As any regular subscriber to this magazine would have ample experience of, all parties, even when an imported DJ is not belting out popular, electronically altered Bollywood hits with an enthusiasm that borders on the manic, have ambient noise, the kind that fills the blanks when conversations dangle, eases the embarrassment when someone forgets the punch line to a joke that he’s primed his audience for (or, worse still, elicits no spontaneous laughter after delivering it dramatically) and dissipates the tension when someone commits a faux pas by relaying something one’s not supposed to know (or has been sworn into silence to keep secret). The decibel level of ambient noise is directly proportional to the collective intake of ethanol (or, inversely, to the pace at which levels of various distinctively shaped bottles drop), with voices seeming to become more booming, laughter more raucous, glasses clinking more noisily, crockery crashing to the floor more thunderously, despite the wall-to-wall carpeting, whispered instructions to floating waiters sounding louder and even the air-conditioning – an unobtrusive hum till moments ago – seeming to assume a stentorian, invasive character.
Amidst this Bacchanalian revelry, it is, indeed, a brave person who, possibly by dint of having drawn the shortest straw and, consequently, nominated, against one’s wishes and proclivities, the role of designated driver for the evening, has to retain his balance among people who’ve for the most part lost theirs, calling upon the patience of a Job to circumnavigate the obstacles that passing inebriates are inclined to throw his way.
First, there’s the inebriate with the galling propensity to endlessly repeat a phrase entrapped in his (or her, because one thing intoxication is not, it is not gender specific) befuddled brain, as if it were on an endless loop, like a mantra, with even the most innocent sounding set of words tending to assume sinister connotations with each repetition, more so, if repeated in a descending order of lucidity, a simple “So glad to meet you starting as an expression of mild gratitude and ending on a tone of impending menace.
Worse still for the unfortified if it’s a whole paragraph, usually beginning with a rhetorical “Did I tell you?” that’s trapped in the woozy cerebrum, not just a single phrase, and, undeterred by your protestations that, indeed, you’ve heard it before, an attempt at a hasty exit defeated by a lunging grab of your arm, the story unfolds for the nth time from what the inebriate believes is the beginning but what you know for certain is penance for sins you’ve committed from time immemorial, absolution coming only when the tipsy teller of tales deviates from his narrative into an oblivion from which there’s no return, still clutching your arm – or any other accessible part of your anatomy – as a drowning man might a lifebuoy.
Second, there are those whose libidos are unfastened by drink, amorous instincts fanned by the spirits coursing in their veins and reaching parts even Heineken would be hard put to reach and providing a plausible excuse, if one were ever needed, for the irresponsibility of the actions to follow, viz. declaring open season on members of the opposite gender which, generally, would entail grabbing with friendly intent, embracing with more affectionate purpose and slobbering upon with somewhat less convivial consequence. Thankfully, such inebriates have a short lifecycle, like candles in the wind, their ardour artificially pumped up by a certain measure of the spirituous stuff that, if even marginally surpassed, has the exact reverse effect, swiftly dissipating all amatory inclinations just the way a tiny pinprick renders the biggest balloon flightless.
The third is the happy inebriate who, with continued fortification and approaching intoxication, gets increasingly jolly and, like Gratiano in The Merchant of Venice, decides (involuntarily, I would imagine) that if the world’s a stage where every man must play a part, then he would play the fool’s and with mirth and laughter let old wrinkles come.
In my judgment, there are three stages to a happy inebriate: the first, when the mind is rousingly liberated making for coruscating wit and scintillating conversational repartee. The second stage is when the happiness quotient remains undiminished but the mind, though still open, is incapable of the focus required to engage in complex verbal jousting and, with impairment of the brain’s capacity to receive, analyse and respond to intellectual data, the accumulated happiness is channelled into acts of physical comedy of the pie-in-the-face, chewing-serviettes, putting-cutlery-in-mouth-to-distend-cheeks and kissing-every-hand-that-comes-one’s-way category, the kind that Rajendernath was famous for in the films of the Sixties when he sat on every birthday cake that happened to be in his close proximity to the great joy of the bakers of Bombay. The third is the stage of oblivion when the not-so-happy-any-longer inebriate makes a dramatic exit – from the world, so to speak – in a flurry of unarticulated action, usually not of the voluntary kind though, truth be told, the three stages of the cheerful dipso are not always distinguishable, the journey from life and soul of the party to crumpled clothes collapsed on a sofa often seamless with no detectable break in-between – stirred but not shaken and then, senseless and silent.