By Sahiba Oct. 24, 2017
Our parents have come a long way: They can accept live-in relationships and unconventional career choices. But for Indian children, especially daughters, drinking with our parents remains the last taboo, the last frontier to be breached.
In a happy post-Diwali haze, probably caused by my glass of white wine, I sat surveying my family with a sense of satisfaction. Bua poured herself one, and took her place next to father, also with a drink. The conversation was light and jovial. Father dear was cracking some top-quality not-dad jokes, and everybody was laughing their guts out.
Everyone, that is, except visiting Chachaji. At that moment, everything had seemed right with the world, but Chachaji was judging me heavily for breezily sipping the contents of my glass. Because, as my mother berated me later that night, “Ladkiyaan sabke saaamne aise nahi peeti!”
Not again. I’ve lost count of the number of times my family and I have been through this – and I’m still stuck playing Sisyphus, rolling up the boulder of what my mum labels “public drinking”.
My father, the enabler, had conveniently slipped out of the conversation; a highly irresponsible move considering he’d been the one to pour us the drink in the first place. Bua had also vamoosed. I was crafting a hard-hitting feminist reply in my head, but even I know better than to attempt offering logic to an Indian mother’s absurdly virtuous brain. So, I told her I’d be careful from now on and try to hide my “misdeeds” (I don’t think this was the reply she expected but I didn’t want to lie).
My mother was upset, but I was confused. Here was a woman who’d sat and watched Vicky Donor with me, laughing as the Punjabi grandmother and mother clinked glasses in an unforgettable scene. Yet, the sight of her own daughter turning unsanskaari made her sicker than unlimited Jägermeister shots might. Never mind my younger, and far drunker, cousins slipping and sliding around the house. They get a free pass thanks to that age-old bucket of bullshit – “boys will be boys”. The elders who let these budding bewdas off the leash, tick off all the boxes on the “cool relative” checklist, except the one that mattered to me the most: equal-opportunity alcohol consumption. Gender no bar.
I have the privilege of drinking with my father, only because he is mellow enough to “allow” me that enjoyment.
Growing up in a Punjabi household, I’d spotted explicit alcohol imbibing more than I’d eaten makki ki roti and sarson ka saag. I once picked up my father’s glass to try a sip, only to shudder at the gruesome taste. At weddings, I’d slither off the dance floor, where sweaty overweight uncles shimmied to the latest Mika Singh track, their gyrating bodies stinking of whisky. In short, I’d pretty much grown to think that alcohol consumption was a vice reserved for – and performed by – men.
Because in all these years I was yet to witness a woman drink with the kind of abandon the men displayed. The era where age-appropriate brothers would sneak vodka into their sisters’ coke glasses hadn’t arrived. The only time I saw woman openly drinking was in Hollywood movies.
At the age of 17, however, I had my first momentous tryst with drinking, thanks to a “cool” uncle. Even though the vodka burned my throat and I loathed the taste, I stuck at it. I was committed to my vision. Eventually, through sheer grit, I turned into a drinker. Not chronic. But definitely a can’t-dance-without-four-neat-vodka-shots drinker.
So from finding the taste repulsive, I’d somehow become that girl. The one who sits and drinks with the guys in the group. The one who can be seen asking unapologetically for daaru at any function, in front of the judgmental gaze of the aunties sitting next to their inebriated life partners. The one who then gets a nice angry lecture from her mother.
In an episode of Modern Family, the patriarch, Jay, waxes poetic about the sheer joy of having his first drink with his son. He considers it a beautiful ritual, symbolising a mature bond between the grown-up son and the father. You might still find a desi papa-beta inhaling Jack Daniels, discussing dirty politics and even dirtier cricket. But where can you see a father and a daughter, kicking back together at the end of the day with a glass of bourbon?
At my house. On occasion and with many, many riders. I have the privilege of drinking with my father, only because he is mellow enough to “allow” me that enjoyment. This happens only when he is present to supervise me – and the rest of the extended family is not around. Once he caught me snarfing beer at a family function and appointed my mother my chaperone for the rest of the evening. I’ve forgiven him for it – but I’ve never forgotten it.
My mother, however, is a different glass of wine.
In yet another episode of Modern Family, Claire, the mother of three, gladly obliges when her eldest daughter Haley, having just suffered heartbreak, asks if they can drink wine in the middle of the day. The daughter is drowning her pain in alcohol. With her mother as her only companion.
That scene will be about as familiar to a “good” Indian girl as the experience of alien abduction. My mother would be affronted beyond recovery, just knowing that I’d fallen in love and had my heart broken in the first place. Drinking together wouldn’t even be a possibility – we’d probably be rolling chapatis together.
Still, I look for silver linings. I cherish the moments when my father occasionally pours wine for me while discussing the latest Hollywood hit. Most of my friends are bewildered when I tell them about this. They can’t even mention alcohol in front of their parents, let alone drink it.
As this year’s Diwali puja winds down, I silently send up my wish list for the next year. I reflect on the only thing I genuinely anticipate about this festival of pollution. It is the evening daaru session that’ll inevitably occur in our house among my male relatives. Mother will serve delicious khichdi and dahi. The racket of the firecrackers outside will drown the clinking of the glasses in the room.
And me? I’ll loiter around you-know-which room, hoping my father will nonchalantly pour a drink for me in front of all our relatives. It is an unlikely thing to hope for. But as a famous prison fugitive once said “Hope is a good thing… and no good thing ever dies.”
So I will hope. I will hope to escape this invisible prison – right into the sewage of Chardonnay.
Sahiba constantly struggles with anxiety which she cushions by binge-watching Modern Family and reading fiction. She doesn't speak to anyone before her morning tea session.