Though alcohol does have the burden of an ill-practice attached to it from some social perspectives, the author justifies why he indulges in writing about alcohol.
I stand a little in awe of Asaji Maya. She is one of those larger-than-life matriarchal village figures who act as the lynchpin of a huge extended family. I have often been a guest in her house since I am a friend of her son and used to teach in the school in her village. In the 11 years that I have known her, Asaji Maya has struck me as an exemplary human being; calm, diligent, uncomplaining, warm, caring, smiling, humorous and always commanding respect. There is wisdom in her almond shaped eyes and a sort of wild faded beauty in her high cheekbones, golden bulaki and unkempt black hair.
The other day Asaji Maya asked me what I am doing these days. I told her that I occasionally contribute to a weekly column about alcohol. My answer was met with a frown. “Alcohol is bad for people,” she said disapprovingly, “why do you write about such things?” Before I could think of an answer she had already left in order to attend the fire in the adjoining kitchen. I know why Asaji Maya reacted in that way. In her village only men drink alcohol, though it is the women who make it. There are a number of village drunks, including Asaji Maya’s brother-in-law. Though good natured most of the time, they are all quite pathetic figures who sometimes need nursing like invalids. The hard working men of the village, the pillars of the community, are either teetotal or only drink very occasionally. Of course Asaji Maya is going to equate drinking with failure and dissatisfaction and therefore question why anyone would want to celebrate alcohol in a weekly column.
The root cause of Asaji Maya’s disapproval is clear to me in a way that my own defense of contributing to this column is not. She’s right, alcohol, at least when drunk in excess, is frequently responsible for wasted opportunities and shattered dreams. Is it then responsible to write about it? It’s a tricky one, not dissimilar to the question, ‘Why drink at all?’ which, when I wake up on a morning with a headache and an empty wallet, is a particularly hard question to find an answer to.
But I’m feeling pretty clear headed at the moment so I’m going to give it a go. Drinking is a worthwhile thing to do for the following reasons:
You can enjoy alcohol without getting drunk, in which case you savor the flavor of alcohol, rather than its effects. The preparation of many alcoholic drinks requires an enormous amount of skill, knowledge and effort and is often the end product of a long tradition. When you drink a glass of fine wine or whiskey you will be able to taste the hard work that has gone into the creation of that particular drink in a way that is not the case with, say, a glass of freshly squeezed orange juice which may also taste delicious but in an altogether simpler way.
Getting a bit drunk is fine if you do it for the right reasons. Alcohol allows us to overcome our inhibitions – it often helps people to relax and enjoy themselves in the company of their friends. If we drink alcohol in a positive way, as a celebration of life, love and happiness, then it has the power to help us access a beneficent state of mind which might otherwise partly or wholly elude us. It is when alcohol is consumed in a negative frame of mind, as a means of escape or a numbing of pain, that it causes the sorts of problems that Asaji Maya attributes to it.
Finally, alcohol, in the way in which it affects our mind and body, can teach us a valuable life lesson. My old drinking companion the Fat Doc was always fond of saying, ‘What goes up must come down.’ The English Romantic writer Thomas De Quincey made the same point a little more formally: ‘In alcoholic intoxication the movement is always along a kind of arch. There is a crowning point in the movement upwards, which once attained cannot be renewed. After reaching this acme of genial pleasure, it is a mere necessity of the case to sink through corresponding stages of collapse.’ Any form of pleasure-based happiness in life follows this fundamental pattern. Lasting happiness comes only through self-transformation from within and that must always be the product of hard work. The fun of drinking and the misery of the hangover reminds us of this inalienable truth about the human condition.
That, dear Asaji Maya, is why it’s OK to contribute to a column about alcohol. !