Posted by: Tanmoy Chakrabarti | January 17, 2011

Tequila bottle

Once a very young me was out for a walk with one of my uncles when we bumped into a drunken man on the street. It was a very hot afternoon and as a five year old, I was perhaps meeting a drunken man for the first time. Upon asking my uncle, what has happened to that man, my uncle replied that he is not well so he has taken some medicine after his bath. Not sure, till date why my dear uncle was so specific but these days we have quite a laugh remembering that conversation.

Drinking socially is not as popular in India, as in many other countries. Though, in our daily lives in India we come across various people who consume alcohol still in terms of global standards India apparently is far behind. I am not sure whether that is true or not but for a fact I know in India there must be some authentic drinks which people in rural hinterland consume and enjoy regularly. However, as with many things in India these authentic drinks are not properly marketed and popularised for people all over the world to know (or even consume!).

Recently, I came to know from my Chinese colleagues that drinking is very much a way of life in China. Most people in China drink and that too very strong liquor. Chinese have a preference for locally brewed liquor and hence the Johnny Walkers and Bacardis though available in the market are consumed by fewer people. Upon discussions with my Chinese colleague, I found out that Chinese brewed liquor contain as much as 70% of alcohol. Anything, containing below 50% of alcohol is not preferred. My colleague’s 77 year old grandfather prefers the 70% alcohol containing liquor. Obviously, these are very strong liquor to have a great deal of acceptance outside China but who cares if so many people are anyway enjoying the drink.

I also have a colleague who comes from Mexico. Whilst Mexico is infamous for its drug lords etc but it is undoubtedly famous for its alcoholic drinks. Even though I am the last person anyone would take out for a fancy drink because of my lack of interest, he was kind enough to bring me a bottle of Tequila – one of the most famous Mexican drinks. I am figuring out at the moment, what to do with that bottle of Tequila. Do people drink Tequila shots at home? Do I just make a cocktail for myself and drink it? I have tasted Tequila but that was in a pub. How much I miss my dear friends who were much keener alcohol lovers than I am.

What the colleague from Mexico brought for another of my colleague is certainly more interesting. He brought a bottle of Mezcal.

Now as would the interested will read in the Wikipedia link – Mezcal is a brewed in Mexico. What caught my attention was that the bottle has a dead worm inside it. That dead worm soaked in alcohol is supposed to be really tasty. I may not taste the drink because I found it uncomfortable looking at the worm inside it but one thing I can vouch for that it surely looked very different than any other alcohol bottle I have ever seen.

Like I said previously, I am sure there are traditional and interesting alcoholic beverages in India too but it is not well marketed to capture popular imagination. The closest I came to drinking something really authentic Indian was a drink made from “Mahuwa flowers”. However, that story is for another day.

In any case, if you have any suggestions on what I can do with the bottle of Tequila please let me know.



  1. Send it across with your father !
    Well, you have mentioned Mohua which is a tribal favourite in places where Mohua trees grow. Once I spent a night at Ajodhya Pahar and I woke up in the morning with a ‘top, top’ sound in my ear coming from a distance. A short walk brought me to a tree, the Mohua tree’ I learnt, from which flowers were just falling off making that rhythmic sound. One or two santhal girls were collecting the flowers in a basket to take home for making the family brew.
    In tea areas in North Bengal and Assam, the labours brew ‘rice beer’ i.e a liquour fermented from rice.In the Dooars, it is known as Hadiya or hariya. I forget what it is called in Assam. If you travel along the highway from Jalpaiguri towards Assam, you may come across the roadsides at places girls sitting with a Hadi and a few aluminium glasses selling the brew.
    In rural areas of Bengal, they ferment the juice from date palm (khejurer ras) and palm (tal). And of course in the South they have the very popular tody which is made from coconut .
    In the towns and cities of Bengal,you will find Pachai Mader Dokan, shops selling various brands of fermented drink.These are all Govt. licensed.You will find similar shops all over India as distinct from those selling India made Foreign Liquor,IMFL- beer,whiskeys etc. I don’t think our indigenous brews,Pachai, can really be marketed worldwide – unless in the the last forty years they have improved their standard. though Saratchandra in the past and Sunil Gangopadhya and his group in their Khalasitolla days were quite enamoured by it.
    I should not leave out the ‘cholai’-the strong distilled brew which is generally sold in clandestine shops and is often adulterated but has a strong base among the poorer section of the working class.
    What I want to say is that India has a multi-liquor diversity and the unity lies in the fact that drinking is as ancient as anything you can think of. If you go by Nirode Chowdhury, it might have been the cause of split between the Sura and Asura, Devas and Daityas. Somras is something you find in ancient texts and in his Brave New World, Aldous Huxley found it a necessary ingredient in the lives of the people he depicted.
    The comment I wanted to make has turned into a post for which I may be excused. The social stigma associated with drinking is a very Bengali middle class thing and today it is another instance of our hypocrisy.

  2. Tanmoy, I made a mistake.The Pachai mad I mentioned should be read as deshi mad- country liquor. It is fermented and refined. Surprisingly,one of the popular brands used to be called Ma Kali- it must be there even now.

  3. The process of Fermentation is translated as “Panchai” in Bengali.The word was used by the authors of chemistry books in Bengali during ’60;s.Some Desi Mader Dokan advertise themselves rightly as Panchai Mader Dokan.Ma Kali used to be popular brand, perhaps still avilable.It is Banglal or Deshi Mad having a picture of Ma Kali printed on the bottle. It is perhaps a graded one comes out of Bhanti Khana.

  4. Satya, I am aware that Panchai is a fermented drink. Tari is one, same as Hariya.But country liquor like Ma Kali are not Panchai,they are processed after fermentation, distilled that is, like whiskey etc.
    Once in my bohemian days in the sixties, I stayed a few nights at a coal mine in Asansol with a trainee Asstt. Manager friend of mine.We would go over in the evenings to the bunglow of the Manager, a few years older and a bit of an intellectual. We all thought we were intellectual those days.The atmosphere used to be heavy with literature, smoke and rum. One day another friend from my coffee house days, also an engineer, came along with a bottle of country liquor.He showed us how he drank his rum.He got some sugar caramelised in dry heat, poured some in each glass of country liquor.The liquor ,which is colourless or pale white, turned the colour of rum.But its smell was a giveaway !
    My real encounter with country liquor was however in Dehra Dun one night in a rather seedy liquor den where I was led by my late friend Arkaprabha in our Mussourie days.We were wearing blazers with Academy logo and was given a royal treatment – a separate enclosure !But that’s another story.

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