After an exhausting day at work I treated myself to some whiskey, which reminded me of the liquor store scene in Aravind Adiga’s White Tiger. In epistolary form, the protagonist is narrating the state of affairs in his employer’s household and his country – India – to Wen Jiabao, the Premier of the “Freedom-Loving Nation” of China:
“There was only one activity that servant number one and servant number two had to do together. At least once a week, around six o’clock, Ram Persad and I left the house and went down the main road, until we got to a store with a sign that said:
‘JACKPOT’ ENGLISH LIQUOR SHOP
INDIAN-MADE FOREIGN LIQUOR SOLD HERE
I should explain to you, Mr. Jiabao, that in this country we have two kinds of men: ‘Indian’ liquor men and ‘English’ liquor men. ‘Indian’ liquor was for village boys like me—toddy, arrack, country hooch. ‘English’ liquor, naturally, is for the rich. Rum, whiskey, beer, gin— anything the English left behind. (Is there a ‘Chinese’ liquor, Mr. Premier? I’d love to take a sip.)
One of the most important duties of driver number one was to come to Jackpot once a week and buy a bottle of the most expensive whiskey for the Stork and his sons. It was part of servant protocol, though don’t ask me why, that the junior driver accompany him on this outing. I guess I was supposed to make sure he did not run away with the bottle.
Colored bottles of various sizes were stacked up on Jackpot’s shelves, and two teenagers behind the counter struggled to take orders from the men shouting at them. On the white wall to the side of the shop, there were hundreds of names of liquor brands, written in a dripping red paint and subdivided into five categories, BEER, RUM, WHISKEY, GIN, and VODKA” (72-73).
There’s a price list after this, starting from 1330 rupees for a full bottle of Black Dog down to 44 for a quarter bottle of Wild Horse. The list ends with the line “Even cheaper whisky is available: Ask at the counter.”
“It was a small store, and at least fifty men were crammed into the ten feet of space in front of the counter, each yelling at the top of his voice, while waving rupee notes of the higher denominations:
‘Kingfisher Strong One Litre!’
‘Old Monk Half Bottle!’
They were not going to be drinking this liquor; I could tell from their torn and dirty shirts that they were only servants, like Ram Persad and me, come to buy English liquor for their masters. If we came after eight o’clock on a weekend night to Jackpot, it was like a civil war in front of the counter; I had to keep the men at bay, while Ram Persad shoved his way to the counter and yelled:
‘Black Dog! Full bottle!’
Black Dog was the first name in the first-class category of whiskey. It was the only thing that the Stork and his sons drank.
Ram Persad would get the liquor; and then I would swat at the other servants and fight for some space for us to get out, while he cradled the bottle in his arms. It was the only time we were ever like a team.
On our way back to the house, Ram Persad would always stop by the side of the road and slide the Black Dog out of its cardboard box. He said this was to check that Jackpot hadn’t cheated us. I knew he was lying. He just wanted to hold the bottle. He wanted to hold the full, virgin bottle of first-class whiskey in his hand. He wanted to imagine that he was buying it for himself. Then he would slide the bottle back into the cardboard box and return to the house, me behind him, my eyes still dazzled by the sight of so much English liquor (74-75).
My cousin used to pester us with quotes from this book titled A History of the World in 6 Glasses; now that almost sounds like Indian Society in a Liquor Shop (well, it’s an exaggeration).
For anyone wishing to read the full book, The White Tiger is available (illegally, I assume) online. I, however, have a signed copy!