2006, December, Kolkata
A bunch of first-year college students giggle and sneak into a house. We were all quietly going to the second-storey of my the-then boyfriend’s home so that his parents can’t see us. It was a chilly New Year’s Eve in Kolkata. We were a bunch of 18/19 year olds, intoxicated by youth and the fresh smell of independence. As we settled in, the bravest one amongst us brought out a bottle full of dark liquid from his bag. “We have Old Monk and Thums Up, guys,” he proudly announced. Everyone cheered. That was my first taste of an alcohol that’d almost rule my life for the next decade.
2011, January, Pune
It was an incredible day. I had just got my first journalism job through campus placement. I was going to be a Masters degree holder in a couple of months and I had a swanky job in Mumbai to boot. I was ecstatic. “Treat is on me tonight,” I squealed, giddy with happiness. A bunch of friends went down the narrow mountain roads to reach their favourite watering hole Silver Spoon. Silver Spoon was anything like its name. It was a small shanty popular with Symbiosis students who had little pocket money inversely proportional to their thirst for alcohol. “Bhaiyya, do Old Monk ka khamba aur Thums Up pet bottle,” I ordered without asking anyone. It was our poison of choice, after all. The night remains a blur of rainbow colours and happiness.
2016, July, Mumbai
Cut to a dimly lit office. Most of the people had left already. I was typing furiously in my computer. I had a deadline to meet. It was a Friday night. My head ached and my back pained. I needed a break. I stretched and got out of the office. Near the small tapri outside, I saw a bunch of college kids laughing and cracking jokes, without a care in the world. Deja-vu?
The sky was cloudy. It would rain again. I looked at those kids again. They were still laughing. I dialed the number of an old friend from Kolkata. “Daaru peeyega?” is all I asked, without even a customary “hello”, the moment he answered. “Bar Stock Exchange Kamla Mills in an hour?” pat came the reply. That’s the thing about old friends. You cut the drama and come straight to the point. An hour later we were sitting at our regular table with two glasses of Old Monk watching football on the big screen.
Couple of days back, when I heard Kapil Mohan, the man behind our beloved rum Old Monk has passed away at 88 on January 6, I felt a tinge of sadness without even knowing the man ever. You, Sir, knowingly or unknowingly, have created a drink that was the right to passage for not just me, but lakhs like me. It was the first taste of independence, first taste of growing up, first taste of being a ‘rebel’ without a cause. Launched in 1954, Old Monk for a long time had remained the largest selling dark rum in the world. And since then to present day, so many generations have ‘grown up’ thanks to this magic potion.
I’ve stated only three scenarios above that talk about my affair with Old Monk (still a better love-story than Twilight), but there are so many more in these 12 years. I can’t fit them in one article. It has been there during my heartbreaks and during my ecstasy; it has been the foundation of a new blooming love and it has been a reason for celebration. On lonely nights, I’ve had Old Monk alone listening to Alexi Murdoch and wondered about the meaning of this life and drowned in existentialism. And I’ve drunk Old Monk with a group of friends and partied till 5 AM. I’ve gone to the fanciest of places and have still ordered Old Monk without even caring about being judged by others. And of course I’ve gone to my favourite watering holes like Janta, Gokul or Yacht and still ordered Old Monk. Old Monk transcends class barriers and that’s the beauty of this drink.
It has been two months that I’ve quit Old Monk and I must mention that it’s not because of the alcohol, but the mixer. Cola – be it Pepsi, Coca Cola or Thums Up, is what I’ve given up on. The sale of colas is fast falling because finally everyone is waking up and realising how harmful carbonated drinks are for our body. It took me 12 years and be at the brink of my late 20s to finally decide on not letting cold drinks be a part of my lifestyle anymore. Then why quit my favourite Old Monk, you ask? Well, I tried. A month back I met a dear friend at our favourite Bar Stock Exchange and I ordered my usual, well, Old Monk. “But I’ve given up colas and beers, okay?” I announced dramatically while flipping my hair, all the time consciously avoiding eye contact with my friend, knowing fully well that he’ll laugh at my face. He did. I ignored him and ordered for a soda instead. Old Monk with soda tasted like cat piss (I haven’t tasted cat piss but I can bet my first born it tastes exactly like this) and I could hardly swallow two pegs of my most beloved drink.
That’s the day I knew I’ll have to bid adieu to my favourite drink of 12 years. I’ve grown up, my friend. You’ve been there during my best times and my worst. You’ve seen me do the most questionable things (oh wait, you were responsible FOR those questionable things), you’ve been there when no one was there, you were my warm blanket on a cold night. But now, it’s time to let go. Mr. Mohan, thank you for the memories. You’ll be loved and remembered.
To the man who lived! Hic.