Lockdown Musings: Rum To The Rescue!
Alcohol boosts morale—that’s why it’s called spirit. Our locked-up souls could do with a bit of lifting.
They say dog is man’s best friend. I disagree. I have two dogs and I love them, but a true friend gives you strength and confidence in your limited abilities and delusions of grandeur. Man’s best friend, in fact, is alcohol.
Faced with danger, alcohol helps us endure. During World War I men spent months in horrific trenches with danger, explosions and disease. Alcohol kept us going. The French had wine rations. The Canadian and British troops—including our Indian men in uniform—had rum to survive.
Alcohol helps in three ways. Firstly, alcohol boosts morale. That’s why it’s called spirit. Remember the introvert accountant who did the Naagin dance after a tipple? The glummest brighten up after ingesting some nectar. While under lockdown we cook, snack, do the dishes, snack, clean, snack—you get the drift. On Zoom, we discuss the wilting economy with offensively underdressed bosses, grateful that we can’t smell them. Our locked-up spirits need lifting.
Secondly, alcohol is a combat motivator. During World War II, Germany attacked an unsuspecting Russia with three million troops. The first thing Stalin did was bring back Vodka rations. He steeled up the Russian army with over 1 billion litres of Vodka annually. No wonder they won. In World War I when the troops had to go “over the top”— leave their trenches to face gunfire and shrapnel—they were given extra rum. Now, we face a similar fate when we step out. We leave the safety of our homes to buy vegetables, groceries and medicines. Yet we are denied the basic reinforcement of some hooch.
Thirdly, alcohol helps us cope. We are locked up. Unable to step out. Boredom inside and grave danger outside. We need something to boost us. Talking to friends helps until they bring up the liquor lull. I joined an online emotional support forum my psychologist wife runs. It didn’t work. A case of beer would do better. History is littered with evidence of how firewater helps warriors.
The tipple helps in war and in peace. When the British arrived in India, malaria killed many of them. They discovered that quinine helped fight the disease, but it was disgusting. So they put quinine into Tonic Water, added some Gin, and it became palatable. Soon Gin and Tonic became all the rage. Winston Churchill famously said, “The Gin and Tonic has saved more Englishmen’s lives, and minds, than all the doctors in the Empire”.
The rum served to the British soldiers in World War I came in stoneware jars labelled SRD short for Supply Reserve Depot. The rum often didn’t reach the troops, and SRD became “Seldom Reaches Destination”. But at least they tried. On the other hand, teetotaller generals often banned the rum. History is witness that such generals were the most hated, not by the enemy but by their own troops.
That’s a lesson for us.
We stand together facing uncertain death. We’re eye-to-eye with the remote possibility of contracting a disease which has a 99 per cent chance of not killing us. We are the frontline. This is war and everyone is a soldier. We need reinforcement. Strength. Booze.
Ours is the land of Shiva, the ultimate imbiber. At temples like Kalabhairava, the devout offer not riches, but alcohol. Legend has it Shiva drinks it all. The Scots named Shivas Regal after him but messed up on the spelling later. They must have been fighting malaria vigorously at the time.
To win this battle, alcohol should be made an essential commodity. Those who make and sell alcohol should be anointed essential service providers. No single malt or triple-refined vodka is needed. Plain old rum or mahua, toddy, chhang or feni will all do quite well. In the end, it’s all Somras.
Chetan Mahajan is an author, blogger, and humourist. He and his wife Dr Vandita Dubey co-founded the Himalayan Writing Retreat