The first time I ever had a drink, I was 16.
One evening I accompanied my father to a restaurant in the neighbourhood. As the waiter poured beer for my dad, he asked the waiter to pour me some as well. He then told the waiter, “I’d rather that he has his first drink in front of me instead of somebody else”. It was barely half a mug but I was grinning ear to ear with excitement.
Even though this might strike as inappropriate (drinking underage), it was anything but that. For one, there was trust established immediately—Son, you can trust me and you don’t have to do things hiding from me. Secondly, I was rather innocent and had no friends whatsoever. So I was not going to take this as a cue to start binge-drinking. And this was the early 2000s, when even occasional drinking was severely frowned upon in middle-class India.
I had my ‘real start’ to drinking in college; the typical urban youngster who frequented pubs with a group of friends. All of us strapped-for-cash young’uns would spend all our money on alcohol. This meant that we were not going to pay someone to ride us back home safely. And in a world before Uber and Ola, paying for the auto meant a lot of haggling and getting fleeced. So we would go home on our own vehicles.
The first (and only) time when I got caught for drunken driving, I was 21. I paid a large fine and had to leave my scooter with the cops for the night. The long walk back home at 2 am made me reconsider my life decisions. I felt shameful to face my parents. But luckily they were asleep and the shame was short-lived. I didn’t make a fuss about it. And I was back to drinking and driving, soon after.
None of this meant that we—my friends and I—would drive even if totally smashed. No. That was the line. But every drunken state before ‘smashed’ was permissible, which doesn’t say much about some of us.
I got good at drunk driving. I learnt about all the back alleys really well. I knew most of the checkpoints around the city where cops could possibly be waiting with barricades, to grab hold of folks like myself. And I would always have a few hundred rupee notes handy, to bribe my way out, if I got caught. But somehow, I never got caught. I was lucky, in every sense of the term.
So I kept up the practice. And got really really good at it.
Until one day, I found myself mid-air, speeding at 70 kms/hr, having let go of my bike which crashed into the ground, mangling its handle, dislodging the battery and having me land on all my fours, in the middle of the road and the night. Trembling with shock and completely dazed, I dragged myself to the corner of the road as a first instinct... to not get run over by a crazy drunk driver.
So I hadn’t gotten that good at drunken driving after all.
Minutes before this, I had had a long night of drinking and conversing with a friend, at a shady bar, aptly called Temptations. I left the place as usual and hopped onto my motorbike after my friend and I bid farewell. The streetlamp was not working at one spot on the road. And right in the darkness there, lay a massive pothole filled with rainwater. Needless to say it was monsoon. I was trying to get home in time before the drizzle turned into a rain. There was simply no way I could have seen the pothole. The accident happened.
It was my sheer luck that I escaped unscathed; I had a few minor scratches and a sore ankle that got fine in a few days. I had a pain in my wrist which went away in a year. But nothing serious. It was also my sheer luck that there wasn’t another innocent person walking down the street, who I could have hurt.
I always felt that it wasn’t alcohol but the pothole that caused this accident; but who would have believed me, if this had injured somebody else? And I had my own reservations. The fact that I had had more than a few beers meant that I couldn’t be totally certain it wasn't alcohol that caused the accident.
That was reason enough for me to stop drinking and driving. To take responsibility of the choices I make and thereby of its consequences. I would not be able to point fingers at anyone or convince the courts, that it was actually the pothole and not the extra mug of beer. I would be behind bars. And rightly so.
27th August 2016: The day I survived an accident and the day I drank and drove for the last time.
This was one chance life was giving me, to not harm myself and to not harm others. I grabbed it with everything I have.
I don't drink and drive anymore.