On a recent trip to Bhutan, I discovered that the delicious local beers one could choose from were Dragon 11000 and Red Panda. This was a source of relief. Finally, proof that the obsession of combining alcohol with animals is not just limited to Mumbai, where it is apparently illegal to name a establishment serving alcohol without an animal reference. (Hence Blue Frog, Barking Deer, White Owl, the Lazy Dog, Drunken Monkey, Horny Halibut or some such.)
What was even better, however, was a local whiskey, imaginatively titled K5 because it was distilled especially on the occasion of the coronation of Bhutan’s fifth king. I couldn’t help but feel jealous when I learnt the backstory. Because unlike Bhutan, India would never distill a special whiskey in honour of a new prime minister. You could never have a NaMo whiskey (distilled with the tears of Narmada Bachao Andolan volunteers) because it would be against Indian culture. You could never have a K1 – Kejriwal whiskey – because Anna Hazare would sneak into your house in the middle of the night and flog you. A Rahul Gandhi whiskey could be a packaging triumph: the box would stay matured for 60 years, and inside would be a pouch of desi tharra.
Luckily, my disappointment at not having learnt from our neglected neighbour dissipated when I learnt that a Bangalore-based entrepreneur had bought the franchise for Murree in India.
For those not in the know, Murree Brewery is the oldest running Pakistani enterprise that brews and bottles a variety of spirits and beer. Since it is illegal for Muslim citizens to drink (even though many do in the comfort of their homes), Murree is sold in large numbers to citizens of other religions, foreigners and those willing to import it and remains as much a monopoly as the army to Pakistani governance.
Once Murree Beer comes to India, it will be the first time Indians will be happy that something flammable has crossed the border from Pakistan. It's also guaranteed to increase the creepy sounding “people to people contact” that politicians keep barking on about.
Pakistan, being an Islamic republic, has a rather difficult relationship with alcohol. Ours is less shrouded in secrecy, but I’ve always found the Indian attitude towards alcohol fascinating. A section of people are teetotallers, which provides them with an extra sheen of sanctimony in social situations. The rest mostly fall into one of the following groups:
Kids: Holding a shot of Canada Dry or apple juice, pretending to drink with the rest of the family while a sneaky uncle lets you take a sip when no one’s looking.
School kids/ teens: Beer becomes the centrifugal force around which mountains are moved and plans hatched when the adults are away. Here the first distinction between a beer and spirit drinker emerges. The latter remains higher up in the cool food chain and lower on the academic achievement scale.
University students: Increased financial resources leads to brand experimentation, also known as a condition in which every story begins with “Man oh man that was so awesome we got so SMASHED!” This is also the time one discovers Long Island ice tea and Vijay Mallya is seen as the epitome of Indian success.
Late 20s/ yuppies: The dawn of pretentiousness as financial resources increase further and the palate moves towards refinement and hard liquor. Interacting with people at this stage, I’ve come to discover that standard beer, once an acceptable tool to get mildly buzzed, becomes an object of contempt. “You’re drinking Kingfisher/ Foster’s? That’s rubbish, have single malt. Or try this amazing microbrewery, they make jalebi and unicorn flavoured beer. It’ll BLOW. YOUR. MIND. Don’t talk to me otherwise.”
30s and beyond: Won’t shut up about single malt and its ability to cure cancer while physically assaulting young people for using coke as a mixer. Those with heart disease also gravitate towards wine and enjoy sounding like they’re in the throes of an epileptic fit while trying to pronounce the names of French and Italian chateaux.
Can you imagine what will happen when Murree Beer shows up? There will, of course, be those who will protest Pakistani products corrupting Indian youth and burn beer bottles only to realise they’re setting fire to alcohol and consequently, self-immolate.
Hopefully, the larger number will be of young Indians making a beeline for the new exotic thing. Instagram will be full of identical photos of identical Murree bottles, distinguishable only by the use of tilt shift and the choice of filter. We’ll also need Murree for when we’re forced to watch Veena Malik and Ashmit Patel movies on national television or have to pretend to still enjoy Sania Mirza’s tennis.
It’ll be everything the Aman Ki Asha people hoped for, only happier. Start drinking. The future of South Asia depends on it.
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Updated Date: Dec 03, 2013 10:25:08 IST