Mallus and booze

True story. A group of friends are making plans to go out bar hopping. Someone asks the new guy in the group if he drinks. Pat comes the reply “What question are you asking, da? I am a Mallu!”.

The Mallus’ fondness for hooch is well-known. At dusk, after a hard days work, hordes of Malayalis descend upon one of two places to seek peace and ruminate on the meaning of life – places of worship or booze shops. The crowd in front of the booze shop easily distinguishes itself by its impeccable conduct. The only place in India I have seen people standing in a line and patiently waiting for their turn is at booze shops in Kerala.

Booze is an integral part of the Mallu pop culture. I can’t think of too many Malayalam movies that go without a scene involving booze. Everybody drinks – the hero, the sidekick, the character actors, the comedian, the villain, the vamp – almost everyone except the heroine, who protests feebly and pours dutifully. Drunks in public places are met with a disapproving shake of the head that is completely negated by the accompanying smile of an understanding adult regarding a naughty child. Talking about inebriation, if you are a visitor in Kerala and someone comments that you are fit, do not bother sucking up your breath, squaring your shoulders, pulling in your belly and thanking the kind soul through your clenched teeth (from all the effort going into appearing fit for a few fleeting moments). In Kerala, “fit” is a compliment reserved for individuals who, after consuming a few alcoholic beverages, proceed to use the swimming plus and then realize that there is no flush. Yes, “fit” equals drunk – only in Kerala!

While on this topic, it is worth talking about the Mallu’s style of drinking. Long before tequila shots chased by a wedge of lime and salt became popular in hip bars in India, the Mallu imbibed alcohol with the uniquely Indian chaser – achaar (spicy pickle). The ritual is as follows – a) Pour a large drink of your choice of booze into a glass, b) Pour water or soda. The Mallu is environmentally conscious and makes do with just a few drops. c) Take a deep breath, d) Gulp down the entire glass in one go, e) Touch a pickle with your middle finger, e) Lick it, and last but very important step f) Let your breath out with a loud “Aaahhhhhhhhhhhhh” from the bottom of your throat. Steps c) through f) need to be accomplished in about two seconds. Always a perfectionist, the Mallu repeats the ritual till the two-second limit is met.

[Note: Kerala has the highest per capita consumption of alcohol in India and a track record of alcohol abuse. That’s not funny.]