How Old Monk Made Seers Of Us All

22/07/2015 8:20 AM IST | Updated 15/07/2016 8:25 AM IST
Karuvelil Thomas/Flickr

I loved you when our love was blessed

I love you now there's nothing left

But closing time

~ Leonard Cohen

First they closed down Volga, the most endearingly low-key bar in Delhi, where you drank slowly and cosily over a red carpet with Brian Silas playing Jagjit Singh. You felt you drank in another era, which existed in the heart of this one. Even the ageing waiters, unapologetic and unconcerned by the world's - and capitalism's - new hurry, made you feel you were in good, old socialist company. It was nostalgia made impossibly near at hand. You could hold it in a glass and sip it to your heart's content. Without Volga, Connaught Place is simply a marketplace, no longer a sojourn.

Then I heard Old Monk, the most time-tested companion in inclement weather, in all shaky states of the heart, through thick and thin, all kith no kin, the one steady affair through life's crests and troughs, may go out of sale. It sounded like the country's second Emergency. Where will we dump all our excess waste of joy and sorrow, of today and tomorrow? No drink can quite handle us like Old Monk. It knows us better than our fathers and mothers, our lovers and others. No one digs as deep and brings out with such elegant ease, our lyrical raw material. Old Monk is our most deliciously decadent self-abuse. In its influence, the tongue bares life's angst with liquid transparency. There is no better recipe or elixir for the youth as Old Monk. It even makes you forget you are growing up as it grows you up rather quickly. If you have Old Monk with you, you know the night will pass in song.

"No drink can quite handle us like Old Monk. It knows us better than our fathers and mothers, our lovers and others."

Imagine, after the post-Volga era in the city, if we were now to enter a post-Old Monk era. Life and business will go on as usual. But something will be missing, a space left vacant, like the flutist outside Volga playing old Hindi love songs. With the disappearance of Old Monk, the flute we all carry in our hearts will also stop playing. No other rum, whisky, vodka or gin can quite get the tuning as perfect as Old Monk does. But then the senior management of Mohan Meakin Ltd assured frantic and bemoaning loyalists, the Monk is here to stay. There was a countrywide sigh of relief. Doomsday was averted. The reasons behind the rumour have been brushed under the carpet. But since the sounding of that bell, there is a small fear ticking in the corner of the loyalist's heart.

There is something Buddhist about Old Monk. It is a matter of proposition alone. To each his own idea of the Monk, to each her own association with it. I dare propose: the power of negation connects Old Monk to Buddhism. Buddhism first brought into the world the logic and expression of negation as a mode of understanding the self and its relationship with the universe. Since god is absent in Buddhism, the idea of a present and absolute soul is negated by the idea of what is neither present nor absolute, thus opening up a space for speculative and logical thinking. You have Nagarjuna proposing eight negations in his Madhyamika -- or "middle way" -- school, where every concept of life is defined by negative assertions, of what things are not, which then opens up new possibilities to (critically, or negatively) think about what is.

"Old Monk is our 'middle way' -- our 'no' against pure and impure, moral and immoral, good and evil. It best facilitates our sceptical path towards truth."

You will ask, what has Old Monk got to do with all this? To begin with, the Monk is an agnostic drink. Its most erudite takers suspend and negate beliefs, including the dogmas of reason. The dark, old-world charm of this rum has stood the test against passing fashions of the corporate world. It is a negation of expensive, hence elitist, tastes. Monk lovers relinquish the luxuries of the expensive scotch they can't afford. This rum assures you, what you speak while drinking defines richness, and the most thoughtful speakers sworn to the Monk have always offered negations against regressive affirmations -- of caste, community, masculinity and nation. The best Monk loyalists speak against falsely constructed absolutisms masquerading under the "sacred" systems of religion, caste and nation. That is why the Monk cannot be a jingoist's pride. It is a subversive symbol of the accusations and struggles against all violent practices within the nation and in its name. Old Monk is our "middle way" -- our "no" against pure and impure, moral and immoral, good and evil. It best facilitates our sceptical path towards truth.

In the university, the Monk also helped induce an ascetic streak among students, but only as an economic means of sustenance. The drink has been most suited to the practitioners of class politics. No other drink is more suitably working class than Old Monk. If you tell me the Monk is a favourite in diplomatic and other elite circles as well, I will tell you it only shows the lingering and ironic presence of negation in their lives. There is no better drink for grousing about the state of affairs, the boss, life's unfair deals and the shaky fortunes of love. Talking of love, the Monk is perhaps the most Sapphic drink of all, "the loosener of limbs... sly, uncontrollable." Time is not yet closing upon Old Monk. The scare however has caused ripples all around. Even if closing time for now means the bar's closing time, the sentiments remain.

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