Hello Friends, Chai Pi Lo

Grub

Hello Friends, Chai Pi Lo

Illustration: Shruti Yatam

“C

an you make it without alcohol, please?”

If I had a penny for every time I’ve had to ask that, and another for the pained look that this simple request had earned me, I’d probably be having lunch with Warren Buffet right now. Without alcohol, of course. 

Allow me, for a quick second, to list out every single famous teetotaller who has ever graced this planet: Natalie Portman, Chris Martin, Amitabh Bachchan, Blake Lively. I can go on. I know this not because I have no life (I do), or I suffer from the MissMalini syndrome that has me compulsively hoarding intrusive details about celebrities (I don’t), but simply because being a teetotaller means you have to keep the cavalry ready to counter what is deemed to be an unassailable truth – everyone drinks! (No they don’t.)

Being a teetotaller is hard. We are an anomaly in Mumbai and Delhi and Bangalore and pretty much banned from Goa, and Gokarna. If you think about it, every “fun” setting in the world is a sharaab- and-kebab setting by default (I am also a vegetarian, which makes my situation worthy of perhaps another piece, or 12) and systemically designed to keep us out or at least on the fringes. That includes every barbecue, every late-night hostel sojourn, every freshers’, every farewell, every “yay, we made a fool out of another client” celebration, every “wow we love these mountains” bonfire, every “trekking is hard” and “damn it is cold” toast, every “we’re on a vacation” chillout, and really every chillout session wheresoever for whatsoever reason that has been cooked up.

This sense of misinformed pity presumes that teetotallers are missing out on the vital, shiny parts of life, without really considering the said teetotaller’s opinion on the matter.

And these are only the fun settings where alcohol is great. Don’t even get me started on the un-fun settings where alcohol is mandatory.

We live as teetotallers in a world where unlimited alcohol is not just a promise but practically the menu for Sunday brunch. Restaurants feel free to forget about food and put all the fruit into sangria. If you ask for a strawberry, their silence is deafening. If you then ask for any other options in vegetarian fare, they stick you with paneer, only because it can’t be put into the sangria.  

What makes this systemically terrible situation worse, as is true for most systemically terrible situations, are humans. Not only do I have to make an extra effort to get a glass of another Virgin monstrosity that tastes dangerously like cough syrup, I also have to withstand the withering gaze of the bartender who is strangely offended by the fact that I am daring to have fun without the aid of his magical concoctions. This “fun-shaming” is not just limited to a certain segment of people who may or may not know better. It is actually a pervasive malice that has found its patrons even among the most enlightened, free-thinking crowd, including the ought-to-be-woke millennials.

The overarching theme is the annoying mollycoddling that involves people urging you to loosen up and embrace the times, no matter how much you deem yourself to be with or ahead of them. This sense of misinformed pity presumes that teetotallers are missing out on the vital, shiny parts of life, without really considering the said teetotaller’s opinion on the matter. That in turn leads to mostly well-meaning, but entirely misdirected attempts to fix something that ain’t broken. Life is not a Quora thread and hence not all of us teetotallers have grand backstories that involve prisons, arrests, and a dozen deaths. Sometimes our reasons are as simple as we don’t friggin’ like it. The reasons for me being a teetotaller are as irrelevant as someone else’s reason to drink.

My personal favourite is the single-minded obsession of every new acquaintance who has recently discovered our teetotalling ways to introduce us to the unsurpassed joy of this heavenly pleasure. This comes with the presumption of course, that nobody in over two decades of our existence has ever had the brilliant idea to do us that favour. Apart from the fact that “Oh, you don’t drink? I intend to change it” never sounds cool in the time of hyper-aware consent and personal choice, it is also frankly a little insulting. Because not only does this fun-shaming imply that we are boring, it also questions our intellectual capacity to make an informed decision about something as simple as what we want to have (or not have) with dinner. 

And for the benefit of everybody really concerned about us having fun, let’s make this clear. Teetotallers are not dying of boredom. They are, in fact, having great fun. At the expense of the guys who are pissing in your cupboard while simultaneously singing to Yo Yo Honey Singh in their heads.  

Now chug your beer and begin the entertainment already!

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