted with an insignia, a pair of shining, black shoes and a bushy, twirling mustache who looked like a naval official. Without asking us any questions, he hurriedly ushered us into one of the paneled cabins located on the right-side of the spacious hall, we just entered. He bowed and waved us to be seated on the massive sofas placed on either side of the teapoy, thrust into our hands a couple of heavy, plastic-bounded folders and left us stating that he would come back, shortly. And that time around, we were sure that he would return with his boss and that they were going to interrogate us thoroughly, before they let us off or handing us over to the police and we further thought that what was given to us was their standard ‘questionnaire’, for infantile intruders of their men-alone club.
After a lot of deliberations on making our flight unnoticed, we were convinced that we could not do so without getting caught, seeing that from under the half-doors of the prison cell, we could perceive that many other naval officials shuffling from that end to the other of the ample hall, outside. Having brought us around that there was no getaway; we started doing the next best thing that was to ‘know-your-hostile-territory’. Thus, we started inspecting the cell and noted that it had a low, knee-level but stout, elaborately adorned teak teapoy, sandwiched between the two huge, sponge sofas covered with thick velvety cloth, on which we were seated and at the four corners, there were four potted plants of non-descript nature, mounted on an equal number of elevated, intricately carved, teak stands. The single ventilation the cell had was the entrance with the two-way, half doors. We also, slowly conceived that it was not an absolute ‘pin-drop-silence’ in which we were in but there was some whispering, back-ground music that was piped into the cell, through some mysterious means and that it was also not pitch dark we were in but there was some type of dimmed-lighting.
The Tall Order:
After a while our detaining officer returned with a couple of glasses with water in them, placed the same on the teapoy and politely asked whether we were ready to place our order, which rapidly lessoned the speed of our racing hearts and pulsating nerves. On exchanging quick glances, we took a deep breath and chirped that we were not yet ready, for that, to which he bowed out stating that we could press the button of the calling-bell on the switch-board located next to the entrance, when we were ready. And we started scrutinizing the contents of the booklet in the hands and realized that it’s front-page was printed in gold with the logo of the bar above, ‘Menu’ in the middle and the address with phone numbers of the bar below and inside pages contain lists of liquors, cool-drinks and some cold & hot snacks.
On studying the so many items with foreign-sounding names, initially, we both considered that we better order some snacks with cool-drinks, pay-up the bill and get out as fast as possible. Then on second thoughts, we both resolved that we ventured there with an elaborate scheming to have our first beer and beer was what we would have, come what may! After a long study, my mate has made up his mind on what to order and without any further delay, I pressed the button and there appeared the butler, instantly, like a Jinn. My mate had ordered for two Cold-Beers (a great deal later, I came to know that even poor beers, do, have brand-names like Colgate, Binaca, etc. and grades like strong, medium & mild) and as my mate was being a vegetarian wouldn’t take chicken, I ordered for my all-time favorite fried pea-nuts.
In about thirty minutes, the butler emerged with a couple of tall, dark brown bottles, dripping with droplets of chilled water, two bulky jug-like glasses with handles, washed afresh and a plate-full of fried peanuts, placed all of them on the teapoy, before us. Then our Man-Friday de-capped both the bottles with the help of an opener and with a flourish (like the famous Jeeves would have) to fill our two glasses to the brim with the bubbling beer, enquired whether we need anything else and after our confirming negative he shuffled out, winking at us.
