Wednesday, May 28, 2008

The Joy of Drinking - Barbara Holland

For a non-drinker, like me, this book is an interesting read. Having lived all my young age with room-mates who had the motto "never a dry day" , I always wondered what it takes people to get into the habit of drinking. Despite my moral and orthodox upbringing, I never had an inclination to try and get into this majority. I have also seen that most of the people ( atleast here) start their drinking more as a social / friendly compulsions. I have been witness to many of the after effects and pranks caused by excessive, uncontrolled drinking of my friends, which only increased my distance from alcohol.

Having said that, I have always wanted to know what it is , that attracts millions and millions to this. This has been there though out the humankind and most probably would have started with the first settlement ( after being nomads hunting the animals ). The leftover grains have fermented and our ancestors have found its soothing effect to the soul. Barbara Holland quotes from William Faulkner as " civilization began with fermentation" .

Mentions and descriptions of this can be found in most of the ancient literature, including the Vedic literature of India. The book examines the early days of alcohol, its variations at different parts of the world. Each region have found a way to ferment the grains and fruits found in abundance in that place into an alcoholic drink. Our own TODDY from coconut and palm trees , the famous Goan Fenny from the cashew , rice beer of China, GIN , wines, the Vodka from Potatoes. As the sophistication increased, and the exploration and travel on the rise, people start tasting drinks from various part of the world. the European conquerors in Latin America, The early settles in the US etc have brought their native drinks to the new territory, later started developing breweries in their new homes.
The taverns were also become a place for social get together and bonding. This has become the place of social and cultural activities of the towns and villages. Most of the development in literary , art and cultural revolution have began in such a place. While the popularity and acceptance of drinking grew to an extend that it had its own effect in the social and family structures and functioning. The first words against this started within the house hold. The stories of drunken father, beating husbands started gaining momentum and so the resistance against the taverns and alcohol in general. This was the beginning of prohibition and controls.

The book also discusses the issues of 'hang-over' and the remedies which have been there since the days of drinking. There haven't been a medicine developed to make the next morning fresh with zero after effects of the previous night. There was new movement to help the addicts to get out of this habit. Movements like Alcoholic Anonymous and similar came up to help those in need.

In the middle of the last millenium, came a new drink as a substitute to alcohol. It took less time to replace the famous taverns with the new COFFEE houses. The new drink offered a fresh new taste, with no after effects. It also had better social acceptability. Coffee become the craze in Europe so much that there were objections against coffee houses as well. One such described in this book is an interesting one. There was a petition files by a group pf women in London in year 1674, which said "'Now, alas, their old vigour was so decayed that they couldn't perform their marital duties. The occasion of which Insufferable disaster.. we can attribute to nothing more than the excessive use of that Newfangled, abominable, heathenish liquor called COFFEE".

Was it the afterthoughts of prohibition or the quest to experiment, did create the cocktails like martini and others. Though there are different version of the origin of Martini and cocktail, what it did was to revolutionise the industry. Not every experimentations stayed , but what was accepted became a rage. Prohibition never worked anywhere in the world. It always made a new opportunities for the people to make illicit ways of producing liquor. Many Indian states are into the prohibition bandwagon in and out, often causing larger damage by people relying more on the illicit liqour. More than 200 people died this month in such an inciden in Bangalore and neighboring districts in Tamilnadu.

Over the centuries, we have also found out the medicinal use of alcohol and it is still a practice in many countries to have an alcoholic home remedy for many of the diseases. The famous brandy+hot water medicine for the common cold , is one I remember followed here.

Towards the middle of 20th Century, Alcohol was replaced by a larger menace. Many youngsters in the US and Europe, drifted towards drugs, for faster and stronger results. There was a different culture developed and it took decades to reduce its influence in people. It is still an issue being fought, but to a considerable lesser extent. End of 20th century and the early years of 21st century saw a new craze for health and fitness among the corporate citizens and the new generation of youngsters. They spent their evenings pumping in the gym instead of having a drink or two with colleagues and friends. Soon alcohol was projected as health hazard and dangerous. Adding to the restriction imposed by the authority limiting drinking and driving, it become less and less popular and confined to the 4 walls of your home. Now, there are studies and research papers being published , proclaiming that a small amount of alcohol per day reduces chances for heart-attack, depression, diabetics and what not. However, if this report in the latest outlook magazine is right, the story in India is different. More and more people are getting into the habits and the sales of Alcohol beverages are on the rise. So much that in many states, the state Govt does the collection and sale of alcoholic beverages. In most of the Indian states, Excise Duty on the alcohol sale is a substantial income to the treasury.

This is an interesting book, written very well without getting into the research or historical style. This is full of stories and anecdotes , few poems and other interesting articles. Her style and the subtle humour adds to the reading pleasure. One such story on George Washington is interesting. Apparently, he lost his initial election to the local body, later realised the power of alcohol in the electoral battle. This time he invested in 144 gallons of rum,wine and beer handing out to the voters. In India, it is a regular affair in the election , from the local bodies to the supreme Parliament, that supply of Alcohol does impact the result of the election. I recall one of the cleaning staff in Office telling me as " he gave me Rs150 + 2 packets ( of local arrack) and I voted for him where as the other candidate gave only 100 and one packet ".
An interesting subject and one can write pages after pages on this subject. However, the book is well structured and short.

My last thoughts on this are, if this is so much fun and entertaining , am I missing something ?
US $ 14.95
Bloomsbury Publications
148 Pages
More read :
http://www.nytimes.com/2007/05/06/books/review/Harris.t.html

1 comment:

rehab centers said...

Good thing that you have controlled yourself to never engage in alcoholism for it is only going to ruin lives. It's because alcohol drinkers tend to start in binge drinking, but eventually it can cause addiction that quite difficult to recover by yourself.