Daaru Aur Danga: When Your Family is the Drunk Catholic Stereotype


Daaru Aur Danga: When Your Family is the Drunk Catholic Stereotype

Illustration: Shruti Yatam

I heard somewhere that a lot of early childhood memories involve food. All my earliest memories involve alcohol. Like when my dad would beckon me over, dip his pinky in his Scotch and let me suck on the whisky. Or the times my gin-soaked Uncle Ferris who would get his guitar out and turn any party into a singalong, making up songs on the fly about a woman named Blossom with a big bosom. Or aunt Judy, who would invariably out-drink the other men, pouring herself extra-large Old Monks in Tupperware containers because she could never find a glass or a man that could satisfy her.

I idolised these people growing up, often re-enacting their antics in front of my cousins just for shitz and giggles. At the time my mind seemed fixated on these people being the life of the party because of their drunken antics. I wanted badly to be the centre of attention, the life of the party, ergo, I needed to do what my uncle Ferris and aunt Judy did. Which was drink. Because alcohol makes you jolly and who doesn’t like a jolly Santa Claus.

When you grow up Catholic you realise that unlike your Maharashtrian neighbours, whose men slinked around quarter bars after being beaten by their wives, Catholics revelled in alcohol. A bottle of Old Monk on the dining table was a more familiar sight than a bottle of ketchup.  

Around Christmas, my already extended family would further distend, like a raging alcoholic’s liver during happy hour. Like my far-flung uncle Albert, who ate one meal and drank six more. He’d measure his pegs by the amount of Thums Up in his Old Monk. Albert was all about the utara, or hair of the dog, where habitual alcoholics will wake up at the crack of dawn for a walk and some Johnnie Walker to stave off the impending hangover, living in a state of limbo between sobriety and stark raving drunkenness. He would go to rehab thrice and escape twice, once by scaling the compound wall to find the nearest bar because he wasn’t, to quote him directly, “as alcoholic as the rest of them.”

Unlike my teetotalling non-Catholic friends, I was holding my own liquor and pouring one for my uncles or my father by the time I was 15.

Getting socially sozzled is seen as one of the highlights of Catholic life, right up there with being God’s chosen people, claiming English is your mother tongue, and working in the Gulf. Popular advertising led me to believe that Sundays were typically days where the entire family gathers to discuss the week, share a meal and indulge in some fair dinkum and tomfoolery. In a Catholic household like mine, a typical Sunday is all of the above, with the addition of alcohol. Unlike my teetotalling non-Catholic friends, I was holding my own liquor and pouring one for my uncles or my father by the time I was 15.

The rite of passage that is sharing your first drink with your father, something other kids made a humongous deal out of, felt hollow and still does. For me, it was just another Sunday at home. While on Diwali or Eid, one might wonder what clothes to wear or which relatives to visit, the Catholic male on Christmas is in a quandary over the quantity of alcohol to be ordered. Too little and you come across as cheap, too much and your wallet resembles Jesus’, with a hole right in the middle. But hey, New Year’s Eve is six days away, a problem of plenty isn’t much of a problem at all – until you get cirrhosis.

Sprinkle all this drinking, with a smidge of Catholic guilt, courtesy the Mother Church, and you’ve got yourself a recipe for a clusterfuck of a cocktail. Adding more alcohol because it dulls your brain is your only recourse from everything wrong in your life, because for some reason, the prayers never work. Therapy is almost always a chat with your priest who hints at your problems being the result of God’s displeasure because you masturbated at seven – all of which can only be fixed with an extra large dose of prayer. Everyone of my uncles had been through this loop and decided alcohol was the only way to get out of it.

It took me a while to realise that alcohol didn’t always make them jolly. It made them mean.

I found out that aunt Judy drank to forget her traumatic childhood with an abusive father and uncle Ferris, who was the life of the party quickly became the death of it when he’d become belligerent. My uncle Abel, a sweet man with a heart of gold when sober, became fists of fury when fucked out of his mind on McDowells. Most of the memories I share with my family are as sweet as port, and as bitter as a shot of warm Jagermeister.

Alcoholic and Catholic both end the same way. Our impulse control is as weak as our Hindi language skills men, what to tell you. The jolly Catholic drunk is a fun stereotype, a trope for your entertainment, the life of the party. What you almost never see or hear about is the hangover, the accompanying headache of which is shared by the entire family. A drunk parent, sibling, or spouse is a novelty when you first try it, but a real pain in the ass once that fades. With alcohol, moderation is key – but in our drunken stupor, we seem to have changed all the locks.