The Long Binge:
On finding ourselves alone, to match our moods to the moment, we each lit our 1st. cigarettes to, immediately, realize that inhaling the smoke suffocate us to no end and after coughing for a few a minutes, we stopped puffing but held them to burn between the fingers, stylishly and smiling sheepishly. We changed our seating postures a few times, twiddled our thumbs for a while, took deep breaths, several times and finally lifted our mugs, decisively, wished each other cheers to have the first gulp of our dream-beer just to understand that it was no ‘badam-kheer’ (A milk shake of Almonds) and that it tasted like hell. Our immediate urge was to spit it out but on finding that there was no ideal place to do so, we slowly, with contorted faces started swallowing the bitter medicine, drop-by-drop. At that instance itself, we decided that enough was enough and that we should wrap-up our little escapade, the soonest. Then like a tonne of bricks hitting the heads, we realized that the butler would notice our misadventure and others too would join him to have fun at our expense, the second we leave the cell. No…No way could we have allowed such an ignominy to happen to our manliness! And the rest of the time there, for about an hour and half, we spent all our creativity to devise a fool-proof plan to make the vanishing trick of the beer, which was over 95% of the original supply. All our body-pours started emitting hot fumes and our stomachs were burning to no end and we started dousing the fire in our bellies with the not anymore cold water and the fried pea-nuts. As we found no drain outlet anywhere on the floor, we meditated very deeply and decided to empty the rest of the beer into the plant-pots, while hoping the earth in them would absorb the beer, in no time. Once again our friend stepped in to check whether we wanted anything else to which we both jointly chorused that we don’t want anything further and that we would call him when we wanted the bill.
And slowly we started to pour the leftover beer into the plant-pots and finally we were completely satisfied that we were free of that unpalatable liquid. But noooh! by the time we sat on the sofas to relax, we realized, to our utter dismay, that the cell had started reeking of the strong beer stench and we both jerked up to examine our respective pot-pairs and found that they were no clay pots nor what were inside were the natural plants, but the gun metal pots decorated with artificial plants without any earthen support. Then we began to worry what to do about it and arrived at a consensus that it was too late to do anything about it. After some dilly dallying, we took courage to call the butler for the bill. He entered sniffing and rolling his eyes to ascertain the cause of the stink and looking at us dubiously. We, with all the inscrutable faces we could muster, demanded the bill, disallowing him to look around for any tell-tales of our mischief.
Escape to the Freedom!
At last, after fifteen minutes, the butler returned with a small platter of saunf (Aniseed), a few tooth-picks and the long awaited release-order of ours. My mate searched deep into an inner pocket of his pants and produced a crisp hundred rupee note and placed it in the platter. In the meanwhile, the butler had been sniffing and searching for the apparent cause for the stink in the cabin, by which time I started doubting that the unpleasant odor might have also started escaping into the immense hall, outside. And after another Fifteen minutes he returned and placed the bill and some notes and coins, looking at us all the while, suspiciously. My mate had picked up eighty rupees in notes leaving coins, as tip and gestured me to get going and we trotted out of the place as if we were being chased by a pack of mad dogs.
As soon as we came down onto the road, our guide smiled benignly and motioned us to sit and we boarded our chariot, to be dropped at the bus-station. After paying him off with the earlier agreed fare and an additional two rupees by way of ‘baksheesh’ we waved him goodbye and rushed into the bus-station. We entered the royal place, stopped at the cool-drinks’ shop to catch some air and for the first time we realized how thirsty we were and ordered for two cold nimbu-sodas (lime-sodas). Not satisfied with one each, we repeated the order and gulped one more each of the cold beverage and waited for the bus, back to our place
As we were waiting there for the bus, which was expected to come within another half-an-hour, it dawned on me that my head was reeling, funnily with some ringing sounds in the ears and quite a few Eastman colored stars revolving before my eyes. I checked with my mate who confirmed that he too was having the same experience and that it was called a ‘kick’! Finally the bus came and we toddled into it grabbing a couple of seats and collapsed into them. After what looked to be a very long haul of a few hours, in spite of the boisterous fellow-passengers and the captivating rural interludes on the way back too, I described previously, we landed at our town’s bus-stand by the dusk, minus the delirium. A good deal later when I became an adult, I used to wonder how we could get a ‘full kick’ with less than a few table-spoons of beer, never mind the brand or whether it was strong, medium or mild, and I am blank to this date, to those details.
NOTE TO THE READER:
This is my first story and this will become the leader of
similar such personal and humorous experiences
of mine in due course.
If you like it, kindly spread about it within your circles and if you feel so, I welcome a line or two from you, which could improve my future works at email@example.com. If you do not approve any part of this work, please feel free to let me know, so that I can keep in mind of your objections in my future edition / the print edition of this and other works.