OUT OF THE BOTTLE…and, into our homes. Palash Krishna Mehrotra talks about our drinking habits through his anthology — House Spirits, Drinking in India. Hic on…
“Our attitude to drinking is the same as it is to sex. We do it all the time. And some States, it seems, do it more than others.” Palash Krishna Mehrotra opens House Spirit, Drinking in India with this preface. And, it’s clear that this delightful cocktail of stories, poems and essays is not going to beat around the bush, or specifically the bottle!
Brought out by Speaking Tiger and edited by Mehrotra, the thrust of the anthology would be on drinking in India — snazzy upper class bars, thelas and in theatres etc. So seasoned and new writers have come together in the book — with their shots; some are super smooth, some are hard-hitting and some leave that burning sensation in your throat, once you reach the rock bottom. The stories are on drinking, and not about the drinks and where you can find them. They reveal the fun side as well as the dark shadows lurking beneath your glass.
A couple of pages into the book, and you go up. But soon enough, you come crashing down to harsh reality. Reading House Spirits… is like a sine curve. “I wanted to cover both sides — the merry part and the not so merry part of drinking,” explains Mehrotra, who has a reputation for liking the bottle. That and the experience of editing an anthology in the past, set the ball rolling for this book.
“I decided to focus on drinking in India, which has not been written about. We think of it as something transgressive, something naughty.
Indians drink outside their homes because it’s not acceptable to our families. So I was looking for people who write entertainingly, rather than just cover ground. They could write personalised copies or about the places to drink like thelas which offer local booze or the gay bars,” tells Mehrotra from his Dehradun residence.
So the anthology has stories from Haridwar, Kerala, Delhi, Kolkata, Dehradun, Bengaluru and Gujarat (yes, you read it right), revealing a tantalising tip of the iceberg.
Little surprised that Goa does not feature much in the book, we asked Mehrotra about it. He calmly explains that one story does brush over Pune’s favourite booze destination, but after all, an anthology is about “Commission and Omission”.
With such variety of topics — hilarious poems, bone-chilling rehab stories, family secrets and strained relationships — the language and tone of the anthology is earthy and refreshing. None of those glass-clinking and air kissing, alcohol drinking janata makes an appearance in this anthology. It’s about aam aadmi. And aurat about whom Kanika Gahlaut talks through her essay, ‘When Nights Turn Into Decades’.
Then there is a generous tadka of Bollywood with ‘Booze, Bollywood, Bombay and I’ by Mayank Shekhar and ‘Permit Room: Drinking In Hindi Cinema’ by Sidharth Bhatia.
“We didn’t want the articles to be a very upper class thing, as drinking in India can be a very expensive affair. We have included many personal essays. For instance, Pawan Kumar Jain writes about coming from a family where alcohol is a taboo. Or Amit Chaudhari talks about being a non-drinker. Samanth Subramanium talks about his love for toddy, while Mayank Tewari writes about the Brahmin from Haridwar who drank too much for his own good,” says Mehrotra.
The USP of the book is its down to earth, sometimes dirt-covered approach to a sensitive issue. “Some of the pieces are very honest and confessional. The ‘Rehab Diary’ is brutally honest. We are in a society where we sweep things under the carpet. We don’t talk about it much. It’s not very easy to write either. In that sense, the writers of House Spirit have not held back anything,” he adds.
Definitely, a one of its kind anthology, House Spirit would make an excellent addition to your friend-who-loves-to-drink’s collection. It would be a welcome change from that bottle of French wine you keep gifting him thrice a year!
This book review was first published in Sakal Times, Pune, Sunday June 19, 2016.