Cheers To Myself, My Friend


Cheers To Myself, My Friend

Illustration: Namaah/ Arré

Ernest Hemingway once said, “I drink to make other people more interesting.” I agree with the man, but only partly. I too drink to make other people more interesting. But “Papa” only drank with other people. I like to drink alone. Have done so every single day for the last 25 years. Hemingway was far too social for my liking; I’m much more a Bukowski kinda guy. Like Sartre, he believed “hell is other people” – and wrote lovingly of days and nights spent in quiet solitude with alcohol:

“You know the typical crowd, ‘Wow, it’s Friday night, what are you going to do? Just sit there?’ Well, yeah. Because there’s nothing out there. It’s stupidity. Stupid people mingling with stupid people. Let them stupidify themselves. I’ve never been bothered with the need to rush out into the night… Sorry for all the millions, but I’ve never been lonely. I like myself. I’m the best form of entertainment I have. Let’s drink more wine!”

Now, Bukowski’s excuse for drinking alone probably had to do something with the fact that his father beat him with a razor strop three times a week from the ages of 6 to 11. I have no such defence. I’m well loved, well-adjusted, and any other “well” you can think of. My father was a man who wouldn’t be able to tell a razor strop from Chop Suey. So why then, no matter where in the world I am, or who I am with, when the sun goes down, so does my first drink of the evening? Followed by four more, at least.

Bukowski, as usual, decodes the universe for me:

“Drinking is an emotional thing. It joggles you out of the standardism of everyday life, out of everything being the same. It yanks you out of your body and your mind and throws you against the wall. I have the feeling that drinking is a form of suicide where you’re allowed to return to life and begin all over the next day. It’s like killing yourself, and then you’re reborn. I guess I’ve lived about ten or fifteen thousand lives now.”

Most mornings I can’t remember exactly what happened the previous night. If that isn’t rebirth, what is? Even science is now coming to accept the fact that we don’t really die; our consciousness is merely reborn in a different universe.

We all need that rebirth because our deaths the previous night have sometimes been spectacular. I have fallen over bushes, screwed up a film we were about to make, gotten stumbling-to-passing-out drunk on my wife’s birthday in front of my kids, but thankfully nothing worse. Unless you count that one time I was spotted atop the statue of a horse in the middle of a Delhi roundabout dressed as Shah Jahan. (Don’t ask.)

Of course there is a price you pay for those evenings. Quite apart from the stony five-day silent period that I will be subjected to by the wife, it’s the thought of the hangover that keeps me from excess. I have woken up wishing I had never been born. I have looked cross-eyed into the darkness and peered into the seventh circle of hell. But nobody has described a hangover better than one of the biggest and best boozer-writers the world has ever known – Kingsley Amis:

If man could learn to be happy sitting alone in a room, all this world’s problems would disappear.

“He lay sprawled, too wicked to move, spewed up like a broken spider-crab on the tarry shingle of morning. The light did him harm, but not as much as looking at things did; he resolved, having done it once, never to move his eyeballs again. A dusty thudding in his head made the scene before him beat like a pulse. His mouth had been used as a latrine by some small creature of the night, and then as its mausoleum. During the night, too, he’d somehow been on a cross-country run and then been expertly beaten up by secret police. He felt bad.”

No doubt. Drinking can make you feel bad. Why then, do I continue to drink?

To answer that, I have to go back to the beginning of spacetime and consciousness. Roberto Calasso writes about the beginning of the universe in Ka:

“Prajapati was alone. He didn’t even know whether he existed or not. There was only the mind, manas. And what is peculiar about the mind is that it doesn’t know whether it exists or not. But it comes before everything else. Then, even prior to establishing whether it existed or not, the mind desired what was definite and separate, that had shape. A Self – atman – that was the name it used. And the mind imagined that Self as having consistency…and within the mind came that split that precedes all others, that implies all others. There was consciousness and an eye watching consciousness.”

It is a classic work of staggering beauty. Read it if you haven’t already.

The main point is, there are at least two of us in each of us. The entire focus of the Hindu philosophy, Advaita Vedanta, literally meaning “not two”, is to attain Moksha (liberation), from this duality, and become one.

And the monk that leads me to moksha is Old Monk. “Old Moksh,” you might say, after four or five large ones. Moksha, from late-capitalism’s many maladies and inequities, moksha from the gibberish-spewing apes on TV, moksha from the tyrannies and tribulations of today and tomorrow. Moksha from self-consciousness and inhibition. Moksha from my senses.

And what am I without my senses?

A soul.

The truth is, our entire lives are spent reconciling two irreconcilable opposites. This is the true source of all strife. If man could learn to be happy sitting alone in a room, all this world’s problems would disappear.

As Bukowski puts it:

“I am my own god. We are here to unlearn the teachings of the church, state, and our educational system. We are here to drink beer. We are here to kill war. We are here to laugh at the odds and live our lives so well that Death will tremble to take us.”

Death finally took him at the age of 74 – but boy, did he live!


Statutory Warning: I am the father of two young girls whom I love very much, and I am well aware that I am setting a very bad example for them. But I insist they read these pieces and understand that their father is not a perfect man. And that it’s okay.

PS: For those of you who liked my last piece there is another book I discovered called Cigarettes Are Sublime by Richard Klein which explores the subject in depth. If you know of any great books that deal with drinking or smoking, do drop them in the comments below.