Saturday, January 28, 2012

Have a drink, Willy-ya ?

The famous animation series, The Simpsons, is full of endearing characters, and one of my favorites, is that of groundskeeper Willie. He is as Scottish as it gets - with flaming red hair, and a flaming Scottish accent. Sometimes, you can see him with a bagpipe, and sometimes, in a kilt. And many of his quotes, have gone down in history, mainly because of the way you can "interpret" his Scottish way of saying things in plain old English. I remember a conversation between Bart Simpson, and Willie, which is quite popular amongst die hard fans -- it was not very difficult for me to find it on the Internet.

Groundskeeper Willy: "Yeah, I bought your mutt. And I 'ate him! I 'ate his little face, I 'ate his guts, and I 'ate the way he's always barkin'! So, I gave him to the church."
Bart: "Ohh, I see... You 'hate' him, so you gave him to the church."
Willy: "Aye. I also 'ate the mess he left on me rug! (Bart turns around, stares at Willy) Ya heard me!"


A few days ago, I was enjoying the product that Scotland is so famous for. With Scotch, I have found that making the drink itself is half the fun. As the golden liquid makes its way through the sparkling cubes of ice, it often reminds me of a small rocky mountain stream in Jharkhand that I was very fond of.

I always like my whiskey straight. You only add water if you don't like the taste of whiskey -- and if you don't, why would you spend your money on Scotch?! I often have mine on the rocks, with two to three cubes of ice in the glass when I start. By the time I get to the end of the drink, there is a single cube left. Many times,  I see a golden drop of Scotch sitting on top of the last cube, as if, Robinson Crusoe was starting off on his small island -- all over again.  And, if it happens to be the drink, when I have already had one too many, I can sometimes see a few coconut trees on the ice cube, swaying back and forth. To the music of Bob Marley, singing exclusively for me.

When I was beginning to pour myself the last drink, I noticed something on the bottle, which brought back memories of fierce debates -- between the puritans of whiskey drinking, and the upstarts. The Scotsmen always spell their whiskey as "whisky" without the "e", while most of the other countries like to add the "e". Some people say that the Scots do it, not because of the Gaelic roots of their language that groundskeeper Willie is so proud of, but to distinguish their product from countless other copycats around the world. Also, Scotch is heavy on the malts, while much of the Indian whiskey that you can buy off the shelf, probably started its journey in a clump of molasses, and so, probably deserves to be called "distilled rum" instead of whiskey. 

In fact, the Scots have filed multiple lawsuits in multiple countries, hoping that people will desist from using the word "Scotch" for their local whiskey. And, they have largely succeeded. Perhaps, that is the reason I can see palm trees on the ice cube around my last golden drop of Scotch, while I have never had the same pleasure with any other drink out there. 

From what I understand, whiskey was introduced in India in the early 1820's and a brewery in Kasauli, Himachal Pradesh, was probably the first one to brew the drink in India. The eighteen-twenties were  also the time around which my favorite Urdu poet, Mirza Ghalib was most active -- drinking, writing, and sometimes -- writing while drinking. I have often wondered, if Mirza Sahib, who was a self-proclaimed fan of wine, ever got to taste whiskey. And if he did, I wonder what he said, or wrote, after a few drinks.

A lot of popular Urdu couplets, written by other people, are often attributed to Ghalib. One could say, that just like Scotch, there is a certain sense of honor being associated with the name of Mirza Ghalib, even if your couplets were home-brewed. There is one such couplet, that I heard some time ago, which was attributed to Ghalib, perhaps, because it talks about the finer aspects of drinking. I keep wondering though, if the couplet was brewed out of "single malt", or just plain old molasses.

naqab-e-chashm ab ahista uthai jaati hai,
main pee chuka hoon, phir bhi mujhe pilaee jaati hai.

The eyelids can now only be opened slowly,
I am drunk, still, they make me drink.