Dearest Tender Coconuts,
What’s the name for a booze shop where you are? Like any good Delhiite, I say “theka” but I know what it means when K calls it an “off-license.” In Bombay, it was the fancy “wine shop” as in “There’s a wine shop down the road that delivers past midnight.” If I know my American pop culture, I think they say “liquor store” which also sounds fancy. Actually, everything sounds fancier than “theka” which, I literally just learned from Quora, means “licensed” so basically K and I are saying the same thing in different languages! This is like that Colin Firth storyline in Love, Actually, any minute now K will have to dive into a pond to rescue the typed pages of my manuscript which I have foolishly not made a back-up of, I will be so moved, I will go to his little German village and ask his father for his hand in marriage even though neither of us understands what the other is saying. Who needs WORDS when you have LOVE and other ridiculous things that movies would have you believe are True Feelings.
This is the Internet Personified, these are the alphabet series, and today I’m leading you down the Merrie Roade of Drinke, because that’s right, it’s D is for drinking.
Like everyone you know, maybe even you, I started experimenting with alcohol in high school. It wasn’t that hard, the thekas don’t ID you, even if you do look a bit sneaky and a bit giggly while you do it, and once we drank a whole bottle of Lady Di1 gin, in my friend’s bedroom while her parents were at work and my other friend got so sick we had to stick her in the shower and give her lemons to suck on, because we heard lemons sober you up. Later, I would avoid gin for many years until I re-discovered it in my thirties just remembering the sickly sweet smell of that Lady Di mixed with Sprite, because we thought light drinks should only have light mixers. I’ve never liked Sprite though.
At high school parties, I chose vodka, but frankly, I’d have drunk whatever was given to me, no matter how distateful I found it. Once, rebelling, I went to the home of a friend of a friend, a little room that this friend of a friend had rented for themselves (he was not much older than me, and we were six people in the room, so it’s not as shady as you might imagine) and he had no drinking water—he’d have had to buy water or boil it—but he had six cans of extremely cold beer, which he offered to me, and which I drank, throat moving gulpgulpgulp not tasting it at all, but it was so cold and so refreshing. I’ve never liked beer, but I remember the feeling of thirst quenched.
A pleasant high, that’s what I went for. A mild buzzing in my head, a slight tilting of the world as I stood up. I was not getting drunk in high school, and if it came down to it, I usually finished my night off with just a straight up Pepsi or Fanta.
It had never been that much fun before at high school parties—primarily because the school I was at for classes 11 and 12 was huge, and so going to a party was seeing two or three people you know. I was “dating” a boy from a different school, so I didn’t even have reason to enjoy going to these parties, the one or two I was invited to anyway. They all seemed like more of the same, a lot of people talking about a lot of people I didn’t know, and me, awkwardly in a corner, attempting to be light and funny and cool. (Come to think of it, not a lot has changed. Hmm.) I had two friends I hung out with, they were sometimes more dazzled by the experience than I was. All Delhi schools have this one tradition of the “conti” party, not “continental” you understand, but “continuation” like a continuation of your graduation. We didn’t have one single graduation ceremony, because all of our final board exams finished on different dates, but all schools had the eleventhies throw a party for the twelfthies. I don’t remember ours, but I do remember that I got asked to the CJM-Colomba’s2 conti party because of my various friendships across the city, quite a coup for me. I remember going too, because I had to sneak around and do it. Not the actual party, but the sneaking around stays firm in my memory.
