May 31, 2006

Beating the liquor ban

Scene: Tehran, during the revolution, when the US newspaper correspondents kept body and soul together with a daily lunch at Leon’s Russian Grill, featuring borscht, double portion of caviar with blini and vodka. Everything went well till prohibition was declared in new Iran.

“For my chum William Tuohy of The Los Angeles Times and me, this marked the end of civilized life as we had known it …On the first day of prohibition our regular waiter pulled a long face, …carefully explained the new order of things and suggested 7Up as an appropriate alternate beverage.

“Resourceful fellows, those Iranians. When the bottles of “soda” arrived with our lunch – you must have guessed by now – they were filled with vodka
” - R W Apple Jr., associate editor, in The New York Times Magazine (May 28, 2006)

Every other journalist must have a prohibition tale. I have a couple to recall. During a conducted tour of media film critics to Bombay (under prohibition) in late sixties we were put up at MLAs hostel, where M Shamim of The Times of India, Debu Mazumdar of Indian Express, and I (used to be then with National Herald) had separate rooms, but chose to share a single bathroom, where we found a convenient closet for our pre-mixed rum and water. We learnt later that some of our more daring colleagues in the press party sipped it out of a tea cup held openly on their bedside table. They had found a resourceful room boy to bring in the ‘beverage’ in tea-pots.

Of course Bombay-based media were amused at our uninformed ways. They went for tenements in Colaba and fishermen’s huts in Varsova that morphed into an ‘adda’ during evenings for their favourite peg with churmuri.


Vijendra Rao, the critical outsider said...

Nachi, my former colleague at Indian Express, Bangalore, was more adventurous. He would ask the attender to get him three-fourth glass of water. "I have a bad head-ache and I need to pop in a tablet," he would say, before getting ready to type out his report for the day. The attender would flash a knowing smile as he obliged him with the request. M.N. Chakravarthy, his actual name, would take out his drink - gin, vodka, or white rum - and pour it into the glass. Pounding the typewriter, puffinig his cigarette and sipping the drink took rhythmic turns for the next three-fourth hour.
One evening, a couple of years after I had quit Express, I went to meet him. I invited him to Press Club, when he said he had cut down his visits to the club. However, if I agreed, we could drink then and there. Then, he opened the cupboard, right above his computer, and showed me a bottle of whiskey. He said a common friend had got it at a press conference and because he did not drink, he had given it away to him. The press conference was convened for the express purpose of announcing the launch of the whiskey.
For this treat at the unusual place, I had to comply with his condition. Nachi did not have a cabin, so he did not want his hospitality to catch his boss's attention. His seat was along side those of a couple of other reporters, who, anyway, were not there in the office. Since it was whiskey, not a colourless brew that he otherwise imbibed, I had to follow his instruction: my glass, as also his, was kept in the cupboard and for every sip, I would need to get up, open the shutters, put my face inside the cupboard, take a sip, keep the glass back, shut the shutters, sit down. It was a Charlie Chaplin like exercise I got tired of doing after three sips. I said, "Look, Nachi, this is ridiculous. You cannot be treating your guest this way. After all, this is your office. I don't care what your boss thinks of me, because it's you offered me the drink." It was a Sunday, afer all, and I had my remaining sips in a more elegant manner.

Vijendra Rao, the critical outsider said...

It is becoming a scourge - the slipups.

Please read it as:

"Who dares wins".

My apologies, once again - for the mistake, for the delay.