Then? College. That’s where I learned to drink socially, as a way to connect and bond. I was still much younger than Delhi’s legal drinking age (25) but right next to our college was a cheap bar called The Supper Factory (they tried very hard to become a cool acronym—TSF!—but the most we could summon up for it was Supper.) It was a restaurant which served cheap drinks, so I don’t want you to imagine a bar. Imagine instead white and blue lighting, cheap plastic wicker tables with glass tops, four chairs to a table and sticky-feeling fake leather bound menus. I don’t remember what food they served, but they all served Indian Chinese. It seems to be the rule across the country, you want cheap drinks, you’ll get chilli chicken dry on the side. The Supper Factory had a morning deal, for alcoholics and young students at the women’s college next door—happy hours till 2 pm, two-for-one vodka shots at 40 rupees. I got so far behind on my attendance in my second year at college they had to send a letter home, all because someone or the other would suggest The Supper Factory at even the slightest hint of boredom. We were never bored now that we discovered liquor. Study sessions, four of us best friends or as close as, by the time the big hand and the little hand both met in an over the head namaste at noon, someone would say, “Oh, is it noon?” and someone else would break out the vodka, the friend whose house we studied at went downstairs for the mixers and the ice. “After all,” she’d say as I’ve mentioned before, “If it’s after twelve o’clock, we’re not alcoholics.”
My History of Drinking should really be tied up with my History of Sex. Many bad decisions, some of which, mercifully, I can no longer remember. Some close calls, for a young woman in Delhi, drinking as I did, till I had “fragmentary blackouts3” I survived to tell the tale about it. Sometimes my body just took over, I remember weakly saying “No no” to a pushy boy at a party and he kept pushing and saying, “Why not?” until I said, “Because I have to puke” and promptly did and he promptly left me alone. No one wants to kiss a vomity mouth, thank god. Another time, I only managed to get the man off me because he was too drunk to do anything other than vomit once I shoved him. Still, it was scary and burnt into my memory as you can see from the fact that I still remember.
It got to be a lot. I was always skirting close to disaster, and never reaching it. For many years, my late teens and my twenties, I drank to excess more often than not. My strong young body kept off hangovers for many years, and I could sleep for only two hours and wake up looking as fresh as a daisy. One of the scariest fragmentary blackouts I had was in Goa, with two other friends, when the last thing I remember was vomiting my several tequila shots into the bushes, just projectile vomiting everywhere, and then I woke up the next morning in my bed, one of my friends curled up at my feet. We tried to reconstruct what happened to us, but we were so sick, the hangover lasted two days, that we could barely put a sentence together. And I was with a very controlling man, who discovered my activities all the way from Bombay and everyone was very disapproving, complete strangers at our Goa hotel were looking at us like they’d never in their whole lives seen such unladylike behaviour. At least we got back to our hotel, in one piece, the only disaster being our terrible hangovers (and some tsk-tsk-young-people lectures.) Was that the last time I had a tequila shot? It might have been.
I frightened myself sometimes, so I began to ease off a bit. Maybe not get drunk every weekend. Maybe learn to love red wine and pour your own drinks at a party so you can control how much goes into them. Maybe put down your glass for a while and wander off in search of water and something to eat before you return. I still got drunk, but I learned to recognise the Right Before The Edge symptoms and stop. I no longer enjoyed sticking my finger down my throat to vomit so the room would stop spinning. (Okay, no one enjoys that, but as a life skill it does sober you up somewhat.) I was on the brink and I turned away, as many of my friends were doing, unbeknownst to me, and suddenly, when you went out for drinks with your friends, there’d be a point before last call, before the bar had to physically shove you out into the night with your takeaway cup, where someone would say, “I’m done, I should go, early morning tomorrow” and you’d find yourself agreeing, and you’d pay the bill and go home before midnight like civilised people. Or you’d be partying and someone would offer to buy you a shot and you’d look down at your half-full glass—a mojito maybe, you love mojitos—and you’d say, “Nah, thanks, I’m good” and they’d move on. Maybe once in a while you’d still go to TGIF with your friends, where they had a 1+1 Happy Hour on everything, and their Ultimate Margarita was the size of your head, and cost 500 bucks so if you went out with 1000 rupees in your pocket you could get four and be as drunk as a lord. The serving staff was downright rude by the end, you’d sit there for so long, four to a table, eking out your drinks as long as they took.
Now I’m a grown up, someone I might have called boring in my own youth, I know my four stages of drunkeness: the Chatty (everything is interesting and I have so much to say!), the Bolshie (wow, you are all SO WRONG about everything and I might call you all assholes in a loving yet firm way), the Maudlin (who will cry when I die?) and the Tired (k, I’m ready to go home now, I have hit the wall, if people keep talking to me they will encounter glazed eyes and a fixed smile like a robot.)
Anyway, tell me your tales—cocktail recipes, stories of drunkenness, your “I’m never drinking again” fables, I want to hear them alllll.
Have you seen that Substack now allows FOOTNOTES? Mine are at the bottom of this thing if you click the footnote number next to the word on top. It seems you can only view them in the web version though (boo) so click on the title of this newsletter to go to the browser edition.
Also please tell your friends about this newsletter if you haven’t already because it’s nice to know that people like it and tell other people to like it.
PREVIOUSLY on The Internet Personified Alphabet Editions:
C is for crush.
Links I Liked On The Internet:
I wrote this for The Voice of Fashion about bras and Mrs Srivastav, the Collector’s wife from English, August.
After reading this profile, I immediately began following @deuxmoi, the Instagram gossip account.
Related: ten long years of trying to make Armie Hammer happen.
The roommate from hell story.
Trying to do some research on all those gross fast cooking recipe videos that pop up everywhere.
Beautiful story about a little amusement park designed especially for children with terminal diseases by a Holocaust survivor. (I see Tom Hanks as a great lead for the eventual movie.)
Jeff Bezos and the Amazon-y world.
Ultra fast fashion is eating the world.
Lovely essay by Annie Zaidi about how consensual love is basically hated in India.
Five facts about birds.
Bats are the new cats and I love them.
Have a great week!
Where am I? The Internet Personified! A mostly weekly collection of things I did/thought/read/saw that week.
Who are you? Meenakshi Reddy Madhavan, writer of internet words (and other things) author of seven books (support me by buying a book!) and general city-potter-er.
Follow me on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram. (Plus my book recommendation Instagram!)
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Forward to your friends if you liked this and to the hangover you now get after one measly gin and tonic if you didn’t.
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Okay, so the gin was not called Lady Di, I don’t think. It was royalty definitely though. Duchess? Queen? Or just plain old Blue Moon, still beloved by dive bars across India.) (Don’t drink it, it’s terrible and will ruin you.
St Colomba’s is a very popular Catholic boys school which shares a boundary wall, as many single sex schools do, for whatever strange reason, with the Convent of Jesus and Mary, a very popular Catholic girl’s school. They were called the “brother-sister” schools, Columba’s actually shared this honour with CJM and one other girl’s school, so they got two Conti Parties, but the CJM one was widely acknowledged to be the funner, “more happening” one.) (The St. Colomba’s boys—at least, the few I knew—had a particular honk they used to announce themselves—beep beepbeep beep beep, which was supposed to correspond to “pakad pakad ke chodh do” or “catch ‘em and fuck ‘em” for my non-Hindi speaking readers, so you have some context for them now. Imagine big cars exuding Isseymikayi for Men and cigarette smoke fumes rolling up to your door and beep-beepbeeping.
A note on fragmentary blackouts, in case you’re curious:
The two types of alcohol-induced blackouts, en bloc and fragmentary, are very different from one another and are not to be confused with passing out — an experience of falling asleep or going unconscious after drinking alcohol. In en bloc blackouts, a person experiences a complete loss of memory for the drinking episode; they are often awake and functioning but have no memory of their actions the next day. Perhaps even more frightening is the fragmentary blackout, which involves partial memory loss, sometimes retrieved with cues; leaving a drinker to piece together bits and pieces of hazy information from the night before.
Blackouts occur at high rates among social drinkers and binge drinkers, alike; but one of the largest groups impacted by blackouts is college students.
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